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BLANCHE: The Bittersweet Life of a Wild Prairie Dame

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Onalea Gilbertson
July 25, 2012

What is your job on this show?
Writer, Composer, Performer, Producer.

When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
I started singing when I started talking at age 10 months. I always knew I wanted to be a performer. At age 4 I used to put on concerts in my nightgown (because it was long and fancy) and I would charge a nickle, My box office was an empty margarine container with a hole cut out of the top for the money. I used to organize neighbourhood variety shows and set up lawn chairs and go door to door to get audience. I always knew that my way to connect to the world around me was through my voice and through theatre and music. I took free classes and performed as a part of a huge Grandstand show called the Young Canadians from age 14-19 (this is where I met my dear friend Rachel Avery, the director of BLANCHE!!) I started working professionally when I was 19. Inspired by the Canadian theatrical ensemble One Yellow Rabbit that I was a part of for 7 years - I began writing my own material in 2006. I am passionate about storytelling, emotional archeological digging and how that translates to music and the stage. Theatre is magic, theatre creates connection. Theatre is ephemeral. I like it that we can never quite create the moment the same again and that each audience and each show shares something special in a moment that ultimately can't ever be recreated, only remembered.

Why did you want to be part of FringeNYC?
I am new to the community here in NYC. I premiered BLANCHE Off Broadway at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in the fall. I am looking to connect with more artists in the city by seeing and supporting their work - and I am eager to share my work with a larger audience of people!

What was the most memorable/funny/unusual thing that has happened during the development and rehearsal process for this show?
This show is about memory. It is a poetic tribute to BLANCHE and it plays out as if you are inside the mind of an old woman. It is a mash up of torch, folk, jazz and chamber music. Audiences who see this piece often talk a out the themes deep into the night because it brings up so much about legacy and what we will leave behind. Who will remember us when we are gone? Who are the people who have had the most impact on our lives and why...Many people also talk very deeply and poignantly about their own families experiences, and much sharing occurs. When I started with this piece BLANCHE told me her stories. By the end she had moved to the dementia ward of her nursing home and I was telling the stories back to her. BLANCHE is my first project as a songwriter. I have an incredible team of Artists working with me both on and off stage. There are so many wonderful memories associated with this project, but I must say that my life was forever changed the day I first played the songs for my musical collaborators Morag Northey and Jonathan Lewis. They picked up their violin and cello and played along... and the rest is history.

Which cartoon character would you identify your show with: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse, Marge Simpson?
BLANCHE as a cartoon character most resembles the old women from the Triplets of Belleville.

If you had ten million dollars that you had to spend on theatrical endeavors, how would you use the money?
I just recently premiered a Chamber Musical about Homelessness At The 2012 New York Musical Theatre Festival called REQUIEM FOR A LOST GIRL. In the spirit of that piece - I would take over a few buildings in NYC and I would work with a production team to create a mentorship program in all areas of the Arts (dance, film, theatre, music, stage management, visual arts, writing, publicity etc... etc...). This mentorship program would focus on professional artists working with those who are experiencing or who are at risk of homelessness. There would be a season of professional work that would be created along with classes, housing and outreach. There would be a social justice mandate as well as a professional artistic mandate. Theatre and the arts create a forum for change and a garden where community can be nurtured- whether it be entertainment & simply laughing together or coming together to discuss and debate deeper topics. Theatre and art can and does change the world. I am so happy to be a storyteller and an artist. We hold the mirror up to society and we have an important role to play especially in these changing times.