Dylan Brenton is one of the founding members of Wolf Manor Theatre Collective, their Artistic Director and a member of the Ensemble.
Here’s how the WMTC describe themselves & their mission:
Wolf Manor Theatre Collective are a Toronto based theatre production company, formed by professional & emerging Canadian Artists. The company is built on the grounds of professionalism and ambition cultivated among young artists. Our interest is in exploring theatrical work which stimulate a diverse audience through stylized takes on classical text, explorative contemporary work and newly devised theatre. All our work is conceived by a small ensemble, in simple and creative design. Our goal is to cultivate theatre of such fluent construction that it may be relocated from space to space; allowing for presentations in diverse venues and touring productions. Our emphasis on accessibility seeks to create an engaging theatrical experience for non- conventional or new theatre goers, particularly high school students. In addition to full scale productions, the company also engages in youth outreach, offering workshops for adolescents and young adults interested in professional careers in the arts. Wolf Manor are seeking to contribute to the growing need for inclusion, diversity and opportunity in the Canadian performance industry.
I had the pleasure of working with Dylan a few years ago while he was still at Ryerson Theatre School. A graduate of RTS and The Academy of Dramatic Combat, he’s also trained with Shakespeare in the Ruff’s Guerilla Ruffian Squad. Originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland, he’s been involved in over 80 productions over the past 10 years. Select tv credits: Black Sky Leader, The Expanse, (SyFy); Harris, 12 Monkeys, (SyFy); Select Theatre: Macbeth, Macbeth (WMTC); Claudio, Much Ado About Nothing (Perchance Theatre); Mr. Hyde, Jekyll & Hyde (Echo Productions).
As Dylan prepares for the title role in Danny & the Deep Blue Sea with WMTC, I seized the opportunity to ask him some questions to find out more about him and the project.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
There really seems to come a point in your life where you realize, or maybe decide, if you are or not your parents. I think that right now I am smack dead in the center of this. I got a lot from both of my parents, and they would say I got the worst from each of them. e.g. I got mom’s teeth and dad’s forehead.
I think in reality, I have taken the most from my father. He’s a teacher, an actor, a writer and realistically just a very spiritual person. He thinks very deeply about a lot of things and doesn’t hesitate to share an unpopular opinion, as for him, it is quite calculated. I’ve recently found myself doing a lot more of that than before. The biggest thing about us: we’re big. Big men, big voices, big personalities. We’re crude and boisterous, spastic and excitable. He is a very affectionate man, something you do not see a lot of in his generation. His desire to show and accept love is something that I’m finding more and more in myself. I have watched his personality change a lot over the years and now I’m seeing me behave in irrational, hot headed and emotional ways such as he did in previous years. He’s a Buddhist now and this has really changed how he behaves.
As for my mother, we share some things as well, our love of fun, charity unto others, a taste for designer (John Fluevog) shoes and nice restaurants, among many other things. But she has many qualities that amaze me: patience, tolerance, forgiveness and subtlety. This is how she puts up with the four ridiculous men in her life: myself, my brother, my father and my grandfather. All of which she supports unquestionably.
2-What is the best thing or worst thing about what you do?
The absolute best thing about what I do is that I have no idea what I do yet. I’ve tried on a number of hats already over the years. I act primarily, produce out of necessity, I direct out of curiosity, I am lured towards becoming a fight director and have budding interests throughout the whole industry. My ego occasionally allows me to refer to things as being my ‘work’ or ‘style’ or (this is the real kicker) ‘aesthetic.’ Realistically, I’m only now just starting to understand what I like. The best thing I can do is try to create a body of work out of things I like. What I like the most is people, the human spirit and human interaction. So I guess my real answer is: the people. I have had the privilege to be taught, mentored by, work with, employee, mentor and teach a lot of incredible people. I would like to think that everyone I’ve shared experiences with are people that I look up to, I feel like I have been surrounded by people so easy to admire.
All I have ever sought after is to be a consistently bettering version of myself that pulls my work to the level my colleagues deserve. In turn, I think this, in a non-competitive way, allows everyone to be everyone’s role model. If we take turns being leaders, being led, setting examples and then following better ones, we all get to grow towards a more universally realized level excellence. This for me, means constantly elevating the standard of work ethic, play, creativity, honesty, focus and professionalism. If we strive to be our best and respect each other, others strive to be their best and demonstrate the same respect. It’s a strange circular way of thinking, but it fuels artistry and encourages growth for the whole community.
The worst part: Crippling self doubt and recurring imposter syndrome. Yeah, that sucks.
3-Who do you like to listen to or watch?
Right now I’m listening to a lot of hip-hop, both new and old, a lot of neo-soul, a lot of hardcore and punk again and topping it off with a healthy portion of Jimi Hendrix and Leonard Cohen. I also guiltily listen to a lot of terrible early 2000’s ‘emo-pop-punk-whatever-we-call-it’. The simplest way for me to understand how my taste in music changes on the daily, is that what I’m drawn to is passionate and intense. I like thick aggressive beats, with spitfire flow. I love fast guitar riffs with crunchy gain and crowds screaming lyrics. I admire mind opening sounds under imagery packed poetry.
Kurt Cobain nailed it when he said
“Punk rock should mean freedom, liking and accepting anything that you like. Playing whatever you want. As sloppy as you want. As long as it’s good and it has passion.”
4-What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Patience. I am 24. Twenty Four. You’d think I was branded with an expiry date with how unnecessarily manic and spontaneously flurried I behave. Ask my partner, it very reasonably drives her crazy that I’m constantly buzzing to get something done the second I think about it – at all costs. Mid conversation, I will rocket into stupid frenzies about an idea for a new play or a cocktail I want to build. I want everything right away. Don’t get me wrong I procrastinate everything, but when I have an idea I will throw myself at it instantly. It’s an expensive habit.
5-When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
When I do rest, I rest hard. I have been known to watch a full season of a show I followed in the past in a day. Family comes first, so I’m all about doing absolutely nothing all day when my partner gets a day off too. I’ve become a hobbyist bartender, with quite an eclectic cabinet at home, so that’s a way I love to kill time. I’ve recently started picking up board games, which is super new for me, and love the social interaction of playing a bunch of new games.
Five more about the upcoming project
1-Please talk about Wolf Manor Theatre Collective.
Wolf Manor is the manifestation of what I love doing. Surrounding myself with minds and talents different and greater than my own in order to, as a unit, generate exciting theatre work. We originally focused exclusively on Shakespeare and newly written work, basing our brand around very intimate productions, set in uniquely developed worlds using a small number of actors and storytellers. Our debut production, CAESAR, used only 5 actors to play the 40+ roles and had the artists build the soundscape and music for the show together, the show was directed such that it used everything the space (Abrams Studio theatre) could offer, but could be brought to any space and still make sense. To date all the Wolf Manor shows have never contained more than 9 performers, even while staging Shakespearean epics. Over the first 5 productions, the collection of artists has grown immensely, while only a few core member have been involved with everything. The notion of our collective is that any past show member is always contributing to the growth and can always ask about coming on board to offer skills, test new skills or shadow and learn. We consider every show to be a new iteration of the collective, a new way of showcasing the specific flavor that is a Wolf Manor show. The idea of a collective for me is something greater than the sum of its parts. We celebrate the artist and the unified minds and work of every person involved in the show. For this reason we have been lucky to work with some incredible people and call some outstanding professionals part of our family. As is the case in this industry, this means, those wonderful people are going to get a lot of different opportunities. Roles and tasks among people in the company switch around depending on who’s available to do what and what people want to work on or enjoy doing. This year is about to be a big year for us. We’re doing 4 full shows. As a result, there’s a huge need to refine and structure. A lot has been learned and a fair share of luck and generosity has come our way. Moving forward we want to continue solidifying what Wolf Manor does and how we operate. The style of the shows keeps evolving, but with the same core focus – physical creation of new worlds to explore radical stories. The biggest thing for us is to listen to the shifts in our industry and implement our voice in the making of change. Moving forward we hope to use our style and our work to cultivate new worlds, tell new stories and represent new voices.
2- Please describe Danny & the Deep Blue Sea
Danny & The Deep Blue Sea tells a story about two volatile people who meet at a bar. She is there to escape the confines of her bedroom and he to avoid another fight on the streets. The two beat each other down, expose every raw nerve to one another and when the dust settles demonstrate immense need for the other’s help.
This play has sat in Bria McLaughlin’s and my brains since theatre school. Diana Reis gave us the second scene as part of a scene study class and we both fell so in love with what the script let us play with. We’ve been promising ever since we would do this play, and this season it felt right with what WMTC wanted to do. This play spoke to me specifically this year because it is about love amidst violence and the extremeness of the human experience.
The idea of need and deserving has fuelled the whole season of programming. This show opens the season because there is something so guttural, base and immediate about everything the two characters do to one another, I would like to think in our exploration of human needs this season each show takes a look at it from different levels of stakes, status and consequence, but everything lands on the question of what we need from and why we need others. As for casting, I see a lot of myself in the role, so it’s been one I wanted to tackle for awhile, I am fascinated by violence and violent behaviours. I think Danny comes from a world I recognize. I know this guy, I saw him on the subway a few nights back, I saw him at the punk show I was just at. Hell, I may have been him at a few punk shows in the past. He’s a congregation of unsettled energy which finds release in aggressive physical bursts.
3-Who’s involved in your production?
This is easily the smallest iteration of the collective to date. As of right now, there are only 4 of us working directly on the show, but with a lot of outside assistance that have started entering the room and helping from afar.
I am in the show, producing the show and handling the marketing right now, but getting lots of help from many friends on this one!
The real heart of the show is the work of Bria McLaughlin, she acts opposite me and holy hell, does she deliver something amazing. This woman has been on fire ever since we’ve graduated, doing an amazing show at YPT, which toured to MTL and taking other great shows to Winnipeg, and just crushing it in Filament Incubators ‘Swan’ by Aaron Jan. This girl is actually FIRE. She is a force to be reckoned with and brings next level emotional availability, physical willingness, intellectual dissection and rugged honesty to everything she does.
We have been super lucky to find Anthony Perpuse to kick it in the director’s seat, though he rarely seems to sit down. This script was a matter of Bria and I loving the show and approaching a director with the same fire we had. We couldn’t have landed with a better match of three artists between Bria, Tony and Myself. Anthony has been more of a coach from the very get go, so engaged, so on his feet during the whole process. It’s like he’s in every scene with us to spur along the next line, help us rile up the following attack, and forcing us to breathe into the moments of extreme defeat or absolute beauty. We’ve been kept delightfully on our toes, but have become unbelievably specific in our work. He has really torn us away from the biggest pitfall of the play: sitting in sappy emotional inactive yelling. I would say both myself and Bria have found some of our best work through this process and cannot wait to shake some ground with our take on the roles.
Rounding up our rehearsal team right now is Julie Foster, our life saving SM. Julie doesn’t actually step into the room with us until December 28th, but we are so excited to have her on board! She seems exceptionally organized and fuelled by a lot of the same heart that we do. She’s going to be a killer presence in the room!
Amongst our group, we think we’re bringing the story to life in its best incarnation. We are playing with some new things – Tony has brought in a lot of hip-hop influence and I have played with a lot of hardcore music to build a really raw version of Danny. Also, we’re doing the show right on the floor of the bars, not using the stages. It’s going to be more immersive than we expected. Advanced apologies if I spill my beer on anyone!
At the end of it all, this story is incredible on its own and we want to do it service. These characters are walking open wounds, who both try to find ways to climb inside one another. This has been a great challenge for Bria and me as actors, being that raw and immediately available. We’re just excited to throw it into some of our spaces now, and with the help of our technicians find something vicious and beautiful in every room we play this beast for!
4- The play is subtitled “An Apache Dance”. There are lots of examples on youtube.
Please discuss the ways in which this play connects to that style of dance, with its ritualized violence.
This subtitle is ideal for this play, and the most popular videos of the dance style have been a huge influence in some of our talks about the play. I like to think of the Parisian Apache dance as a cross between swing dancing and a mosh pit. It’s insane to watch a woman be thrown to the floor and whipped around so aggressively, what’s more fascinating is that she keeps getting back up and going for more. It would seem like a moth to the flame level of danger, but there’s a huge twist in this. The woman is the dominant and in control partner. She lures the male into the dance and proceeds to manipulate all the apparent abuse she endures. She pushes the male to take the dance further and intensify the violence, but all on her terms. Without spoiling any of the script or story itself, this behaviour plays right into how these two behave, and looks at how they have lived their whole lives, walking themselves into danger as a best means to control the chaos. Danny feels free in beating people up, Roberta feels power in making people react. These two were bound to cross paths, but no one can ever be sure who has who by the throat.
5-Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
I don’t like listing just one person, honestly. There has been a lot of amazing professionals generous enough to share their wisdom with me. I owe a lot of respect to a lot of people. In the end I admire everyone and measure myself by the company I keep. The biggest influence in my whole life right now is my partner, Tessa, for having the patience due endure my rehearsals at the house, my manic behaviours and my irrational stress. She’s the real star of the show.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea opens Wolf Manor Theatre Collective’s 2017 season January 13th at the Imperial Pub. For ticket information click here.