As an official media partner of the 30th annual St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival, Montreal Theatre Hub brings the #FringeBuzz in 2021 with an all-new interview series with artists from this year’s edition of the fest! In this Snapshot, we feature JUSTIN CALLA, playwright and director of THE SPACE BETWEEN – which makes its premiere at Monument-National’s Studio Hydro-Québec on June 10th.
MONTREAL THEATRE HUB: What is The Space Between about?
JUSTIN: I’ve taken to summing this show up as kind of a backwards tragedy. The play begins with a significant death in the life of our main character Gail, and the question then becomes where do we go from there? What can we do when faced with loss? Our second lead, Gwyn, has some ideas about it. When she meets Gail, she introduces her to this idea of holding séances with the dead as a way of staying connected to them and keeping them alive in spirit. But is that just a way of holding on to something that has to inevitably be let go? Will there be real ghosts? It’ll be a mystery until you come see it and find out!
MTH: What can audiences expect from the experience of seeing it?
JUSTIN: While I think the occult and slightly spooky elements are what is going to initially draw people to this show, in rehearsal we have been exploring a lot of humour and discovering a lot of really quite funny moments in this piece- it’s become a really thematically significant element. The way we can find humour in sorrow and find that light in the darkness is so incredibly important to the process of grieving. That delicate balance of bitter and sweet is exactly what we aim to strike with this show and I hope that will resonate with audiences in a major way.
MTH: What was the idea and inspiration behind the piece?
JUSTIN: At the very beginning of the show Gail gets the phone call telling her that her best friend who has been battling cancer has succumbed to his illness. I have unfortunately received a few similar calls myself this year alone, and I know that I am certainly not unique in that. In addition, I have always had a fascination with ghost stories, and one of my favourite theatrical experiences was seeing The Woman in Black at my community theatre in my hometown of Vernon BC. I left feeling thoroughly chilled, but also wondering why there weren’t more ghosts in modern plays. It’s an incredibly impactful genre that lends itself so well to the immediacy of live theatre. Getting to be physically present in that uneasy and mystical atmosphere is unlike any other experience.
MTH: Why did you choose the Fringe as the place to premiere this work?
JUSTIN: After a year of acting and auditioning over video calls, the opportunity to return to live theatre was such an exciting prospect that simply could not be passed up. The immense talent of my team of designers and actors deserves to be seen in person, the way it was meant to. The Fringe presents an amazing opportunity because it provides a venue to those of us who are starting out and don’t have the capital necessary to produce our own ideas ourselves.
Poster for the Phantom Limb Theatre Co.’s The Space Between
MTH: What has it been like trying to create a show during a pandemic?
JUSTIN: Lately I’ve been likening the process to a boxing match: we have to constantly stay flexible and get our hits in whenever we can! Some elements have come naturally, our video call rehearsals have been an excellent platform for character work and discourse on the show. Other elements have been challenging, like finding outdoor or otherwise COVID-safety-approved venues for in-person rehearsal. We are also anticipating the challenge of loading the whole show into the venue and setting up in just fifteen minutes, and then doing the same thing in reverse under the same time constraint! Whatever challenges arise however, I know that the cast and crew I have been so lucky to assemble are more than up to it.
MTH: What’s kept you driven to keep creating during this past year?
JUSTIN: The same thing that has kept all creators afloat – art is what makes the world a place worth living. Circumstances of duress and outrage are exactly why we need theatre and stories to help us to reflect and make it through. Any contribution I can make that might potentially touch someone’s life is worth pursuing.
MTH: How does it feel to be back presenting on a live stage?
As principally an actor myself I confess to being a little envious of my actors, but creating this show has been such a rewarding experience on a whole other level. Writing and directing a new work for my own theatre company Phantom Limb is the most exciting way I can imagine to be participating in the resurgence of live theatre, and I could not be more thrilled to be doing it alongside my incredible cast and crew and the wonderful Montreal theatre community.
MTH: How does this show/story speak to our present times?
As I touched on earlier, there are bound to be many people dealing with loss after a global pandemic, but beyond that, a major theme of this show is how to let the people around you in. After a year of limited contact, we need one another now possibly more than ever. I for one have a lot of people I need to get back in touch with.
RAPID FIRE ROUND
What have you missed most about the Fringe?
The sense that you never know who or what you might discover!
Favourite Fringe show you’ve ever seen?
This is my first time participating in Montreal Fringe, but back when I lived in Vancouver I saw a production of Mary’s Wedding by Stephen Massicotte that was particularly poignant and tear-jerking. Two-handers are always so impressive!
#Fringebuzz: which show(s) on the 2021 lineup are you most stoked to check out?
I am especially excited to see Wretch by Malicious Basement Company – it looks to be a more hardcore take on horror theatre and potentially a great double feature alongside our show.
Justin Calla is a Montreal based actor serving as both playwright and director at Phantom Limb Theatre Co. He is thrilled to be presenting “The Space Between” at the Montreal Fringe 2021. A graduate of Capilano University’s Acting for Stage and Screen program, Justin’s recent live theatre credits include CSLDS’s Merton of the Movies, and Contact Theatre’s Bonnie and Clyde.
THE SPACE BETWEEN presented by Phantom Limb Theatre Co. runs from June 10-20 at Monument-National’s Studio Hydro-Québec (1182 St Laurent Blvd). Tickets ($10-12) can be purchased online at www.montrealfringe.ca
Read here all of the interviews in the Fringe Artist Snapshots series: