By: Lauren De Vries
It doesn’t take much to get excited about ‘The Adventures of Tom Shadow’. Are you a lover of comedy? It’s got that. Do you like Disney parodies? It’s got that. Do you love hugely talented casts that bring joy and enthusiasm to everything they touch? Don’t even get me started. Lisa Gilroy (Undercover High, The Beaverton), Natalie Metcalfe (The Sketchersons, Second City), Mark Little (Mr. D, A Lot of Good Standup), Kevin Vidal (Workin’ Moms, Kim’s Convenience), and Christian Smith (The Riot, Second City), directed by Peter Stevens of award-winning sketch troupe Elephant Empire, have all formed an unholy comedy union that serves only to thrill and choke with laughter. And just in time for Halloween.
Join us as we discuss the craft and industry of performance, and share very strong opinions about Mulan.
Background: The Show
Written and performed by Toronto’s top comedians, The Adventures of Tom Shadow is a hysterically-funny yet heart-wrenching comedic musical that follows the whimsical character Tom Shadow as he travels through the magical Cloud Kingdom! But what begins as a typical children’s story is immediately derailed as real life comes flooding in to destroy the magic. Think Peter Pan meets Taken…but with music!
Lauren, CU: So first of all, what have you guys found that some of the differences are between performing live comedy and other types of comedy? I know that a lot of you guys do sketch comedy, television, all that kinds of stuff.
Natalie: Live comedy you get to write yourself.
Christian: There’s immediate feedback. If you’re worried about a joke working or not, the audience will tell you right away if it’s funny.
Kevin: And you can keep refining that, and keep coming back to it, as opposed to film where it’s just like IT’S THERE! And that’s it, you can’t do anything about that.
Mark: Well, we all came from live comedy first, right?
[general sounds of consensus]
Mark: Getting laughs in the moment is- there’s nothing on film that can compare. Unless you’re doing like a nightly talk show or something.
Natalie: I feel like in film it’s left up to the editor to make sure that it works properly, whereas here it’s all you. You’re incredibly vulnerable.
Mark: Yeah, in film at best you do a performance and then eight months later when it comes out you’re like ‘I laughed at that’.
Kevin: I feel like there’s more technicalities in the performance of the actor to get right on stage, because it’s about your pacing, it’s about your delivery, it’s about the words you choose. And then when it comes down to film you can edit all that stuff to be the right pace, and then even come in for ADR later for certain words. So being able to hone a craft, and have your set be killer on a particular night, that makes you go ‘shit that felt so good’! And there’s nobody else that can take credit for that.
Mark: There’s a reason that major Hollywood actors do plays.
Lisa: It’s also the risk when you do camera stuff for so long, there’s not that manic energy or magic or risk that comes from doing it where anything can go wrong in the moment. You could totally embarrass yourself, and we love that feeling.
Lauren, CU: Are there differences between how you felt about comedy when you started and how you feel about comedy now?
Kevin: I think of it as- it’s harder now. [Group Laughs] Not to mean that- but when I was starting out I was like ‘oh yeah I think that I can do that’! And then I was like ‘yeah I can do this’. And now I’m like ‘holy crap, how do you do this?’ I think now because of knowing the steps, because of meeting so many people that I am now in love with that are my idols I’m like ‘oh you do this thing, how do you do this?’ As opposed to watching and being like ‘yeah, that thing’. I think I just have more knowledge about it, which makes it seem more intense now than it did before.
Mark: You have new challenges. You build up tricks. Little things that work for you every time. And that’s great, because when you’re first getting onstage you’re like ‘well how do I make someone laugh period’. It’s hard! And some people are naturals right out of the gate, but most of us take a bit of time to sort of- you get a laugh here and there, and you’re like ‘how do I do this consistently’? And then over time you get much better at that, and then you get stuck in your tricks. If I do this, I’ll get a laugh. If I do that, I get a laugh. If I do a little smile at the end-
Mark: And then the question becomes how do I keep expanding as a comedian and not become one-note.
Natalie: Cause you just end up finding your voice. Like you’re kind of this chameleon comedian in the beginning, and then you start to hone in on what you can do. And that just takes time to do.
Mark: And then you want to do more!
Natalie: Yeah! And then you want to do more.
Lauren, CU: Do you think what you like about comedy has changed since you started?
Christian: It’s like developing a palate. Right, you think you like this thing and then you get introduced to another thing and you’re like ‘oh man, I love this style or the way they deliver lines or how they come to their work’. I feel like when you start you’re just like ‘oh that makes me laugh’ and then you start to learn a little bit about it. Like oh that’s why that makes me laugh. That’s interesting too. So I guess your scope just kind of broadens and you start to find more things funny and why they become funny.
Mark: I definitely relate less to normal audiences now, having been in comedy for this long. What I like from comedy is more and more narrow, and that’s dangerous because then I want to do that stuff because I really look up to it. But you’re really narrowing your audience. Because you like the comedy that you don’t expect, but the more you do comedy, the more you’re watching comedy. So what you don’t expect becomes more and more obscure. So when I started out doing comedy in high school, I thought Family Guy was the bees knees and I loved the Simpsons. I just had very general broad tastes and I still like a lot of that stuff, but the stuff that really titillates me is very specific.
Lauren, CU: Like what kind of stuff?
Mark: Well maybe this won’t seem very specific to certain readers but my favourite standup comedian is Paul F. Tompkins, has been now for a couple years. When I used to talk about standup comedy with my relatives, back when I was starting I was like ‘I love Dave Chapelle, I love Jerry Seinfeld’ or whoever. And then that starts a family conversation because everyone knows who they are. But now I’ll say I love Paul F. Tompkins and other comedians will know who he is but my family doesn’t. They have no idea who he is! So then they’re like ‘who’s that’ and I have to explain who he is, and why I like his comedy, and why what I think what his comedy does is different from the majority of comedy. So now I have to explain comedy cliches to people who just like to laugh!
Lisa: Totally! Don’t you feel like the more you do comedy, the more you’re doing comedy for other comedians? Like I feel less like I’m doing comedy for the regular crowd who comes to see a comedy show and instead I’m like ‘will this joke make a comedian laugh and have they ever heard this joke before’. And if they’ve heard it before, I can obviously never do that bit again.
Mark: That’s not what this show does! This show is for everyone! [laughter]
Lisa: This show is for everyone!
Mark: Our director Peter [Stevens] is very attentive to that, to be honest! He always tries to make sure that every joke can be understood by everyone. And then I fight with him! [group laughter] Because I want jokes that if I was in the audience I would be laughing at.
“The Adventures of Tom Shadow was imaginative, cinematic and very funny.”
— Glenn Sumi (NOW Magazine)
Lauren, CU: Is there a sweet spot though?
Mark: You gotta find it. Fred Willard. I don’t know, there’s other examples. [group laughter] Fred Willard is in the sweet spot. Everyone agrees Fred Willard is funny, even if they don’t know him by name. They’ll be like ‘oh that guy, yeah he’s funny’. I’m trying to think of other comedians, that’s the worst example ever.
Lauren, CU: What are your comedy dream jobs? Is it this one? Shameless plug?
Lisa: I would love to create and run my own show. But obviously that’s easier said than done, so this is kind of as close as it gets. This is the dream, minus the money. So if I could make millions of dollars doing exactly this, collaborating with people that I love and respect and just dying laughing every day and rehearsing and creating, this would be it. But unfortunately I’m not making any money so I’m having an awful time!
Mark: The dream job in whatever form is working with people you want to work with on projects you want to work on and not going broke doing it.
Lauren, CU: ‘The Adventures of Tom Shadow’ is a dramatic but also comedic musical that follows the aftermath of children going on a Peter-Pan like adventure leaving their parents to panic in the aftermath. Did you guys have any Peter-Pan fantasies as a child? Escaping your parents?
Mark: Yeah I ran away with my sister, we made bindles and we made it to the top of our street. The top of our incredibly short street.
Kevin: You made bindles??
Mark: We made it eight houses away.
Lisa: You MADE bindles?
Lauren, CU: What are bindles? [everyone explains that bindles are those sticks with a bandana at the end with some stuff inside]. Ohhh those things!
Kevin: What did you guys put in the bindles?
Mark: Just like a toy- [group laughter] – one toy each.
Lauren, CU: What happened at the end of the street? Did you get caught?
Mark: No, we realized it was a terrible idea and turned back. [group laughter]
Kevin: It wasn’t because you couldn’t cross the street? You just-
Mark: No, we just decided to turn back. We were like ‘okay fine, we’ll go back, but there’s gonna be some changes!’ [group laughter]
Kevin: Did your parents know that you left at all?
Mark: Yeah, because I think they were making fun of us. Like one of us was very heatedly defending something that they thought was wrong and then they laughed at us. You know, in a gentle way, like parents putting up with stubborn whiney kids. And then we decided that was the last straw and then we marched off and immediately returned. They waited.
Kevin: They just waited! Oh man!
Lisa: I ran away from home once, but my sister didn’t come with me because she was the reason I ran. I felt like my parents loved her more than me. So I ran and then my mom found me. I was maybe in Grade Three, and I was eating timbits out of the neighbour’s dumpster.
Lauren, CU: Aww no!
Lisa: Like a rat baby. I saw them in there, and I was just like ‘you know what? I’m on my own now. This is my dinner.’ And my mom flipped out.
Mark: It’s weird to throw away timbits.
Lisa: It was in a box, you know the big boxes? And there was like three left in the corner. I was like ‘this is dinner’.
Mark: How long were you gone for?
Lisa: Mmmm fifteen minutes? [group laughter]
Lauren, CU: What about you guys?
Kevin: I’ve never run away from home.
Lauren, CU: Did you want to be rescued by a Peter Pan character or go to another world?
Kevin: I don’t think I ever had that fantasy as a kid, but I was definitely adventurous. I had a friend who sort of took me on- like we built a fort right beside the VIA rail train tracks, and the police came and were like ‘you guys can’t do this’. They took us home, and my mom was crying, and I was like ‘okaaaay’. And then another day with the exact same friend we went on a two hour bike adventure, just following the bike path along the lakeshore at Sunnyside beach. We were gone for two hours, so my mom called the police. And some guy on a horse trotted up to us and was like ‘are you Kevin and Damien?’ We were like ‘yeah’. He was like ‘your parents are looking for you’. And then he just kind of walked with us as all these people waiting to get into the pool were like ‘hey your parents are looking for you’. We were like ‘yeah, we know. We’re following the police. This guy on a horse’. But those were the extent of my adventures as a kid.
Lauren, CU: So considering this is a remount of your original production, has changed since the first time you put it on?
Lisa: So! Many! More! Songs!
Lauren, CU: Oh wow!
Christian: Yeah, I think we’ve added five more songs.
Mark: More songs, more jokes.
Christian: More jokes-
Mark: Better narrative-
Christian: Better third act-
Mark: Better third act! Last time we wrote the third act the day of the show, so that was the roughest part. And then we learned the valuable lesson of don’t put the roughest part at the end! [laughter]
Lisa: Lots of new characters!
Lauren, CU: So if the same people come back to see it again it’ll be like a whole new show?
[everyone says yes]
Lisa: It might seem like the same show for the first ten minutes.
Natalie: I think the very, very beginning of the show and possibly the very, very end are still the same but the middle is blown up.
Kevin: But still a lot of the same elements from the original.
Christian: Yeah, we’re just digging deeper.Lauren, CU: I read that the songs are Disney-influenced, which is exciting! Does Disney mean anything special to you guys or did you just want to parody it?
[vocal chorus of agreement in their love of Disney]
Christian: I had the Lion King soundtrack on tape and I would be on a road trip with my parents and my sister and I would sing every song, and then we’d be like REPLAY THAT ONE AGAIN!
Lauren, CU: [laughs]
Christian: And we would just keep playing the same ones over and over. I feel bad for my parents, but we were happy.
Natalie: We wanted to make it feel like a Disney show for adults.
Mark: I was only in choir for elementary school, but the only two songs I remember learning were ‘Under the Sea’ and ‘Kiss the Girl’ from the Little Mermaid. And so yeah, I feel like everything I learned about writing songs was just drilled into my head from the months that I listened to those songs. Just like the cadence of them, the way that the vocals built up.
Kevin: They cracked a code that is perfect. Perfect for kids, and even for adults, I still watch those movies-
Christian: They hold up, man! There’s some internalized misogyny, racism, and sexism but for the most part they hold up!
Kevin: They do it in like what, 75 minutes those movies? And you’re like holy, that character had a full arc! There was an A story, B story, C story!
Lisa: And it’s kind of in the same way we talked about every man’s comedy, or every woman’s comedy, trying to appeal to the masses. Disney music is like the first musical, and most of the time only musical that people know. Not a lot of people have gone to see a musical on Broadway but almost everyone has seen a Disney movie.
Christian: I remember before we started working on this version of the show, all of us went home and watched different Disney movies to get inspired. That was like our homework.
Mark: Yeah, there was some false information being spread about the quality of Mulan.
[rumbles of dissension]
Lisa: Mulan is a garbage- it is! Kevin!
Kevin: Watch it! It’s so good!
[growing rumbles of dissension]
Lauren, CU: Are you aware that you are being recorded right now?
Lisa: I will go on RECORD!
Lauren, CU: This will be the pull quote of the article.
[passionate argument about Mulan ensues, several members of the ensemble begin singing ‘Reflections’ to drown out declarations of Mulan’s supposed terrible nature]
Lauren, CU: I also noticed that you guys are offering tickets at three different price points ($23, $33, and $43) to encourage accessibility. Why is accessibility in the arts important to you?
Lisa: Well we’re all comedians so we’re poor, so we wanted to be able to make sure that our friends could even come and see the show.
Mark: Yeah, $23 even seems a little-
[general uncertainty about charging $23]
Natalie: Maybe we shouldn’t say that, ‘$23 seems outrageous!’
Mark: But it is an issue, I know guys who are like ‘come see my improv show where the improvisers drink beer on stage 20 BUCKS!’ I’m like, is that the new price range?? So $23 isn’t that much for so much of our time and a good show. $43 if you’re a theatre person and you want to support the arts. If you’ve got a career, or if you’ve got money coming in.
Lisa: And we do have people buying those tickets, which is amazing.
Kevin: But also theatre should just be accessible. Period. Because it is, we’re telling stories and we want to affect people and if you can afford that then, like normally the people that we’re trying to affect are people who can’t afford these things. So why put your prices up to like $80?
Natalie: And it’s not often that a sketch comedy musical gets to be put up on stage, that’s not something that happens often. So if we can allow people to come and pay a lower price and actually be exposed to comedy in the city that’s fantastic.
Mark: We also like the idea of being like ‘what do you think you want to pay’?
Lisa: Yeah, because it’s the first time we’ll have a hybrid between all those normal theatre goers, season ticket holders, whatever. Big chi-chi, high- [group laughter] –all those rich assholes. (joking) But I hope that we get an amalgamation of our improviser friends meets theatre connoisseurs.
Lauren, CU: One last question, what’s your favourite part of the Adventures of Tom Shadow? [BEWARE OF SPOILERS AHEAD]
Christian: My favourite moment is when Lisa and Kevin spin around singing in the song we call ‘The Search Party Song’. You’ll know why if you see it, it’s just a banger.
Natalie: My favourite moment I think is- at certain parts of the show things get real as fuck, and I think those are my favourite moments. When we’ve left the magical, crazy world and we dive into the realness of two people who are in love. Genuine realness with anger and love all there.
Kevin: I think my favourite moment of the show is the moment of realization in the audience. Realizing that ‘oh this isn’t the show that we thought it was going to be’. That expectation is just so wonderful and beautiful. And also the music in the show is great. And I know that’s not a moment, but I just love it a lot.
Mark: I think my favourite moment in the show is – I’m driving, we’re doing this lovely car montage and then it just fades out. Then Kevin starts putting on makeup and you don’t know what the hell he’s doing, but it’s slowly revealed that he’s dressing up like a deer. And it’s just in the middle of the show, it’s out of nowhere. And as soon as he puts on these antlers you’re like ‘oh, he’s a deer!’ And then he waltzes out into what is revealed to be the road, and my car comes right back from this beautiful montage and then I smash into him.
Mark: So we take like 30 seconds to beautifully create the scene, an actor prepares. For 30 seconds you have no idea what he’s doing and then you’re like deer?? Oh. You just created a deer only to kill it. I like that part a lot. That’s a very unexpected part that people will now know all about.
Lauren, CU: I’ll add a spoiler note before the question!
Mark: Yeah, just black it out, redact.
Lisa: My favourite moment of the play is when we create a kind of Notebook-esque moment in the rain. There’s a rainstorm, and I get to be in charge of a spray bottle, and I spray Natalie directly in the face as she’s trying to say lines.
Natalie: It’s an emotional scene-
Lisa: I like to aim directly at her eyeballs. And no amount of blinking can keep it from distracting from her performance.
Lauren, CU: Thank you all! I’m excited to see this!
Kevin: You now know everything that happens.
The Adventures of Tom Shadow will be running from October 11th to October 22nd. Just click on the link to buy your tickets before they’re all sold out!
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/117820375582802/
Theatre Lab, the group that developed this fabulous musical, has a website and a twitter. Go follow!