2011 was an incredible year for me professionally for many reasons.
At the beginning of January I was looking forward to returning to London, Ontario to play Madge Larrabee in the Grand Theatre‘s production of Sherlock Holmes, the Final Adventure. I was delighted to have something in the pipeline.
In the second week of January my agent called and said that I had an audition for The Railway Children. Rehearsals would start two weeks after Sherlock Holmes closed. It was too good to be true. I’d never book it in a million years.
I loved director Damian Cruden on first sight and wanted the job even more. My dear friend Laura Schutt (who’d been in Pride and Prejudice with me at the Grand Theatre in 2010) was also up for a role and we waited on tenterhooks to hear from our agents. We both got the jobs! I landed the part of lovable Mrs. Viney (and the not-so-lovable Ruth, the Cook) and Laura was my best friend in the village – Mrs. Perks. We were thrilled and screamed down the phone at each other with unalloyed glee.
The night before I left to start rehearsals for Sherlock Holmes I performed in my third annual StandUp Sisters comedy show in aid of Gilda’s Club Toronto. That’s What She Said earned $10,000 for the charity and I was proud to be a part of this great night of all-female stand-up.
Sherlock Holmes was a gem of a production – directed by the lovely Marcia Kash it starred Canadian theatre legend Stephen Sutcliffe (my show crush) as Holmes, my homeboy Clive Walton as Holmes’ trusty sidekick Dr. Watson and cheeky Thom Marriott as Professor Moriarty. Another Shaw Festival favourite Peter Krantz gave the King of Bohemia a dashing swagger (and plenty of saucy double entendres backstage). Irene Adler was played by the gorgeous Ieva Lucs who is the best dressing-room companion a girl could wish for – we played incredibly rowdy music before every performance. Cameron MacDuffee played my brother and partner in crime (we worked up a very creepy back story) and the incredible Cliff Saunders played every other character in the play. I couldn’t look at him most of the time because he made me laugh too much. It was a lovely show to be a part of.
Between Sherlock Holmes and Railway Children my husband and I started Storytelling at Caplansky’s Deli: a weekly show with booked storytellers and an open mic component in which anyone can get up and tell a story. It was all Zane Caplansky‘s idea. He wanted a regular event and asked me if I’d be interested in hosting it. I asked him if he realized that my husband was one of the most infamous storytellers in Toronto? Storytelling at Caplansky’s Deli was born. Every Sunday at 8pm either I or Michael Wex host an hour and a half’s storytelling. You should come. It’s a lot of fun.
Two weeks after Sherlock Holmes closed it was time for Railway Children rehearsals to begin. This was the first big commercial show I’ve ever done. I did a “number one” tour in the UK of Blithe Spirit that was supposed to transfer to the West End in London, but it never did. So this was it: The Big Time.
The cast and crew were superlative. The show was technically difficult and dangerous because of the staging and the use of an 85 ton steam train as part of the set. The working conditions were often hot and uncomfortable. But we did it. We created something magical and special and unique. And we won the Audience Choice Award at the Doras.
Unfortunately the show was called a month and a half before we had hoped – ticket sales went soft in the summer – and the dream came to an end in the middle of August. The younger members of the cast wept. The older members of the cast called their agents. I booked a stand-up gig.
I hadn’t done any stand-up since the end of January when I did That’s What She Said. And it wasn’t just a regular stand-up gig – it was the first round of the Brantford Comedy Festival Rising Stars Competition.
I was nervous. But my set went well and I sailed into the finals. And I won. And I was gobsmacked. The prize was opening for Seán Cullen and Tom Green at the gala night of the festival itself. But it turned out to be even more amazing than that. Jamie Stephens, the producer of the event, asked me if I’d like to be Tom Green‘s warm-up act for three nights in a row – I went to Kitchener and Niagara Falls and then to Brantford. It was terrifying. It was incredible. Tom Green was a doll. So was Seán Cullen. I will be eternally grateful to Jamie Stephens for the opportunity of a lifetime. (Jamie, incidentally, has just booked me for my first paid gig of 2012 – what a guy!)
After Brantford I had a couple of auditions and booked a commercial for the Drake General Store. It was one of the most unusual shoots I’ve ever done. I haven’t worked with animals since the Kraft Mac and Cheese commercial I shot last year . And even then I was only standing close to a horse – not riding it like Albert Howell had to. This year: chicken wrangling. You heard me: I had to wrangle live chickens. Two of them. They both behaved impeccably. Check it out here.
At the end of November we were feeling the pinch financially: Railway Children had ended sooner than we’d been anticipating and my husband‘s agent hadn’t yet sold his latest book. Then I found out about Tracey Erin Smith’s one-person-show courses: soulOtheatre. I was desperate to take the course. But I was skint. I posted on Facebook “How can I scare up $350 to do Tracey Erin Smith’s one-person show course?”. My mum sent me the money. I took the course. And the Tale of the Little Princess, part of my one-woman show entitled Three Jews, Two Weddings and a Custody Battle, was created.
The course was wonderful – a supportive environment of like-minded women all developing deeply personal work. Our recital was a very satisfying end to the process. I fully intend to take Tracey’s masterclass in February to develop 20 more minutes of the show.
My last gig of 2011 was the final episode of the McDonald’s webseries: Originals. I was lucky enough to get to work with two friends of mine: one of my favourite Toronto stand-ups Nile Séguin and an actor I worked with on Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures - Scott Yaphe. The part I was cast in was originally written for a man, but the writer Brett Heard enjoyed my first audition (for an entirely different role) so much that he rewrote the part for me. I was chuffed to bits. And I think it turned out rather well. Originals was a great way to end an extraordinary year.
As a stand-up and as an actress this has been possibly my most challenging, creative, successful and satisfying year to date. Can’t wait to see what 2012 brings!
PS – I also lost 12lbs. And have kept it off! Best. Year. Ever.