Safe and Sorry is the latest work from Lester Trips (Theatre). This production examines the challenges of a well-intentioned men’s dating coach under scrutiny, combining physical theatre with visceral horror to create uneasy comedy.
Lester Trips’ Artistic Producer and Safe and Sorry Director, Chelsea Dab Hilke took time to answer my 5 Questions… to share more about their latest show premiering at Summerworks this month.
HM: For those unfamiliar, you are the Artistic Producer for Lester Trips (Theatre) and the director of Safe and Sorry. Would you mind sharing how/when you became a member of the company?
Chelsea Dab Hilke (CDH): I first encountered Lauren [Gillis] and Alaine [Hutton] through the theatre program at the University of Toronto but our interactions were brief, awkward, and formal. I came to know them better as theatre-creators, seeing previous work such Intangible Trappings and the first iteration of MR. TRUTH. Having been fairly new to Toronto at that time, theirs was the only work I saw that was unique, experimental, and totally bizarre. I honestly was kind of a “fangirl”. I didn’t realize they knew this about me until I got an email from them in early 2018 asking if I would be interested in helping them produce MR. TRUTH for RISER. Apparently, they had noticed my interest in their work (despite my impression that I was fangirling under the radar), and in addition to seeing the kind of projects I was working on, they felt I would be a good fit for Lester Trips. That iteration of MR. TRUTH was kind of like a trial for all of us and I’m so glad it worked out. We’ve developed a pretty special relationship and I’m so grateful to be a part of their wild world.
HM: Safe and Sorry is co-created by Lauren Gillis and Alaine Hutton. As director of the show, did you have much input into the script or writing process?
CDH: Surprisingly, and to my delight, I was part of the writing process and continue to be as we are still forming this new beast into something tangible and presentable. I would not give myself credit as a writer on the show, as my contributions amount to a line here or there, a suggested cut, or a proposed sequencing of events. For Safe and Sorry, it was crucial for me to be present during the writing process, because we are dealing with challenging themes, complex characters, short character arcs, and sensitive material. It was paramount that I had a thorough understanding of Lauren and Alaine’s thoughts, questions, deliberations, struggles, inspirations, and intentions. A lot of the writing days were spent listening attentively to their discussions on the incidental and the calculated, the mundane and the sensational. Also snacking and laughing at memes.
HM: In terms of direction, Summerworks runs on a set schedule. Do you mind speaking about how, as director, you work with the team to make sure you hit all the right points/notes within the one-hour running time?
CDH: We have had the absolute privilege to work with Mel Hague and Adam Lazarus who have both offered concrete ways to retain the project’s integrity and purpose while keeping to the 60-minute time frame. It has not been easy, both structurally and personally. Lauren and Alaine are professionals though; they can make huge cuts while barely blinking an eye, a pretty admirable thing. But there are some changes we made that presented significant dramaturgical shifts so a lot of time and discussion went into navigating these. It’s been exciting to work within the time constraint of 60 minutes. Do we give you the bare essentials, or leave you with a cliffhanger? For a piece that will be considerably longer in its finished form, we are spending the time now to build a solid world of awkwardness, ugliness, curiosity, and violence, while beginning to let things crack and ooze into all the perplexing details this terrain allows. And hopefully leave people wanting more. Because there is definitely more.
HM: This is the first time that any audience will experience Safe and Sorry. Please give us three reasons why this show must be on their Summerworks list?
CDH: 1. Despite the container of the show (dating, pick-up artists, the manosphere, incels), one of the overarching themes is the idea that if you try to elicit change in a person or a group of people, they may not want to change nor have the capacity to, despite your best intentions, sensitivity, and awareness. We’ve all been in a situation where we are desperately trying to make someone understand why what they do is offensive, disturbing, embarrassing, unintentionally suggestive, or plain creepy and they just don’t get it. This is infuriating, but necessary work.
2. As Lauren often says, when it comes down to it all, the question remains of where you put your hand on a date. Safe and Sorry deals with a lot of troubling and challenging content but in the end, we’re all just trying to get by in this awkward and turbulent world. We’re all looking for companionship, love, sex, connection, pleasure, and any combination of these things, and an obstacle that can stand in our way is ourselves. But how do we know if the behaviours impeding us are part of our personality or a result of oppressive systems simultaneously building us up and destroying us? Even if we can come to some acceptance on that, how do we then overcome our deep uncertainty, loneliness, and need for appreciation while guiding others to satisfy our needs and by some measure reciprocate that feeling? How can we do any of these things and still have time and energy to make change?
3. If you’ve seen their earlier work, you might know that Lauren and Alaine have an inclination toward portraying men on stage and they are shockingly good at it. They are also heavily committed to making accurate and outrageous costumes (as can be seen with the dora-award winning MR. TRUTH). Safe and Sorry is no exception. What does it look like when one woman plays three male characters in sixty seconds? What is the outcome of combining a dozen keyboards with slime and a duvet? You’ll have to come to find out.
Be sure to check out Safe and Sorry at Summerworks. The show runs from August 9-16 at The Theatre Centre – Franco Boni Theatre. Advance tickets available online now.