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Q&A: Rachel Blair

Photo by Tanja Tiziana courtesy of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Hot off her show’s run at the Next Stage Theatre Festival (Toronto) we catch up with creator/performer Rachel Blair. The Toronto Star are calling Blair, “without a doubt a writer to watch out for,” and the premiere of her new play A Man Walks Into A Bar (read synopsis) smashed box office record to become the top-selling show in Toronto Fringe Festival history. History.

A Man Walks Into A Bar plays every night February 17–20 on closing weekend of undercurrents. A talkback will follow the February 18 performance.

A Man Walks Into A Bar was a mega hit at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Who didn’t like your show?

Rachel Blair: I don’t know! My intention with the play is to make it polarizing, to give the audience moments to pull apart and debate. I’m sure there are some people who didn’t enjoy some of the arguments I presented or how I presented them, but I’m comfortable with that.

Who, if anyone, is the butt of your joke here?

It’s hard to answer this without giving away information about the piece (and we’ve been pretty fortunate to avoid spoilers), but I will say that while the play does target some pretty toxic behaviours, it’s never been my intention to mock anyone for their opinions, even when they’re opposite to mine.

My goal as a writer is to understand how people form their opinions and to have as much empathy as I can for my characters. There are definitely some male behaviours and privileges that I enjoy satirizing, but I never want to cross over into mockery.

I’ve read the word “political” in a few reviews but none of those have really said what is political about the play. Is A Man Walks Into A Bar a political play?

If reviewers and audiences can watch a play about women’s experiences and label it political, I’m over the moon about that. To me, a “political play” label says that there is an urgency to highlight an issue, to make a statement, to ask the audience to have a reaction. Labeling it as political puts the audience’s opinions at the forefront, not just mine. I feel like more playwrights need to see their work as political, no matter the issue they’re highlighting.

Who in Ottawa do you want to see A Man Walks Into A Bar?

Obviously everyone, but it’s been really great to have young men come see the show in Toronto.

Did Blue audition for his part, or were you writing with him in mind?

Blue auditioned! He had worked with David (our director) before. He’s such a fantastic blend of boyishness and power, something we really required for the part.

Another something alluded to in reviews… What do #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen hashtags have to do with it?

I feel those two hashtags have been really telling about how we talk about women’s issues. When #NotAllMen emerged it was really frustrating to see that instead of some men listening to women’s experiences (sometimes very frightening experiences) they were more concerned with how it reflected on them. #YesAllWomen was simultaneously terrifying and liberating.

It was incredible to watch all of these frustrated women sharing their experiences and seeing that they weren’t alone. They were sharing on a platform where women are regularly harassed and excluded. And yet, anyone following the hashtag couldn’t help but feel heartbroken that these experiences existed in the first place.

When a common connection between women is that they’ve felt unsafe or been harassed or abused, we need more than a hashtag to solve the problem.

Reviews of A Man Walks Into A Bar

“Mansplaining doesn’t get much uglier than in playwright-actress Rachel Blair’s unsettling new comedy.” Torontoist

“Don’t let the feminist label scare you. The play is quite funny…  Proof that feminists do have a sense of humour. Blair is a terrific actor.” Mooney on Theatre

“In all of Fringe, this is the play that’s stirred up the most in me. Anchored by two of the most layered and involving performances I’ve seen in a very long time. See it.” My Entertainment World

“A high bar for the rest of [The 2015 Toronto Fringe Festival]. An excellent script. And it’s highly entertaining to boot.” The Theatre Reader

“Beautiful, smart and biting commentary… darkly funny.” TWISI Theatre Blog

“Blair’s script is richly suggestive, and director David Matheson and the two actors make every look an line reading take on weight. Blair’s server is especially good at saying one thing when she means another.” –NOW Toronto

“Blair has cleverly encapsulated the near-impossibility of telling a personal story at a time when outrage and offence (often conveyed through social media) can so easily derail real, honest conversations… there’s no denying Blair is a writer to watch out for.” –Toronto Star