In the autumn of 2007, D.J. Sylvis was a playwright whose script, Godzilla on Sundays, had been accepted into the 2008 edition of the Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival and Martin Chodorek was an assistant director for an Alumnae Theatre production who wanted to shake the word “assistant” from that title. The two had crossed paths at Toronto NaNoWriMo events and were only ‘friends’ according to the loosest Facebook definition. Martin had heard of Godzilla on Sundays, but now had an opportunity to read it. At that time, the script was about 80 pages in length, so the main challenge facing its production was trimming it to fit a 40 minute time slot. Over several evenings and an assortment of beverages, our heroes set about stripping the script down to its essentials, all the while appreciating each other’s geeky references and commitment to telling an honest story of friendship. And so, two stories of friendship were being written: one on the page, one between these geeky theatre people.
A playwright and director, together, can create a story, but actors bring that story to life. Martin’s first choice, for either of the two roles, was an actor he had first met early in his studies at the Ryerson Theatre School, Timothy Nussey. To read the full-length script with him, Timothy enlisted the help of his close friend and co-worker, also an actor who had studied at Ryerson, Brad Rowe. After reading the script together, Tim asked Brad if he should get involved with the production. Brad replied, “Yeah. You’re gonna do this. ’cause I wanna play the other guy.” While Martin thought Brad might be too commercially “good-looking” an actor for the everyday geeky aesthetic he’d envisioned for the play, Timothy and Brad clearly had a real-life friendship which would translate very easily to the relationship between the play’s characters, Kadin and Dale. The New Ideas Festival‘s objectives were to develop plays and to showcase and empower playwrights. D.J could have contested or even over-ruled Martin’s casting decision. He chose, instead, to put his faith in this director whom he had just begun to know. He entrusted a play he had crafted for years, and was continuing to craft, to a new friend and two perfect strangers.
Any reservations D.J. may have had were laid to rest in the rehearsal process. In rehearsal halls, together, these four geeks bonded by picking up each other’s casually-made pop-culture references and taking turns at being the victim for playful derisive banter. Conversations started in rehearsal halls often spilled over into post-rehearsal food and/or drinks. The occasional scarcity of rehearsal space led to the first “beer-hearsals” – line-readings and character work conducted while gathered around a pitcher of ale or lager. The resulting ambitious New Ideas Festival production of Godzilla on Sundays in the spring of 2008 was not only well-received, but also left its four main participants feeling very positive about theatre and specifically about working together. D.J. said it best: “That was fun. Let’s do it again.” Monkeyman Productions was born.
Since then, Monkeyman Productions has put on a show each fall and each spring. The company’s four founding members have called upon talented friends in the Toronto theatre scene and empowered the inner geek in each artist to create processes and productions that are more than the sums of their theatrical and pop- and/or sub-cultural parts. The company has produced a number of works by D.J. Sylvis as well as scripts by other North American “geek theatre” playwrights. In May 2010, the company began restructuring and expanding company membership to further include and involve individuals who had been influential in the company’s growth and development to that point. As the company defined and refined its mandate, objectives, and approach, that number fluctuated and resulted in the company’s current members who each, in their own way, make Monkeyman Productions Toronto’s geekiest theatre company.
“In a lot of ways, for me, this play is Monkeyman Productions. It’s a story of unquestioned friendship, of unabashed geekery, of love.”
– Martin Chodorek, from his director’s notes for the 2009 remount of Godzilla on Sundays