by Jasmine Williams
It’s a hot summer evening in Cabbagetown. Jen Farr and John Rowntree are assessing the venue for their upcoming show. The unassuming studio just off of Queen Street East would be a bit a tight squeeze for your average production, but when your play consists of a cast of one, it’s just right.
“Both of our pieces are kind of short and intimate, I don’t think this would feel right in an actual theatre,” says Farr. “No, we couldn’t really do this at the Royal Alex,” says Rowntree with a laugh.
“The Story So Far” is a double-feature of solo shows written and performed by Farr and Rowntree, two good friends and recent graduates of the University of Toronto Scarborough’s theatre program. The plays are based on the life events of the show’s creators.
Farr’s piece focuses on a specific time in her life when she was 15 and had a falling out with her mother, whereas Rowntree’s is more of a general look back at his.
“Mine overall is like my life story in very quick summary,” says Rowntree, 23. “It kind of jumps all over the place from childhood to work to high school, university, relationships.”
Both are the product of a school assignment called “The Me Project,” where students had to produce 10-minute autobiographical solo shows.
“It was a daunting concept at first,” says Rowntree. “It was hard because theatre isn’t usually a solo thing.”
“It was probably the hardest and most difficult and challenging class, but it was the most rewarding,” adds Farr, 23. “Everything is [done by] yourself. If you want lights, you gotta figure it out, if you want costumes, you gotta figure it out. If you want a set, good luck, you gotta figure it out!”
Now a year out of university, both Rowntree and Farr were looking for a way to scratch that theatre itch. Lucky enough, they hung onto those scripts.
“We’re together all of the time, John is one of my best friends and he’s always writing stuff,” says Farr. “Half of the time when we hang out, we’re reading a script or we’re editing, so we just decided to work on something together.”
“The Story So Far” began in the spring of this year. The two looked at their scripts separately at first, working to expand and improve on their original work. Then they met up to talk about how they could add to them even more.
While you might think writing a one-person show would be easier than writing for a whole cast, the project came with its own set of challenges.
“One of the things with solo shows is that there’s a tendency to write dialogue as if there are two people talking, which is not the same thing as just you talking,” says Rowntree. “There were all these lines in mine where somebody would say ‘yeah’ or ‘um’ and it doesn’t work because I end up switching to a different person for one syllable and then going back. It was an adjustment.”
With less than week to go, the two are still adjusting and tweaking their scripts. But even though this is their first time tackling a project like this outside of the classroom, the pair are calm and collected. And why wouldn’t they be? This is only the story so far, and there is much more in store.
“I think we’re going to see this as a trial run, and see how well this goes,” says Farr.
“Maybe there will be a John and Jen Theatre Company in the future, I don’t know. But I definitely like having control over everything and having the freedom, doing whatever we want. I don’t know what’s next, but I definitely don’t think this is over.”
“I would be amazed if we never did another one," adds Rowntree.
“The Story So Far” will run from July 29 to August 1 at the Cahoots Theatre Company.