In the Blog
Almost But Not Quite Touching: an interview with the co-creators
Almost But Not Quite Touching is the debut play of the Tough Toots Theatre Folks, performed in October of this year in Toronto. A completely re-written and re-imagined version of a previous play of the same name and entirely written, directed and performed by women and trans* folks, Almost But Not Quite Touching was described by its creators as follows: “Be prepared to laugh, to learn, and to cry. Enter the minds of real people in a cabaret style dealing with real life,with relationships, gender variance, one night stands, queerness, love, and indescribable pain.”
The following interviews with co-creator and director Molly McGregor and co-creator Lucy Gervais have been edited for length and clarity.
SHAMELESS: Can you describe the play and your motivations for creating and directing it? What was the process like? MM: The play is a collective creation on the subject of sexuality and intimacy. The show was a cabaret of love and pain within the confines of those two intense subjects.
I originally directed and co-wrote the first draft of the play in May 2013, and after receiving some grant money from Linda Eyman, Toronto Jazz/Opera Vocalist, and partnering with Lucy, I decided to add more and make the piece more whole. I wanted to get a different perspective that would evoke different emotional responses in the audience: masturbation, consent, the moments during sex that no one really wants to talk about, responses someone may receive on OK Cupid. We really wanted to explore it all.
When I was directing this piece, I wanted to make sure every actor had the chance to share their opinion on the subjects brought up while moving as a collective. So we had each actor contribute at least one writing piece about a certain subject, including online dating, having mind blowing sex with your genderqueer lover, the horrible feeling as someone cancels the date for the evening, and advice on how to be good to yourself.
LG: I wanted to put on a play because I didn’t pursue any meaningful artistic endeavors with my year off, which bothered me quite a bit. I contacted Molly because I knew that if anyone could get a play done, it was her. I didn’t have any specific vision in mind, but I knew that we would come up with something fantastic if we collaborated and melted some ideas together, which is exactly what we did.
We started talking about putting a play on in July. By August, we’d arranged meetings fueled by coffee and the urge to write and showcase some truth. We talked about a few ideas, but the one we decided to go with was to re-make of a play Molly had produced sometime last year (I remember the weather was warm when I went to see it), and we agreed that as great as Almost But Not Quite Touching was the first time, we could go a little deeper with it. We felt there was a need to provide perspective on the complexities of sex and sexuality that are often ignored or just not talked about, such as pain, rejection, consent (or lack thereof) and second-guessing your decisions in relation to your sex life.
The process was simple at first. Sit down, write, jam, express, be honest, get that shit down somewhere. Bring everything you have, let’s look at it, and maybe try to come up with something new as well. The last part of the process I remember clearly was casting, which was great fun. My input had never meant so much in a project before. I was an executive decision maker in that department, and it felt really cool. We invited as many people as possible to audition (which was women and trans* only), and we wound up looking at roughly twenty very different performers. Molly and I decided on four of the actors, making a cast of five (myself being one of the cast members.) After that, we were a go for rehearsals, right as I was starting my freshman year of college.
Rehearsals themselves were interesting. We as a team loved each other instantly, but because everyone was under so much stress and pressure in their lives, we had many instances of aggression and frustration with one another.
To summarize, it was an incredibly hard process for me most of the time, and there were moments where I felt like I had to quit, but you can’t make diamonds without pressure. Our play, while not particularly profitable (we knew it wouldn’t be from the beginning, and everyone understood that this was a passion project) got incredible feedback from our audience. I was moved by people’s reactions to what we’d poured ourselves into, and still feel that it was entirely worth my time and effort. No relationships were hurt, we all still love each other and have plans to hang out/work together in the future. It’s really just part of the process, you know?
For me, this opportunity was incredibly important, because it felt like the first step toward the career I desire to have. My ambitions are to simultaneously act and write in projects I involve myself with, and there I was, doing exactly that, and I learned that doing what you love is a feasible goal.
SHAMELESS: What was challenging/exceptional about doing a play like this and being true to your personal politics? Particularly in terms of casting, dividing up work, creating accurate representations, or anything else that came up. MM: I found it difficult because the creative team I had originally hired were too busy with school to help us out. Luckily, we had a brilliant stage manager and I had the cast draw out interpretations of their sexuality. We created a set together and the actors had a lot of influence on the costumes. It was a collective effort. I found it difficult mainly because we were practicing in my attic! Talk about lack of rehearsal space in Toronto…
LG: Well, what made me the most uncomfortable was not knowing what to do when someone said or did something that I felt was problematic. I was stuck between “that’s something we need to talk about” and “goddamn it, Lucy, don’t be so self-righteous and preachy.” I found myself being quiet about things most of the time, understanding that I didn’t want to create an environment where people were worried about being criticized, even at the expense of my own comfort. I think we were all experiencing self-censorship, which I suppose balances things out. It can be hard to speak up; there shouldn’t be pressure to be perfect or for others to constantly keep themselves in check.
I’d like to develop a method of discussion that is conducive to safety and speaking freely while not oppressing people. That’s a goal of mine.
SHAMELESS: Are there other similar works out there that you derived inspiration from? Or is your play a response to a lack of representation? MM: What orgiinally inspired me to start the project, way back in Sept of 2012, was a play I saw called Them and Us at Theatre Passe Muraille. It was brilliant and moving and focused on painful intimate moments in relationships in a cabaret style. However, I found it to mainly focus on heterosexual issues, and I wanted to explore everyone’s perspective. And I wanted people coming out of the play to have a better understanding of different sexual issues and generate positive discussion. For example, the misconceptions of non-verbalized consent is a very common subject, but not one that many people want to think about. I figured it was time we placed the subject on the table.
LG: Little bit of both, really.
If I were to attempt to list all of my sources of inspiration, I’d never be able to stop out of fear of leaving someone out.
Right now, I’d say my biggest influence is Janelle Monae. She’s ridiculously talented, political, and her concept albums play with civil rights and science fiction. I adore her creativity and outspokenness, and listening to her music keeps me motivated to create from a genuine place in myself, and not necessarily what others might want from me. She’s the biggest deal right now, in my opinion - her and Laverne Cox.
I feel like every piece I have a hand in producing is going to a response to a lack of representation. I fully intend to give priority to queers, trans* folks, and people of colour in the roles and stories that I develop. I think that there’s a tremendous lack of attention given to the stories of the most marginalized of people, and I’ve always wanted to ensure that there is space for everyone in my work. I hope I can follow through with this, because I’ve made some big promises and I don’t want to let anyone down.
SHAMELESS: What would you do differently next time, if anything? MM: I would have given ourselves more time to work on the script and more time to advertise. I would never put it on during a civic holiday. Don’t get me wrong - the performances were all great - it’s just that a lot of our audience was at Thanksgiving dinner.
LG: On my next project that I’d like to be in charge … and have more snacks.
SHAMELESS: Anything else you’d like to share? MM: It was a lot of work, but worth it. I hope people left the Red Sandcastle having learned something (and some did: one audience member learned that the term Queer isn’t just for lesbians).
LG: Oh man, yes, so many things, but I’ll just say this:
I’d like to thank everyone who worked with us for putting in so much effort. Dedication to the arts isn’t for everyone, because it’s rewarding in a different way than most “work” is. Creating is like nothing else, and I can see how, to some, simply making something and putting it out into the world isn’t enough, but I want to tell everyone who loves it to keep doing it. Do whatever you need to do to keep working in the artistic realm. Immerse yourself outside of your day job, constantly learn and explore, and create. Whether you paint, do stand-up, write, whatever your method of expression, you can’t go wrong if you understand that simply doing it is the reward.