Q&A: Ryan Griffith from the Next Folding Theatre Company

A teaser image for the Next Folding Theatre Company's upcoming production of "Pistols and Petticoats: Shadows of Sarah Emma Edmonds."

The Next Folding Theatre Company’s most recent production, Pistols and Petticoats: Shadows of Sarah Emma Edmonds, opens next week. The show follows the many disguised lives of one of the only female Civil War soldiers, Sarah Emma Edmonds – a Magaguadavic, New Brunswick native. The AQ’s Nicole Vair caught up with Ryan Griffith, artistic director of the company.

What is the history of  the Next Folding Theatre Company?
We were originally founded in 2004 so that we could stage a production of TAKE for the Toronto Fringe. However, in 2010, the company was resurrected for a production of Henry Moon: Conducts and Mischiefs of the Lunar Rogue. The show premiered at the Black Box theatre at St. Thomas University. After that production, the company decided they would like to try producing a full season of theatre in Fredericton. Pistols and Petticoats: Shadows of Sarah Emma Edmonds is the second show of this season, following the production of German Saravanja’s Chicken Hearts and Baby Onions this past January.

Could you explain a bit about the shows collaborative format?
The show is designed to bring together six unique local theatre artists by helping them to foster and develop their theatrical skills through a collaborative storytelling process.

What was it like working with six different people, who all wrote, acted and directed?
As producer for the show, it has been wonderful to see the ways these six storytellers have come together to examine the life of Sarah Emma Edmonds.

What does this type of show bring to the audience by having six different story tellers?
This type of work really makes manifest the communal nature of storytelling. It feels like everyone is sitting around the campfire at night, and everyone is going to get a chance to add to the story being told.  The fact that the subject matter is New Brunswick adds an even more personal layer to the project.

How was the topic of Sarah Emma Edmonds chosen?
Each member of the collective was asked to research local historical topics that they found inspiring or intriguing. Once all of their ideas were collected, the group sat down together and chose which topic spoke to them most strongly as an ensemble.

What was the rehearsal process like for the actors, since they also wrote and directed each piece?
Each member had to write their own 10-minute piece about the life of Sarah Emma Edmonds. Once the drafts were finished, each author cast their own scene, and rehearsals began. Everyone tried to be as available as possible to provide each other with the resources they needed to realize their own vision.

Did these six writers approach you, or was there an audition process?
The six cast members were determined October of last year. We followed the same idea we used when putting together the cast for Henry Moon: Conducts and Mischiefs of the Lunar Rogue. Basically, with this type of collaboration, the company seeks to assemble artists with wildly different skill sets and backgrounds. We feel we have been successful in doing this with this year’s cast.

How does it feel to watch something like this come together?
This process has proven to be extremely rewarding. To be able to unite artists of six different backgrounds is exciting. To watch the same six artists tackle New Brunswick history through such an energetic collaboration has been, quite frankly, a wonderful experience.

Pistols and Petticoats: Shadows of Sarah Emma Edmonds runs Feb. 22-24 at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. Performances begin at 8 p.m. each night and tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students and seniors.

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