Emily Jewer Speaks Alone

The Atlantic Fringe Festival celebrates its 22nd edition Aug 30 - Sept 9, 2012 with dozens of new theatre and dance shows from Atlantic Canada, Ontario, the U.S., and abroad, offering hundreds of performances in numerous venues across Halifax. Recently AE spoke with local writer/actor Emily Jewer about her one-woman show Speaks Alone and of the pleasures and perils of her profession.

How long have you been involved with theatre, and in what capacity?
I have been involved in theatre since I was a child. My first role in a play was a mermaid in a daycare production of Peter Pan! I continued through high school, heading up the Drama Club, taking classes and even some directing but the drama program there wasn't really comprehensive. When I got to university (Mount Allison) I found myself in a great little black box theatre with a lot of maritime theatre professionals to learn from and it really introduced me to the possibility of doing this as a career. At this point I have done almost everything you can do in the theatre; stage management, acting, costume/set/sound and makeup design, producing, just to name a few. But I've found myself always drawn back to being on stage instead of behind the scenes so it's what I'm focusing on now.

What inspired you to produce your first show for Fringe?
I think the nature of Fringe was a large factor in deciding to take my project to the stage. In fringe festivals, especially in Halifax, you get to see a lot of great theatre, including some more experimental type things -shows that you wouldn't normally see outside of a festival that might not garner as much attention if produced on its own because of being outside the traditional format for a play or a musical. Speaks Alone fits into the category, it's not traditional at all, it doesn't have an over-arching plot to follow or character dialogues. So I thought Fringe would be the perfect place to try out this project.

What are the challenges of the gig?
The show is essentially a "monologue cabaret". It's consists of twenty monologues, from Shakespeare to Chekhov to MacIvor, and it covers a wide variety of genres and tones. The challenge is creating these 20 very real women. I've been in shows before where I've played multiple characters but that kind of show is usually within the farcical comedy zone of theatre where characters tend to be bigger and less natural. Whereas this project requires me to develop a lot of characters that not only have to be different from one another but are also very much rooted in reality and need to resonate with my audience.

What are the rewards?
The entire experience has been very much like being back in school, which is something I have missed. When you're in theatre school you are constantly working and learning and challenging yourself. But I found when graduated I suddenly didn't have the same drive or motivation that the structure of class gave me for my work. And I find that's an issue with a lot of actors, we don't have the constant push to work on our skills when we aren't actually "working". So I guess the most rewarding thing about this has been the challenge and learning experience of it all. Not only have I been stretching my "acting muscles" but also doing a lot of the research and play reading I tended to procrastinate on when I was in school. Also, when it's all over, I will never again be able to say I don't have a monologue ready for an audition.

What can audiences expect to experience at the performance?
Stories; a slice of twenty different women's lives. Because I am performing only a fraction of each play I had to choose each monologue very carefully. They needed to stand on their own, tell a story and give you an insight into the character despite being taken out of context. The result gives you twenty stories about love, family, relationships, growing up, loss and many other themes that will be relatable to my audiences. Actors always talk about the importance of finding something of themselves in every character, which is true and definitely something I strived to do with each character in this performance. But I think it's also important for the audience to do the same, make a connection with the characters, find yourself in them. And I hope that audiences will be able to do that with the women I portray in this show.

What are your thoughts on the state of theatre in Halifax and Atlantic Canada?
Halifax has been a really great place to start out in. I have found the theatre community incredibly supportive of young artists and eager to integrate them into the community. However one of the issues I have found, and that is being discussed regularly right now, is the use of local talent, particularly within the larger theatre companies. Far too often, talent is sourced from the larger Canadian cities, or even from the US, instead of looking within the pool of very talented performers in Atlantic Canada. In some cases auditions aren't even be offered within Halifax or the Maritimes before directors head to Toronto. Sometimes it seems the only way to be cast in an eastern Canadian show is to move west first.

What can we be doing better?
Use local performers. Exhaust your options within the Maritimes before going west and especially before sourcing talent from the US. How can we foster Canadian theatre if we cast from outside Canada? 

What's next on your creative agenda?
I don't have anything concrete planned but this being my fourth show in a row (I spent some time on stage at TAG and Dartmouth Players) I am looking forward to having a little breather perhaps. I've been doing some writing and more than anything I'd be happy to have some time to focus on that. However, you never know what role is going to come around so I would still be elated to find myself in another show soon after Fringe ends.

Speaks Alone debuts at the Pier 21 Museum Bronfman Theatre
Friday August 31 at 9.30pm

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