Casting Notice for our upcoming podcast series!

The Emo Beard and Writing What You Know

Hallo! My name is Manda and I co-wrote Sidekicks with Errol Elumir, part of the Monkeyman fall production, Sidekicks and Secret Identities!

I haven’t been a writer for an incredibly long time (although I’ve been saying that for four years now so maybe that statement has become obsolete). But I’ve been one long enough to hear the multitudes of advice that far more successful writers dole out to the masses. There’s A LOT of it out there, but the one that always inevitably crops up is “Write what you know”.

It makes sense. For the most part, I have stuck to this rule, for I am a timid soul and don’t like stepping much out of my warm and cozy comfort zone.

I know a lot about video games. I know a lot about awkwardness. I know a lot about pie, though I have yet to write anything about that.

Pie: The Musical

Pie: The Musical

I don’t, however, know a whole lot about superheroes. I was never the kid with the Marvel and DC comics stacked up by her bed. Hell, I barely read Marvel or DC comics as an adult.

I DID get into this recently though.

I DID get into this recently though.

No, everything I’ve ever learned about the insane world of superheroes has basically been from movies or from what my far more comic-savvy friends have told me.

Even then, my tastes are questionable. I haven’t seen all of the Marvel movies yet. I could not understand why Spiderman needed all of those cheesy catchphrases. I question ANYBODY’S need to inject themselves with any sort of untested, experimental super serum. I am one of the few people in the world who sincerely enjoyed the first X-men movie more than the second.

It wasn't THAT bad!

It wasn’t THAT bad!

In other words, I am probably the least qualified individual to write an entire script about the trials and tribulations of living in the superhero world. And normally, I would stick to my precious video games.

But then about two years ago, I was finishing up my first webseries with my co-writer/producer/actor Errol. We had written, produced and edited an entire webseries musical about NaNoWriMo in three months (in our spare time on top of full time jobs). It was…a lot of work. We were burned out to say the least and I was beginning to feel the pull of post-show depression hit me as it usually does after I finish something fun and rewarding.

Then someone showed me the trailer for Man of Steel. I can’t remember who showed it to me. I can’t remember even where I saw it. All I remember was the emo and the beard. All of the emo beard.

Two thoughts crossed my mind. One was that Superman is way hotter with a beard.

Yeah...yeah...

Yeah…yeah…

The other though was that all of this sudden emoness injected into our superhero movies would make a great sketch. And then it got me to thinking about the sidekicks of superheroes, and what they must think of their bosses in their off hours. Do they meet up and complain about their emo bosses or the ridiculous evil plots? And so, fueled by the sadness of one project ending and the hilarity that was “gritty superman”, I began to write this sketch.

Of course the jokes to be told were far too numerous to fit into one sketch. And so I brought my idea to Errol, who has become my partner in crime for most of my writing endeavors and who has great wisdom and talent when it comes to creative projects and I can say that here because it’s my blog and he can’t deny it.

At any rate, his suggestion was “Why not make it into a webseries? I can help write it!” My only response, well, my only response after fretting over my lack of qualifications, was that we would do it at a slower pace than our action packed musical webseries that nearly murdered my last nerve.

This is us after our last shot of the webseries!

This is us after our last shot of the webseries!

Nearly two years later, we have the webseries almost filmed and now a stage adaptation being produced. It is incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking. Although I did some research, my experience today remains much the same as it did two years ago. I do not know much about superheroes. I don’t know who fought what battle in what issue in what universe to save my life.

But I do know a lot about the pressure to live up to people’s expectations, to fulfill a role that you can’t quite fit into. I know a lot about lacking the skills that society values most. I know a bit about being dissatisfied when life feels stagnant or is not the perfect adventure it was made out to be. I know about how important having a true friend is when you’re feeling down and that a friendship can be just as strong as any romantic relationship.

I didn’t know that’s what we’d be writing about when we started this. First and foremost we wanted to tell a funny story about two people normally relegated to the sidelines and the insane laser filled world they lived in. But then the superhero does lend itself to the above themes.

All of this came about because of my delight of the Emo Beard.

And now we’re just waiting for an audience to share it all with. I am, naturally, nervous. Errol scoffs at my nervousness (anybody who knows me well knows now to scoff at my nervousness). But the thing is that I’ve stepped into unfamiliar territory on this project. And while it’s uncomfortable, it’s also a bit thrilling.

So I guess what I’m saying is…write what you know…and some of what you don’t. Because there are so many interesting things to learn about out there.

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Sidekicks Sunday – October 19!

And now, a very special announcement from Sidekicks and Secret Identities:

Sidekicks-Sunday

One of the most exciting parts of our fall production is being able to bring you the world debut of Errol Elumir and Manda Whitney’s play Sidekicks, based on their upcoming webseries about two stellar representatives of Good and Evil, Flex Girl and Minion 5, and their … adventures. Really, adventures might be overstating it. Encounters?

But we’re so pleased to be bringing this action-packed (really! there’s a fight sequence!) masterpiece your way, we’ve decided to take our first matinée performance and dedicate it solely to a very special Sidekicks event! At this showing, your ticket gets you the following:

*** The entirety of Sidekicks, as included in every S&SI performance (Fortress of Solitude and Super will not be performed at this showing)
*** Special musical performances by Debs & Errol (yes, it’s the same Errol) and by Kari Maaren!
*** A chance to meet, greet, and ask embarrassing questions of the two playwrights! (Yes, Errol again! But Manda too!)

This chance only comes along once (at least in this dimension), and you’d be a fool to miss out. Order your tickets now for Sidekicks Sunday, or any performance of Sidekicks and Secret Identities, by clicking on this link!

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Monkey Night in Canada! Sept. 27 2014! AAAAAHHHH!

Good morning, folks! We’ll be starting the deluge of Sidekicks and Secret Identities posts soon enough, but FIRST! Only eleven nights away is our yearly party / fundraiser, MONKEY NIGHT IN CANADA! Come out and have a few drinks, play a few games, and share geeky quips with your favourite Monkeyfolks!

There’s no charge or suggested donation at the door, so no one feels left out – but we will be accepting donations at the event, as well as holding a 50/50 draw and a little bit of raffle action. And every dollar goes toward the show!

***

Come join Monkeyman Productions at The Duke of Somerset for a night of fun and nerdery. We will be raising funds and awareness for our upcoming production of Sidekicks and Secret Identities, opening October 17th at Fraser Studios. This show will bring you a theatrical anthology set in the world of Supers – where the heroes are unexpected, the bystanders aren’t all that innocent, and the sidekicks finally get their moment of glory!

Our party will be at The Duke of Somerset, 655 Bay St, just south of Bay and Gerrard St west, on September 27th starting at 8 pm. There will be gaming, a bit of nosh for the early birds, a word or two from those involved in creating the show, as well as a few fund raising activities that should be fun and rewarding for all. In addition The Duke of Somerset will be offering their 30oz mug night $8 special! We hope to see you all on Saturday, September 27th at The Duke of Somerset. Let’s get geeky!

Duke of Somerset: Get your map here!

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Ask Lovecraft?

or, how to adapt a 300-episode Youtube series for the Toronto Fringe Festival

I’m going to start out by being brutally honest – before this project, I was at most an occasional viewer of Ask Lovecraft.

I supported it, of course. Leeman Kessler is my fellow company member and good friend. Hell, I co-produced the festival where he first appeared as H.P. Lovecraft, and I’ve always talked up the webseries and checked in on his progress when I could. But at most, I caught an episode every month or two before offering myself up as producer / director for this stage version.

It was getting dangerously close to the beginning of rehearsals when I finally sat down to catch myself up on the 06/06/2012 to the present day of the thing – close to three hundred episodes at the time of my viewing, well over that now. In five mornings before my day job, I watched every one. I created a spreadsheet tracking the original viewing date, the episode title, and notes that ranged from, “This would be a fun digression,” to vague references to Bronies and a tentacle dildo. (Neither made it into the show as designed – but you could always ask about them yourself!) I was starting to dream in Lovecraftese.

In the end, we came up with a list of potential sample topics (the format of the show is about 25 minutes of prepared material, then opening the floor to questions from the audience) that I felt acted as a fair representation of what Leeman had created over the course of the past two years inhabiting the character. There’s a story that’s developed among the quips and queries; an observation of a literary figure brought forward in time, leaping over his rise from obscurity to an era where he is celebrated – but shocked by a culture which he never could have imagined. I wanted to be certain that the audience would get to experience that full journey even if they never chose to view a video before or after.

And, of course, to make it all entertaining. We lampooned this in a recent video clip – but there’s no doubt that a Fringe audience comes in with a different set of expectations, and we’ll do our best not to put ours to sleep.

No script was ever written, other than a list of questions to be kept on cue cards. Leeman has always kept H.P. as an improvised creation, and I wanted to retain that as well. Over our rehearsals, we have found notes that felt right and which he hits with each repetition, but there is no word-for-word memorization, and he is fully prepared to play to, or against, the mercurial changes of each particular group to which he speaks. It will be a different show with every performance.

I’m glad we’re almost to the opening. I can’t wait to see what you think of the work we bring you. I think it’s come together nicely.

Editor’s note: Do YOU have questions for H.P. Lovecraft? Bring them to the Fringe Festival – Check our Ask Lovecraft page for the details!

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Acting Like Lovecraft

I did not set out to portray Lovecraft but when the opportunity presented itself, I was not about to turn it down.

It all began with Monkeyman Productions and a short play by Stephen Near called Monstrous Invisible which was a poignant look at Lovecraft’s fiction as well as his brief marriage. This was followed by an expanded remount of the piece and a request by a vlogger named Derek the Bard to have me reprise the role for a series of video reviews of Lovecraft’s works and their derivatives. The whole thing put me in mind to try and make a show of my own and the end result was Ask Lovecraft, an advice program from the Old Man of Providence.

Since 2012 I’ve stood before a camera three times a week and responded to actual emails, tweets, and messages all asking for advice or for Lovecraft’s thoughts and opinions on a number of subjects. I began to read more and more of his stories. His letters also wound up being an amazing resource for seeing his non-authorial voice and living in Toronto, I had access to several published editions of them at the Merril Collection.

Since starting this project, I’ve had to wrestle with a number of challenges. The first is determining how to depict Lovecraft, an eccentric figure with a great deal of legend built around him and no small amount of controversy. Do I play him as someone who sees squamous monsters from beyond space and time in every shadow? Do I highlight his more scientific, skeptical persona? What do I do with his racial prejudices which lurk in his fiction and show up rather violently in his personal writings? How do I stay true to the man while creating an engaging performance?

The final product is a homunculus more than a carbon copy. My Lovecraft has had to come to terms with some of the cultural changes of the 21st century and so some of his more disagreeable opinions and notions have been watered down so that my program appeals to more than just White Power enthusiasts. However, what I hope comes across is that curiosity and that desire to find beauty and strangeness in the world which made up so much of Lovecraft’s writing.

Moving from my video series to a live show has been another challenge. The times I’ve performed Lovecraft live have been largely improvised affairs where I just take questions from the audience and riff off them with the occasional poetry reading. Given the new setting of the Fringe, we’ve created a more structure format that doesn’t assume the audience knows much if anything about Lovecraft and so the end result is almost more like a stand up set which is a radical departure from my comfort zone. Our hope is to both entertain and introduce people to this strange man and the bizarre world he both inhabited and created.

Monkeyman Productions has always striven to bring together the world of the weird and the world of theatre and show just how intertwined they truly are. It’s going to prove an interesting journey.

Editor’s note: Come out and see how that journey has progressed live at the Fringe Festival – Check our Ask Lovecraft page for the details!

(Excerpted from the article “Depicting Lovecraft,” as featured in the Lovecraft E-Zine.)

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I’m Back On (Bag and) Board

Comics, you guys. Comics.

I’ve fallen in love with a medium.

I mean… I’ve had a crush on them since reading a lot of Tintin and Asterix(before I could appreciate the delicious Latin puns – I really must go back and re-read) and when I couldn’t understand my dad’s French issues of The Phantom, I moved over to the few issues of Superman and Spider-Man(especially their shared issues – my dad knows how to pick ’em) and others that were kicking around the house… but as I grew older, my interest kinda shifted.

I wasn’t yet in high school… so I might’ve been a little young for Peter Parker’s angst. And Batman was going over-my-head with the storylines in Shaman and Gotham by Gaslight, which I nevertheless appreciated on a purely aesthetic level. It was finally the theatricality of the death of Superman and the subsequent Reign of the Supermen that had me buying issues regularly. Say what you will about corporate greed and plot problems, the drama and its players blew my pubescent mind. They definitely transcended the Peanuts strips or Archie comics that crossed my path.

After that, I gravitated more to superhero stories in other genres. I’m sure John Wesley Shipp’s Flash had more to do with my enduring interest in that character than any of what the comic book storylines could’ve inspired on their own, despite the comics I casually purchased.

So, if you’d asked me in my later high school years about my thoughts on comics, I’d probably tell you I didn’t really read them anymore, but I liked Gary Larson’s The Far Side. Sure, I recognized it was missing aspect of the geekiness I proudly strutted at Star Trek conventions, but I didn’t think there was anything in them for me…

And then someone made me read Maus.

Again, my mind was blown by the medium. And I slowly became aware of other stories, like V for Vendetta and Watchmen. But superhero action, as it showed up more in film, didn’t call me back to comics(as much as the X-Men films made me curious about the franchise’s origins – I’ll get to ’em eventually… maybe).

So… I knew I was interested… but one of the main things that kept me from diving in was my nagging completism(One day, I -will- be able to intelligently talk about the personalities of all of the generations of the Doctor, dammit). And then, there were webcomics. Talented people creating awesome, gorgeous stories and making them readable, from the very first pane to the most recent, for free online. I went to Fan Expo in 2011 and the atmosphere of Artists’ Alley woke something up that has continued to grow since. Something that drove me to revisit Artists’ Alley at this year’s Toronto Comicon and had me almost ecstatic when TCAF arrived this year.

My desire for broadening my geek cred and the aforementioned completism manifested last year in starting to watch episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel from the beginning with Linn(she’d seen all of Buffy, but not Angel). I entered with an open mind, remembering the production quality I’d seen employed for Xena, my own favourite 90s TV heroine, so I wasn’t cringeing too much. With rare exceptions, I dug the vibe of the early seasons. And, this past January, onto that fertile soil was sprinkled these nuggets from Chris Sims of Comics Alliance:

Let’s be real here, folks: If you announce a comic where five teenage girls fight yetis, you already have my attention. If you add that it’s a comic created by Boom! Senior Editor Shannon Watters and Grace Ellis, written by Noelle Stevenson and Ellis, and drawn by Brooke Allen, continuing Boom!’s seeming strategy of moving creators who have had success on Adventure Time, Regular Show and Bravest Warriors over to their own creator-driven projects, well, that’s when the interest turns into genuine excitement. That’s the announcement they dropped on us today with Lumberjanes, a new, full-color series described as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls.”

I didn’t follow most of what came in the middle, but the first and final sentences had my attention. It would be a couple of months before I’d start recognizing the names listed. On May 29th, still buzzing from TCAF, I heard the first issue of Lumberjanes was free, that day only, on Comixology, a digital comics platform. There was no excuse not to dive in. I’ve been shouting “Come on in! The water’s fine!” to anyone who’ll listen ever since. I purchased physical copies of issues 1 and 2 and when I learned that issue 3 was going to be available today…

Today, I got excited about “New Comic Book Day” for the first time ever. No shame in being a late bloomer, I figure. And Lumberjanes delights me more than I ever thought a comic book could. Cool, huh?

So, I type before you today: following dozens of comic creators on social media and getting caught up in the spirit of their creation; reading webcomics and backing crowdfunding campaigns and getting closer everyday to facing my fear of drawing. And reading Lumberjanes the day it comes out.

The Kitten Holy probably has something to do with it. (I just made an inside Lumberjanes joke!)

Wanna recommend webcomics or graphic novels or other nifty sequential art? You’re welcome, of course, to use the comments field below OR…

I’ll also be bringing my enthusiasm for Lumberjanes to the first ever Monkeyman pub night on Tuesday, June 17th. You’ll find company members at the Duke of York after 7pm. All the post-show conversation you’ve come to expect, without the show. It’s a little something we’re trying out. So, yeah, let’s talk about comics and stuff.

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2013 Annual Report!

2013 was our fifth anniversary, and we made a pretty big year of it – with a major fundraising campaign and the show it supported, The Nefarious Bed & Breakfast. We wanted to open up our books and show where your donations and ticket dollars went; thus, we present to you our first ever annual report! You can download it as a beautiful PDF document (designed by our own Linn Øyen Farley) at the link below:

Monkeyman Productions 2013 Annual Report

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Why So Simian?

A Show Worth Casing
by Leeman Kessler

I love a buffet. There is something about looking out over a sea of choices and feeling in charge of your own gastronomic destiny. The mixing, the matching, the gluttony, the opportunity to try new things but still be surrounded by the familiar all appeals to my whimsical appetite. Perhaps that is why I agreed to produce the Simian Showcase this year.

I joined Monkeyman Productions in the Autumn of 2008 to be a werewolf and King Kong as part of their very first evening of multiple shows which included Wolf in the Fold, The Last Few Minutes in the Life of King Kong, and The Final Flight of the Phoenix. These shows were my introduction to what would become my longest and most cherished theatrical relationship.

In the years since, Monkeyman has experimented with formats and challenged itself to explore different ways of telling stories, bouncing from single, long form narratives like Godzilla on Sundays and The Nefarious Bed and Breakfast to evenings of shorter, self-contained stories like Monkey Sci-Fi Horror Theatre (Parts I and II) and even weaving the two formats together in Uncharted Zones but the Simian Showcase has always been a little different and stands just slightly apart.

Starting life off in 2010 as The Banana Festival which has the fine distinction of being the first time people saw me depict HP Lovecraft, our annual Spring show at the Imperial Pub was redesigned and reimagined as the Simian Showcase and has come to exemplify our mission of smashing together the worlds of theatre and geekdom. It starts our year off with collaboration and cooperation with folks not only within our immediate Toronto community but across the entire Geeky World and most importantly, it challenges us to take a step out of our comfort zones (different from the uncharted ones) all while dangerously close to large quantities of alcohol and tasty food.

Every year I have participated in the Showcase, acting, directing, and now producing. The producer’s job is a bizarre one that defines itself with every project, taking on duties as needed and learning on the spot but when the call went out, I, alongside Lisa and ‘Manda stepped up to see it return to the stage. We follow in the remarkable footsteps of DJ, Tim, Marty, and Linn who set an amazing example of just what the Showcase can be. With that history behind us and an unknown future before us there was no question we would do what was needed to make this show come alive. It needs to be. The Simian Showcase is a chance for us to meet new people, to play with other writers’ words, to try on new hats (sometimes ones shaped like sharks), and to share what it means to be a Monkeyman.

This year with Bride of Simian Showcase, we are excited to explore the theme of women in horror and to not only show off our talent and the talent of our friends, old and new, but also to celebrate what often gets overlooked. We’re telling stories about friendship stronger than death, the absurdity of domestic life, the pressures of the entertainment industry, and how easy it is to let a little thing spiral out of control. All of this will be accompanied by the remarkable music of Debs & Errol and Kari Maaren with her fearsome ukulele. If that weren’t enough, we have the hostess with the mostest, Annemieke Wade to guide us through this evening of the ridiculous and the wonderful. We look forward to sharing this with you and hope to see you at the Imperial!

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Call for Scripts!

Monkeyman Productions is now accepting submissions for our spring production, Bride of Simian Showcase! We are looking for plays that are no more than 15 minutes in length with a small cast / minimal tech. Your play may have had previous readings / productions.

In keeping with our change in title, we have a matching theme! We’re looking for light horror / monster plays, with a preference given to plays by female writers and / or featuring female leads.

Submit your script as a PDF or DOC file to showcase@monkeymanproductions.com. Submissions due by Friday the 13th, December 2013. Plays will be selected by January 17th, 2014.

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The Making (and Re-making) of a Supervillain

So I was looking back through my writing backups last night, and I found a ‘NOTES FILE’ from May 30, 2007, that included the following:

The Nefarious Bed & Breakfast

OVERALL PLOT: The setting for the play is the above-mentioned B&B. It is run by Dr. Nefarious is a retired supervillain, who, against his better judgement, has been convinced by his wife Margot to make their new business venture a themed hotel capitalizing on his former fame. This is his opening weekend, and he has two reservations – a young couple, Judas & Kathy, and a couple at the further end of middle-age (but very fit and toned), Mr. & Mrs. Smith-Jones. As the weekend progresses, it turns out that all the guests have their own motives and their own secrets … and so does Dr. N. After much confusion, we are left wondering – what is Good? What is Evil? And will the B&B make it into the really popular guidebooks?

Six years ago I came up with the idea for this script. I’ve wanted to create my own little universe of Toronto-based heroes and villains since moving here, and I think Dr. Nefarious may have come out of those musings. (At the time, I had no idea anyone else had used ‘Dr. Nefarious’ as a character name, though I’ve since found out about the Ratchet & Clank character, voiced by the inimitable Armin Shimerman.) Mr. Mister, without a doubt, owes certain aspects of his personality to both Pixar’s Mr. Incredible and to The Tick. Ms. Try and Half-Ape certainly owe their existence to the thousands of comic books, movies, and TV episodes I’ve devoured over my lifetime.

The first draft was done in November of the same year; the second draft about ten months later (in and around other projects). We did our first public reading in early 2009, and another in June of 2010, incorporating suggestions and audience feedback each time. This year alone, I’ve done three complete drafts based on conversations with the director and other company members, and now we’re at a final version we can take into rehearsals … where it’s most likely going to change again, as we find what works and doesn’t once the play is on its feet.

A lot of things have changed through the edits. No, a lot a lot. A character who used to wrap the whole play up in the final scene has vanished. A gender-swapping plot twist, which was in the end fairly insensitive, no longer happens. Another character is no longer pregnant through the play. Certain meanings and motivations are much different now. Some of the physical business was smoothed out to make things easier for the set designer. (Though there is still a giant laser!) At least a dozen jokes I loved have been cut (which always happens, you do have to kill your babies in this process). And Half-Ape, our friendly neighbourhood ex-minion, now has not one but two of my favourite moments in the show.

I don’t think I’ve ever been through this extensive a revision process before, and it’s really something to look back and see all the ways the play has grown and transformed. How I’ve grown and transformed as a writer. How we’ve grown and transformed as a company. Our work on this play spans the entire lifetime of Monkeyman Productions, and now we’re finally bringing it to you as we celebrate our fifth anniversary.

It’s one hell of a present, and I hope you’re as excited to see it opened as we are.

Posted in The Nefarious Bed & Breakfast | 1 Comment