Say “I do” to Morro and Jasp’s new show at the Fringe Festival

MORRO AND JASP: SAVE THE DATE by Morro and Jasp (U.N.I.T. Productions). At the Tarragon Mainspace (30 Bridgman). July 6.


MORRO AND JASP: SAVE THE DATE by Morro and Jasp (U.N.I.T. Productions). At the Tarragon Mainspace (30 Bridgman). July 6 at 8:45 pm, July 7 at 9:15 pm, July 8 at 8:30 pm, July 10 at 3 pm, July 11 at 5:15 pm, July 12 at 11 pm, July 15 at 1:45 pm. See listing.

Morro and Jasp, the citys best known sibling clown duo, have gone through puberty, adapted Steinbeck, satirized baking shows, toyed with the corporate world and even deconstructed the idea of theatre itself.

Now theyre experiencing one of lifes milestones. One of them is getting married, and the others worried it will affect their relationship.

Thats the premise behind Save The Date, a send-up of all the hoopla around weddings from saying yes to the dress to gorging on wedding cake samples to throwing a silly bachelorette party that we all know, love and hate.

And like a lot of their shows, its been inspired by things their real-life creators Heather Marie Annis (Morro) and Amy Lee (Jasp) have gone through themselves.

Lee got married last year, shortly after mounting the clown duos most ambitious show to date, Stupefaction.

Compared to putting on that show, the wedding was a breeze, laughs Lee.

In the new work, the bossy, controlling Jasp becomes a red-nosed bridezilla, wanting everything as perfect as Meghan Markles big day, even though the well-meaning Morro keeps messing things up.

I like to think I was a more enjoyable bride to be around than Jasp is in this.

Yes! chimes in Annis. You definitely were.

Were sitting in an Annex restaurant with director/collaborator Byron Laviolette, almost exactly nine years from the date when their lives changed forever.

It was then that they were about to mount their first clown show for adults, Morro And Jasp Do Puberty, at the Toronto Fringe.

After several successful (and perhaps one unsuccessful) shows slotted in the Fringes kids fest, they were making the move to adult fare. And they were about to debut it for a tough, jaded home crowd.

Wed been at it for about four years, says Lee, and we had workshopped this show at the Winnipeg Fringe. The subject matter was risky. There was a lot less discussion then about women talking about their bodies and their periods. We thought, If this doesnt fly here, well, its been a good run. Maybe people dont get us. This show felt true and funny and right. If people dont like it, then we maybe dont want to keep doing it.

But, pipes up Annis, whose Morro is the more optimistic of the two characters, it did resonate with people! It opened and it was popular. We had fun. The audience had fun. It felt so great to go on that journey every night with them.

The Fringe has been their creative home ever since. And the duo or rather trio (Laviolette jokes that hes the and in Morro and Jasp) has come to represent the spirit of the festival.

There would be no Morro and Jasp without the Fringe, says Laviolette, whos been their director from the start at York University, when he saw them performing straight theatre and changed a scene he had written for two male clown characters named Morris and Jasper to… well, you know who.

The Fringe gave us a place to grow and try and fail and fail and then grow and grow and fail again, adds Lee.

Its so expensive to produce theatre, says Annis. Theres no way we could have afforded to try that many things out and figure out what we were from the beginning.

The example and inspiration of horror clowns Mump and Smoot helped them a lot, and they both had a light bulb moment when they saw Melissa DAgostinos playful Lupe character.

They also jokingly trace the origin of their clown work back to a serendipitous experience with a Krusty the Clown-like performer who chatted up Annis while she was wheeling a wheelchair along Queen Street for a class assignment. He asked if he could take a ride in the chair and proceeded to smoke and drink, staying in character all the time.

Despite sold-out performances and fans who follow their every show and virtual move (they released an app a couple of years ago), the three say clown can still be a hard sell.

People have different experiences with clowns, says Annis. Theres that syndrome where people are afraid of them. Part of our mission is to teach people what clown means to us. Its about honesty and truth and love.

In fact, some of the best moments in a Morro and Jasp show arent the jokes but the real emotional stakes involved between the fictional siblings and the grounded way they interact with each other and occasionally the audience.

When the two appear out of costume in other shows as they did when they performed in Kat Sandlers massive hit Bright Lights at the Fringe people will sometimes give them backhanded compliments.

Well hear, You guys are such good actors! says Lee. Maybe they think Morro and Jasp just exist as beings and theres no one behind them.

Theyve had work produced by Factory Theatre, and though they do the requisite knocking on doors, other companies are slower to come on board.

Were sort of atypical in the theatre world, says Laviolette. Were a company devoted to the same characters. We dont present other peoples work.

But theyre thinking about changing that. Theyve been shopping around a TV pilot and have, as Annis points out, an endless stream of ideas.

Weve got no shortage of material, she says. Weve got a shortage of time and money and people who want to help us do all these things.

One of their biggest supporters, right from the start, was NOWs late senior theatre writer, Jon Kaplan. The duo hosted the celebration of Jons life last fall.

Jon saw everything we did, says Annis. What he wrote wasnt always good, because the shows werent always good.

But, adds Lee, he was honest in a way that was constructive, so we could read it and take away something from it. He was a mentor in that he taught us through his reviews.

Laviolette says it was an ideal scenario for an artist.

What a special thing to have a long-term relationship between an artist and a critic, he says. It was a conversation that lasted for years.

Lee, her eyes welling up, says it was strange doing Stupefaction, a play dedicated to Jon, without him there in the audience.

In some ways I felt rudderless knowing he wouldnt be there to tell us what it meant, she says.

glenns@nowtoronto.com | @glennsumi

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