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Q&A with Trout Stanley Actors and Producers Tess Degenstein & Hannah Spear

“Firs’ thing I ever heard was my own heartbeat. Next thing I heard was yours.”

Claudia Dey’s dark comedy, Trout Stanley, chronicles the lives of two lonely and offbeat 30-year-old twins who find themselves caught in a love triangle with a stranger who shows up at their doorstep. We recently had a chance to chat with the play’s leading ladies, Tess Degenstein & Hannah Spear about their characters, travel and the whimsy of live theatre.

SDTC: You’ve mentioned that you’re a huge fan of fellow Torontonian Claudia Dey. What is it about her writing that you love?

Tess Degenstein: Claudia Dey has this really rare ability – kind of like Miranda July – to ground the Strange in the Familiar. She conjures a complete world so quickly, one that is so different from our own, and yet one that emphasizes humanity and – almost like a magic trick – is really recognizable.

Hannah Spear: She also has a really wicked sense of humour in the absurd. The jumps between dark and light make this show a wild ride to go on as performers, and, I think, a thrilling one for the audience.

T: The writing is poetic, playful, and really sexy. And so fully formed. As performers you just kind of have to show up to it.

SDTC: Trout Stanley tells the story of two twins turning 30. What have you discovered is good / scary about turning 30 since beginning to work on these characters?

T: There’s an emphasis for these characters on Purpose (capital P). At one point Sugar [Hannah’s character] talks about “the angel that puts her mighty glowing finger” above your lip before you’re born and whispers to you what your purpose is. (That is actually an origin story of the dimple above the upper lip!) In many ways, the characters are all trying to get back to that.

H: Neither of us are 30 yet, but I think we can both relate to the growing pains associated with coming into oneself. It’s a lifelong process obviously, but one that seems to have these heightened expectations around your twenties and thirties, where your life is supposed to kick into high gear with career, family and money. That desire to know yourself profoundly, and be fulfilled in some big way, is definitely at the core of these characters.

SDTC: The New York Times describes it as “Canadian Gothic.” What does that mean to you?

T: The play is really unique in terms of genre. I think the “Canadian Gothic” label is a great way to kind of pin it down. It’s Gothic in the way that it’s this horror / romance hybrid with a really offbeat sense of humour that might be classified as Canadian.

H: The woods play a big part. There’s a really animalistic aspect to the people in Dey’s world. They’re these larger-than-life characters – almost operatic – but rooted in the Canadian outback.

T: Totally operatic! The play was actually made into a German opera, which I would love to see.

SDTC: Tess, you recently lived in Berlin for a couple years. How did that invigorate your creativity?

T: Yeah, speaking of Germany! I had heard this before moving there but was amazed to see for myself how much of a priority the arts are in Europe. Fiscally, culturally, socially, the arts seem to be at the centre of their society, whereas here sometimes I feel like they’re relegated to the periphery – certainly in terms of government funding. With being immersed in that culture and witnessing the sheer amount of work produced came this feeling of empowerment – kind of a right to create.

That city in particular is amazing. It literally feels like a canvas. In obvious ways (i.e., the street art) and subtle ways, like how so many of the spaces are being used and repurposed for art. The Storefront Theatre really has that spirit actually! No wonder I gravitated towards it when I got back!

Also, I have this amazing friend, Johanna Bundon. She’s a modern dancer from the prairies. I remember a conversation I had with her a long time ago where she spoke about the phases of the artist: gathering, transition, and action. I think that we’re all expected, especially in Toronto where the hustle never stops, to spend all of our time in action; being the most busy equals having the most success. My time in Berlin was a gathering gift. I was able to input so much and refuel, so that coming back I just felt hungry to output – to move into action.

SDTC: Hannah, you recently returned from Banff. How did your residency at the Banff Centre invigorate your creativity?

H: My time at the Banff Centre was incredible. The centre is truly set up for maximum inspiration. You walk out your door every morning, take in the majesty of the mountains, and take a deep breath of fresh mountain air. For an entire month I had the luxury of being fully immersed in acting. We worked twelve hours a day. It was challenging. It was blissful. It was bolstering. When working that intensely every day you cannot help but improve, learn new aspects of yourself, and find what’s been hiding underneath.

Aside from the work, one of the best parts of the Banff Centre was the cafeteria! The way it is set up, everyone at the centre eats meals at the same time and in the cafeteria it’s open seating. So at any given meal you could be chatting with a novelist, a visual artist, a musician. Being surrounded by that many creative minds, you can feel this vibration in the atmosphere – it’s infectious. Plus there’s something about a bunch of creatives DOING the work, getting up every morning, putting noses to the grindstone and actually DOING it, not just talking about doing it. It’s inspiring.

The Banff/Citadel Program’s motto is “Stamina, Strength, Agility of the Body, Mind, Heart.” I think about this daily with regards to my work and my life here in Toronto.

SDTC: Live theatre versus an evening of box wine and Netflix: Make your argument in one sentence.

H: The joy of immersion and shared experience; it can change your molecules.

T: Theatre is an event – ride your bike through the city to a show, meet someone new sitting beside you, sit on a patio afterwards and discuss…it’s so rich, so 3-D.

SDTC: Trout Stanley aside, what’s exciting for you right now at this very moment?

T: Sleep. Summer. Snacking. Those essential-esses.

H: Enjoying Toronto in the summer. Lying in parks. People watching. Taking in all the city has to offer. Theatre. Music. Magic.

Trout Stanley runs at the Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor Street West), May 21 to June 6th. Tickets are $15 – $25, and you can buy them HERE!

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