Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Next Stage Theatre Festival 2015 - Spotlight on Jenna Harris

The Next Stage Theatre Festival is the premiere winter theatre event in Toronto. Produced by the Toronto Fringe, NSTF is a platform for past Fringe artists to take their work to the next stage. The festival runs January 7 to 18 at Toronto's Factory Theatre. This year's festival features 10 shows with a range of themes from comedy and puppetry to dance and drama.

One play that is sure to be a standout at this year's festival is Jenna Harris' Mine. Harris has written a sensual and lyrical tale of two women as they fall in and out of love. Although the subject matter of Mine is universal, the story challenges the status quo’s presumptions of gay women and lesbian intimacy. I recently chatted with the emerging playwright and actor about her script and where she thinks lesbians fit in today's theatre scene.

Gay Theatre Toronto
Can you tell me what inspired you to write Mine?
Jenna Harris
This is a play that I’ve wanted to write for many years, but either didn't have the confidence to or the words with which to tell it yet. (Most likely a combination of both!)
A year and a half ago, I met with theatre artist Mel Hague as part of her W.O.W. Project (Women On Women), which was established as a means by which to open up a dialogue in Toronto on how to bring more lesbian voices and stories to the stage. In speaking with Mel and then in conducting my own research, I was shocked by the lack of lesbian theatre collectives, companies and plays that exist around the world. I knew that lesbian voices in theatre were a minority, but I guess I had never put in the hours of research to actually see just what a minority they truly are. Furthermore, in a city like Toronto where there are so many queer female theatre creators, where there is a rich history of lesbian theatrical performances, and where we have such a flourishing and dynamic queer theatre, we don’t seem to be adding to the lesbian text-based play cannon at a rate that reflects just how many of us there are in this city. At the same time that I was conducting my research on lesbian theatre, I also became acutely aware of how few plays there are out there that showcase and/or investigate female sexuality in an authentic and multi-dimensional way. This realization angered me; that we don’t give our female characters the license to be sexual creatures.

So with my love of the text-based play, and a burning desire to add to the cannon of lesbian theatrical work in this city - to continue to broaden and diversify it - and do so in a way that both pays tribute to and showcases female sexuality, I began to write this play.

Can you break down the plot without giving too much away?
Sure thing! Mine follows the relationship between Bea (my character) and Abigail who first meet when Bea is in university and Abigail is her T.A. In personality, Abigail is outgoing, forward, and the kind of person who everyone gravitates towards when she enters a room. In opposition, Bea is introverted, quietly confident and whenever possible, a homebody. But despite their differences, or more likely, in spite of them, the two begin to date one another and what follows are years of joy, laughter, desire, miscommunication, sex, sadness, vulnerability, anger, lust, humour, growth, fear and love. 

Some would argue that love and relationships are universal. How important do you think it is for LGBTQ individuals to see themselves represented on stage and in film and television?
I think it’s quite important, or rather, maybe I should say for me it has been and continues to be important. I remember when I first came out and really hadn’t seen much in the way of lesbian film and TV shows, I went to a Blockbuster and there on the New Release shelf alongside everything else was a somewhat mainstream lesbian-themed film. And in that moment, reading the back description of that movie, I felt seen and validated (I actually got so excited I called a friend!). It seems like such a small thing, but at the time, as I was going through a complete mental overhaul of who I was and what my life was from now on going to be like, it was everything.
I think that most people, no matter who they are or what they are going through want to know that they are not alone, that there are other people out there like them. I think that this is even more so the case when one is part of a marginalized group or community. Therefore, having that representation of who you are/the things that you are going through on stage or in film/TV can in fact go a long way in helping to work towards alleviating these feelings of being alone and isolated.  
I (Darren Stewart-Jones) produce Gay Play Day, an annual festival of LGBTQ theatre here in Toronto. We have had lesbian playwrights represented each year thus far but they are definitely in the minority. Do you think there’s a reason why we don’t see more lesbian-themed plays on stage in general?
I don’t know actually know why that is. I really wish I did! I wonder if perhaps lesbian artists tend to gravitate towards storytelling, performance art and other artistic avenues more than theatre, or perhaps we haven’t been as vocal a community as say, gay men? I would actually really love to hear what other people think about this and have this discussion!  We have a talkback after the show on January 12 about lesbian playwrights and playwriting if anyone would like to chat about this with us.


Since your play is about a relationship, can you describe your ideal first date?

Oooo, good question! I do like the opportunity to get to know someone (if I don’t know them that well beforehand) and chat. So whether that’s grabbing a drink or dinner or going for a walk somewhere that’s usually where I start and then seeing where the evening takes us. For me, it’s more about the company than doing anything specific. Having said this, I am a bit of a romantic and so would not turn down something in this vein.


Thanks, Jenna!

For tickets to all NSTF shows, visit

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