Melissa Hood isn’t gun shy, even if she’s at the heart of “gun shy theatre”, the team responsible for Stop Kiss, one of the best shows at the Fringe Festival in 2013 held over next week as part of Best of Fringe.
Hood is a graduate of the Canadian Film Centre’s Actors Conservatory and co-creator of the Pangnirtung Youth Performance Project in the Eastern Canadian Arctic. Stage work includes the one-woman show Jewel by Joan MacLeod. Film and TV credits include: Murdoch Mysteries, The Listener, Alphas, the award-winning web series My Pal Satan, and the feature film The Fishing Trip (TIFF).
Upcoming: Melissa plays ‘Caprice’ in Shaftesbury’s romantic comedy feature Dirty Singles.
On the occasion of Stop Kiss in Best of Fringe, I ask Melissa Hood ten questions: five about her, and five more about her work in Stop Kiss.
1) Are you more like your father or your mother?
That’s a tough one – I’m a physical composite of both of my parents and the spitting image of my grandmother on my mother’s side. We’re a tall bony lot with old-fashioned features. As for personality, I’m definitely the wildcard of the family and really can’t say where I got the artist gene. We all agree it must have skipped a generation, or ten. I’m quite different than my parents, but have been told by friends of the family that I betray myself on-stage, revealing recognizable mannerisms of both. I would say I’m more like my dad in terms of temperament, but I have my mother’s sensitivity to others and to details. My mother says I have picked up questionable habits from both sides!
2) What is the best thing or worst thing about being an actor?
The best thing about being an actor is getting to work on a new character. Every job is a new challenge so there’s always new territory to explore and reveal. I recently had the opportunity to work on Shaftsbury’s new romantic comedy feature film “Dirty Singles.” It was great because I got to play a character – Caprice Van Wicken – who is more fierce and complex than your average female character. When I first read the script, I got really excited to play this immaculately dressed, quick-witted and ballsy female character, who is essentially “the player of all players.” It’s fun to play powerful women and to find their vulnerability. In the film, Caprice is a lawyer who gets what she wants most of the time, but rarely risks breaking her heart. She’s a dangerous and feisty character, but underneath the cool exterior she has a heart of gold and is looking for love like everyone else. This film should be coming out soon. I will keep you posted.
3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?
Right now I’m catching up on BBC America’s “Orphan Black.” I studied in LA with Tatiana Maslany a couple years ago and am just blown away by this show and her work. It’s a dream role and she is doing such excellent work. It’s inspiring and encouraging to see Canadian actors getting major opportunities in film and television. There’s a lot of unknown talent here in Toronto. I’m so happy when I see hard-working actors getting the opportunities they deserve.
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I wish I were a more proficient musician. I’ve always played a little guitar and love singing, but envy those who can pick up a fiddle, a mandolin, or any instrument and create music on the spot. It’s such a beautiful form of communication, a true practice of being in the moment. I often catch myself quietly bearing witness to musicians and secretly wish I could join in the conversation.
But as they say, it’s never too late to learn.
5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
Go out on the land. I spent many summers working with Inuit on Baffin Island in Nunavut and have a lot of experience in the “bush.” My favourite thing to do is jump in a lake, hike on the tundra, or go boating out on the Cumberland Sound.
Well, that or a trip to New York City. I’m equal parts city-girl. I love going to NYC to catch the latest piece of theatre. Last year I saw “Jerusalem” with Mark Rylance (a personal hero of mine) and “Death of a Salesman” with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Not bad, if you like amazing theatre.
Five More Questions concerning participation in Stop Kiss:
1) How does playing a part like Callie challenge you?
The role of Callie challenged me in a number of ways. Technically, she goes back and forth in time throughout the play, so there is a need to understand her arc and emotional growth throughout the show. At first, I remember thinking I should play Sara, I’m a lot like Sara. But the more I explored the play, the more I realized what a great challenge it would be for me to find myself in Callie. To me, Callie is someone who has it all together on the outside, but who is afraid of taking risks. Although she may seem like it at the top of the show, I don’t think she’s a shallow person at all. I think she’s someone who has been hurt in the past and has learned to fill her life with distractions in order to keep herself safe and secure.
Throughout the play Sara challenges Callie to confront her own patterns of avoidance and fight for what she wants in life. I can identity with this as an actor who is fighting to have the career that I want and who has had to face a lot of fears in order to get to where I am now.
Some people have asked me about playing a character that discovers her sexual identity. For me, the play is not so much about sexuality as it is about personal identity and empowerment. For me, there’s nothing challenging or different about playing a lesbian vs. a straight character. The play itself resists labels and boxes. What it demands, is that the actors bring and reveal what they know about falling in love. In the process of falling in love, my character has to confront her own internalized homophobia at times and fight to validate her own experience of love outside the box of how other people choose to identify her. And it’s a beautiful thing in the play, and in life I think, when we discover that we are the only ones who can validate our own relationships and our own experiences.
2) What do you love about the play?
The writing. Diana Son has created these two believable female characters. She has written them in a way that is both natural and specific but also leaves their interpretation open to any given actor. I can imagine a lot of different women playing these roles and bringing unique qualities to them. Callie and Sara’s relationship is central to the piece and it has been a joy to explore the relationship and find that chemistry that seems to be resonating with our audience. I can count myself lucky to have found Kate Ziegler to play Sara because she’s a truly gifted actress and we had a great experience working on these characters together with our director, Shaun Benson.
Diana Son also does a beautiful job of balancing drama and comedy.
It wasn’t until we got in front of an audience that I realized how many funny moments are so nicely woven into a play that also deals with very intense dramatic material. Some of my favourite moments happen early on between Sara and Callie as they are getting to know each other and realize they have great chemistry. There’s a wonderful initial bonding moment when Sara says that she hates jazz and the sound of saxophones. It’s this lovely moment when the two women realize they have something specific and unexpected in common and that they share the same sense of humour. Diana really does all the characters a great service by writing such detailed and believable dialogue.
3) Do you have a favourite moment?
My favourite moment (spoiler alert) is when Callie says “Lately I feel like there’s something…worth…winning.” It’s a turning point for her and the moment in the play when she stands up for herself and stops “swerving” or avoiding confrontation. It’s a moment that I can personally identify with as an actor. The moment you decide to be ambitious and really go for what you want. Produce a play. Open your heart. Risk failure. That kind of stuff.
We were really lucky to work on a rehearsal process with Shaun that allowed for new moments to happen each night. Shaun didn’t want our performances to feel bound by blocking. I think as a cast we have really enjoyed knowing that each show will be a little different and that new moments will be created each night depending on how we are playing off of one another in the moment.
4) How do you relate to Stop Kiss as a modern woman?
To me, Stop Kiss is a kind of modern love story that de-categorizes love while also bringing out universal and relate-able themes about identity, commitment, courage and risk.
As both a producer and actor, the experience of doing this particular play has been empowering for a lot of reasons. While I was at the Canadian Film Centre in 2012, I had the opportunity to study with Larry Moss, a teacher who challenged me to commit to myself and take more chances. When I put my name in the Fringe lottery, I knew I was challenging myself to put something out there and from the moment my name was drawn to the moment we opened, I have been on a learning curve and have had to make a lot of decisions. The first thing I had to choose was a company name. I chose gun shy theatre because it suited my feelings at the time about doing theatre again. Choosing the right play was the next really important thing. I wanted to find a great script, 90 minutes or less, that had never been staged in Toronto. And ideally, a great script with great roles for women.
When we first read Stop Kiss it resonated with me on a lot of different levels. It’s a very special play with great female roles. I also soon discovered there are a lot of parallels between Callie’s journey and my own experience of producing the play. I think the overall experience has been so rewarding because I got to assemble a wonderful team of people to help produce and make it happen and because the audience related to the story just like we did.
5) Is there a teacher, actor, director or an influence that you especially admire?
Director Jeff Nichols. I’m in love with his last two films, “Mud” and “Take Shelter.” They are the kind of movies that I’ve always wanted to act in. I think he’s a masterful storyteller. He sets his films so beautifully within a given landscape. They feel like recognizable genre films at first, but they delve into very deep universal themes. Jeff also manages to get these powerful natural performances out of his actors. He is definitely on the top of my wish list of directors to work with.
Stop Kiss is presented July 26, 28 & 30th as part of Best of Fringe at the Studio Theatre in the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Click for tickets.