This week, we’re talking to actor and director, Tatum Lee. Brace yourself as we plunge into the making of The Drowning Girls, her spine-chilling production at Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre. A tale of horror, a timeless exploration of societal issues, and a love letter to the stage, this episode unravels the layers of creativity, challenge, and passion that went into the staging of this eerie play. Tatum’s childhood fascination with Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West and how it fuels her love for the horror genre make for an intriguing discussion you won’t want to miss.
But the drama doesn’t stop there. Join us as we contrast her experience directing The Drowning Girls with The Elephant Man, two riveting productions with starkly different challenges. Discover the importance of dialogue, the dynamics of actor-director relationships, and the delicate art of handling heavy themes from a director’s point of view. Tatum’s insight into theatre as a mirror to society, and a tool to evoke emotion and address difficult themes, is both enlightening and inspiring.
Lastly, we journey into Tatum’s acting world. Drawing from her experience in the movie IT and her memories of Tim Curry’s mini-series, Tatum shares her perspective on acting and its power. Hear about her reprisal of the Wicked Witch of the West in a lost episode of Sesame Street and how her idol, Margaret Hamilton, continues to inspire her. This episode, filled with compelling discussions on theatre, horror, and the transformative power of storytelling, is a masterclass in the art of stagecraft. Buckle up for a fascinating exploration that will leave you spellbound.Bio, and socials go here
Tickets to The Drowning Girls at Red Sandcastle: https://wren-theatre.ticketleap.com/the-drowning-girls/dates
Transcript auto generated.
0:00:04 – Phil Rickaby
I’m Phil Rickaby and I’ve been a writer and performer for almost 30 years, but I’ve realized 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 and indie artists you really should know, as we find out just what it takes to be Stageworthy. If you value the work that I do on Stageworthy, please consider leaving a donation, either as a one-time thing or on a recurring monthly basis. Stageworthy is created entirely by me and I give it to you free of charge, with no advertising or other sponsored messages. Your continuing support helps me to cover the cost of producing and distributing the show. Just four people donating $5 a month would help me cover the cost of podcast hosting alone. Help me continue to bring you this podcast. You can find a link to donate in the show notes, which you can find in your podcast app or at the website at Stageworthy.ca. Now onto the show.
Tatum Lee is an actor, director and the creative director at Wren Theatre. She joined me to talk about Ren Theatre’s production of the Drowning Girls at Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre November 7th to 12th. In this conversation we talk about what drew her to the Drowning Girls, her love of horror and why that may have been inspired by her childhood love for Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West and much more. Here’s our conversation. You’re directing the Drowning Girls at the Red Sandcastle and tell me what is the elevator pitch for the Drowning Girls?
0:02:21 – Tatum Lee
Well, the Drowning Girls. It’s based on the real lives of three women Beatrice Constance Mundy, we’ve got Alice Burnham and Margaret Elizabeth Lofty, and basically those three women were murdered by the same man, George Joseph Smith, and it’s basically about, after that event happens, how they come to in their bathtubs and they’re sort of found in this in-between state and they’re sort of coming to terms with what’s happened to them. And what’s brought them to this moment would be the elevator pitch.
0:02:54 – Phil Rickaby
And what is it that drew you to this particular piece?
0:02:58 – Tatum Lee
It was actually like a total fluke. I didn’t know it, I hadn’t heard of the play, I had heard of the events but I had not heard of the play. I’m actually working with a partner on an original story that takes place in the same time period and it’s set in a white chapel, based on a serial killer, and I was doing research for that and this play actually popped up in my search and I was like I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this before, because it’s like right up my alley, like it’s. You know, it’s something that I haven’t seen very much in theater, which is something creepy, eerie, with like little elements of humor in it. Like finding that nice balance is really exciting. So, yeah, I was thrilled and I ordered the script, I read it and I thought it was just like very intriguing and also the themes of it are so timely. So I was really excited to jump on board and do it for the fall production.
0:03:52 – Phil Rickaby
And how did the whole production come together? You have a killer cast. You’re doing it at the Red Sand Castle, which is one of the best places in Toronto for anything creepy or horror related. So how did the whole thing come together?
0:04:07 – Tatum Lee
Well, originally I was looking at a different venue because I hadn’t thought of the Red Sand Castle and I had cast my production with Adriana Prosser, who you know is the is the manager at Red Sand Castle, and she was like I actually feel like this would be like like great in our space. So I went there, I took a tour and I was just like this is exactly where this show has to be. It’s got such a vibe and, you know, like just like the red door when you walk in there, like it paints a very, a very clear picture of what you’re you’re coming in for. So I’m really thrilled that that whole thing worked out and that the space was available at that time.
0:04:43 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, timing is everything in that space and of course, you’re doing it in the fall, which is like the spooky season, basically. So that’s, that’s awesome. When you were, when you were trying to figure out when to do it, was it like you knew you wanted to do it in the fall? Did things fall together for, for the, for the spooky season, or did you just know fall season?
0:05:06 – Tatum Lee
I was hoping. Truth be told, if I’m being completely honest, I was hoping to have the show run the week of Halloween. That was my original goal and finding a space that was available was extremely difficult because everybody that has like a show with a similar eerie theme like wants to book for that week, obviously. So you know, adriana, she was sort of like I’ve got the next best thing, I’ve got like the week right after that, if you’re, if you’re down. So I was like I’ll take it.
0:05:34 – Phil Rickaby
I mean, there can be creepy. The spooky season can extend past.
0:05:38 – Tatum Lee
Halloween Absolutely Like. Halloween is actually my brother’s birthday.
So, yeah, it’s Halloween is a big part of my family, like we’re. We’re really into Halloween and I I’m always like sad when it ends. You know, I’m just like I wish it was just like a little bit longer. I wish it was like a couple, like a festival that went on for like a week or something. So, you know, I think that it’ll be good, because anybody that is still in the Halloween spirit, that’s looking for something to do afterwards they might want to come and check out.
0:06:05 – Phil Rickaby
Well, you know, the fun thing is is that it actually can extend, because some of the some of the early traditions around the Yule Festival are quite creepy and horrific. So you can carry through from from Halloween into the holiday season without pouring a whole lot of sugar on it and letting it just be creepy and terrifying. So that can be fun too.
0:06:25 – Tatum Lee
Exactly, maybe I’ll, maybe I’ll direct Black.
0:06:28 – Phil Rickaby
Christmas on stage. That’s awesome, never been done before. Now. One of the important things about about about. You know the location is important. When you’re putting the show together, you know all. The director is obviously important, but the cast is also super important. What was the process of finding the the cast for this production?
0:06:54 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, well, I have had the privilege of working with Adriana Proser on a previous production of State of Women that we did in 2015. And she is a formidable actress and I I’m such a fan of hers and when she was available to do it I was so thrilled because she has so much Edwardian knowledge and Victorian knowledge with all of her like her history in that, in that world as well. So she’s definitely been a huge asset to me, like not just because of her amazing talent, but just all the knowledge that she brings to the project as well. So I knew that I wanted to work with Adriana and I also wanted to work with Vicky Villanossi because I worked with her on the previous production that I did of the Elephant man, and she’s just, I think she has the most amazing comedic timing. She can turn any sort of any sort of moment that should be serious into a moment that encompasses so many emotions all in once, like I’m just like I’m such a fan of hers. And then there’s the newbie to our group, which is Amanda to Suza. So I’m really, really thrilled that we have her and she’s just bringing like so much vulnerability to the character of Alice that I’m excited each week to see the women work together, because chemistry and a show like this where it’s just three people alone on stage they’re there the whole time, nobody leaves that chemistry is the most important thing to see if they can keep the story going and their audience engaged. So making sure that that was there, I’d say, was like the most important thing.
But I usually like to work with actors that I’ve worked with before. Wren Theater is sort of like operated like a repertoire company where we do have new people come in like all the time, but at the same time, like we like to pull from like a database of actors that we know are, you know, like amazing talents, and I like having like a shorthand with my actors so that it just makes everything much more smooth. When you’re trying to like can you just like like move the thing over there with the thing and they’re like reading in between all of your lines, just be like yeah, yeah, yeah. Like you don’t just say anything, I get it. I like having that kind of group around me that I feel comfortable with to explore, so yeah.
0:09:11 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, shorthand a director having a shorthand with actors is always super helpful. I’ve worked with a few directors, you know, multiple times, and each time you do get that kind of rapport where they will start to one director I’ve worked with so many times, he’ll start to make a gesture of like wait, no, no, no, I know what you’re gonna say. I know what you’re gonna say and I will do that. You know just because we’ve worked together so many times.
0:09:38 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, yeah, it’s nice. It’s nice right To feel like you have that kind of like safety between the two of you, like it’s a safe space for you guys can just like create and see what happens. And that’s very much the way I like to operate at all of my the all the productions that I do is I like actors to feel safe and able to express and try things without any sort of judgment on my end, and I feel like that’s how you always get the best work out of something. Yeah, absolutely.
0:10:04 – Phil Rickaby
Speaking of Wren Theatre, I wanna talk about the origins of Wren Theatre in a little bit, but first I wanna talk about just sort of looking at you know the productions that I can see on the website, and also you mentioned the Elephant man. Are you drawn to a particular type of theatre and is that? Does that lean or skew a little bit darker than some people? Does it skew towards the dark rather than something you know blight and fluffy?
0:10:33 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, I feel like it does to a certain extent, Like I do have plans to like dive into like different genres and like read life into different stories, but like I have a huge love for period pieces, Like I really love doing the research and submerging myself in like a different time and learning about like the etiquettes of that time. And you know, and let’s face it, like life is life is hard and the further back you go, you know it’s. There’s lots of pain in our history, you know. So I think that makes for exciting theatre. I think there’s lots of lessons to be found in our past. So, yeah, like I feel like I am drawn to shows that are not set in the current day and that are dealing with difficult, heavy themes.
0:11:20 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, Well, I mean you do have to. I mean, there’s the whole saying about you know, if you don’t? Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, and and I believe that like so wholeheartedly, 100%, and there are so many lessons in the plays of the past who are speaking about often you know issues that were happening at the time which completely reflect a lot of things that are going on in our world. Because we go through the same cycle, apparently, because we never actually learn anything.
0:11:50 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, I mean, it’s true, there’s a, there’s a movie that like I’m gonna totally butcher the like the line in this thing, but it’s called. What’s that movie? Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and I don’t know if anybody’s seen this obscure film, but there’s like a. There’s a moment where, like, world War II is at the precipice of happening and there’s two people that lived through. The first one because they’re of a certain age and they, they’re sort of like it all seems so familiar, doesn’t it? And the other one is like it’s because they don’t remember the last time. And you know, like that’s. So that gets me Because, like, if we don’t look back, we will repeat over and over and over again, and I think people are afraid to look back.
0:12:35 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, especially when we’re dealing with I’ll bring it to the stage and you’ll have to Exactly exactly. And I appreciate theater, that just sort of like you know it tells an entertaining story and then you leave and you’re like I learned something, you know, or that’s like the best use of theater, rather than like to hit somebody over the head with an idea until they feel like they’ve learned it. Yeah, in terms of you know, you’re just thinking about, you know, forgetting things. I passed by a cenotaph a while back, just a couple weeks ago, and it just said the Great War. And somebody that I was with was like which war was that? And I said well, that’s World War. I, because that’s the Great War. At that time, when they put that up, it was the only war and of course they figured we will never do this again and you know again the cycles and the forgetting and all that sort of stuff.
Yeah, it also didn’t help that all the people who came back from both of those wars didn’t talk about it much.
0:13:40 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, I mean like when you factor in like PTSD and like what people must have been through on both sides, like even people that weren’t in the war but were trying to keep their households going after that whole thing, you know, and get back to like their version of normal and move forward. I mean like I’m sure nobody wanted to talk about it.
0:13:56 – Phil Rickaby
0:13:58 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, in fact that’s actually what my the first play that I worked with Adriana on. That’s like what the themes of that show were a state of women, it was about World War II and women working in the factories while the men went off to war and that was sort of what Act One was about. And then Act Two was about after the men came home and finding that balance between how do we go back when our lives will never be what that was, you know, and yet you know, is there something to look forward to, to the future?
0:14:24 – Phil Rickaby
So yeah, yeah, I think about. I think about that transition a lot actually, because that’s a transition that led us into the restrictive era of the 50s, where the roles within a household were so rigidly set that, at a certain point, women were so dissatisfied that they were given value just to make it through the day. So it’s like, yeah, that was an artificial thing, I know. Like, oh hey, we’re going to take away all the things that you enjoyed and make you stay at home. How do you feel about that? It’s terrible.
0:15:05 – Tatum Lee
I know it’s awful. It’s awful and there’s so many themes of that in, like so many plays that are before a certain date. I mean, like we’re still like, to a certain degree, people are still trying to break free of that shell.
0:15:15 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I mean, I remember, you know, in the 70s, you know, when I was born, a woman could not open a bank account or get a credit card without her husband’s permission.
0:15:27 – Tatum Lee
That’s crazy. I mean, that’s the 70s Like we’re not even talking that long ago I know.
0:15:31 – Phil Rickaby
It’s madness to think about somebody. A woman could walk into the bank and if she didn’t have a husband, she had to get her father’s permission to open a bank account. It’s like that kind of restrictive which is just ridiculous.
0:15:46 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, I mean there’s so many themes of that in the Drowning Girls that like we are in this production. I mean, like, I think one of the themes that I think is fascinating is that it wasn’t just about marrying to have financial security. Some of these women that are in that well, actually all three of the women that are in this play they have financial security and they were sort of shunned from society in a way because they didn’t have the man. You know what I mean. They didn’t have, like the husband, and because of that it didn’t matter that they could take care of themselves or had a place in the world. They were shunned from society because of that. So they signed over their life insurance, they get married and in this case they married the wrong man, unfortunately. But it’s just crazy to think that until they had that in writing, that they were Mrs Somebody, it’s almost like they didn’t exist really in the eyes of society.
0:16:47 – Phil Rickaby
But it’s just fascinating. I listened to a podcast a while back. It’s called Bad Women and it’s about the victims of Jack the Ripper. It’s not even about Jack the Ripper. It’s about the women and about how everybody has said that they were prostitutes and that’s where they were killed and in fact, historically they were not. And in that society, if you were a woman who was not married, you were essentially a prostitute and that’s where that stigma came from. And so once you realize that, you start to realize just how rigid, how restrictive, how difficult that period of time is, that if you want to be accepted in the world, you would have to be married.
0:17:38 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s absolutely crazy. It was a very dark time. Women were forced into doing all kinds of things that they never would have otherwise.
0:17:52 – Phil Rickaby
So you were. You did the Elephant man, which is just a fit. Anybody who’s only seen the movie from the 80s should at least read the play, because the play is quite stunning and devastating in its truth about humanity. What is that would drew you to that play when you did that in your last production?
0:18:21 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, I mean it’s a very heavy piece and it’s also very dialogue heavy, and it’s a challenge for any actor to step into so many of the characters, but especially John Merrick and Dr Frederick Treves. I had two brilliant actors, had Jordan Emre play John Merrick and I had Robert Knobbin play Dr Frederick Treves, and I mean some of the, some of the monologues that Robert had to say, like I mean, it was just like four pages of tiny front and back like medical jargon, like just like all anatomy stuff, that like I just couldn’t believe like how he was able to like memorize all that stuff, but like I thought that it would be a good challenge for for the both of them, and I contacted them immediately and was like I think I have a really juicy opportunity for the both of you. So, and obviously it’s a, it’s a story that is absolutely heartbreaking, I think the most. The thing that drew me to that story, though, is just how you almost view John at the first half of the show, like you’re sort of feeling sorry for him, and then you end up leaving that show feeling sorry for everybody else and not for John, like because he’s holding up a mirror to other people, showing them all of their faults in a way, and you’re left feeling like Dr Frederick Treves has had this spiritual awakening.
You know, like poor Robert, like every single night had to have like a meltdown on the stage, like every single night. And Jordan had a different set of problems. Where it was, it was. He also had some very big model logs, but it was the physicality right. It was holding those positions and the two of us finding which how much would be too far in terms of his physical deformities, what would be distracting for the character and what wouldn’t be enough. Yeah, that whole thing was a was a big challenge and very rewarding.
0:20:24 – Phil Rickaby
I loved directing that play the John Merrick is such a difficult making those choices about how far to go and even with even with the way that he would, that he speaks like making a decision about how far to take the facial deformities as well. These are very difficult choices to make because you have to make that fine line between you know the character and also, at what point does the audience stop relating? What’s the point is the audience no longer see the person, and that’s that. It’s a real fine line.
0:20:59 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, it is. And also, like our, my goal was that people would start off at the beginning of the show and seeing the Ellicent man and by the end they would see John Merrick you know, and that you would. You would shed that whole illusion of you know, the circus freak and all of that and see him as the man that he was, a very intelligent man that you know was very insightful. So I think that, like we didn’t want to go too far with with his speech, we wanted people to be able to hear the beautiful things that he would say in that show, because he has some really well written dialogue by Bernard Pomerance.
0:21:40 – Phil Rickaby
So so, yeah, yeah, my first exposure to that play was the movie, and then I found it was a play, so then I went back.
0:21:49 – Tatum Lee
0:21:50 – Phil Rickaby
David Lynch yes, and produced by Mel Brooks yes, I heard that which he cut his name out of the credits because he didn’t want people to think it was a cat. It was a comedy.
0:22:01 – Tatum Lee
Well, I mean, like, I agree, like good news.
0:22:03 – Phil Rickaby
Absolutely, absolutely. But. But to me, to me, the lack of ego to say I’m taking my name off of this thing, even though I’m producing it because my name has a particular, could be bad for this shot, this, this, this film, yeah, so kudos to him for that.
0:22:21 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, Agreed, and I think he was able to persuade his wife and Bancroft to be in the film because I think she’s just like she’s an amazing actress. Like I love the scene where they are reading Romeo and Juliet to each other in his bedroom. I still remember being a kid and not seeing the whole movie because I was too young to watch it, but my parents were watching it and I walked into the room like well, that scene was going on and I never forgot it. I had no idea what the movie was about or who this man looked deformed was, but I do remember like this beautiful, like love scene almost playing out and thinking, like you know, I wonder what that movie was about Because it just looked like. You know, it was such a beautiful moment.
0:23:10 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, absolutely. Now I want to address the elephant in the room it’s terrible, terrible transition to go through but you’ll forgive him for that which is that this summer there was another production done of the bathtub girl, of the drowning girls. The drowning girls, yeah, the drowning girls. That’s what girls do, and so you know, sometimes these things end up in this like guys. Then they happen at the same time, much like Armageddon and the Comet movie or whatever these things happen. Now, if somebody do you, what is the difference in your mind between these two productions? I mean, one was outdoors, one’s indoors, one’s in the summer, one’s in the fall, but aside from that, is there a difference in the way that the mood is presented? What’s different about these two productions?
0:23:59 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, well, first of all, guild Festival Theatre. I well, they were so lovely they. Originally, the reason I found out that that show was going on was because we were trying to find bathtubs from different theatre groups to rent, because you would not believe how hard it is to find three white claw bathtubs and when they seem like they’re all over online, like online for people to come and pick up, but they’re gone, like so fast it’s like one goes online and it’s like oh, it’s gone, it’s gone, it’s gone. So many bathtubs evade me. So we contacted a theatre group that was out in Niagara Falls and they were like we actually sold our bathtubs to Guild Festival Theatre because they’re doing a production of the Drone and Girls, and I was like, oh my gosh. So they gave us their contact information and I sent them an email, just being like when you’re done with your bathtubs, do you think we could buy them off you? And they had actually already sold the bathtubs in advance to another theatre group, somewhere that’s, I think, in I think they said Peterborough or something. Anyway, they had already sold those.
But then, of course, I was like I’d love to come to see the play, because I just love to support any indie, local theatre, and the production was absolutely stunning. It was beautiful and of course, you’ve got the Grecian ruins outside and everything in the cast and that was just superb. The direction was beautiful as well. But it’s a very different direction than how I read the material and what I wanted to bring out of it, and I think that’s what’s exciting about multiple theatre companies doing similar shows is that you’re never going to get the same production because everyone’s going to visualize it, interpret it differently. So this particular play has so many themes that it being eerie, creepy and surprisingly hilarious, like there’s so much humour in it and it just depends which one you pull on and decide to sprinkle that throughout. How much you know what I mean. Like how much of the show are you going into a theme?
And I think at the core of this production, what makes it universal and makes it relevant today, is that it is about manipulation and it’s about abuse of power, and that’s not even about gender, like I mean, on the surface level, you could be looking at this as it’s about like women that get like put upon by a man and blah, blah, blah. But it’s actually deeper than that. There’s that social construct going on at the time. But there’s also people get manipulated of all sorts. That can happen to anybody and whoever has the power, if you don’t use it properly and you take advantage of somebody, you know there’s pain and consequences that happen with that right.
So this show is quite a bit darker than that production. I would say it leans more into those themes of abuse, themes of, I guess being love bombed is, I’d say, the word that I would use that would be relevant to today like being love bombed and then inevitably murdered. So it is very much a ghost story and I think we lean into the fact that this is a ghost story and also, because it were our show is being done closer to October, that we wanted to have that theme going through it. But I do feel that anybody that went to that amazing production that Guild Festival put on would be seeing a very different show coming to Wren Theatre. Yeah, at Red Sandcastle.
0:27:58 – Phil Rickaby
Thank you for that. Thank you, one of the things that I like to talk to people about when they come on the show is I like to hear about people’s theatre origin stories, the thing that brought them to the theatre and made them want to keep doing it. So please tell me what is your theatre origin story?
0:28:14 – Tatum Lee
My origin story. Okay, let me think. Well, I had a kind of a unique start that kind of got me into like a creative mind, and that was my Nana. She owned a costume and makeup shop in Hamilton, ontario, so it was called Genel Creations, and my whole family we took turns like working in there and I was maybe like five years old. So like the time I was five and 10, my Nana owned that shop. Actually, no, she owned it before I was born. But the first time I remember I had memory of being in her shop was when I was five, and so turning into different characters, make believe, putting cuts and gashes on my face, like that all started at a very young age for me.
And then I wanted to be put into all kinds of community theatre. So I did lots of community theatre growing up, but I remember the first play that I saw it was a musical live that literally changed me was Phantom of the Opera. I went to go see that. I’m sure so many people had that experience with that show, but my dad took me to see that with my brother when I was eight and I had just never seen anything more spectacular in my life. I owned the two cassette tapes because I’m aging myself here because I was born in 84. So I mean, yes, we had cassette tapes. I just literally fell in love with theatre that day and the connection and the exchange between the audience and the actor. I was just so hooked and when the chandelier fell I was just like does it get any better?
0:30:03 – Phil Rickaby
I know yeah for sure. Now a lot of kids will see a show and they will love it, or they will do some community theatre and they will love it. But the majority of people do not go from there to a life in theatre, a career in theatre. At what point did you decide that this was the thing that you needed to do?
0:30:26 – Tatum Lee
It was a long road of me trying everything except going into theatre. I did all the stuff. I went to theatre Aquarius when I was a kid and I did their summer camps and I did, like I said, all the community theatre and some semi-professional productions in my teens and then I just had that moment where I was like you’re never going to make this your career, so you better find something else to do, like you better find that thing that’s, you know, the other thing that’s going to bring you joy in your life. So feel free to comment and vote.
I went to school for special effects, makeup artistry, um, and I went down that road and it was just through like a series of like unfortunate events that I I met different photographers that like wanted to photograph me and so I started modeling for a little bit, which I I wasn’t really all that into, but I started doing that and that kind of got me like in front of the camera again and I didn’t see that coming. And then from that I ended up getting an agent and that agent was like oh, you had acting experience, like why are we putting you up for, like you know, like theater and and and movies and all that stuff and I was like, oh, like, cause I’ve, I’ve left all that behind. That’s not how I’m going to make my living, you know. And so one thing led to another and I ended up getting put into a feature film movie, and that was not part of the plan. Like, none of that was part of the plan.
And I realized, through slowly being like I think it was the universe, but slowly being like, pulled back in that I realized that I had never been happier, that I was like. I realized that by giving that up and not realizing that I had given that up, that I had actually lost the thing that brought me my joy. And that sounds so dramatic, I know, but you know, but I’m in theatre, so I mean, it’s straight fact. But yeah, like I kind of got pulled back in and I wanted to start my own theatre company. I’ve always that’s always been a dream of mine. So in 2011, I started uh Wren Theatre, which at the time was called Tanon Entertainment.
0:32:39 – Phil Rickaby
It’s funny how many, I don’t know if you had this and if that is, that is why you sort of like sighed away from going into theatre acting that sort of thing. Uh, when you say that that’s something you want to do, you want to do something, that’s something you want to do when you’re you know, when people when you were a kid, people like that’s cute, that’s cute, you started to say when you were a teenager, people will be like it’s hard life, you know, won’t make any money, like all this sort of stuff, that it’s really hard. And I could see, you know, a lot of people will take that and be like oh, it’s hard, you know. Um, but then if it’s the thing that brings you joy, what will be harder? Acting or sitting at a desk for eight hours a day?
0:33:19 – Tatum Lee
Absolutely Like it’s, it’s. It’s literally. I don’t think I’ve ever met an actor that doesn’t do this because they just have to. They don’t know why, but they’re just sort of like. I know that I’m going to be miserable if I don’t know. It doesn’t make any financial, logical sense, you know. But like we do it because it’s just, you know, it’s like a life vocation. You know, you’re, you’re, um, you’re committing to telling stories, you’re committed to giving voice to people that can’t you know, and there’s nothing more thrilling for me, anyway, than having an opportunity to tell a story that’s going to slowly wash over a room full of people, that you have their attention for an hour and 30 minutes, you know, and it’s almost like they’re subtly manipulated under the pretences of it being entertainment, but then they leave and have the discussions that you’re hoping they’re going to have in private. And it’s, it’s powerful, like it’s theatre is so powerful.
0:34:10 – Phil Rickaby
So that’s why I do nothing better than when you are leaving the theatre and there are still people outside talking about the show that they just saw. So it’s so good, yeah, um.
0:34:22 – Tatum Lee
I mean, even if they don’t like it. I mean you’re hoping that they, that they do, but I mean, even if they don’t like it. It’s like there’s almost like a joy in little bits of that too, where you’re just like you’re each person has their own opinion of what’s, if something is good or something is bad, or what they got out of it. I find that fun. No, no, no, it’s great it’s great.
0:34:40 – Phil Rickaby
I mean it better to have people have a reaction to the thing that you’re seeing, because one of the worst things is is people, you know, being apathetic to what they’ve just seen. And you know, I worked at one of the big theatres in Toronto for a number of years as an usher and I worked the door. So as people would leave, I would hear what they were talking about, and if the show was not particularly great, um, but people have paid a lot of money to see that show. They don’t want to admit to themselves that they’re disappointed in the show. So they they say things like everyone did such a great job, right, which is nothing, it’s nothing, but it’s the equivalent of that was nice, you know, which is like death, because they’re going to go home. They they’re not going to ever think about the show again.
0:35:24 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, yeah, no, that’s very true, and I think that the thing that would bother me the most, coming from a like a, a directing standpoint, is that, like I always want my actors to feel proud of what they’ve done and so you’re hoping that it’s going to strike a chord with the audience and I’m sure that, like, every single show is going to connect with at least somebody out there.
It might not be the majority, but somebody’s going to hear that and be like that play was for me, you know, or that story like connects to me in some way. But I feel like I grade failure If there is like such a thing is us as a team feeling like we didn’t execute what we had planned to and because of that, people didn’t connect to it. So, you know, as long as, as long as you feel like you’ve done that, that you’ve put, you’ve put on a show that was that told a story that you can be, that you can be proud of the way you did it, then you know it’s, it’s up to the audience, right, you’re giving them, you’re giving them this thing and you’re just like what you do with it is yours now, absolutely the worst is if the actor doesn’t, doesn’t even like the show, like I’ve had occasionally, you know, said to me, right, you know, hey, you’re in this show, I’m going to come and see it, and they’re just like shaking their head, like don’t come and see it, yeah.
Like this is the one. This is the one to come and see it.
0:36:47 – Phil Rickaby
I appreciate your support, but I would appreciate it if even more if you didn’t come and see the show and you’re like, oh, okay, yeah.
0:36:54 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, I get it. Yeah, I get it I just know they’re bad.
0:36:58 – Phil Rickaby
It’s not what anybody wants. And of course it’s the kind of thing where they you know they looked over their shoulder before they said it just to make sure that nobody from the show was around. But it’s like you know, it’s not what anybody wants in a production. You don’t want to leave? No, of course not, you want to leave like covering your face because there’s somebody saw you in the show.
0:37:17 – Tatum Lee
You don’t put it on your, on your CV.
0:37:18 – Phil Rickaby
No, yeah, for sure, that wasn’t me, I wasn’t in that thing, no.
0:37:21 – Tatum Lee
I mean I’ve left.
0:37:23 – Phil Rickaby
I mean it’s happened. I’ve left a couple of shows off my resume. You know it happens, but you know, yeah, it happens to everybody, because you know when you’re, when you are, you know when you’re and a lot of times you know it’ll sound like a really great project and then you get in and you’re like what did I sign up for? You sort of stuck in the project and you do it and you do your best and then you’re still like not, you know, too happy with the production sometimes In terms of your. You know your trajectory. I know that you were. You were in the movie it yes, which was, I’m sure, was. I mean you were obviously not playing one of the kids, you were playing one of the adults.
0:38:01 – Tatum Lee
Yes, I was, I was, I was. That’s his name Fin Wolfhard. No, I, no, I wasn’t, I wasn’t him. I. I played a character called Judith, who was a woman in a painting that came to life to eat the children and drag them off to the sewer. So I was, I was. You know, it was great casting and I was very method.
0:38:28 – Phil Rickaby
But it was a bit of fun though.
0:38:30 – Tatum Lee
Oh, I had such a blast, it was it a really, really fun time and such like, like a memory I’ll have forever, Like I. It meant so much to me because my brother and I used to watch the mini series with Tim Curry like all the time, like we used to watch that growing up, and I just remember that that movie scared the shit out of me Like it was absolutely terrifying.
Tim Curry is like such a boss. And when I received like a like the what do you call it? Like a like a casting to like go in and read for this part, I was like I don’t even care if I get this part. I just want to be able to tell people that I auditioned for the Stephen King movie, you know. So it was. It was a really happy surprise.
0:39:17 – Phil Rickaby
Um, and you know that kind of character sort of plays into um. An interesting fact about you is that your idol growing up was Margaret Hamilton. Just the door Her was was the Wicked Witch of the West. Your first introduction to her.
0:39:34 – Tatum Lee
Yes, yes, honestly, like I mean I hate to admit this because this isn’t going to like sound like obviously I like her as a performer, an actor or whatever. I don’t know if I’ve seen her in anything else, like I don’t know. Like I mean I know that I saw her on Sesame Street, uh, where she reprised her role as the Wicked Witch of the West, but she was just so, um, I don’t know. Like I mean like, just like appearing in poofs of smoke and getting to fly, and like I mean like I was like four years old when I saw it and like I remember I got my mom to buy me a massive hourglass full of like like the red sand, and I would run up to my brother’s room and just be like Brett, you have this long before you have to be at school, and I’d like flip it over and I’d be like be downstairs for breakfast, like, yeah, like I just like you know she’s hilarious. I, I adored her. I thought she was very misunderstood and she just wanted her shoes back, like they’re literally family.
0:40:30 – Phil Rickaby
I know it’s true.
0:40:31 – Tatum Lee
And Dorothy like compensates them for the whole film.
0:40:33 – Phil Rickaby
It’s true, yeah, anyway, um, and you know it’s interesting because there are a lot of children who have the absolute opposite reaction to Margaret Hamilton in that role. I know I don’t understand that You’re you’re in the minority in that role, in that, in that, in that that you were not afraid of her and actually the funny thing, you mentioned that episode of Sesame Street.
It’s like the lost episode, like one of the lost episodes that aired once or twice and and it just sort of like disappeared because they never re-ran it again because too many children were terrified, because she was just as terrifying when she reprised the role.
0:41:09 – Tatum Lee
Oh God, they don’t understand. It’s sheer gold. It’s sheer gold Actually. It’s on YouTube. Actually, I found it. Um, I guess somebody like uploaded it within the last like year or something like that, and I was like no way, it was crazy she has this this neat little rapport with Oscar in that episode, if I recall correctly. Yes.
0:41:29 – Phil Rickaby
0:41:29 – Tatum Lee
I love that. She’s just like flying through the air and then she drops her broom so she’s got to go down to Sesame Street. I’m like I’m here for it.
0:41:36 – Phil Rickaby
Absolutely, it’s brilliant. It’s brilliant, um so, um, the. The interesting thing about about about that is is is that’s almost as like what ushered you into um darker theatre, like horror movie as well. It’s probably like, uh, you saw that and, and because you had the opposite reaction to the witch than a lot of people did, that primed you for watching it and horror movies and like being uh, producing things that are a little bit more on the, on the more horrific bent. Um so it’s like you were like, like ready to do this, uh, from the time you were five years old.
0:42:16 – Tatum Lee
I mean, in a way I’m always like like my favourite, like like my favourite films, like I can remember from being like a kid, like Maleficent was my other favourite, you know, villain. I was just like I loved Maleficent, I loved the evil queen in snow white, like from all those Disney films, like I always wanted to be the villain. You know, like I always wanted that and then God blessed me with a face that made it possible. I was like I’m so, I’m so here for it. I just like I never wanted to play roles like that and one of the first things I asked for for Christmas when I could was two things I asked for a fog machine and I asked for a camcorder so that I could, like make all my own films. And the amount of footage I have somewhere as me dressing up as the witch, like melting into piles of fog, like, are endless. Like somewhere there are those tapes, so yeah, that’s fascinating.
0:43:09 – Phil Rickaby
Definitely Because I remember, as as kids, my, I think, um I can’t remember which of my siblings was the most terrified of the witch. It might have been my sister, Um, she was terrified of the witch, but even more terrified of the witch melting.
0:43:22 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, really yeah.
0:43:23 – Phil Rickaby
Like the whole. Thing.
0:43:25 – Tatum Lee
I was always I’ve always been so curious when I saw it. I remember being so curious about just the mechanics of it, like how is it being done? Like. And I remember like when my, when my mom like was like, well, there’s probably a trap door on the floor, I was just like, oh my God, like you know, like I just I just love all that, like that’s.
I feel like in another life if I didn’t direct, I would want to be like a set designer, because like all that stuff, like like the, the special effects of what makes, um, all that stuff go down, like it’s just is just right up my alley. In fact, I can’t. I find that the more productions I direct and I’m trying to figure out what my process is, if I have a process, is that like the set dictates a lot for me. Like I have to create the world and then bring my actors into it and sort of, and then give them the freedom within the confines of that world. Um, so I feel like there is like a some sort of set designer in me?
0:44:26 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, absolutely. But it makes sense because you know the the the character doesn’t get to choose the world that they’re in. It’s imposed on them so they can make choices within that. But it makes sense to to build the world and then put the character into it than to try to build the world around the character.
0:44:42 – Tatum Lee
Yeah, yeah, 100%.
0:44:43 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, Uh, I wanted to talk a little bit more about Wren theatre because we sort of alluded to a bit of its history, but I want to get a little bit more. Um, what are the origins of, of Wren theatre and, uh, what was it that made you want to? I mean the specifics of, like wanting to start a theatre company in the first place.
0:45:03 – Tatum Lee
I think, um, well, like the, the origins of the theatre company have just always been, uh, me wanting to tell stories and get the and get to pick the projects that I want to do. I want to be able to um, I guess, whatever inspires me in that moment, feel like I have creative say over what projects I’m picking, and I didn’t like, when I was acting not necessarily having those choices, that I wanted to be on the creative side of it, so that was one of the reasons. The other thing is I literally had a heater in every house I ever grew up in, like I would create one in the basement or whatever. So I always knew that I was eventually going to have my my own Um, I started off with tandem entertainment and that was a company that eventually turned into Wren theatre and it was done with my um like sort of producing and flash writing partner, andy liberal opolis, um, and he wrote state of women, and originally that production company was going to be us writing original shows for theatre and putting them on together, where he would write them, we would come up with ideas together and then I would direct them.
Um, and that still is very much what we do, but there’s a lot of um classical pieces that I’ve always wanted to direct, not just original works like the, the shows that I’ve mentioned, like Elsa man and and so on. We’re doing dangerously and next or the liaison danger and it’s called in theatre Um, so there’s there’s lots of pieces that I wanted to direct, so, um, it’s sort of more um a collaboration at times when we do like original pieces. So I rebranded the company under a rent, so that was sort of the, the origins of how that transitioned forward and to you.
0:46:54 – Phil Rickaby
What is? What is Wren theatre’s mandate? What, what is it? So? What is it’s raise on that?
0:47:02 – Tatum Lee
So like it’s sort of like like the well, like the wren bird, right, so like the wren bird, like in like the 15th and 16th century sort of represented poets, writers, writers and artists. So, um, I think, like I said, because we’re, I function within that company, almost like we’re a repertoire company, um, so I kind of look at us like a band of artists that all get to you know, work together in different, uh different productions and uh, I think that’s why we picked the name and sort of what the company represents is is just um people coming together to tell stories and hopefully, uh, people will leave. Moved is the goal, yeah.
0:47:41 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah Well, Tatum, thank you so much for joining me this evening. I’m really looking forward to seeing, uh, the drowning girls at the Red Sand Castle and uh, thanks so much. It’s been great. This has been an episode of stageworthy. Stagworthy is produced, hosted and edited by Phil Rickaby: that’s me.
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