SummerWorks 2012: Q&A With Playwright Jesse Stong

Breathe For Me playwright Jesse Stong talks about his new show at the SummerWorks Performance Festival

A friendship lasting 50 years is one that has withstood countless ups and downs, as well as plenty of laughter and tears. Lifelong friendship is a central theme in Real Eyes Theatre’s Breathe for Me—A Finely Aged Love Story, on stage from August 9, at this year’s SummerWorks Performance Festival. Theatromania caught up with Breathe For Me playwright Jesse Stong to find out more.

Theatromania: Tell us a little bit about Edna and Edith, the two main characters in Breathe for Me. Who are they individually and how did they become such close friends?

JS: Edna and Edith met in high school and were instantly best friends. In the 1950s Edith decided to go the traditional route of getting married and having a child, while Edna played her wild card and left on an adventure to California. After 12 years apart, they reunited through circumstance and have shared their Toronto home for 50 years. They’ve also shared a life of secrets, lies and untold feelings. The play takes place in the present day, and a queer idea is put on the table that challenges Edith and Edna’s lifelong friendship.

Edith is the caregiver in the relationship, whereas Edna (an epileptic alcoholic with a history of troublemaking) plays the recipient of Edith’s attention. Edna is more of a “hard knocks” personality, and Edith tries to keep her conservative, traditional energy, though it isn’t easy when being sassed and argued with by Edna. The two of them have both lived a long life with plenty of regrets. Today everything comes to the surface and their long past reaches a breaking point of admission.

Theatromania: What can this production teach us about friendship in general? What can be learned from the experiences of the characters?

JS: All you have is the people you love, and even though we often fight out of habit there are days when we take the tougher route, being open and honest, being emotional and sharing our deepest truths. This play is about the universal need to admit yourself eventually, and the bond these two women share shows that for better or for worse, we need the people we love, and we need them to know who we really are.

It’s never too late to tell the ones you love how you feel.

Theatromania: Was this a challenging production to bring to the stage? What were some of the difficulties in completing the finished product?

JS: Finding actors (it is a two-hander that requires experienced actors) who are willing to take the risks and be vulnerable and brave on stage. This play requires a real abandon of superficiality and in order to accurately and authentically portray the women in this play it required actors who would be willing to give themselves over to the experience. Thankfully Deborah Kipp and Peggy Mahone are incredibly talented and deliriously experienced, so I can’t say it has been a difficult experience.

Also the play is circular in nature (as are most older relationships) so it is a real marathon hour for the women involved—so much happens in the hour (50 years of secrets coming to the surface) that it requires real stamina.

Theatromania: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s SummerWorks Performance Festival?

JS: I am looking forward to reactions from the audience, especially those who are represented on this stage (whether that be seniors, or women, or even people with untold secrets). I am a young writer but I spent an entire year creating a timeline and getting into the minds of these characters. I also have worked in social work for 10 years and with a lot of older generations of people, and I hope the experience I brought to this project comes to full fruition.

Also, Ed Roy (the director) and I have had a six-year friendship but have never worked together on something I wrote. I am so proud of the work he does and to see that award-winning energy turned on my own baby is an enormous pleasure to watch and an exciting process to be a part of. He is brilliant at what he does and that mixed with a wonderful cast is, I hope, going to create something special and touching on stage. Our actresses, Peggy and Deb, graduated from the same National Theatre School class and are back together again all these years later to be in this piece. I wrote this piece in my first year at NTS, and it is exciting for me to see all this NTS energy coming together!

Breathe For Me runs from August 9 at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Schedule:

Thurs August 9, 10:00 PM
Sat August 11, 12:00 PM
Sun August 12, 2:30 PM
Mon August 13, 5:00 PM
Thurs August 16, 10:00 PM
Sat August 18, 7:30 PM

Show Dates: 
Wed, 2012-08-08 - Sat, 2012-08-18


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