SIDESHOW OF THE DAMNED by Eric Woolfe, directed by Michael Waller, with Rebecca Northan, Richard Alan Campbell, Jason Charters, Kimwun Perehinec and Steve Ross. Presented by Eldritch Theatre at the Tim Sims Playhouse (56 Blue Jays Way). Opens tonight (Thursday, October 17) and runs to November 9, Thursday-Friday 8:30 and 10:30 pm, Saturday 10:30 pm. $15. 416-343-0011.
Not many performers have the stomach to disembowel someone, be chewed apart by a shark or have their own tongue cut out onstage. But as one of the city's top comics and improvisers, Rebecca Northan is used to doing pretty much anything. What's a bit of theatrical blood and gore?
"I feel like a little girl playing," she says. ""Wow, now I get to disembowel you!'"
Northan's part of the ensemble in the expanded remount of Eric Woolfe's SummerWorks 2001 hit, Sideshow Of The Damned, an anthology of horror stories that form a funny/scary mix of sex, vengeance and violence.
She's playing the roles originated by Melody Johnson -- most memorably an unfaithful wife who gets her just desserts -- and, in an added sketch, plays a Catholic schoolgirl who gets the de-tonguing.
It's hard to imagine Northan speechless. Onstage and off, she comes across as supremely confident. She meets your look head-on, unafraid of anything, and always has a snappy comeback. That's her improv training, 12 years of it, showing.
"Or maybe it's just my prairie openness," she laughs, proving my point with a well-timed cultural cliché. "Nothing to hide."
Although Northan's currently a member of the Second City Touring Company, this show marks one of her first local straight theatre gigs.
Before moving here from Calgary a year and a half ago, she did lots of theatre, such as The Vagina Monologues, and was part of the Alberta Theatre Projects rep company. In town she's better known for her comedy in shows like the weekly Friday crash-and-burn improv vehicle Micetro Impro and monthly 50s TV talk-show parody The Jack Miller Show.
"I did half improv and half theatre while in Calgary," says Northan, an alumna along with fellow Albertans Albert Howell and Peter Oldring of Keith Johnstone's famed Loose Moose Theatre Company. "I developed career ADD. I'd do improv for a while, then think, "Oh, I need to do theatre.' Or I'd be in a play and realize I had to get out and improvise."
Since coming to Toronto, between her comedy gigs and teaching at Second City, she's found herself auditioning for lots of moms and wives. Just the other week she showed up as a mom tucking her frightened child to bed in The Holmes Show.
"Really, there's nothing wifely or motherly about me," she laughs. "I can't even get to bed on time on my own, let alone have to get someone else to bed, too.
"At first I thought it was all about looking old. But I don't think that's it. I think lots of people just have fantasies about me spanking them."
During the run of Sideshow, she's taping the pilot for a new TV show, conceived by Linda Kash, that mixes documentary, a fictional theatre company and live performance. Think Waiting For Guffman meets This Is Your Life.
She'll also probably still pop into some club to do the odd improv set.
"For me, improvisation is a tool I use to deal with my ego and face fear. The longer I do it, the bigger my ego gets, so the bigger the battle is. Improvisation is all about failure. I have to go to class and fail and fail and fail. It's like yoga. I'll never be the perfect improviser, but I have to keep stretching myself further."