Toronto Fringe Q&A: Polly Polly

Jessica Moss on searching for Jessica Moss

Created by Jessica Moss
Directed by Naomi Skwarna

Jessica Moss is working on getting to know herself. The celebrated writer/performer (credits include Swoon! and TICK at the Toronto Fringe, Modern Love at the Next Stage Festival) returns to this year's Toronto Fringe with her new show Polly Polly, a solo performance she describes as "a cinematic journey into an existential crisis." Here, Moss shares a few learnings from her theatrical journey.

Theatromania: Tell us about Polly Polly. What inspired this play?

JM: I had been thinking a lot about how I sometimes narrate my own story, or a fictionalized, much more exciting version of what I’m doing. I spend a lot of time in a dream world: as Lily Tomlin says, "reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it." Sometimes, when my actual life isn’t going so hot, or just really isn’t that interesting, I’ll just escape into some more elaborate version of it that exists in my head, with lots of sexy plot twists and intriguing developments: I’m a hell of a lot more intriguing in this version than I am in real life, too. So I was thinking about whether the voice that narrates these flights of fancy is my own voice, or why I don’t feel that I necessarily control it. And then if it isn’t me, if I don’t control it, who is that?

Slammed up against this was this idea that torments me, the idea of "finding yourself." I don’t know what that phrase even means, but I say it all the time, and I feel like I’ve failed in some massive way because I haven’t "found myself" yet. How can your self be something separate from you, something that you can find? Is there some happy version of Jessica Moss who doesn’t just go to parties to eat cheese and then hide, who can tap dance, who is effortless and fun and not prone to weeping at long distance commercials? Where the hell is she? So this play, like everything else I do, was inspired by my angst.

Theatromania: Do you think most people will relate to Polly's journey of self discovery?

JM: I don’t know, man. It’s always really scary to share something that you create, because you don’t know if other people feel the same way, if your truths can hold water with anybody else. You can offer your own experience and opinions, and hope that presenting them honestly will strike something with another person, a note of recognition, or maybe a kind of understanding, even if they happen to have had a different experience. That’s all I can hope for.

I tried, with this show, to leave a lot of room for people to make their own conclusions and have their own experience. To leave some things up to the audience. Hopefully there’s room there for people to give of themselves, to fill in the blanks, and create something personal for themselves, with me. I think it’s interesting to think about the idea of "self," and how we think about ourselves. Other people must think about that, right? I think a lot of people are prone to sudden and sometimes terrifying moments of existential musings. They strike me in the dead of night and feel like a small rock right below my sternum.

Theatromania: Have you learned anything new from this process?

JM: This has been a very DIY experience for me: fringes and festivals always are, but this was a whole new level. It really was me in a room, figuring a lot out, building stuff.... I think I learned a lot of practical stuff, which is thrilling for me, as I tend to be someone who is less great at what others would call "useful skills." The lesson that I’m trying to learn is that everything is practice. This is one thing I do, and it will help me do the next thing better. And there will be a next thing, no matter what happens with Polly Polly. I keep repeating that. I hope it sticks.

Theatromania: What excites you most about this year's Toronto Fringe Festival?

JM: I’m excited to see work by people that I do not know. I am also excited to see work by the wonderful people that I do know, but it’s so fun to discover new artists and take chances on shows that don’t come with any guarantees.

Theatromania: What's next for you?

JM: I’m going to do a wee little something at Lab Cab at the end of July, and then keep writing. And I’d like to act in something again soon, maybe something that I don’t write. I’ve been doing new(ish) work for quite a while, so I’d love to do a Chekhov or a Shakespeare, that is what I am hungry for right now. And then hopefully more plays. Always always always more plays.

Catch Jessica Moss in Polly Polly until July 13 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. Visit for showtimes.

Best of Fringe: Toronto Centre for the Arts from July 17 to 31. Visit for more information.

Show Dates: 
Thu, 2013-07-04 - Sat, 2013-07-13


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