Aaron Malkin and Alastair Knowles are better known as James and Jamesy.
The James & Jamesy Performance Society creates multi-award winning theatrical performances typified by extended characters, rich emotion, and fantastical trips of the imagination. Their shows are investigations in participatory theatre that merge physical comedy, clown, and dance to create theatrical environments where audiences feel invited and compelled to participate.
Since 2012, James & Jamesy shows have sold over 80,000 tickets and been performed over 750 times across Canada, the United States, and the UK. Their accessibility and wide appeal is evident by numerous 5-Star reviews and 20 Best-of-Fest awards. Regarded as “Fringe legends” (Montreal Gazette), “Fringe stalwarts” (Winnipeg Free Press) and “One of the most popular fringe duos ever” (CBC), James & Jamesy have firmly claimed a place in the ranks of contemporary Canadian theatre.
O Christmas Tea tickets and more at ochristmastea.com
Transcript auto generated.
Phil Rickaby: Hey listeners, Phil here. I just wanted to let you know that this January Stageworthy, will be seven years old and I can hardly believe it’s been that long. If you wanted to celebrate with me, there is no better way to do that than to help spread the news about Stageworthy by leaving a rating and review, especially if you listen on Apple podcasts, I would be so grateful if you did that. But I’m even more grateful that you’re listening. Thank you for seven years. I’m Phil Rickaby. And I’ve been a writer and performer for almost 30 years, but I’ve realised that I don’t really know as much as I should about the theatre scene outside of my particular Toronto bubble. Now, I’m on a quest to learn as much as I can about the theatre scene across Canada. So join me as I talk with mainstream theatre creators, you may have heard of an indie artist you really should know, as we find out just what it takes to be Stageworthy.
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Aaron Malkin and Alistair Knowles or as some may know them James and James D have performed across Canada, the US and the UK. James and James the show combines physical comedy cloud and dance to create unique theatrical experiences. They’ve been described as fringe legends, and one of the most popular fringe Duo’s ever. They joined me to talk about their 32 city tour of their Christmas offering. Oh, Christmas tea. Here’s our conversation.
Allister and Aaron, welcome, uh, to the show. Um, just to to, so that everybody can differentiate between voices, if you could just, uh, each of you, uh, say your name. We’ll start with we go Allister and then Aaron, just say your name so everybody can hear what your voice sounds like.
But Allister is muted, so we can’t hear him say what his name sounds like.
Alistair Knowles: Yeah, I’m Allister. I’m the muted one who speaks now in this style.
Aaron Malkin: Uh, and I’m Aaron. I’m the tall one. Uh, I’m, this is how my voice sounds.
Phil: Perfect. So, I mean, one of the things I like, When you have people who are like your show, James and Jamesy, like you do, uh, uh, these characters and things like that. Um, I always wanna make, I always like to talk to the actor, not the character. And I’ve had a couple people come on cuz they’re known for a character and they wanna be in the character, and that’s kind of boring to me.
But if somebody didn’t know what a James and Jamesie show was, how would you describe it to.
Alastair: Uh, it’s a theatrical show, so you’re, you’re sitting down in a theater. You’re watching these two Brits on stage drink. And what starts off as a very formal conversation, uh, sort of formal philosophizing about Christmas and the meaning of Christmas, we start to toy with the separation between audience and performers, and we end up bringing the audience involved into the show. So performers or audience members play key characters in the show. We have costumes that get them set up, and this is all to cultivate this. Fantastic space where the audience and James and Jamese are all in this sort of make belief arena together where we all get to play. I think James and James or Aaron and I treat the show like kids playing with a toy. That we know the toy, we know how it goes. We know how the, we know what we can do with it. And let’s say a board game has a start, middle and end to it. We know that structure. Every time we step on stage is an opportunity to, to tease out the delight, the, the opportunities so that it’s, it’s actually really happening For us, it’s, it’s a real sense of play.
Aaron: I was just gonna add to that, that, uh, you know, playing our characters and the scenarios like a child plays with a toy, um, our goal as performers is, is to find genuine play in the show, because that’s the most likely to help the audience find that spirit of play within themselves as we go through the show.
Phil: It is, it is interesting because the way that you describe it, it’s, it’s one of those, like, there’s. There’s audience participation and some people get really frightened of the idea of audience participation, but it’s really incumbent on the performer to, to make people want to participate. Um, how do you engender people’s desire to participate in the show?
Aaron: I, I would say, I describe the show more as audience immersive or an immersive theatrical experience than an audience participatory experience. Uh, in part because of so many of the associations that I and others have with audience participation. It’s not like we ask an audience member to do something. It’s like T fills up James’s flat and it bursts through the fourth wall and we’re burst off the stage into the audience, and then we contextualize ourselves as if we were underwater and people have the opportunity to be underwater with us. So that’s really low stakes. It’s not like saying you have to do something. If someone chooses to not participate, that’s because there’s, um, very little expectation put on the individual in that context. People feel a little more, uh, inspired to dabble in participating. It’s, it’s like if I walk in a room and I say, Hey, um, the other person might say, And that feels low stakes.
Likewise, when I start the show, I, I, I walk through the audience and I say, Hey, how’s it going? And they can choose to participate or not. They don’t think of it as participation. They think of it as interacting. Uh, and through the show, the scenarios grow in their proportions, uh, to the extent that someone in the audience has an opportunity to play the character, God. Or the queen, you know, and that, you know, if you start there, it would flop. But when people find themselves wanting to join us and to help the show along, they find a new version of themselves to come out and play, and the, and the rest of the audience gets to enjoy that with them. We’re all on the same team.
We all. To have this work and be fun, uh, and I find the audiences are wonderfully supportive of that and encouraging of each other.
Alastair: I want to just add, I think it’s something that helps the James and Jamesy audience relationship is that the character I played, James Z, exists on stage, exists committed to the theatrical premise that the stage is his living room and there’s nothing beyond it. So as Aaron comes into the audience, comes into the theater and says, Hey, to the. I have no understanding that there’s any audience there, and just even me seeing the audience, my resistance to seeing the audience, my resistance to going into the audience, to interacting with them at all is inverse of the audience’s resistance to join in the play of the show. And Aaron’s this interlocutor, this James is this interlocutor that kind of can straddle both worlds.
He starts in the audience, walks comfortably onto the. And tells the audience, Hey, I’m talking to the audience and I’m going, who are you talking to? Because if he was talking to me, well, I’d be standing there and it kind of blows, it blows James’s mind that there’s anyone out there. And that that parallel discomfort and the, the, the release of our own whole held sense of reality and what we are supposed to be in a moment is slowly loosened as we get to. I get to Jamesy, gets to enjoy being with the audience, and the audience gets to enjoy feeling like they’re part of the play.
Phil: Hmm. That’s great. Now I wanna go back. I wanna go back, uh uh, before Aaron joined us, Allister was mentioning, uh, Back in, uh, 2012, um, I was in Edmonton doing a show called The Last Man on Earth and Allister. And I think Aaron, you guys were doing your first show together, which wasn’t a James and James’ show.
So what, what was that show and how did you get from there to James and Jamesy?
Alastair: First I just wanna say Last Man on Earth. What a great show It was, uh, the last show I think we saw at the Edmon Fringe. That was a, the, the feather on the cap before we headed home. And the style of physical comedy. That physical theater that you and your. Exhibited, it was, was an inspir inspiration for us. Uh, the show we did in Edmonton that year was called Superhero Boy Band. So three superheroes in a boy band, uh, It was Aaron and I and one other person, Orlando Sparks as he goes by now. Uh, and uh, that was our first foray into fringe and taking theater, taking a theater production to a city where nobody knew of us.
Aaron: We, uh, yeah, I’ll add to that, that, uh, it was our, the first show that we had. Together. It was the first show I had ever created. And um, so I didn’t know how it all worked. I didn’t know how to get people to the show. I didn’t know what size venue we should be in. I didn’t know promotion. And so we would run around the festival in our superhero costumes and tell people about the show and try to get them to come. Uh, and it was an exhilarating experience that I wanted to do again and again. Um, cuz we had so much fun. In the show with the audience. Likewise, we, you know, there were opportunities for the audience to, like my character was, uh, needed to be brought back to life. And the audience had a key role in helping give me that, that the, the force or the, the energy needed to, to do that.
And the, the extent to which they wadd my character back was proportional to the extent that they participated. And so we got so much energy from the audience and it was really invigorating. And so I think when Ster and I later, uh, worked with some physical comedians in Vancouver and happened upon these James and Jamesie characters, it was really just through an improv game that we were playing. Um, and, and the people we were playing with said, oh, they wanna see these characters play. Let’s do that again. That was really nice. And we knew we wanted to have audience involvement, uh, because there’s this energy of excite. Um, that we find when, when that space is created and audience step into a, a role as a, as a group or as individuals, however that is. Um, and I would say that in the first show we did as James and James, it was really a skit in a cabaret. Alice and I had never had that kind of audience response. The, the energy that we got from the audience, So, uh, it it. I just knew I wanted to do it again. I wanted to, how, how can we do this? And our director or, uh, the, the person with whom we studied clown, uh, a year or two earlier, uh, he said, watching the dynamic of our, our chemistry with each other and the audience that he, he saw. How magical it was and said, you know, you guys, if you, you could take this. You’ve got, you’ve got gold and you can mine it if you want. And, uh, with his encouragement, we turned that, uh, 10 minute skit or eight minute skit into a full show that we toured into another show that we toured. And, uh, we continued getting the, this amazing audience response from the chemistry of these two characters.
Alastair: At the Edmonton Fringe, uh, Aaron mentioned us running around in superhero classrooms, which is what we did. We did it and we did it, yes. To promote the. but also because I think we loved bringing the Thea theatrical world, the theatrical way of living life out in off the stage into the world.
So it was very natural for us to be in superhero costumes in the audience. When we started doing James and Jamesy, we would promote in character, in part because it was really. Because you’d have these real interactions with people. Sure. They might be in a lineup at a fringe festival or, uh, but so they’d be welcome to hearing us. But the whole thing was about eliciting play. It wasn’t about convincing people to come to our show. It was about having fun with people with us dressed as superheroes. And so now as we put on a show, as we put on, oh, Christmas de, we’re not running around flyering. But that same energy of we get to be in the same performative space together.
Phil: It’s interesting. Um, when I, when we were doing the, the Last Man on Earth and we started in Edmond, sorry, in Montreal, there was a, a group from Japan called ohara Soup, and they were out every day. In their like, complete makeup. And they did like this amazing physical comedy stuff. Um, physical clowning and that sort of thing, but they were out all day in their makeup.
Um, um, just promoting the show going around very similar because it, it like brings people, people see it and it’s, it’s quite striking to see it. Um, just like seeing somebody in a superhero suit is, I mean, the costume stuff is really, uh, in some ways, A more effective way on the fringe circuit of getting some attention than just being another guy trying to fly her a line.
It sort of draws people in. Um, and you guys stumbled on that by accident, but um, and that’s something you’ve carried on with James and Jamesy. Do you, does that actually make it easier to, to, to talk to people being in the character
Alastair: If I’m in the mood to play.
Phil: if you’re in the mood to.
Alastair: Yeah. Because I think it’s, it’s less about forcing myself to talk to someone, but being in care, being in a costume is sometimes a, a, it’s like an extended offering of interaction. So, So there’s more permission. Granted, there’s permission for people to respond. There’s permission for people to respond in a way that’s not necessarily, Hey, I’m Bruce.
Uh, nice to meet you. Uh, see any good shows. It’s like You have conversations that stretch people into an unfamiliar world, which, which we only go to if, if they’re delighted.
Phil: Yeah. Yeah. Um, now, am I right that you guys, you don’t live in the same city or even province,
Alastair: We used to live in the same house,
Phil: But now, I mean, now do you like, I’m just trying to get gauge, um, whether or not you’re like in the same place. Just like, cuz I know back in the day, Peter and Chris lived at one point Peter lived in Toronto and Chris lived in, or the other way around. Chris lived in Toronto. Peter lived in Vancouver, but they still somehow managed to create shows together.
I’m wondering if you guys just, just curiosity wise, if you are finding something like.
Aaron: Well, uh, this past year was the first year we lived in different cities and created a show together. Um,
Alastair: we’ve lived in different cities for about five or six years now though.
Aaron: yeah, but we haven’t, uh, created a new show since 2016,
Alastair: Yeah, new, new is, uh, brand new, but every year we, every year we treat our show as an opportunity to improve it.
Aaron: Keeping it fresh for us and also absorbing all the great ideas we had over the year.
Alastair: In creation. I think for this last new show we made, uh, we spent a year in conversation, uh, knowing that we would create a physical comedy show. We spent a, a whole year talking about what is the heart of that show? What is that, what is the essence that we are gonna try to structure a, a theatrical piece? Because I think it’s important for us to create work that has resonance beyond a laugh. So with our, with Oh, Christmas tea, it’s really about cultivating that sense of imagination in an adult audience. The show is great for all ages, but, but if we didn’t, if people didn’t leave the show feeling like they had. Grown in some way, uh, beyond just like a belly laugh. I think it, it, I don’t wanna say we would’ve failed, but I think the, the potential for people to experience a sense of play that they may have not had as an adult is, is both, is a worthy pursuit. And that’s what we try to do with old Christmas tea.
Phil: Absolutely. Creating a show when you’re not in the same place. Um, how do you, how, what was that process like? Did you talk to other people who’ve done the same? Did you figure it out for yourselves or, or was it trial and error? Uh, Aaron,
Aaron: Uh, I would say that each, uh, since we started creating together, uh, each show has had a unique process based on the circumstances and based on what seems to have worked well the time before. Uh, this time we had. Time. Uh, we had over a year to create and we didn’t live in the same city. So we talked about ideas with a co-writer, co-director, uh, David McMurray Smith, um, who’s, who’s taken on a role, usually director, uh, for all of our productions. Um, but I would say we ended up doing a residency in Wells bc um, at the Sunset Theater, where we spent a. About a month before the show opened, and we had a lot of research and ideas for the show, but for me it’s, we seemed light years away from a script light, years away from knowing what the show is. And in that week, um, actually with, uh, a lot of help from Toronto’s Adrian Shepard Gonski, who we had worked with as a sound. He stepped up and co-created the show with us. Uh, we were so productive that week cuz I mean, you know, we coming out of c uh, you know, we’d been in our own worlds doing various things and then to have this week of just creation in a theater together, um, it was, it was very energizing and unlike any creation process we’ve had before. And all the research kind of was there available for us, and we came outta that week with a. Um, so it’s not that some anyone taught us or sh you know, held our hand saying this is the way, uh, because every way has been unique and very customized to our circumstances and interests.
Alastair: Our approach to, to creation is, isn’t starting from a script, or isn’t starting from idea to script, to learning that script and then performing it. Uh, it’s, it’s really about structuring an idea or like finding a heart of an idea and r. Taking it apart to realize what are, what are the ingredients of this?
And is there is, is there an order of these ideas that need to take place? Or are there stages of this idea that need to happen? And then what are the theatrical things we can do to flesh out those ideas? And then once that structure is. Then we can start playing with the comedy. We can bring it into our physicality. We then start to find out the relationships between each other, James and Jamesy, in that performance and the relationship between us and the audience. Uh, even though we know having performed a lot, we know some of those things were gonna be are gonna be there. Like we know we’re. Have a relationship with the audience.
It’s not part of the script. Uh, and, and it’s not. And it, that relationship, at least in the new show, wasn’t fundamental to the, the core. So it wasn’t one of the, the core ingredients. Whereas with, oh, Christmas diet, the relationship with audience is a core ingredients. So it’s how do we. How do we have those parallel things of Jamese and the audience resisting seeing each other, and then bridging and crossing, and that was the fundamentals of, oh, Christmas tea.
Aaron: I would add that, um, in the, the show that we recently created. Um, we were very excited about a number of ideas for interacting with the audience that we realized didn’t serve the North Star of the show. The um, The reasons for its existence. And so with great resistance, uh, uh, we, you know, we pulled these elements out.
All these fun things we were excited to put in the show. Um, and I would say now in retrospect, that the show is much better for it.
It’s heart and purpose is clear.
Alastair: Yeah, someone told us, never keep a joke because it’s funny.
Phil: it’s so hard though,
Alastair: right. But they laughed.
Yes, but it derailed. Derailed the momentum or.
Phil: Now you guys are, this is, you guys have a massive, uh, uh, Christmas season, uh, coming up. Um, just the number of, of shows you are doing across Canada. Um, This is, have you guys done, I mean, you guys have done fringe before, but this is like you’re doing like one night here, one night there one night.
Like what is the, how do you guys feel about this tour? What, how did it come about to tell me, tell me everything.
Aaron: Um, I am very excited, uh, putting on a tour of this scale is, um, I don’t know if, if a lot of your listeners are, uh, fringe artists, uh, or fringe festival goers, um, but I would say I would, you know, we’re going to 32 different theaters and each theater is its own marketing campaign. Each theater is akin to its own fringe festival for an artist in terms of
all the administrative work that goes into each theater is multiples of a fringe festival. So something that you may not know is that we. Self produce our tours, so there’s no one out there other than Erin and I who’s telling us where to go, what to do, fronting the capital. It’s Erin and I going, okay. Every, every year we try to, well set goals as a theater company and then try to figure out how we’re gonna achieve those and what capacity do we have to. To produce these tours. Aaron and I have always self presented our work outside of festival context, so we’ve, we’re very familiar with renting theaters and marketing the shows, and every year we’ve been able to grow in size, especially with this Christmas tour from a single city to five to nine, to 13 to 20, you know, and now 30, 32 cities. It’s massive. The effort is at times like playing whack-a-Mole with all, it’s like playing whack-a-mole with emails, correspondence and spinning plates, trying to keep all the elements up in the air. Uh, and it’s, we have moments where fortunately, it’s often. One of us that’s like, I’ve reached my max. I need help.
I need to offload some of my responsibilities, and whether the other person can step in or whether the other person, or whether we agreed together, like, okay, we need, we can let go of that as a, as a, a dream to hold onto. So let’s drop that plate. Let’s, let’s intentionally let it smash. Great. And let’s keep going with what we can handle. And then we bring on other people when we can, uh, to, to help out. And we’ve had working relationships with our technicians and our public publicist and, uh, for many years. So those relationships as part of the team, the team is now maybe 10 people,
uh, in the creation process from the Oh, more. We’ve got four people just working on costumes right now that are delivering the costumes on Monday. Uh, I used to make all the costumes myself,
Aaron: I think I started our response to this by saying I’m very excited and I think all of what I and Allister just said, uh, it it gives you a glimpse into the administrative mountain that goes into producing a tour of the scale. And so I’m so excited. For the tour itself because I love performing and that’s why I’m doing this. And we finally get to perform and be in those theaters with 3, 4, 5, 6, 700 people playing this game called, oh, Christmas Tea. And I love performing with Alice her so much. That’s why we still do it. I mean,
Alastair: yeah. Last year was an interesting year for us cuz we had all the administrative work and then we were set to perform and fortunately with Covid we were able to perform. But in the lead up to that, Neither one of us had stepped onto stage in a couple years. Like I think a lot of artists were in that existential conundrum of, is my art, am I an artist?
Do I perform, do I enjoy performing? I haven’t been on stage in years, does that, who Who I am? I am, am I that still? Do I do I do that? Cause it’s an option, you know, we have the option to, to step on. Uh, and we create those options by renting theaters,
Phil: There’s, I mean, a lot of times artists find themselves, uh, producing, especially in fringe, that’s usually often an artist’s first. Producing something, is producing something that they created at a fringe festival, but then of course it gets exponentially, uh, uh, harder and bigger because Fringe Festival is like training, like producing with, with, with training wheels on.
So, um, you guys, have you learned, like through trial and error about producing or did you have advice? What’s, what’s that look like for you?
Aaron: I would say we’re constantly looking for the best idea. That, you know what will help put buts in seats. And I think fringe on its own has been a wonderful vehicle for teaching us because if you do seven festivals in a summer, say each festival is an opportunity to practice your pitch, practice your show description, practice, uh, improving your graphics and seeing graphics and show descriptions and shows of hundreds of other.
And so it’s really, um, it’s like a bootcamp for learning how to market your show, learning how to make your show itself more robust so it might get reviewed better so that the audience enjoyment will improve and, and all of that will help you make a living at it if you want to.
Alastair: And it extends out outside of those festival context too, cuz you know, sh you’re out of a festival, but you’re in, you’re in the big wide world where you know, You need to place yourselves in the company of who you want to be, your peers. So, uh, and you need to, or I, we have chosen to turn our gaze from, from Fringe festival inspiration to touring theater company inspirations.
So who is touring theater, uh, in the venues that we’re interested in, on the skill that we’re interested in? And how do they do it? Uh, A lot of that you can sort of sleuth online, but I, I think our boldness of calling cold, calling theater per people in the industry. And saying, Hey, we also tour. Hey, we also want a tour.
Could, could we have a conversation? Could I, could we go for lunch together? Could we, uh, just chat shop? I’d love to, love to love to pick your brain. I, I wanna mention too, that Aaron and I, in terms of the creation of live theater and creation and touring of it, you know, we both come from a pretty privileged place where we were able. Not work and dedicate our time to, to theater for, you know, that initial show we we lost money on and we were cel, we celebrated cuz we each lost five bucks. That Superhero Boy band show the very, not, not at the fringe before the fringe. We had self produced it, but we’re like sweet. We just spent three months of our lives doing this thing and we each lost only five bucks.
What a great way to spend three months. Clearly not everyone has that luxury.
Uh, and then, you know, it was many years as we are many years of touring fringe and just creating, producing the year where, where we are able to grow the skill set. Since that now we are able to make a living doing it.
Aaron: Um, the first year that Allstar and I worked together in theater, I was a year of transition for me from, uh, working in visual effects for film to pursuing. Clowning. Uh, and uh, the opportunity I had on a community theater show, it was, um, with lots of rehearsals and lots of performances. I quit my job not knowing how I was gonna make it work. And, uh, I said yes to every opportunity to perform that year. It was neither of us actually went to theater school per se. Um, we studied clown and, and, uh, various physical comedy opportunities post, uh, university. Um, and my first year after having like a desk job, uh, in performance, I made, I made $4,000 that year, uh, living in Vancouver, which, Can be challenging. Um, and, and every year has, has been better as I get more experience and as we, uh, learn how to run a theater company, uh, to the extent that, um, for maybe the last 10 years, Allister, it’s been our, our full time year round job, which has allowed us to gain so much more experience.
Uh, so the chemistry. Often, uh, in the audience, their, their responses about the chemistry, you know,
Alastair: and I think like the chemistry extends from the stage. I think the, a key thing that has kept us together is that Erin and I actually really are friends. Actually really do like spending time with each other, uh, whether that’s in the administrative space or dreaming up plans or just involved in each other’s lives.
So I think, I think that friendship is, has really key to what’s allowed us to keep doing this cuz it’s still
Phil: I mean, one of the, the, the challenges to performing over a long period of time and even like traveling and touring, um, you always hear about bands breaking up because, you know, they’ve, they’ve spent too much time together. Um, how do you. Keep from, you know, that fight that’s going to break up the band sort of thing.
How do you communicate with each other to, to, to make sure that you guys are still enjoying what you’re doing and still and still friends at the end of a seven month tour, for example.
Aaron: I would say for myself that I’m the more, um, emotionally unstable of the two of us. Um, and, uh, I’m learning how to better sustain myself. Um, Something interesting happened in our last tour, which was our most ambitious tour to date, which is that because of Covid, we weren’t going to the bar after the show hanging out with audience members and friends. So we weren’t drinking, we weren’t staying up. Um, and I, I’ve learned that for myself, uh, that even a little bit of alcohol causes some kind of inflammation in my body and makes me more irritable. And if I don’t do that, I am a nicer person to interact with. Uh, and I think that we both got to experience that, uh, reduction in irritability. And when you’re doing a show every day going to a new city every day, um, it can really take its toll on your brain, on your emotional wellbeing. Um, and we had, I think, the most, uh, sustainable tour, uh, last year and it. Partly because of my maturation with like my body self-awareness, wellbeing. Um, and I think since the beginning we’ve been fairly decent communicators.
Alastair: Yeah, I just wanna say that the last tour was the first time we had, I experienced touring with the luxury of two technicians. So, uh, and very capable, experienced ones so that the. The onus on us. The onus wasn’t on us to arrive at the theater super early, unload the van, do, do this tech setup, deal with the uncertainties with each venue. So it felt quite swish to be able to
this show up before the show, do our sound check, check the props, and then, and then do the show. Uh, and I. That, that is another part of self care is, and same with like hiring other people to help do, do tasks. It’s, um, knowing when to ask for help and, and that help can come in different forms or to scale back your ambitions.
Like there was numerous years where we had planned to create a new show and I told Aaron, we shouldn’t do it. We shouldn’t make a new show. We’re gonna be stretched too. Uh, so we should pull out one of our old shows. We should rework it, make it better, and I think from a financial standpoint, that’s a better decision to make and we’ll be, have more balanced lives.
Phil: Um, Erin has something to say, but I, I quickly wanted to, to jump on, on that as a, as a, as a question because, um, one of the, the thing I, I hear fringe artists worry about taking the same show to the same city too many times. Um, Do you find that, that you’re able to take a show because you’re reworking it a bit, that you can take it to a, a city that you’ve been to with it and, and the audiences are still there for it?
Aaron: I would say it depends on the city. Um, some cities have a very large. Audience base. Uh, I don’t remember if it was Winnipeg or Edmonton. Um, in the last few years, I remember something like that. There was 80,000 or a hundred thousand people, like unique individuals attending the festival. I, I’m making that number up, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.
think it was like a hundred thousand tickets sold in Winnipeg.
Aaron: all I thought it was way more tickets sold. But anyway, um, And so only a very small fraction of those people have seen our show. So I think there’s still a possibility for reaching the other people and, you know, presenting them with what you’re offering and, and them choosing to do it. And there’s also something I’m learning with this Christmas tour that we’re doing, uh, When you invest in a marketing opportunity, um, that can help you in the future beyond just the upcoming run, because there’s a familiarity.
It’s like, if this show keeps coming back, I keep seeing that thing. Maybe there is something to it. What am I, you know, like, how long did I hear about Harry Potter books before I decided I wasn’t gonna read it? I ,sorry, I never read it. I kept wondering like maybe I should, people keep loving this.
Alastair: No, uh, we, I, during Fringe, let’s say in Winnipeg, for example, we were staying at my parents’ house and my dad would loved Fringe. He loves Fringe. He goes to maybe three shows a year and how, like there are many shows that he would enjoy seeing, but how he chooses shows is not. I, it, it’s not a process of, I’m not seeing that.
I’m not seeing that. And just because he didn’t see your show doesn’t mean he decided he wasn’t gonna see it. Just cuz he saw three shows that year and it, you know, he was gonna go out on Thursday night cuz his buddy was available Thursday night and, oh, they’re gonna go for beers and they’re gonna go see the sh they’re gonna find something to go to after the beer. They do that. you know, and we’d have other friends building with us and he wouldn’t see their shows. Not because he didn’t want to, because it didn’t fit in with his schedule or like, you know, it just didn’t flow with his day. And I think that’s how a lot of, and now I have kids or we, Aaron and I both have kids and it’s like, I might see a show sometimes, but whether or not I see a show is just because I didn’t see a show isn’t because I. There’s no way I’m gonna go see that show. It’s just like most shows I have an interest in seeing and most shows I don’t go to
Aaron: And I would add that, um, the smaller the festival. Uh, the smaller the audience base that is expected to attend a festival in a certain year, uh, the harder it is to come back with the same show because they, there’s a smaller pool of hardcore fringes who, you know, or not that that’s your, your entire
audience, but here’s just a smaller pool of people who, and so maybe most of them have seen your show.
Alastair: I, I think a question is to sort of, why would you bring back a show, or why do you even tour a show to begin with? The question is, the question is why? What are your goals is so key. And, and whether you’re doing a new show or an old show, you know, those are quite different experiences at a festival. You know, if I want to go to a festival and if I have my kids there, or, uh, like the energy expenditure for doing it at a show we already have in the bag.
We already have all the promo material for we, uh, Doing an old show means that I’m free to be with my kids or free to go out at night and not stress about reworking or like, uh, you know, I’m not itching for that one review because the show already has a bunch of reviews. Um, I. So if nobody came to see your show the first time and you’re not making any changes, but you wanna perform the show because you wanna perform the show cuz you want to get on stage and you don’t wanna have to have the stress of writing a new show, by all means put on your old show, have a ball if that’s your goal. If nobody came the first year and you want to make some money and you want to have bums in seats, you might ask yourself, well, if I just do it the exact same way, what’s gonna be any different? And then I would say maybe don’t do the
show unless you’re doing something different. Unless again, you just want to get on stage.
Then it doesn’t matter.
Phil: Now James and Jamesy are based in British humor, um, and the both of you, uh, uh, uh, really have a love of British humor. Uh, where did that come from for you and was it Monte Python?
Aaron: Uh, I, when I was a kid, uh, my dad had money, Python on the tv. I’d never seen it before. I had no idea what it was. Basically, this guy walks out on stage. And start and like, uh, wearing a tuxedo with tails and starts playing the piano and then his clothes fly up to the, to the ceiling. This on a clothes on string.
It’s from, you know, an episode of the mo uh, the flying Circus. And, uh, and I was like, what? I’d never see, like I was a kid, I’d never seen nudity on television, and this is so absurd. I’m like, who would create this? This is on tv. Uh, so from that moment I had. Kind of enthusiasm and delight in this group, and it was my dad’s enthusiasm that, that put it on the tv. Uh, so for me, money, Python is, uh, an origin for me, uh, for the affinity for British humor.
Alastair: I’d say for me it was Rowan Atkinson. I lived in West Africa as a kid and I’d take eight hour, eight hour flights from Toronto to either Amsterdam or to London. Uh, and, and there’d be back in the day where there’d be one screen that everyone would watch and. They’d play shows that were applicable to all call or any language. Uh, and they often played Mr. Beam, which was hilarious in my younger years. And I just did a Rowan Atkinson marathon, uh, little while ago watching all the Mr. Beans, just appreciating all the,
the detail and the physicality. And so, so Rowan Rowan’s, um, performance as, as Mr. Bean, but then also as I got to know him more of his work and his stage, watching some of his stage performances, uh, got to really appreciate the, the physical humor that he, he embodies. I think the, another thing of the British that we love in both of those shows is there’s a sense of propriety. Like there’s, you know, propriety and absurd. Someone playing at a piano in a tuxedo, very proper boom, all of his clothes go off and the reaction is to try to stay as proper as possible. So no matter what happens, we’re staying as proper as possible. Same with Rowan Atkinson. You know, he is trying to get on the bus or he is trying to get on the bus and is, you know, whatever gets, or he is in the swimming pool, his pants fall off while he’s still trying to, to have the image that everything is. Don’t mind me. He’s trying to not make a big deal out of all these crazy situations and that those two things coming together, which is, I’m gonna bring it back to the, the theater.
It’s. Bringing back these crazy sort of imaginative worlds that James and James live in while still trying to hold onto the, it’s okay. We’re just here in the theater. We’re just doing a theater show. Nothing’s going wrong. And meanwhile, the world is flooding with tea, and ships are crashing, and whatever else is happening in the imaginative world.
Phil: You mentioned the, the proprietary, the propriety and the absurdity. And I’m, uh, I’m thinking about, uh, I grew up listening to, uh, the, the cast of Beyond. Fringe, uh, Dudley Moore in that gang, um, as well as the Goon show. Similar things, which are all like about the propriety and also the absurdity, and there’s something about that very British like the absurd, but.
So extreme, but also trying to keep that stiff upper lip. It’s, it’s very particular to the British humor and I understand why some people are like, I just don’t get British humor. And I think I always, my response to that is always, well, you don’t have to get it. It doesn’t necessarily mean a lot, does it
I mean, it’s just kind of like watching somebody desperately try to. Like their, their position in society while everything is falling down in front of them.
Alastair: Yeah. To keep calm, carry on mentality.
Phil: That’s right, that’s right. Allister, you mentioned that, that in this show there might be something about Jamesy sort of becoming aware of the audience.
Phil: happens to Jamesy, is that something that changes his perception for the future or just for Right.
Alastair: Uh, from that point going forward in the show for sure. Uh, so, so my world is blown open. Absolutely. and and it’s, I need to let go of what I. What I believe to be reality in order to have real relationships. I think that’s a challenge that people face all the time. It’s like when things change in people’s reality, can you change with it?
Can you accept these new things in life? Or are you gonna be in a psychological whirl? I think those things happen all the time, whether it’s traumatic things like a death in a family. You have to, you have to go through a physical transf, a physical metamorphosis of like accepting the change before you can carry on, uh, and then carry on and live in the new reality.
Phil: Yeah. Yeah. Aaron, did you have something?
Aaron: Yeah. Kind of two things. I, I didn’t know if where you were going with this was, uh, like what happens in the next show? Can Jamesie
Phil: curious, I’m curious if, like, is there continuity between shows that that, so that James E’s world would continue to be shattered in that?
Aaron: uh, I would say there, there isn’t a chronology to the shows. After the first show, we actually thought, ooh. We’re gonna create the next show, the next thing that happens in the chronology of James and Jamesy and well, our first show that we created was James and Jamesy was two fort and at the end James Z’s dead. So it was, how do we start there? Well, he was in heaven waiting for me. And we created a show where we weren’t on stage at the same time cuz we’re in different worlds. Uh, and that didn’t, we didn’t find how to make that play. So we started again from the drawing board with a different, uh, core to the show. And then we decided, I guess in our own minds, this show happens before two for t Cuz cuz
and then we created another show that happened before James and Jamesie were human. So it’s, it’s not like we created. Thinking, okay, this is the chronology of the lives of these people. We create a show and maybe looking for patterns as humans, were like, oh, logically this goes before, oh yeah, I hadn’t thought of that before, but we’ll take the best idea on the table and not feel like we need to justify it because of things that have happened in a previous show.
Phil: So it’s kind of like a, a, a sitcom from the 1970s where all the characters start from the same part point, every episode,
Alastair: Um, no, no. Uh, well, okay. Of the, of the tea parties. Sure. But we have, we have our show in the Dark, which takes place in the dark, which is about two con, like the forming of consciousness and the forming of relationship. And so that is very much not two British guys having tea. That said, they happen to have British accents, uh, and they are still James and Jamesy. And in the most recent show we created, uh, James and Jamesy are currently called, right this way, it’s James and Jamesy putting on their first clown show as clowns. So the, and I’d say with each show we build, we understand the relationship of James and Jamesy that much. You know, you can say that’s, oh, that’s just performance experience.
But I think it’s also experience with these characters and the way they relate to each other.
Phil: Hmm Hmm. Interesting. Now. One of the things that I noticed is that that is, um, you guys, uh, uh, uh, Aaron, you mentioned that you, you, you didn’t go to theater school and that you were in special effects before, but neither of you start set out to be performers. So what were you doing and how did you end up performing?
Aaron: I’ll start. Um, I went from high school to doing a degree in biology and. I think with that is I thought, oh, I’m more likely to find financial stability if I pursue sciences rather than arts. So it was more like a process of, of, uh, I’m good at this. I’m kind of interested in this. I’ll just go this direction. And I found myself working in a laboratory behind a microscope, like working in immunology. Thinking, Ugh, I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life behind a
Alastair: There’s no future in immunology.
Aaron: no. My oh man. I could,
Alastair: Man, you should’ve. You could’ve saved us.
Aaron: I, I wasn’t happy and I, I think I had spent so much of my youth, um, worried about what I should do. Uh, and eventually I, uh, I took a teaching. Because I like interacting with people and I was a high school teacher and I ended up feeling like, ah, I can’t, I’m not gonna be satisfied as a teacher. I can’t teach these kids like, uh, enough. It’s like I, I felt like I was kind of failing, um, cuz I didn’t do it wonderfully. Um, And I ended up pivoting and pursuing something that had been a hobby, which is visual effects for film. Um, and I enjoyed that. But then four years in sitting behind a computer, I was like, oh, my body needs to move. I need to interact with people. So again, I felt it’s kind of like sitting behind a computer was like sitting behind a microscope. It’s like, um, but I think I had a tendency to. Depression because I wasn’t pursuing things I was passionate about.
I was pursuing the best option I saw available to me from a pragmatic perspective. Uh, and so when I happened upon clowning, just it was kind of, uh, just very fortunate. Um, I did it and I loved it, and it was therapeutic. And I, uh, my kind of emotional life had so much more life and depth in it, uh, that I just started saying yes to all those opportunities. And 10 years later, this is the longest career I’ve ever had. 10 years later, uh, I’m still loving it, ster.
Alastair: Uh, so yeah, theater. I, I liked theater as a kid. I was not good at theater as a kid. I can say that confidently. Uh, I didn’t, I thought theater was, you had to pretend to be somebody else in order to be a good performer. and, uh, I was terrified of improv. I did not join any of my high school improv teams, even though there was many of them, and they seemed very fun because I thought I won’t have good ideas in the moment, I will, I can learn a script and say a script and I can sing by sang in choirs as a kid. So I was in the school plays, but I wasn’t in the improv scene at all. Uh, and then I left that I thought, okay, that was fun. I’ll go to university. And I studied a business. I took a business degree. Uh, somewhat enjoyed that. I really enjoyed business and enjoy thinking of problem solving and goal accomplishing. So set on goals and accomplishing them and how to structure. People and tasks, uh, the logistical side of things to, to make your ideas happen and monetizing fun things. So I’ve had run a couple little businesses. I run some businesses growing up that put me through university and then, uh, after Univers or during university, I started doing community theater and. Random performances. A friend of mine was taking a Russian history class and for his essay, while he’s reciting, doing his, uh, while he is doing his talk on the some sort of plague, he had six or seven of us all dressed in old and style clothes, burst in through the door at various points in time and dramatically die of cholera. Uh, And I thought that was just the craziest thing to be, you know, taking a Russian history class and then have your pals just burst in during your show. So I was one of those people that D died, and in those environments, it wasn’t about acting, it was about playing, it was about having fun. Uh, so, and I got involved in more of their certain, more of their an. Doing community theater shows and where it wasn’t about being perfect in any sense. It was about having a great time on stage during the rehearsal process after the show. Uh, and that’s where superhero, yeah. So I went straight from business school into clown school and, uh, into superhero boy band.
Phil: And the rest is history.
Alastair: And the rest is history.
Phil: I just wanna make sure that everybody knows they can see the all of the all 32 dates for O Christmas tea. Um, and get tickets at ochristmastea.com. Guys, I hope I can’t wait to see this show. Uh, uh, uh, I hope you have a blast and uh, thanks for your time this evening.
Alastair: Yeah. Great.
Aaron: Thank you so much, Phil. It was really
Alastair: All the shows are in all through Ontario, except for our show in Winnipeg. So if you live anywhere in Ontario, we’re probably coming to you.