Kris Hagen switches his time on-screen as part of CBC’s Kim’s Convenience, for a chance to showcase his music, writing and directing skills on-stage in Lighters in the Air. A play about artistic integrity, unfulfilled expectations, and an uncertain future.
The show had its premiere at the Toronto Fringe Festival this week. In the midst of all the excitement, Hagen took some time to answer my 5 Questions.
HM: I understand Lighters in the Air is the first production for Dive Bar Theatre, for which you are playwright and director. For those of us who do not know, could you share how the company came to be?
Kris Hagen (KH): Wanting to revisit theatre from more recent work in film and television, and wanting to more actively pursue music, I decided to just go crazy and do everything at once, the result of which is Lighters in the Air.
I began to surround myself with passionate theatre people for the project and then discovered an amazing cast, and Dive Bar Theatre was born.
HM: The focus for Dive Bar Theatre is to set shows in night-life and dive bar culture. Did you and members of the company have this concept prior to writing Lighters in the Air? This is sort of a ‘what came first’ kind of question, if you will.
KH: Lighters in the Air came first and, needing a company name, it was a happy accident that I settled on Dive Bar Theatre because it made me realize it could become a good platform to develop better ties between theatre and the bar/music/night life scenes. Putting on the show at a site-specific venue provides an immersive experience, and telling the stories of musicians and night life in general is an opportunity to make theatre relevant to slightly different audiences. Theatre and live music are close enough worlds, but can also be quite separate in terms of which audiences tend to actively engage with them.
HM: In Lighters in the Air, audiences will meet a musician (Leo) who is trying to rediscover his passion for music, unfulfilled expectations, among other things. Is the search for meaning, even in times of uncertainty, a theme that you’ve wanted to explore through music and on-stage?
KH: I’d say for me it is less a search for meaning than it is a search for fulfillment. I’ve come to accept that there is little greater meaning to our lives, and it is the connections and moments between people, and the fulfillment of goals and dreams and experiences that matter. I look at fulfillment as an emotional and human pursuit compared to the logical and intellectual search for meaning, which is perhaps a somewhat personal semantic distinction, but I think an important distinction as it highlights the importance of getting out of one’s head and living in the moment in a social world.
I’m drawn to create art at times in my life when such fulfillment doesn’t seem to be happening, and as a result, it has become a central theme in many of my songs and in my writing in general (when I’m not writing comedy). With Leo on the path to romantic and artistic potential but then falling behind in a more enduring and painful way, the show explores this theme as a more heightened and dramatic concept.
HM: Picking up from the last question… Did you have a chance to discuss the original songs with each of your cast members prior to rehearsal; or were the songs all written prior to casting?
KH: All the songs except one were written prior to casting, and even prior to writing the script. I’ve been writing songs for the last ten years but haven’t performed them as much as I would’ve liked, and this show is in part a way of finally bringing those songs to life.
During the script-writing process, there were changes to some of the lyrics, and in working with the cast there were further tweaks to ensure the songs reflected the characters and their stories. Musically, our amazing cast brought so many great ideas that make each of the songs that much better, and their beautiful, unique voices further diversified the music in the show.
HM: After its run at the Toronto Fringe, will audiences see you and the cast at a dive bar anytime soon… Any future plans you can share?
KH: I would love to do more with this show, or some version of it. I originally wrote Lighters in the Air as a TV pilot, then a feature film script which I eventually adapted to this live show. Revisiting the film script and filming a movie version is definitely a possibility. And of course I’d love to remount this live version some day as I’ve found the entire process incredibly rewarding.
As for other original Dive Bar Theatre shows, nothing currently in the works, but you never know! This project has been inspirational to me and I’m sure I’ll be thinking of other stories to tell. In the meantime, you can probably find us doing karaoke somewhere in the city, or upstairs at the Monarch after the show, listening to 90s music and getting a little closer in that search for fulfillment.
Hagen’s Lighters in the Air offers up a good combination of original music, comedy, and the drama one can only find at a dive bar. Shout outs to the excellent cast made up by Natalia Bushnik, Raechel Fisher, Anna Douglas, Taylor Whittaker, Amanda Silcoff, Cody Crain, Olaf Sham, Belinda Corpuz, Kris Hagen. Great production team overall.
Lighters in the Air continues at the Monarch Tavern as part of the Toronto Fringe. Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. To purchase advance tickets, performance schedule, and more information, please visit fringetoronto.com. A reminder that all Toronto Fringe performances start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted.
Photo Credit: Sarah Delignies.