Making the grade in Canadian theatre isn’t easy. But two independent companies based in Ottawa are starting to spread their wings. Matthew Venner and Matt Hertendy have made a bit of a name for themselves with their success at the Ottawa Fringe Festival in 2016 and in a 2017 collaboration with another start-up Amped Up Theatre founded by Lauren Welchner and Monica Bradford-Lea. Now both have been accepted into fringe festivals, east and west. The Two Kind Boys are headed to Halifax with their show Rideshares & Rope Swings and those Amped Up women are headed to Victoria, B.C., with their play In Waking Life. But before they go they are trying to raise some funds with three nights (Aug. 18 to Aug.20) of a double-bill at The Avalon Studio, 738A Bank St. (For information on tickets, click here). And before that they explained themselves to ARTSFILE.
Q. Who are the Two Kind Boys and where does your interest in theatre come from?
A. Matthew Venner: Two Kind Boys is myself and Matt Hertendy and our goal is to stretch ourselves as artists, to keep trying out new stuff, as we’ve always sort of drawn that out of each other.
Matt Hertendy: It is important that young artists support each other. And that’s where we come in … to impose the iron fist of friendship upon everyone we meet.
MV: That type of environment is hopefully what allows us all to spread our wings and stuff.
MH: Soon we’ll be Two Kind Birds. For me it’s the immediacy of the reactions and the energy of performing in front of an audience. It’s just not something you can experience anywhere else.
MV: The escape you find in theatre is different from the escapism you find anywhere else. … It’s so reflective and shared and inherently social. My interest comes from a curiosity about that weird space, and how it’s built — that space where the door closes and you’re taken somewhere else, together.
Q. Why the name Two Kind Boys?
MH: Before we applied to perform at the 2016 Ottawa Fringe Festival, we struggled to think of a company name. Then one of us asked ‘What do you call two kind boys who just want to make theatre?’ And it was like, ‘Wait, say that again?’ Two Kind Boys stuck. It began as a bit of a joke, but after we went public with the name, it caught on so fast. … It also speaks to what we aim to do with the company, which is to create new things with people we like. If something good comes out of it, that’s great.
Q. How about some history of your work together?
MV: We both went to Carleton University and met through Sock ‘n’ Buskin, which (Matt) was running at the time, and which I’m running now (laughs). We dug what we were working on, but it was also clear that we wanted to pursue the independent route, so we teamed up to produce a script that Matt had been working on for awhile called Rideshares & Rope Swings. We staged it in 2016 and it won a couple of Prix Rideau Awards. So we decided to keep doing what we were doing. We created an experimental piece for the Fresh Meat Fest, helped create a site-specific show called House Show for Ottawa Fringe 2017 and workshopped a script this month that you’ll hopefully see sometime soon.
MH: We met Amped Up Theatre at the 2016 Ottawa Fringe Festival. We were two of the younger companies to be producing shows there, so naturally we became friends. We co-created House Show with them and some other young creators. In a sense, these two companies make up a sort of movement in the Ottawa theatre scene, in which young creators are creating their own opportunities to produce new work while creating an environment of support and collaboration.
Q. Tell me about Amped Up Theatre?
Lauren Welchner: Amped Up Theatre consists of Monica and myself. We are super passionate about pushing the boundaries of traditional theatre, creating innovative new works.
Monica Bradford-Lea: In just this last year, we have created three different shows. With all of these productions, we have performed in non-traditional venues, always creating shows that have an emphasis on fun and humour, but also have poignant moments and relatable characters.
LW: As a young company, we are so excited to continue to create work together, and share our work with our audiences. We now can’t wait to travel to the Victoria fringe festival this summer, and perform our show In Waking Life there.
Q. Give me a little history of your work together?
LW: Amped Up Theatre was founded to perform In Waking Life, at the 2016 Ottawa Fringe. Since then the company has grown, and we are so excited to keep making work.
MBL: Since we premiered In Waking Life last summer, we collaborated with Ottawa companies Two Kind Boys, Second Step, and PUSH to create the immersive production House Show at the 2017 Ottawa Fringe Festival which took place in an apartment unit in downtown Ottawa.
LW: Then this summer, we brought a new creation For All InTents to the Kingston Storefront Fringe. The show was staged in a large camping tent. With this production, we won the Kingston Fringe’s Spirit of the Fringe award.
Q. Why have you followed the independent theatre route?
MH: It’s indicative of the theatre ecosystem in which there are a number of larger institutions which we don’t have the experience to work in yet or we’re just not on their radar in terms of the style and content that they look for for their subscribers. So we have to take advantage of the talent and opportunities in the independent scene that institutions such as the Ottawa Fringe and others provide for us, and also opportunities we make for ourselves. (laughs)
MBL: I think a lot of it also really comes out of a passion we all have for having the authority on our own work. We all enjoy the process from beginning to end of what it takes to make a show happen. There is such satisfaction in this. And like we said before, we always want to push boundaries with our work, and try new things. We have the full authority to do whatever we want when operating from our own independant companies.
Q. What are you learning about being professional theatre artists?
MH: The definition of professional is so different than what you’d think. It’s not just NAC ensemble. It’s really about making work for yourself, and putting yourself out there and commanding respect for yourself as an artist.
MV: Opportunities aren’t just handed to you and, even when they are, you aren’t exactly guided through them. They’re just given, and you’re entrusted to find your own way with them, and self-motivate, and make use of these platforms as you see fit.
LW: We just need to go out there, and keep creating our own work. Make our own opportunities, just like we have here, in producing our own double-bill with the Two Kind Boys.
Q. It can be a hard life. Why are you doing it?
LW: We all have a passion for it, but passion is only part of it. We all have the determination to do the work and feel that we have something to contribute to the theatre world that just might shift some perspectives, open some eyes or maybe just make people laugh a little.
MBL: I think it is important to note that artists need to be paid appropriately. We need to encourage a culture that values art and is willing to give artists money for the work that we do. People value entertainment and are willing to pay for it. We just need to encourage (more support for) independent theatre and art. Just because something is small does not mean it is not powerful.
Q. Tell me about the double bill on Aug. 18-20.
MH: Rideshares & Rope Swings is a story of a rideshare agreement from Ottawa to Thunder Bay, that goes awry, forcing two strangers to spend a night in the wilderness together. Ultimately it is a story about friendship and the importance of maintaining human connection. In 2016 it won the Prix Rideau Award for Outstanding New Creation, and just a few weeks ago it saw its international premiere, when it was produced by the 21st Ward Theatre Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
LW: In Waking Life is a show about two kooky psychic sisters. They invite the audience into their business, where they answer questions, tell fortunes, interpret dreams and more. It is fun but also heart-warming and thoughtful.
MV: We found out we were accepted into the Halifax Fringe, and then Amped Up found out they were going to Victoria Fringe, so it seemed like a natural fit that we come together for an evening of theatre.
MH: This is also the first time we will have performed these shows since the 2016 Ottawa Fringe. So it’s a great opportunity to catch two of their favourites from that year and support local artists who are taking their work to each coast. All of the proceeds will go to our tours.
MBL: It will be exciting to perform these shows in new venues, and then in different provinces. Our original production of In Waking Life took place in the basement of a pub. Our show worked around a large pool table bolted to the floor. We have reworked the show for a more traditional space, which is trickier than you’d think.
MH: We’ll perform Rideshares with the original cast. The Halifax fringe runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 10. It’s our first time touring as The Boys. We’re gonna eat a lot of seafood and have a great time.
Q. Amped Up heads to Victoria?
MBL: One day after the double bill closes, we will hop on a 5 a.m. flight to Victoria. The festival there runs Aug. 23 to Sept. 3.
LW: I’m at school there at the Canadian College of Performing Arts, and I am so excited to bring this show to a city I’ve fallen so in love with and share it with all these wonderful new friends of mine.