Once-Abandoned Play All Our Happy Days Are Stupid Returns to the Stage
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Once-Abandoned Play All Our Happy Days Are Stupid Returns to the Stage

Sheila Heti's quirky indie hit will kick off World Stage's 2015 season at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre

Michael McManus and Naomi Skwarna in the 2013 production of Sheila Heti's All Our Happy Days Are Stupid  Photo by Erin Brubacher and Jordan Tannahill

Michael McManus and Naomi Skwarna in the 2013 production of Sheila Heti’s All Our Happy Days Are Stupid. Photo by Erin Brubacher and Jordan Tannahill.

One year ago, a group of friends made up of local actors, musicians, comedians, and writers staged the world premiere of a seemingly unstageable play. The problematic All Our Happy Days Are Stupid, written by Sheila Heti and made infamous in her popular novel How Should a Person Be, contained an abnormally large number of cast members and set changes for the shoestring budget of young indie artists to accommodate. Nevertheless, the show received a very buzzy, very short, very sold-out run last October (which Torontoist liked very much), and also earned four Dora Award nominations for its script, design, and ensemble cast.

And there are more happy days coming for All Our Happy Days Are Stupid: the Harbourfront Centre announced that in February the show will kick off World Stage‘s 2015 season, which also includes The Cardinals, described as “a puppet show without puppets,” from British company Stan’s Cafe; a dance piece entitled Disabled Theatre by French choreographer Jérôme Bel; and Straight White Men, by Young Jean Lee, known for her shows The Shipment and Untitled Feminist Show from previous World Stage seasons.

Although World Stage is best known for bringing avant-garde performances to Toronto from around the world, artistic director Tina Rasmussen said the decision to lead the season with a local production was a no-brainer. The All Our Happy Days Are Stupid announcement comes after it was revealed earlier this summer that the show will be heading to a New York City engagement, also in February, and Rasmussen and the World Stage team are playing a big part in making the trip happen.

“I’m obsessed with this idea that local carrots are better. No other show better represents that Toronto needs to be on a world stage,” Rasmussen said. “Suddenly being Torontonian seems au currant … it needs to have a moment here before it goes to New York and we wanted to be a part of that.”

“We wouldn’t be able to make it if Tina hadn’t taken us under her wing,” said director Jordan Tannahill, who is touring a show for the first time. “It’s so expensive and so bureaucratic and so complicated to bring work to States.”

Rasmussen said there have been “several epic meetings” during which they laid out recipe cards to plan every aspect of the tour—from budgeting, to costume fittings, to fundraising, to filling out tax forms—as well as outline the creative challenges inherent in transposing an intimate show onto a large stage.

Both the Toronto and New York runs will require an overhaul of the production so that it can be successfully moved from Videofag, the Kensington Market venue Tannahill co-runs that crammed in 30 people a night, to the much larger Harbourfront Centre Theatre and New York City’s The Kitchen—all while maintaining the DIY, “amateur theatre” (Tannahill’s words) aesthetic that made the original production work so well.

The fact that the original cast and crew will remain virtually intact will help: Heti (who’s busy promoting her own book Women in Clothes), Tannahill (recently nominated for a Governor General’s Award for Drama), composer of the show’s original score Dan Bejar (of Destroyer), and cast members such as local improv duo Becky Johnson and Kayla Lorette, musician Henri Fabergé, and writer Carl Wilson will all be on-hand.

“It feels like we pulled the first show together with magic, some duct tape and glue, and flew by the seat of our pants,” said Tannahill, who originally approached Heti about resurrecting her abandoned play. “It felt like we were doing the impossible, just to say we did it. But the script is very intelligent and very nuanced, so actually having the time to go back to it is really exciting. There’s so much more to mine from it.”

Along with All Our Happy Days Are Stupid, World Stage is developing two more local productions and preparing them to enter the global arts circuit: William Yong’s vox:lumen, which will have the audience and performers create the energy that lights the theatre, and The Dietrich Group’s This Is a Costume Drama, a “cabaret, lecture, fashion show, and feast” that’s all about decoration and embellishment. In these cases, Rasmussen and World Stage have helped introduce the artists to contacts and festivals from around the world, and offered artistic support and guidance during the creation of the works.

“The idea is about how do we bake some bread that you can distribute, instead of letting it rot on the shelf,” Rasmussen said.