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Interview: Toronto’s premiere geek theatre company likes to monkey around

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Founding members Brad Rowe and Timothy Nussey in ‘Godzilla on Sundays.’ (courtesy of Monkeyman Productions)

When you normally think of theatre, you probably think of Shakespeare or high budget musicals about French Revolutions. You almost certainly don’t think of superheroes, D&D, video games or any of the multitudes of geeky fandoms out there.

But that is exactly what Monkeyman Productions, a theatre company based in Toronto, has made their mission. For over five years, they’ve written and produced shows about everything from Godzilla to Super Mario to H.P. Lovecraft.

And now they are venturing into the crazy world of superheroes in their latest production, Sidekicks and Secret Identities, a series of three plays about the trials and tribulations of superhero life.

We managed to get an interview with D.J. Sylvis, producer and co-writer of the show and one of the founding members of Monkeyman to talk about geek theatre.


PM: What is Monkeyman Productions?

MP: We’re Toronto’s Geekiest Theatre Company! We produce shows about Godzilla and zombies and superheroes and have a heck of a lot of fun doing it.

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PM: What prompted you to create a geek theatre company and how long have you been around now?

MP:  The founders were all theatre folks from way back, and geeks from even further back, and I think we wanted to put some work out there that was able to combine those enthusiasms. We’ve been at it since 2008, and still going strong.

PM: You also perform plays that other people write. Are there a lot of geek plays out there?

MP:  More all the time! Most recently in Toronto, there was a production of Qui Nguyen’s D&D play, She Kills Monsters, which is pretty well known and has quite a following. And this year’s Fringe had some geeky offerings, like the apocalyptic-Toronto play Centre of the Universe by David James Brock. And that’s just the most recent in our area! There are geek plays and geek theatre companies all over! I like to think we were near the forefront of the move to tell geeky stories on stage, but it’s all over the place now.

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Past collaborators Victoria Urquhart and Clare Blackwood. (courtesy of Monkeyman Productions)

PM: What’s been your favourite part of this process?

MP:  My favourite part of the process every time is finding more people who think this kind of show is awesome, and getting to include them in the process. I didn’t know any of the actors before they were cast, and it’s been excellent to hear about their own fandoms and to see them getting excited about the scripts.

PM: What’s been the most challenging part?

MP:  Producing something I’ve written is always a challenge! I have to pick a point at which I step back completely from being a playwright and focus on making sure the whole production makes it to the stage. Until opening night, of course – then I’ll be standing behind the curtains, waiting to see if anyone laughs. 😉

PM: What are your favourite fandoms to write about?

MP:  I generally like to make up my own – that’s one of the best parts of writing. Between this show and last year’s The Nefarious Bed & Breakfast, I’ve started to put together my own little superhero universe, and that’s lots more fun than playing in someone else’s.

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Posters of Monkeyman Productions plays (courtesy of Monkeyman Productions)

PM: Tell us a little bit about your latest upcoming production.

MP: It’s called Sidekicks & Secret Identities and it’ll be an anthology of short plays, all directed by Torey Urquhart, set in a world of superheroes where the bystanders aren’t so innocent and the neglected sidekicks get the glory. There will be three plays:  “Sidekicks,” by Errol Elumir and ‘Manda Whitney; and “Fortress of Solitude” and “Super” by yours truly. There’s more info on our homepage.

PM: So you wrote two of the short plays in the anthology. What inspired them?

MP:  For the two pieces I have in this production… “Super” was inspired by a documentary I saw called, Confessions of a Superhero, as well as by some of the folks who dress up like the Toronto Batman. “Fortress of Solitude,” that’s harder to pin down. I always feel like the most interesting part of these larger-than-life characters is seeing how they deal with the everyday world – so I put my hero, Force Girl, into a very everyday story to see how it would go.

PM: What has the reception for “geek theatre” (or whatever you’d like to call it) been like?

MP:  We have pretty enthusiastic audiences! I think a lot of people come in not knowing what to expect, but they enjoy themselves by the end.

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The poster for the upcoming ‘Sidekicks & Secret Identities.’

PM:  You have been at Fringe twice now. Did people find geek theatre strange?

MP:  It’s fair to say that it’s a new experience for a lot of the Fringe crowd, and I guess I don’t know about the ones who were really not into the idea. 😀 But there were always a few people who got excited about what we brought to them.

PM: You have a fundraiser coming up. For those not familiar with the workings of theatre, what is involved?

MP:  Well, the fundraiser itself is a glorified pub night, with some games and a 50/50 draw and a bit of a raffle. Every show we put on costs money, of course – renting the space, paying for set, costumes, props, printing posters and postcards – and we’re trying to focus more on giving money back to the artists as well. So we do Monkey Night once a year to try to help offset the costs.

 

PM: And, finally, what has been your most rewarding experience?

MP:  A big part of our audience winds up being people who didn’t really go out to theatre before our shows, and would have thought it was dull and static compared to the movies and TV shows that are what you usually think of as geekdom. And then they walk out entertained, and come back again. There’s not much better than that – especially when I know my words could be part of it.


 

Sidekicks and Secret Identities opens October 17th at Fraser Studios 76 Stafford Street, Toronto and runs until the 26th. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at the Monkeyman Productions website.

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The Pop Mythologist
The Pop Mythologist is the founder and editor of PopMythology.com. He has been a staff writer for the nationally distributed magazine KoreAm , the online journal of pop culture criticism Pop Matters and has written freelance for various other publications and websites.