Published on September 18th, 2013 | by Biz Books0
The Biz Interview: Justine Warrington of The Oblivion Series: A (Not So) Girlie Show
Justine Warrington is the creative force behind the new production, The Oblivion Series: A (Not So) Girlie Show, which is currently playing at Playwrights Theatre Centre. Multi-talented in the crafts of acting and writing, Justine took some time out of her busy schedule to tell us more about the show, her creative process, and her career journey.
Tell us a little bit about The Oblivion Series: A (Not So) Girlie Show.
You mean my ‘magnum opus’? Haha! My show is a collection of characters and stories that I’ve been developing over the past few years. It was born out of me wanting to perform material as an actor that I felt really jazzed about. I am a longtime Cold Reading Series participant and one year Lori Triolo dared me to join in on the “Actor’s Challenge” – where actors write their own stuff and have it read at the event. Terrified, I took her advice. Much to my surprise it was quite well received, and from there the show slowly started developing a life.
What can audiences expect from The Oblivion Series: A (Not So) Girlie Show that will make for a unique stage experience?
I’d say that audiences can expect first and foremost to be entertained and to laugh. Also perhaps to be inspired, moved and turned on in a new way. I don’t mean that in a naughty way, but in an “ideas” kind of way. A lot of the ideas in the show seem to resonate with people. I imagine it makes for a unique stage experience because it’s written by an actor – not a professional playwright – so maybe that’s a different sort of thing right out of the gate. Also it’s not structured as a traditional “play” but really as a fun wild romp of a live “show”.
Can you briefly walk us through your creative process of this incarnation of the show – from the early stages all the way to opening night?
That’s a funny story. Basically my co-producer and co-star Lori Watt (who had seen the show in LA) called me up one day and said “hey I have a friend starting a Fringe Festival on the island and how would you feel about doing your show there in June?”
I said yes and we got together to read the monologues, deciding it would be fun to do it just the two of us. We thought originally that we would self-direct (which is hilarious in retrospect) and so began rehearsing at Lori’s place. After a bit we thought: maybe a director friend could look at this just to give another p.o.v., so we contacted Linda Darlow, who agreed to “take a peek”. From there it kind of snowballed into the Zone Festival with Jay Brazeau adjudicating, which was a very fun and encouraging experience. That was actually the moment I thought we were onto something with this new version. The audience feedback was clear.
Now, since joining forces with Alison Araya – who has really amped it up with what she’s bringing to the table – it really feels like it’s up and running with a clear vision and in a great place as a production. The creative process in a nutshell I suppose has been aligning with like-minded people who love this wacky material and are really bringing themselves to it and are showing up in a big way. Oh and HAVING FUN. I should have said that at the beginning. The creative process has mainly been about having fun with this.
The Oblivion Series: A (Not So) Girlie Show has played in a few different cities now. How has it evolved over time and where do you see it changing in the future?
It has evolved a lot. What a journey! Primarily I’d say the show is now finding it’s correct rhythm, and has become a lot funnier. I credit Linda Darlow for this immensely with her direction. Somehow she has elevated it to a wonderfully absurd yet honest and hard-hitting place, if that’s possible to imagine. The earlier iteration in LA was treated a lot more seriously. That’s the interesting thing about creative collaborations: so many possibilities to explore. Also there are a few new pieces in this show that weren’t in LA, and I’ve dropped a couple of old pieces. That’s the beauty of having titled it a “series” – it can always evolve and change as I write new bits. Probably that’s how it will continue to go in future.
What has been the biggest highlight for you with The Oblivion Series: A (Not So) Girlie Show so far?
Two things: #1: Debuting my show in L.A. at the Stella Adler Theatre. That blew my mind and was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments. Huge gratitude to the L.A. Women’s Theater Project for hooking that up. I read Stella Alder’s book on acting back when I was training and her words resonated with me more strongly than most teachers. She is one of the greats – and an original. I never thought I’d be in her theater with my original work. I still get goose bumps thinking of walking around her hallways and hanging out in her speakeasy. I’m pretty sure I could feel her presence in there. I think that’s what they call “walking on your dream”.
#2 biggest highlight has been working with Linda Darlow and the ladies of WaWaYa Productions. It’s simply a joy.
What were the biggest challenges for you in developing this production and how did you deal with them?
The challenges have really only been #1: getting out of my own way and just getting out there with my work, taking the risk, and #2: aligning with the right people to collaborate with. How I dealt with that is by #1: saying yes when there was interest in my show and basically throwing caution to the wind, despite my fear or doubts, and #2: trial and error, and getting clearer on my own vision over time. I sometimes joke that I’ve been work-shopping this show in public, and now it’s finally hitting its stride after all the live experiments.
What advice do you have for other performers who want to develop or act in their own show?
DO IT! Stop thinking about it and actually do it! If you are remotely inspired and have some ideas: write them down, try them out, read them aloud to people, get up on a stage and give it a whirl! I was so scared when I first started with this material and now I can honestly say it is one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences of my life.
The Oblivion Series: A (Not So) Girlie Show is very adult-oriented and draws from your own life. What was the process like of writing from your own experiences? How close does the final version match up with the original life experiences that they were drawn from?
I love how you say “very adult-oriented” – sounds so racy and dangerous! The process of writing from my own experiences is very liberating and empowering. I say in the synopsis that the characters are coming to terms with their lives, but secretly I think I am. There’s something about owning things out loud in front of people. Making them “characters” and putting them on a stage gives the freedom to poke fun at myself and to be creative about how I tell the stories. Hopefully I’m offering a somewhat universal take on the themes I’m exploring, and that the characterizations allow for that detachment that can then resonate more deeply somehow. I like to leave it up to the audience to guess how closely the final version matches up to reality. A girl’s gotta have some privacy. Things are certainly embellished and altered for dramatic (and comedic) effect.
What are the advantages of writing roles for yourself and acting in something that you’ve written? Are there any challenges?
The advantage is that I already know the characters because I wrote them. I already feel a sense of freedom and confidence because it’s from me. It feels natural right out of the gate to speak the words. There’s not that same searching and discovery process that comes from taking on a role written by someone else. There is still discovery, it just starts from a totally different place. The challenge has mainly been in marrying the p.o.v. of my director about the characters with my own, and allowing space in my writer brain for that much needed director p.o.v. Also it’s sometimes hard to separate my writing and acting brains, when they are both going on at once. But that’s a challenge I am thoroughly enjoying.
What were your reasons for getting involved with acting and writing to begin with?
Reasons? Ha! I’m not sure reason had anything to do with it! I have been making things up and getting people to watch me since the age of four. It’s just something I’ve always done. That’s from the acting side of things anyway. I guess there is a reason I got more involved as a writer these past years, and that’s because I wasn’t feeling entirely satisfied as an actor. I love performing but I only ever sometimes felt like the material was rocking my world. I needed more, and writing has certainly filled that hole.
Again I go back to what Lori Triolo preaches at the CRS: “…if you’re not satisfied with the work you’re getting, create your own!”
Who are the performers, writers, or directors that have been influential to you?
Along with those already mentioned… Eve Ensler, Meryl Streep (it’s not cliché, she’s a genius!), Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Sacha Baron Cohen, Stephen Colbert, Marilyn Monroe, Ani DiFranco, Bob Marley and ummm, Madonna. To bring a local flavor I’m gonna go with Kate Twa, Andrew McIlroy, Lynne Stopkewich, Rob Stewart, Kris Elgstrand, Dylan Akio Smith, and Tony Pantages.
Are there any books or specific authors that have been influential to you so far in your creative journey?
Oh goodness there are so many! Off the top of my head, in acting school my favorite reads from a training point of view were Stella Adler and Uta Hagen. Also Michael Caine’s Acting in Film. Tina Fey’s Bossypants is SUCH a great read. I read a lot of non-fiction, quantum physics and healing stuff. At the moment I’m going between Joanna Macy’s Active Hope: How To Face The Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy, and Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook. Also I hear Linda Darlow has a new book coming out. That’s gonna be a must-have for every actor.
What can you share about any future projects that are in development?
I’m playing with ideas on how to translate some of this existing work into short film format. On the live performance front I’ve recently developed some 5 minute comedy sets that I’ve been performing at local comedy venues. I plan to elaborate on this, and am slowly but surely developing new material for an hour long show.
The Oblivion Series: A (Not So) Girlie Show is now on at Studio 1398 (Playwrights Theatre) Granville Island. For tickets, please visit: Oblivion.BrownPaperTickets.com