“Snug Harbor-A Show For Anybody Whose Ever Loved”

Tracey Erin Smith is not only an award winning actress and playwright, she is also the founder and creator of SoulO Theatre an  innovative, interactive program designed to help people create – write, direct and star – in their own one-person show by transforming raw material from their life-stories into creative solo performances.

You might have seen her in her one woman shows, “The Burning Bush” and “Two in the Bush” directed by Anita La Selva, which garnered much acclaim winning The Best of the Toronto Fringe (2006-2007) and Winning Audience Choice Awards in New York City’s Frigid Festival (2007/2008)

Her latest show, ‘Snug Harbor’ about her father’s suicide, is playing in the Toronto Fringe Festival this year along with another  great show she produced and directed called, “SoulO

I sat down with Tracey in her beautiful home in Cabbagetown which she shares with her new husband Shy Altar, and talked to her about her latest work and how she manages to write, perform, produce, direct, teach and do it all seamlessly without experiencing a little road rage.

But before I dive into the interview, I want to share the fact that I found Tracey’s SoulO Theatre workshop in the fall of 2010 while battling a bout with depression, which lead to a little personal chaos and complete writers block.  I couldn’t write a joke, a story, a blog, a sentence without chocking on every word and feeling like a complete mess.   I knew I had to take a chance and try something different in my life and I’m lucky I did because no amount of therapy, med’s or masturbating helped me to deal with my shit and get the words out better than Tracey’s writing workshops.  I am happy to say that I now have a community of SoulO Sisters and Brothers all supporting each other along our story telling journey and I have learned that …….Speaking Your Truth shall Set You Free.

BURNING BUSH PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS….’SNUG HARBOR’

Tracey & her Dad did everything together.

Canoed, partied, volunteered.

After an unspeakable magic trick,

he disappears.

Forever

Snug Harbor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviewing Tracey at her house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE INTERVIEW

YOKO- ‘Snug Harbor is your newest one woman show,  tell me a little about it.

TRACEY – on April 19 2010 my father chose to end his life this show is about my relationship with him, his childhood what a crazy whacky life loving guy he was and the little bit of time up to his death, finding out about what had happened and then going through all the stages of shock, anger and guilt.  Because comedy and humor is a big part of who I am there’s a part in there that I fantasize about having a suicide survivor talent show so I just let my imagination go crazy in terms of what I wanted to do in the support group when really all we were doing is sitting around and talking but I had these fantasies of what I wanted to do so it’s the journey and how I’ve gotten through it.  Not so much as conclusions that I come to but conclusions that I’ve come to accept and the gifts that the whole journey has given me.

YOKO- Talk to me about the process of writing it –and why you felt compelled to share such a personal story?

TRACEY – The way it started to happen was in the early week’s after he died my dear friend Claire, who is also my writing partner, came over and she would bring food and we would sit at my kitchen with her laptop open and the food out, and she would simply take dictation.   I would pace in the kitchen and tell all these stories about my dad and go over all the conversations with my dad before he died and she would get it all down and I remember very clearly that he left me a voice message seven hours before he did it and I played it and she wrote it down verbatim and thank goodness she did that because the next couple of days it got erased.  So thank goodness, we have every um, and pause, cause since somebody ends their life,- I discovered there’s a term for it, you perform a psychological autopsy –so you go over everything they said and did and try to understand what lead up to the act, and what signs did you miss..and that kind of thing.

YOKO- What revelations did you learn about your father going through this psychological autopsy?

TRACEY-I learned a couple of things, one of them was, unfortunately he didn’t deal with certain parts of his life and certain things that he’s done until it was too late.  He hadn’t worked through and processed some ‘mistakes’ that he made or people he hurt so by the time this came rushing in, it was like an emotional tsunami and he was literally drowning in it at the end and the other thing that I learned when I go over things that he said, was how much he loved me.  That this was a man who did everything he could so we didn’t know what he was planning.  At first you’re very angry but then you realize that if someone hasn’t survived a suicide, they don’t know what it’s like so I have a feeling that my dad thought,  oh my girls will be upset for a while but they’ll get over it but once you’ve survived a suicide, the impact of this is very strong, it leaves you with so many questions and guilt so I believe his intention was not to hurt us, it was the opposite.  One of the things the police said in the middle of the night we were talking to them when it had just happened, and it helped me so much, “When someone does something like this other people are not in their mind at the time”.  So that helps to say, he didn’t do this to us- he did this to end the pain he was in.

Tracey with her loving Father

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOKO- Do you feel like this play is an homage to him in a way?

TRACEY- Yes, it definitely is.  It feels like it’s a redemption in a way, like I’m taking him and his story and putting it into the light to help take this topic out of the closet.  Here was a man who had so many things going on, so many great things about him, I loved him completely and in the end he just, you know….

YOKO -You immersed yourself in the topic of suicide and depression-how did you find out about the signs etc?

TRACEY- I just researched them and broken them down into four categories in the show.  I think once you’ve heard them once in the show you will remember them.  And then a couple of months ago I got certified in a workshop called,  Safe Talk which teaches you how to speak to someone when they’re suicidal or if you’re seeing a lot of the blatant signs and the essence of that training was to say to the person is that what you’re saying is very serious and I’m taking it very seriously and it’s also about knowing that you don’t have to solve their problem,  you just become what I call a human bridge to get them to help. Whether that’s you dial a number and you hand the phone to them so they can speak to someone whose trained or you walk them to a facility but I love this idea that it’s so stress free.

I also learned in the workshop that almost nobody dies by suicide without having exhibited some of these signs and they say people exhibit the signs because a part of them wants to talk to someone about why they want to end their life so their signals of please hear me, please recognize something is very wrong inside and I’m in a lot of pain so at the performances I’m going to have some volunteers there after the shows if people want to talk.  I’m really looking forward to the talk backs- I’m the kind of actor who really wants to know who was in the audience, who are you?  What did you receive?  Tell me your story.  My show is the first part of the dialogue,  sure it looks like a monologue but really, in my mind it’s the dialogue and we turn the lights up and I want to see whose there and I want you to talk to each other and exchange stories and resources and I guess I’m all about that community feel, that congregation feel.

YOKO- Talk to me about working with your director,  Anita La Selva for ‘Snug Harbor’

Tracey-  We’ve been working together for five years.  She has been my partner on the last two and this one-three one woman shows –’The Burning Bush’,  ‘Two in the Bush’, and now ‘Snug Harbor’.   She’s a phenomenal person, phenomenal director incredibly hard working and she also works as my dramaturg so when I first wrote ‘Snug Harbor’ I had two hours of material, it’s now 75 minutes and so it’s important when the material is so personal to have someone to have an outside eye to help you decide what’s important,  what serves the story -because in your mind, everything’s important cause it all happened to you or someone you love but when you’re creating theatre you need a slightly detached eye to help you construct the story.  That said,  she’s also very sensitive and respectful that if I really want something in we’ll work with it.

YOKO- ‘ Snug Harbor’ will be playing at the The Centre- it’s not the typical space for a show. Tell me about that.

TRACEY-  I’m also glad about this production, it’s a sight specific production so it’s not happening in a theatre, it’s happening in this really funky group therapy room at The Centre for psycho therapy at Dupont and Spadina.  It’s going to be as if all the audience members are members of a Suicide Support Group and tonight is just Tracey’s night to share her story so that’s how it’s presented. The stage is very much close to the audience because I think it’s not so much theatre, it’s sharing, well it is theatre but constructed very much using the Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell, and I play about ten characters really.

YOKO-  Where did you get the idea of having audience interaction?

TRACY- Just to not make people panic, there is no audience interaction,  but the audience- if they like to, are invited to stay after the show and share and talk with me and each other about what was raised during the show, their own stories.  This show is really for anyone whose ever loved, it’s also for anyone whose been affected by suicide whether they have thought about it themselves, attempted themselves lost a family member who attempted, a friend.  unfortunately what I’ve discovered working on this project for a couple of years is that everyone’s been touched by this subject in a certain way but people don’t talk about it so when I talk about it that jar opens.

YOKO- How did you come up with the poster for ‘Snug Harbor’ and what does the giraffe symbolize?

TRACEY-  So the topic is my father suicide- what do you put on the poster? My dad was obsessed with giraffes, he owned over a thousand of them all different sizes from brass to 6 ft tall toys and I talk about this in the show.  When he was 50 he hired an artist to paint a floor to ceiling mural on all the walls in his bedroom of an African safari scene starring the giraffes, and in 2007 he realized his dream of going to this hotel in an African safari where all these giraffes walk around the grounds and stick their heads in the window,  so I took those two things and I had this image of me and this giraffe just standing at a shore line staring straight out at the camera, so the camera is in the water looking at us and we’re just kind of dumb founded and shocked staring straight ahead.  So, I met with Kurt Firla, who I think is one of the best poster designers in Canada and I described my vision and he got it.  I’m very happy with it because the giraffes play a big part of the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOKO- You also have another play in the Fringe this year you are producing and directing called, ‘ SoulO’ tell me about that.

TRACEY-‘SoulO’ is an idea I conceived where I went to three of my people who had taken my class, DJ Edwards (AKA Vicki Lix) Marco Bernardi and Terrance Bryant-who happened to be all queer identifiable men who are very talented.  One is a comedian, one is a story teller and one has been a professional story teller in and around Toronto for decades and I just had this idea that it’s sort of under the same umbrella as ‘Snug  Harbour’.

‘Snug Harbor’ is about someone who chose to take his own life and I was very moved a while back with all the ‘ It gets better’ videos –speaking to queer youth who might be having  suicidal  thoughts so this is sort of under that umbrella. The by line of the show is “It does get better but it doesn’t get better than this”  This is three gay men telling their stories and they’ve all been to hell and back and in that dark corner and they’ve all chosen life and what’s interesting,  is that each one all kind of saved their own lives.  They all found aspects of themselves to pull themselves up- it’s really heroic and triumphant and this whole show is kind of tied together with this ribbon of  what I’m calling a ‘Soulo Circus’.  I also have a very sexy female character, whose like the ring leader and she’s this great actress from Australia called Mackenzie Scott.  She’s like the ring master who opens the show and then weaves the three pieces together and then we wrap it up in the end and I think this show is really going to be a celebration of life for anyone whose ever lived more than 13 years –it’s going to be really fun!

Mackenzie and Tracey on the SoulO Theatre Float at the Gay Pride Parade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOKO- You are wearing many hat’s not only performing in ‘Snug Harbor’ but you are also producing and directing ‘Soulo’  How do you juggle the two?

TRACEY-There are some similarities and there are some differences.  The work on my own personal story gives me compassion and understanding cause these three men are doing the same thing they’re just doing 15 min each as oppose to my 75 minutes.   I know how it feels for them to share at this level so I can be empathetic that way where its different is that ‘SoulO’ has a very circus splashy feel and ‘Snug Harbor’ is a little more intimate.  So what happens sometimes is that when I’m rehearsing my show my director Anita will say, ‘Ok Tracey, stop now you need to take off your producer hat’ because I’ll be sitting above the material I’ll take a couple of deep breaths and drop in and I’ve arrived as an actor – So, yes, I am wearing  many hats right now, director, producer playwright and actor and  sometimes you forget where you are.

YOKO- Do you feel like in the future there will be more productions out of your SoulO theatre class that you want to be involved in?

Tracey- The class showings out of the 10 sessions have become community events, like people are lining up and their over sold out and there seems to be a need for it.   People are really being nourished by hearing people speak the truth about their lives using the tools of humor- it’s almost like I talk about this work as coming out the closet as a human being- like ‘hey yes, I have spent a month on the couch and hey yes, I did yell at my kid, or sometimes I want to throw my spouse up in the air and maybe further.  So I think there’s  a real catharsis in the audience when they hear that truth like, ‘Oh God I’m not the only one’! In my research I found out there’s two reasons why people end their lives and it’s because they feel they are a burden or they feel that they don’t belong, so if I can give people a taste for one evening that they belong to the human race, that everything they’ve been through we are all going through or we’ve been there -then that takes a big burden off peoples shoulders because everyone breathes a sigh of relief when they realize they’re not alone.

YOKO-What’s next for you and do you plan on touring ‘Snug Harbor’?

TRACEY- I have an idea for a next show but I’m not going to talk about it. Yes, I’m interested in touring ‘Snug Harbor’ to non performance spaces because I want to keep this dialogue going.  I am a big lover of life- I know that we all get down sometimes but one of my favorite quotes, “What is life for?  its for you!”  I try to remind myself what’s it all about?  Well, who cares, it’s a gift for me, the sunshine and the trees and you being here.  We’re using my home to rehearse both shows so It’s become a creativity camp for the summer.

I’m going to keep teaching this stuff til I can’t talk anymore even if they have to wheel me in because it’s always different and it’s always a challenge and I learn everytime I teach a baby Rabi (referring to her students)  in the class, form their wisdom and their life.  I also have upcoming weekend intensives in Toronto, New York and San Francisco so that’s what’s next.

The beautiful Tracey Erin Smith at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOKO’S SHORT REVIEW OF SNUG HARBOR….OH MY GOD! AMAZING!

I  went to see the show last Thursday and couldn’t take my eyes off of Tracey from the moment she made her way through the audience and  took the ‘stage’.  This show moved me to my core from beginning to the end…made me laugh, cry and want to celebrate my life and feel the sunshine on my face.   It takes courage to share your story with the world and Tracey shared her Father’s story with grace, dignity and love.  It set the tone for the talk back portion after the show which was  a beautiful way for strangers to communicate and share their stories with Tracey and each other.  Bring friends and family out to see this show-I promise you they will love it like I did!

GO SEE THIS SHOW WHILE YOU CAN PEOPLE!

*HOW TO BUY TICKETS TO BOTH SNUG HARBOR AND SOULO SHOW*

TICKETS: http://fringetoronto.com/fringe-festival/tickets/

‘SNUG HARBOR’

WHERE:  The Centre 316 Dupont Street Toronto

MORE INFO:  www.soulo.ca

SHOW TIMES: Wednesday July 4 – Sunday July 15

Tues-Sat at 7:30pm except July 12 when the show is at 9:30pm, Sun at 3pm

CATCH ‘SOULO’ SHOW…

WHERE: Robert Gill Theatre-214 College Street Toronto

Sunday, July 8, at 8pm,

Monday, July 9 at 2:30pm

Tuesday July 10 at 6:45pm

Wednesday July 11 at 4pm

Thursday July 12 at 2:45pm

Saturday July 14 at 7pm

To find out more about her SoulO Theatre Writing Workshops check out- The Burning Bush Website.