Q&A: Kat Sandler Rocks Out
Toronto's hottest new playwright talks about her latest show at the Storefront Theatre
Kat Sandler is on a hit-playwriting roll. Her show Help Yourself premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival last year to rave reviews, and was selected for both the Best of Fringe and the Patron’s Pick. Other popular works include the sexually-charged Delicacy and LoveSexMoney.
Sandler’s new show, Rock, a dark comedy about a young man who hears voices telling him to kill bad people with rocks, is poised to be another smash success. We caught up with the busy indie theatre darling to find out more about her latest creation.
Theatromania: Tell us about Rock. What inspired this play?
KS: The story of Rock was based on an earlier play I had begun called "Red Pill," which was about a husband and wife who have to decide how to cover up a body. Something in the earlier framework wasn't working, and I shifted the relationship to be that of best friends, and kept the character of the wife on as a fiancee, and developed her in an entirely different direction. It's really about unconditional love and the depths we'll go to to protect someone we care about. I'm also incredibly inspired by the actors that I work with as a director and writer, and so much of the cast has ended up in the script, because we always workshop plays on their feet. For me, that's the best way to work. The play has developed into a kind of extended exploration of a "what if" scenario.
Theatromania: Can you describe the production in a sentence or two?
KS: Comedy and dark subject matter have always gone hand-in-hand for me, and Rock is no exception, with elements of farce, vaudeville, and theatre of the absurd. It's a pitch-black comedy that addresses big issues like guilt, love and crime through a fast-paced romp.
Theatromania: Your plays explore the darker side of human nature. What fascinates you about the grey areas of modern morality?
KS: I think we've come to this incredibly interesting social place where we're fascinated by bad people and the things they do—look at The Sopranos, Dexter and Breaking Bad. What interests me is the mechanics behind these people's decisions and actions. For every cool and collected and premeditated murder, there must be two bumbling idiots in ski masks trying to figure out how to tie someone to a chair. In each of these plays, I'm interested in how we justify our actions, and the arguments that make sense to us, in the context of society, religion, family values and the entire melting pot of information and culture that makes up an individual living in the 21st century in Canada. I feel like, as outlandish as a lot of these scenarios are, they aren't so far outside the realm of reality that they don't make sense, and there's definitely an interesting discussion to be had there.
Theatromania: What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced during rehearsals for this show?
KS: For a long time, I was worried that the show wouldn't be taken seriously because of it's light-hearted feel, or that we would offend people with our cavalier attitude of discussing these big awful themes. I think we've found a nice balance in rehearsal of comedy and heavy ideas.
This is also the fastest we've ever produced a play, and the play itself was in a very early draft form when we decided to put it up. From start to opening night, we rehearsed in three weeks, and were working with an ever-changing script. That's incredibly difficult for the actors, but also as a writer/director to get a feel for the overall tone and pace of the play.
Also, as I get older, I seem to be more and more interested in putting real food onstage. This is very difficult for a production like Rock, where there's very little money to spare for things like steak, hot dogs, and shrimp, all of which have to be consumed onstage. The sheer amount of props for this show was also daunting—I always want to make sure I know where each thing is, who brings it on, where it lives in the world of the play, etc., whether it's a BBQ chicken or a giant rock.
Theatromania: What do you hope audiences take away from Rock?
KS: Honestly, I hope they are entertained. It's winter. It's cold, the weather's been bad, and there always seem to be a lot of personal and family dramas at this time of year, and I just want people to laugh and enjoy themselves. There are so many plays that people refer to as "quintessential Canadian plays" about horribly depressing subjects, and I just wanted to create something that didn't take itself seriously. There's lots of stuff to read into the play, there are big themes, and big questions, and things I hope spark a discussion at the bar, but mostly I just want people to giggle and enjoy themselves and share a laugh about ghosts.
Theatromania: What’s next for you?
KS: Playwrights Project (Sam Shepard!) in May, and then a site-specific Fringe play, another original, We Are the Bomb, about a group of slackers who form their own country in a bar when Canada declares prohibition in a not-so-distant future. And then maybe some sleep. Sleep would be good:)
Catch Rock until March 23 at the Storefront Theatre. Visit theatrebrouhaha.com for more information and to buy tickets.