Nicole Stamp‘s absolutely charming one-woman show BETTER PARTS plays tonight and for tonight only at the brand-new Bread and Circus Theatre Bar in Kensington Market at the corner of Baldwin and Augusta (we hadn’t heard of it either!). You might recognize Stamp as the host of totally amazing kid quiz show Reach For The Top, but she’s also an accomplished theatre artist who has been working BETTER PARTS for a few years now. The show last appeared in Toronto as a stand-out show in Passe Muraille’s Stage 3 experiment of a few years ago.
Perhaps “one-woman show” is a bit misleading. Stamp is not entirely by herself in her show; she is joined on stage by Daniel Fortin who accompanies the show on double bass. The whole thing has a cool, funky, sexy jazz/beat poetry slam vibe to it and the show that the two artists create is an absolute treat to watch. Stamp’s character complains about her boring life working as a temp, and then gradually finds her way into a fantasy world where she is living the cosmopolitan/bohemian/hipster Toronto dream.
According to Stamp, the show has changed substantially over the years, and she always tries to leave room for improvisation. “I’m really into audience feedback, and I love when random people question my choices,” says Stamp. “I’ve made major changes to the show based on audience comments. My favourite audience members are the ones who come up to me and say, ‘What was XYZ about? I wasn’t into it. I wanted to know more about JKL! You should add PQR!’ I try to feel the audience’s level of engagement during the show, and use that information to make on-the-fly dramaturgical decisions. I want it to be different every night, so I change words, adjust pauses, shift intentions, go a little longer on a joke that a given audience responds to, and so on. I spent a long time writing the BETTER PARTS script, being finicky and precise with language. But audiences don’t care what you planned, they care what you DO. So if I get the sense that a variation on the plan will work better on a given night, I’ll do it. Luckily, because I wrote it, I can improvise a bit and not piss off the playwright.”
But what exactly is this Bread and Circus Theatre Bar, besides a somewhat snide Juvenal allusion? Says Stamp, “Bread and Circus was opened a few weeks ago by my buddies Kiran and Nesh, who both have comedy and music backgrounds. They wanted the bar to be conducive to live performance, so they did a full reno and built a nice thrust stage. They have good taste too: they do comedy nights, plays, and tons of music, ranging from a saloon-style piano bar to Beatles cover bands. The night before the election, they organized a panel of experts to discuss the MMP referendum. The programming’s pretty solid. Their grand opening is November 10th, so I feel kinda cool that I get to play there while it’s still sort of a secret.”
Stamp also has a special project for her pay-what-you-want audience at Bread and Circus due to her show’s imminent trip to England. “I talk about very distinctly Canadian, Torontonian things in BETTER PARTS. I’m taking the show to England next week, and I’m really curious about how it will play there. I’m gonna ask the Bread and Circus audience to listen with imaginary English ears and flag anything that might be confusing or distracting to a British audience. I want the show to be specific, but not so regional it becomes obscure. I’m looking for the perfect balance that will appeal to the Commonwealth.”
UPDATE: This just in! Last night’s show was so successful that BETTER PARTS has been held over and a second show will be performed tonight, Friday, October 19th at the Bread and Circus Theatre Bar at 11pm. Be there or be square.