BWW Interview: The Toxic Avenger's Brittany Gray Talks Lloyd Kaufman and Slime
Everyone out there has at some point likely had the desire to kick some booty, or dreamt of being on Oprah's famous couch, or hopefully experienced some Hot (Toxic) Love. These are all things you can hear sung about if you go and check out Dancap's The Toxic Avenger, currently playing at The Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. Funny, camp and with a rocking score, this is certainly not your typical night out at the theatre. Reviews have been very positive, with the audience having a blast every night as they are delighted with the amount of heart and laughter that gets put into this show. BroadwayWorld got the chance to sit down with Brittany Gray, who plays "Sarah, the Blind Librarian" and the love interest for the unlikely hero in the show. She talks about this break-out role, including favourite parts, challenges and what it was like to meet movie director Lloyd Kaufman.
First, congratulations on the success of The Toxic Avenger. I have been reading some very positive reviews about how well you are handling the show's material, specifically the fact that the role is so sexually charged. Do you ever find that you get a bit self-conscious presenting the material?
Not necessarily. I grew up as a dancer so I have always been comfortable with my body and I danced competitively and had to wear a lot of costumes, some of which were quite revealing. Basically I grew up with a frame of mind that instilled confidence with my body and my sexuality. Of course you can always get self-conscious sometimes, for example I have a scene where I have to rip my shirt open and expose my bra. Sometimes I might not be super comfortable with that, but I have never felt insecure about it either.
Your role is also very physically demanding and has a lot of physical comedy, how did you prepare for that?
It is very physical! We actually just gradually eased into it during rehearsals and as we learned the script we started to realize just how physically demanding it was. I must admit, I did get a lot of bruises during rehearsal from some of the silly physical comedy. Obviously you have to take care of yourself, I see a massage therapist and chiropractor every week to make sure my body is in alignment. But it is really fun, and stretching before is also crucial in order to take care of yourself.
Some of the material could be considered offensive, but you deliver it in a way that gets laughs ... do you ever worry that you might offend someone in the crowd?
I do, but I always find that you have to play your character sincerely and try not to worry about stuff like that, because when you start worrying, you lose the character. There are so many good messages in our show that outweigh the few lines that could be considered offensive to some people. It really is a beautiful story about how love is blind, and Sarah (my character) goes through this battle where she has to find out whether she cares about what someone looks like on the outside or who they are on the inside. There is a really great message in that and I find that I focus on that rather than on the one liners that could be construed as offensive.
It is important to go into a show knowing what it is and remember to not take yourself too seriously, and to their credit, our audiences have been really good about that. There really hasn't been a show like this before in Toronto and it is great to see how liberal and willing to laugh the audience is. It is a great way to take people away from their problems and just let them have a good time.
One thing I found unique about this production is the very small size of the cast, and the lack of intermission. Those two factors require you to be on stage almost constantly for the duration of the show, how do you keep your energy level up?
Well, the length of the show is quite short compared to other productions I have done. Also, I find that an intermission can actually bring the overall energy down and then you have to work to bring it back up. For our show, we gear ourselves up for an hour and a half of really high energy and we can commit to that. I find that an intermission can sometimes just grind everything to a halt whereas with our show, we do it all at once and never have to work to regain the audience. I love not having one and the length of the show is perfect. I find that the audience seems to enjoy it as well, this way you can go to the theatre and not have to devote your entire evening to it. You have time afterwards to grab a drink or dinner.
Do you have a favourite song or scene to perform?
I would have to say performing "Choose Me Oprah" is my favourite part. I just find that it is really fun to have Shinequa (Daren A. Herbert) and Diane (Jamie McKnight) on stage with me and the audience always loves to see them in their "Supremes-esque" dresses. It is a really good time and a very high energy moment for Sarah. The lyrics are a scream and the melody is incredible. It is definitely a high point in the show for me.
What would you say is the most difficult part to perform?
It may be a bit silly to say but I am so in love with the show that I don't really find any part extremely difficult, we worked the hard stuff out during rehearsals. We are at that point now where we have a lot of fun doing the show and I don't feel like I'm struggling a lot. Perhaps the hardest part would be the energy, just keeping it up the whole way through and making sure it feels alive. The hardest part of the show overall would probably be making sure that it is not too campy and keeping the heart and truth in the show - remembering it is a love story.
When Lloyd Kaufman (director of the Toxic Avenger Movies Series) was in Toronto, did you get a chance to talk to him at all and did he give you any direction?
Absolutely. He gave us great feedback and said he loved the show. He gave me an original DVD of the Toxic Avenger movie which was really cool and he was very personable and supportive of the show. I had heard nothing but great things about him, and how he devotes so much time to his organization and he was really incredible and nice. Everyone from John Rando (the Director) and Wendy Seyb (the Choreographer) to Dancap (the Producers) have just been so incredibly positive and that makes the whole thing a real pleasure to do.
Since the film franchise is such a cult hit, do you feel a bit of pressure to ensure you do right by fans of the film?
Of course. I thought about that a lot when I was first cast in the role and I really took it seriously. I didn't want to watch the movies too early because I wanted to figure Sarah out for myself. It is a huge undertaking to make something new out of something that people already love and adore. With this production, you are taking on a character that many people may already have an idea about. It is fun though and I feel like there is a lot more to Sarah in the show than in the movie, the movie left out a lot of who she is.
As you said earlier, this show is unlike anything Toronto has seen before. It certainly is not your typical night out at the theatre. What would you say to people who might be a bit skeptical about coming out to see the show?
I think I would say that it is like a 100 minute SNL skit, that is the best way to put it. It is laughs from start to finish and people leave the theatre saying that their stomach hurts from laughing so hard. For me personally, there is nothing better than going out to dinner and being guaranteed a solid 100 minutes of laughter. It truly is good for the soul. If you want to see five performers who are really dedicated and hardworking, and who will assure you of a good night, come out and give our show a try!
If you could give one piece of advIce To aspiring Canadian musical theatre stars, what would it be?
The best advIce That I have is to be very aware of what your weaknesses are and work very hard on them. That worked really well for me. It is important to know your strengths but even more so to know your weaknesses, and know them better. That way you can work on them and allow them to grow and gain strength. Once those are worked on you can focus on your strengths because that is your comfort zone, but often working on your weaknesses is where you can find a real gem. And of course, make sure to follow your heart, be honest with what your passions are and surround yourself with passionate and positive people who believe in your dream.
When and Where?
The Toxic Avenger
The Music Hall, 147 Danforth Ave
Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-644-3665 or online at www.toxicavengertoronto.com
For more information visit www.toxicavengertoronto.com