Adam Bryan wants to make you laugh, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s about something uncomfortable.
In his newest production entitled Jilted, playing at the Hamilton Fringe festival, he brings to the stage the story of a girl named Sarah, who thinks her boyfriend Josh is about the propose but instead he breaks up with her. What follows is Josh (played by Bryan) ending up tied to a chair and forced to listen to a series of campy and over-the-top musical numbers about how horrible their relationship was, as she makes friends with other restaurant-goers with their own boyfriend horror stories. I had a chance to talk to the mind behind Red Pants Productions about heartbreak, mental health, and finding laughs in strange places.
Bryan is a graduate of Sheridan Colleges Performing Arts Preparation Program and an Honours Graduate of Mohawk Colleges Radio Broadcasting program, and is no stranger to performing arts in Hamilton, recently nominated for a Hamilton Arts Award as an Emerging Artist in Arts Management and having a history of shows and fundraisers with sharp political content, from the recent mental health theatre festival MindPLAY, to his 2015 Fringe musical Behind Closed Doors which dealt with sexual abuse and abusive relationships, to his Stand with Kesha fundraiser for Halton Women’s Place and SACHA (the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton). Jilted is something of a departure from the tone of his work thus far, focusing less on a message and more on the laughs. “I feel all of the stories that I am compelled to tell are very true to life things that I’ve experienced, or witnessed. This particular project however will be the most overdramatized” says Bryan. He continues, “Jilted was created just to be a ball of laughs, and over the top, and campy. The closest we’ve come to that before was with our 2015 Fringe production Homeschool Dropout. Though the show was still serious, there were moments in that show where we had an interesting take on bullying and homophobia that provided to be humorous. Lines like “when I went back to high-school, people would call me a ‘maggot’, but they were so stupid because they thought the word ‘maggot’ started with an f” saw a lot of laughter and applause, so we wanted to create something fictional that would be another hilarious take on an unfortunate situation”.
Bryan says he was inspired to write Jilted by a ‘terrible relationship’ that he had been processing. Says Bryan, “shortly after finishing a run of Behind Closed Doors, my friend Paddy Skinner said to me “hey, you should write another show.” I kept saying “no, that’s not going to happen at all.” But because I was recently dealing with heartbreak, I came up with this crazy concept. Sometimes when you’re in the midst of a total emotional breakdown, interesting things can come out of that”. He is quick to add “not to say I wish I could’ve tied my ex to a chair in the middle of a restaurant, while singing a bunch of musical numbers… But all those things people think like “I wish I could do this and get away with it.” or “I wish we could just have angry hate sex and then continue hating each other”… all of those things have been brought into this show”.
Jilted features some up-and-coming talent, including the theatrical debut of Carla Tancredi in the lead role of Sarah. “Casting for this project was really fun” says Bryan, “because we were open in terms of everything we were looking for. I didn’t have a specific vision in mind for the characters appearance. I ended up spending almost an hour with every person I auditioned to discuss what this project would entail, and getting to know them on a personal level. I wanted to know what they were comfortable and uncomfortable with, and make them a really big part of the process”. The subject matter proved to be a challenge for some of the prospective cast, but Bryan says his team were very supportive of each-other throughout the process. “We did lose an actor” he says, “he had to back out due to his mental health and other things that were going on which made parts of the show feel triggering to him. However, everyone involved was so supportive of that, because we had established this bond from day one, as starting with the casting process we guaranteed to everyone that “hey, it’s okay to take a mental health day”.
The process too presented challenges, as Bryan says, “I was spending so much time invested in MindPLAY. As the Hamilton Fringe runs a lottery in December, artists usually find out about their slot then. I found out in April that we were accepted into the festival, as I was 5th on the waitlist. I didn’t have much prepared, as I thought it wasn’t happening. I didn’t get the chance to audition or get back to everyone that I wanted to, as I was filled with time constraints. Writing had to become this fast paced process, but I am so in love with some of the ideas that flew off of my keyboard”.
Although the show is mostly about over-the-top camp, Bryan’s social justice politics still found their way into the production. “Although we have kept saying “there’s no social message, there’s no social message!”, it does still feel like there’s a strong theme of equality and female empowerment. We also have an actress who is in a wheelchair for the show, as she has cerebral palsy in her legs. We’ve added a few moments that audience members may relate to with her character’s story, and some moments of breaking the fourth wall, as sometimes accessible spaces are really hard to find in the theatre industry”.
However, audiences seeing Jilted should expect a healthy dose of absurd humour and musical theatricality. Says Bryan, “Heartbreak sucks. But being able to just find a group of friends who can support you through everything makes it feel so much better. Although the material starts off as dark, I kinda wanted to shine a light on things and make it as funny and campy and over the top as possible. I wanted to create something that can make people feel better if they’re in that type of situation. The songs in the show are songs that you’d totally sing along to after a bad breakup”.
Hamilton Fringe is occurring from July 20th -30th, for more information visit http://hamiltonfringe.ca
To purchase tickets to Jilted visit http://hamiltonfringe.
For more information on Red Pants Productions visit http://redpants.ca