Midway through the 2014/15 season, Factory Theatre has launched a campaign called Theatre with Grit. The move coincides with some behind-the-scenes shuffling: Nina Lee Aquino is now sole artistic director, while her former co-artistic director Nigel Shawn Williams will continue on as associate artistic director. We talked with artistic producer Jonathan Heppner about Factory’s new direction and a season that includes work from three former Xtra cover stars: puppeteer Ronnie Burkett and clown duo Morro and Jasp.
Xtra: How have the recent changes at Factory affected you?
Jonathan Heppner: I started as associate producer back in the 2011/12 season. And then last summer, my role changed from associate producer to artistic producer, which was pretty exciting for me. It’s a role that’s really similar to a lot of the work I was doing before, but now it’s more focused around working with Nina and helping to execute her artistic vision for the company.
What can you tell us about Theatre with Grit?
Starting last summer, we went through an extensive rebranding process. We asked ourselves questions about everything from Factory as a building to a theatre company to the kinds of work we were programming to where we wanted to be in five years or so. And we kept coming back to this notion of grit. Both in the sense of edginess, but also in terms of strength of character, which is the other meaning of the word. Factory has a reputation for producing new Canadian works that are not so easy: they’re challenging, they’re alternative, they’re asking tough questions.
How does “grit” figure into the current Factory season?
Looking ahead to Twisted, which is the next play we’re doing — co-written by two playwrights, both with very distinct voices: Joseph Jomo Pierre and Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman — it’s basically a modern-day updating of Oliver Twist. And this time it’s set in Toronto, and it’s about these two kids trying to survive and figure out who they are in this underbelly.
What else are you excited about this season?
Ronnie Burkett’s back with The Daisy Theatre, which is actually the third time he’ll be doing it in Toronto. And then one I’m particularly excited about is Yvette Nolan’s The Unplugging. It’s this really interesting story of two older aboriginal women trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. “The unplugging” refers to all the lights and electricity and technology as we know it being extinguished. And, of course, there’s Morro and Jasp: 9–5.
Dare we hope it’s inspired by the Dolly Parton movie?
Certainly the title is. The last I knew, we were looking at Morro and Jasp working in an actual factory and turning the audience into factory workers. But that could change. We’re still workshopping it. The beauty of Morro and Jasp is that so much of their work is improvised and reliant on the crowd that’s in the theatre that night. All our works this year are adventurous. They’re for anyone with a taste for adventure who wants to experience something they can’t really predict.