Every year, it seems, things get bigger and better at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival. You can count on 2012’s Village of the Fringed to be chock full of wild street performers, experimental productions, and brand new additions to the Edmonton theatre community. One such addition is No Tomatoes Theatre, which is set to make a splash with its Canadian premiere production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Brother-sister duo Andrew and Lauren Boyd are the star and director, respectively.
“I guess emotions run higher, when you’re working with someone in your family,” says Lauren. Both she and Andrew admit to having animated rehearsal discussions over the breakfast table. Perhaps this heightened passion is the secret to their success, because the pair certainly aren’t strangers to joint projects. Their theatrical paths crossed for the first time when Lauren directed Andrew in a high school production of Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom! Despite the production’s success (it was the recipient of several awards at the Alberta High School Drama Festival in 2010), it goes by a rather unfortunate nickname in the Boyd household: “Tick, Tick… Doom”. The show seemed intent on unraveling, as the sheet music arrived a month late and the leading man was hit by a car days before the performance. But the dedicated cast and crew persevered: the musicians and singers learned the music in record time, and said leading man soldiered on bravely, even with a busted knee. The experience turned out to be a valuable lesson in adaptability.
“There were so many obstacles,” remembers Lauren. “It really taught me a lot because, as I later found out, every single show you direct will have those situations.” This promise of stress and hard work didn’t serve as a deterrent, however, because Lauren is now immersed in her third stint as director, and her second at the Fringe.
If there was ever a production to get people talking, it’s this one. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, is a punk rock concert, a sardonic political lampoon and a history lesson all in one. The book and score positively drip with shock, gore and sex as they recount the rise and fall of America’s seventh president.
“A punk rock musical about presidents,” laughs Andrew, who plays the title character. “It just seemed like an interesting and very different way to go.” The 90-minute musical premiered on Broadway in the fall of 2010, and closed after only a few months. It is popular belief that the show’s highly irreverent (and often politically incorrect) interpretation of history played a significant role in its rapid demise on the Great White Way. And while it is unquestionable that the show prides itself on its edginess, Lauren believes that any seemingly offensive material is included only to satirize the times in which the musical is set.
“We have complete faith in the writers,” she explains. “We have faith in that what they present has a purpose.”
“We remember Andrew Jackson as a tyrant, but we’ve got to remember that at the time he lived in, that’s what the people wanted him to be,” adds Andrew.
But for the Boyds, the challenges don’t end with subject matter. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson marks the first production of their new independent theatre company, No Tomatoes. Frustrated by a lack of opportunity for young artists in Edmonton, they, along with some friends decided that it was time to create their own projects.
“You know, you have children’s theatre… you have Citadel [Young Companies], which is a training program… there’s no in-between area where young adults can formally direct their own shows, design their own shows, perform whatever show they want,” said Lauren. “So we thought, if there’s nothing out there currently, let’s just make something.”
And so she and Andrew brought together a cast of ten young actors. Each of them is just breaking into the professional theatre scene, and each had worked previously alongside at least one other cast or crew member. This was an ideal situation from a director’s standpoint. Not only was Lauren able to handpick performers that she trusted, she was able to afford them an opportunity to be seen in a professional setting.
“A goal of our theatre company is exposing these young talents to the greater Edmonton theatre community,” explains Lauren. The pair believe that there is a host of vibrant new performers emerging in the local theatre scene, and that it is important for the community to embrace their unique voices. But accomplishing this feat does not come without its difficulties.
“I’m my own stage manager, my own designer, we’re doing all of our own publicity,” says Lauren. It certainly isn’t easy to get a brand new endeavor like this off the ground. Theatre funding generally pools around more established artists, so the production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson required some creative budgeting. Lauren called in several favors to cover publicity and design expenditures, and the cast is currently rehearsing in a garage (“Granted, it’s a nice garage,” chimes Andrew). Their dedication is admirable, and is already paying off, as the show’s quality improves with every rehearsal.
“I think it’s just going to be unlike any other show [you’ve] ever seen… it’s something that’s literally never been seen in Canada…. Everyone’s seen Spring Awakening, everyone’s seen Rent,” says Lauren. “It is such a well-rounded theatre experience. You have the superficial entertainment, the comedy, the blood, the sex, the racism… And then you have the deeper political questions. You can go see the show, then go eat a frozen banana and have a two-hour political discussion.”
And, most importantly, buying tickets to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson means supporting the burgeoning new bed of talent that’s making it’s way onto the Edmonton theatre scene.
The show premieres on August 18th and runs until the 26th at the Catalyst Theatre (Venue 6). Tickets are 12.50 for the general public, and 10.00 for students and seniors.
- Hayley Moorhouse