This writer, director, producer and set-designer is so loved by The Cultch he needs no introduction. From his 2011 dramatic hit 1984 to the smash hit Broken Sex Doll currently wowing audiences on The Cultch stage, Andy Thompson of Vancouver’s The Virtual Stage shares his creative process behind Broken Sex Doll, or as The Province reviewer Jerry Wasserman likes to call it: “The biggest hit of the season and maybe the Next Big Thing in Canadian theatre!” We recently caught up with Andy Thompson to talk about producing his new feature length feature.
SC: The last time you were at The Cultch you enjoyed enormous success with 1984. How does it feel to be back in the historic theatre with Broken Sex Doll?
AT: It’s a tremendous honour, of course, to have been invited back to The Cultch! The venue is so intrinsically awesome, the acoustics are amazing, it has such history and The Cultch’s team is so friendly and helpful. It’s really a great place to work.
SC: You’ve been successful in staging both dramas and comedies. Which do you prefer?
AT: Ha, that’s a funny question. Well I certainly had my fill of “doom and gloom” with No Exit (set in hell) and 1984 (set in a hellish totalitarian state). Broken Sex Doll is certainly a fun and much-needed bounce back into the realm of comedy and laughter. I think I’ve had my quota of producing dark works filled for the time-being! I’m really excited about doing more comedy. Letting “fun” be my guide—for myself and the audience alike—in my last two shows (I’m including The Zombie Syndrome here) has been a tremendous value in my work recently. It gives me a bounce in my step and a warmth in my heart that I’d like to continue to nurture.
SC: This production was originally created in the fall of 2011 for Theatre Under the Gun. Can you talk a bit about the evolution of this production?
AT: It’s been quite a journey. The original was created and performed in only 5 days, so there was little time to work detailed back stories. For this version, I dove headfirst into character arcs and backgrounds and the end result was this “new, full-length” version of the show. It is now functioning as a sort of sequel to the original. The original told the story of how Ginger gets tossed out in the first place. This new version tells the story of what happens after she’s dumped… at the dump.
As well, in this new version, the major character of Daryl is introduced. He was not in the original. For a time, in the re-write process as I was developing the character of The King (who is essentially a futuristic porn star), I realized that I was unclear about who The King was and who this new character of Daryl was, in terms of their respective roles in the new version of the story. What has emerged is a sort of battle: Daryl functions as a kind of “Dirk Diggler” (from Boogie Nights; essentially an unlikely porn star) who is thrust into stardom. He turns out to threaten The King. I’m really happy with how it has turned out. I do think a little bit of tightening could be done, so I’ll be looking to perhaps trim a bit from Act One in any future remounts to keep things clipping along. But it’s minor cuts that I’m imagining. The script is overall in great shape, I think.
SC: What have been the challenges in adapting the original 20 minute performance into a full-length production?
AT: Well the first challenge was turning it into a full-length script and all that comes with that process. Once that was more or less accomplished, then the challenge of producing a large-scale theatre piece then emerged. Finding a way to make the show as “big” as possible (it “wants” to be a big show) on our fairly limited resources was also quite challenging. But we were really blessed with angels on this show, such as with our Technical Director Duncan MacCallum, who poured his heart and soul into the set build. He is just one example, though. This production, much like the inaugural production of No Exit (which we co-produced with Electric Company Theatre at the Centre for Digital Media a few years ago) is a real example of members of our community coming together in a united cause that they all believe in. It’s been quite a magical process. And everyone at The Cultch has been so incredibly welcoming and supportive.
SC: Can you talk about the collaborative process working with musical composer Anton Lipovetsky?
AT: I approached Anton almost a year ago. After he agreed to come on board to write the music for about ten songs, we had some working sessions together. In a “sesh” we would just hang out, have tea or coffee and snacks, riff on ideas and sing together. I wrote the lyrics and he wrote the music. Occasionally I had musical ideas or Anton had lyric ideas, but the roles generally fell cleanly along those lines, so that is how it’s credited. It was a lot of fun. We each listened to one another quite a bit and respected the opinion of the other, so it was a really healthy and productive working relationship.
We then had a workshop in August 2012 sponsored by The Cultch in its Culture Lab. That workshop was instrumental in the development of the show. I am so grateful for Heather Redfern for allowing us to hang out for that critical week and work on the piece in that facility. We worked on music, the script and choreography. The developmental process that summer was crucial to the show’s later success.
After that week in August, Anton and I continued to have lengthy “song sessions” hammering out more music and lyrics. It was very positive and synergetic and resulted in the very diverse, eclectic musical score that is now so critical to the piece’s success. And it has over 15 or so songs: much more than Anton came on board for. Ha ha! It should also be noted that one song, Rise and Shine is actually the creation of Neezar, who plays The King. He is a songwriter in his own right and had that song in his repertoire. I loved it for the show and he agreed to loan it to the production for the top of Act Two. Anton tweaked it a bit to blend into the overall sound and the end result works well, I think.
SC: What are some of the challenges in writing and staging a musical in comparison to a play?
AT: Well a musical of course requires choreography, so I had to get that sorted out. Jane Osborne and Vanessa Goodman of The Contingency Plan have been on board Broken Sex Doll essentially from day one of the original piece. They are amazing, lovely, incredibly talented artists. I am so grateful for everything they brought to the show. As a producer I had to make sure to give them the time they needed to choreograph numbers with the cast, so that was a bit of a balancing act. But it all worked out. The movement is great and really supports and enhances the storytelling.
This production also marks my first time working with lav mics. We couldn’t afford a live band, so Anton arranged and recorded pre-recorded tracks that the cast sings live to. They are mixed in the tech booth with the lav-captured live vocal performances. This was something Anton and I were willing to do, artistically (not just for financial reasons) it made sense in a “sci-fi musical” that the music would be pre-recorded and effects heavy. In future productions, producers could go with a live band, or license Anton’s tracks and use them instead. It’s pretty cool.
Broken Sex Doll runs at The Cultch until March 24. Tickets start at $17 and can be purchased at tickets.thecultch.com, by phone at 604.251.1363, or in person at The Cultch Box Office, 1895 Venables St.