Q&A: Mustard

Kat Sandler on imaginary friends and her new play premiering at Tarragon Theatre

Presented by Tarragon Theatre
Written by Kat Sandler
Directed by Ashlie Corcoran

Kat Sandler

Kat Sandler is a writer, director and artistic director of Theatre Brouhaha where she has staged 10 original plays in the last four years including Punch Up (2014 Best of Fringe), Delicacy (2013 Summerworks Spotlight Award) and Help Yourself (2012 Best of Fringe, Fringe New Play Contest winner) as well as Liver, Cockfight and Retreat at the Storefront Theatre. She is also the 2015 recipient of NOW Magazine's Audience Choice Award for Best Director and Best Playwright.

In 2014, Sandler was a member of the Tarragon Playwrights Unit where she developed Mustard, her latest piece opening this week at Tarragon Theatre. The play is a twisted fairy tale about a teenage girl named Thai and her imaginary friend, Mustard. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran, the production features Sarah Dodd, Rebecca Liddiard, Tony Nappo, Anand Rajaram, Julian Richings and Paulo Santalucia.

Here, we chat with Sandler about her experience developing the show.

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

KS: Mustard was developed as part of the Tarragon 2014 Playwrights Unit. I was thinking a lot about magic, and how I feel we don’t appreciate whimsy as we get older. I had two imaginary friends as a kid, one was a unicorn (named Unicorn - I was a pretty literal kid), and the other was Bozo, a creation of my father’s, who was an elf from the North Pole my father created by talking with a funny voice. We were canoeing one summer, and I cut my knee, and I kept crying and crying for Bozo instead of my dad. And then Bozo inexplicably went away for a long time (I think, because my father was jealous of his own creation), and I kept wondering, where had he gone? Back to the North Pole? Somewhere else? When those things and ideas that make up our childhood memories go away, where do they go, and are they gone forever? My imaginary pals were a big part of my childhood, and I wanted to write a play that told a story from their perspective. What would happen if they started appearing to other people? What would happen if they didn’t want to go away? But as it developed it kind of became a play about family, and love, and how we cope with growing up.

Theatromania: How would you describe Mustard’s character in a few sentences? Is he a mischievous imaginary friend, like “Drop Dead Fred?”

KS: He’s a bit of a delightful weirdo, with all the naivete and surprising desires of a child. He’s grown up with Thai (his best friend), so he knows what she knows, but he still struggles to understand a lot of our social customs (like divorce) and our language, although he does love the word “poop." But he’s also the hero of his own epic saga of beating the odds to stay in our world. He’s kind of like Drop Dead Fred meets Elf meets Denzel Washington in a movie where he’s fighting bad guys to save his sick son. Maybe not that cool. Geez, that sounds like a lot. He’s complicated.

Theatromania: You are used to directing your own work. How does it feel to hand the reins to someone else?

KS: It’s honestly very cool. I have nothing but respect for our director, Ashlie Corcoran - we share a lot of directorial traits, notably pace and meticulous attention to detail. She’s very intelligent and creative, and she’s been incredibly generous and collaborative. I’ve still been able to workshop the script in-room and throughout rehearsal, which is very important to me, and she’s had a lot of dramaturgical input that I think has made it much stronger. The biggest difference for me is only having one job, rather than producing and directing and writing, which is insanely stressful, but because I can focus on writing alone, I feel more pressure for the script to be as good as it possibly can be. But it is nice to step back from the process of production and just think about how the words sound and feel.

Theatromania: What have you learned from this experience so far?

KS: Working with a bigger theatre company has been really exciting. Lots of things are different, but at its core, the process is the same; a bunch of people work together to make the very best product we can, to entertain an audience. Although at Tarragon there’s already an infrastructure in place, so it feels like a well-oiled machine. The Tarragon family is so used to doing this, specifically with new plays, so you feel like you’re in very good hands with everything from marketing to design to talkbacks. It’s given me a lot of food for thought in terms of how I’d like to run my own company. I’ve also never had the benefit of a whole week of previews (at best, at my company, Theatre Brouhaha, we’ve only ever had invited dress rehearsals). Bringing the audience in this early is INSANELY valuable to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve been very happy to see that everyone is so flexible - change on every element of the play is welcome always, as long as it makes it better, and flexibility is something I think I can apply to my own work. Sometimes change is good, even late in the process. I’m also learning a lot more about patience. I’m so used to doing plays so quickly, that having so much time (and having had it - I wrote this play in 2014) to look at it and rework it was really daunting, but I’m starting to learn the value of giving something a little more time to settle into itself.

Theatromania: What’s next for you?

KS: Theatre Brouhaha’s radio play podcast How to Build a Fire, which I wrote, launched on Jan 28th, so there will be six episodes of that being released through the Koffler Centre for the Arts every week, at http://kofflerarts.org/news/2015/12/16/how-to-build-a-fire-radio-play. Theatre Brouhaha and I are cooking up something for the Toronto Fringe this year, and I’m working on a few new scripts for production in 2016/17, as well as finally starting to develop some TV and film ideas with some exciting pals. But who knows? Maybe I’ll try to slide something in before Fringe. I get a bit antsy between projects :).

Mustard is on stage now until March 13, 2016 at Tarragon Theatre. Visit tarragontheatre.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Tue, 2016-02-02 - Sun, 2016-03-13


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