Interview: Iris Bahr of SEE YOU TOMORROW at Toronto Fringe

Curb Your Enthusiasm actress' fifth solo show has Toronto premiere

By: Jul. 02, 2024
Toronto Fringe Festival
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Interview: Iris Bahr of SEE YOU TOMORROW at Toronto Fringe

Iris Bahr has over 50 TV and film credits, six solo shows, and three bestselling books, but she's never done the Toronto Fringe.

Featuring 77 different theatrical works, the Toronto Fringe Festival opens this week. Bahr, best known as Rachel Heinemann on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Perla on Hacks, brings her solo show SEE YOU TOMORROW, her fifth solo work, to the Fringe. When an emergency befalls Bahr's mother during their daily WhatsApp call, she must move across the world overnight "to parent her parent."

Bahr's previous solo show, DAI (enough) won the Lucille Lortel Award and was nominated for a UK Stage and two Drama Desk awards.

BroadwayWorld spoke to Bahr about the real-life inspiration behind the show, her time on Curb and Hacks, and the value of near-death experiences.

BWW: Could you tell us about your upcoming show, SEE YOU TOMORROW, and what inspired you to write it?

BAHR: I have been doing solo shows for many, many, many years. I'll age myself, but about 20 years and up until a few years ago, I was writing fictional stories and characters. I did a show called Planet America that dealt with immigration, and the first reading was right before September 11th. It was about this agoraphobia and this insular mentality and it proved to be even more pressing, but it was written before TSA even existed. Over the years, I've been doing a lot of that and stand up and my TV career. About 3 years ago now I was living in LA and it's the height of the pandemic. And my mom had a stroke while she was talking to me on video chat. I'm scrambling to get an ambulance from across the globe, and I moved there three days later to take to take care of her. This is in February.

That November, I was scheduled to host a festival in Vancouver. I usually do a lot of stand-up and I said, you know what, I'm actually going to write a piece about this because I was neck-deep in it and it was just a lot of pain and grief and overwhelm. And I handle everything through humor. That's the only way I know how, and it's taken me through a lot of different stuff in my life. And so I did this very rudimentary sharing of this story in Vancouver, and the response was kind of astonishing. It's such a universal idea, caregiving for a parent as the "sandwich generation." I have a young kid, I'm a single parent. Young kid, older parent, and how do you juggle the two? And obviously I'm Jewish, there's all this guilt and sacrifice and how I abandoned my mom moving to LA, you know what I mean? All this stuff comes to the fore. And I just started performing it. I did it in DC. I had a run and I got nominated for the Helen Hayes Award, and I did a short run in New York. And now I'm bringing it to Toronto.

Another show that I wrote, Stories From the Brink, which I just premiered in Montreal, was about my near-death experiences, and it spans a wide swath of festive adventures. I won the Frankie there, which was awesome. I'm hopefully going to bring that to Toronto at a separate time. I decided to start with SEE YOU TOMORROW because it's more of an established show.

BWW: Have you performed in Toronto before?

BAHR: I haven't. The last time was in Toronto was at the film festival a bazillion years ago.

BWW: Is there anything specific you're looking forward to about performing in Toronto?

BAHR: I'm looking forward to a lot. Any time I can open up to a new audience and new cultural scene, I'm very excited. I lived in LA for 20 years, so obviously I had a lot of friends from Toronto, and I always wished I were Canadian so I could work more on TV there. Canada has such a vibrant art scene and theater scene. I'm also excited to be part of the Fringe. I did the Edinburgh Fringe with another show of mine many years ago. And then being in Montreal, now Toronto, there's something so exciting about just being in this energy of theater artists and all creating at the same place and being able to also see a few shows a day, which is amazing. In New York, unless you're a billionaire, I think you could barely see one show a year. You know, for the Broadway seat, it's like $350 for the back of the mezzanine. So, it's just nice being part of that. I'm excited about that.

It's been wonderful to get back into this scene, which I haven't really been part of. I've been doing a lot of film and TV over the last few years. If I'm touring, it's usually a solo show, which is a lonely endeavour. You want to hang out with the cast. So it's nice to meet other artists, it's great.

BWW: This is your fifth solo show. What have you been learning from your previous solo shows that you've incorporated here?

BAHR: Each show has been so different. And these last two shows have been challenging in a different way, in the sense that they're so personal and vulnerable. There's the issue of self-care. I teach a lot of students how to write solo shows, and usually it's autobiographical. And I say the most important thing is that it can't feel like therapy for you in terms of the audience. No one wants to sit through your therapy. The audience has to know that you're okay. And even if you're getting emotional, you can't be falling apart.

It has to be entertaining. I mean, I am an entertainer. Beyond that being humor is how I deal. I feel like who wants to watch a show just about a stroke? Unless you're a masochist, you want to have an enjoyable time; you want to be laugh and be moved and be enlightened about the human condition and different perspective on things. Above all, it has to be entertaining for them and for me.

The show that I'm doing now, I'm still living it. And it's very emotional and I kind of put my heart out for the audience. There's a lot of humor in it too, but it's also very vulnerable, tender, raw. So the skill that I'm learning over the last few years, being that these two shows that I'm doing are sharing a lot of personal stories, is how to refresh and rejuvenate and take care, so I'm not depleted after. And so that's been an art that I've been trying to master.

Usually I talk to the audience after and I'm an extreme empath. So I take in their stories. But then, maybe I go for a drink with friends, you know, and talk about whatever--TV, you know, festive things.

But I've also been learning a lot just from teaching, and working with so many different artists on so many different formats and creating. That, to me, has been interesting in terms of how that reflects upon my own work.

BWW: You've done neuroscience research at Brown and Stanford. How has your background and research into this subject factored into the show?

BAHR: I don't want to exaggerate and say a lot of neuroscience research. I want to be humble. I did some research in undergrad; I spent a few months at Stanford and I was working at an FMRI lab. Then, after graduating, I went to UCLA and worked at the brain mapping center. It always fascinated me, but I wasn't getting an advanced degree in it. I did go to the operating room and they were operating, but I was just showing index cards. I wasn't assisting.

I don't delve in it too deeply in the show, but I do wonder about memory and how memory is designed. And I talk a little bit about how my mom remembers certain things and not others, and how that's so baffling to me because it's not clear-cut. She doesn't remember recent events. Her parents passed away when she was young and she thinks they're alive. I wonder, is there a center of the brain that only stores memories that people died? Because in her mind, nobody died. But she also had a very rough relationship with death and mourning and grief, and she never went into cemeteries, so it's all kind of connected. I try not to intellectualize it too much on the show, just because I'm sharing this kind of emotional journey. But I do think about it a lot in a personal level.

BWW: You've been on what seems like countless different shows, like Hacks, Star Trek Voyager, and obviously a recurring role on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Is there anything about working in television that's shaped your writing or your performance here?

BAHR: The great thing about being a character actor, there's pros and cons, right? You get really, really fun roles. Maybe today's changed a bit, but I was never the leading lady. I was always the eccentric quirky neighbor or the annoying friend. But there's a longevity to that. I love playing characters. Playing Perla on Hacks, I tapped into this Russian nurse character that I had on my own TV series, Svetlana. I think it just always gives me the confidence to really bring myself to those roles, especially in comedy. It's given me the freedom to, what is the phrase? Let my freak flag fly. Just all my eccentricities and my rhythm and my humor I'm able to bring to the show.

Also in the sense of doing all this improv: Curb is all improvised, my show is improvised, the people at Hacks always allow for improv. They're amazing, Lucia and Paul and Jen. They appreciate that; they admire that. I've always loved that part about doing shows. Other sitcoms are very scripted. There's 10 writers on that show and they work really hard. And if you mess with it too much, they don't like it. So I've always loved the freedom of improv. I fluctuate too between having shows that I believe are theatrical and really tight, and then having performances where I'm like, let me loosen up a little bit and let me improv a little bit here or play a little bit. That's how I give myself a little diversity. I have fun like I do with stand-up.

BWW: Would you consider this play more of a tightly-written show, or more of an "I'm going to play a little tonight" show?

BAHR: I think this is more tightly-written. When I do a show in a theater and there's cues, I need to honor the lighting and stage managers. I don't want to drive them insane. I did add a story. There's some stories that I've added from Stories From the Brink into this show now just because they were so fun. So I'm peppering those in. But it's tightly scripted. That's the thing with Fringe also. If you run a minute over time, you're in trouble. I feel like they're going to like hang me right in the in the town square.

BWW: You're not going to get put in the stocks, but you might get hooked off the stage.

BAHR: I'm very excited about the theater. People have raved about Tarragon. Everybody that I've talked to who's been to Toronto goes, oh Tarragon, that space is great. Everybody loves that theater, so I'm excited. Is there anything else you want to ask me?

BWW: I have to know, from Stories From the Brink, what's your favorite near-death experience?

BAHR: This is not necessarily my favorite, but it was crazy. We were on a rafting trip in Peru and the group in front of us, the guide died. He drowned. And then they asked us, before we left, to help find the body. It was so gruesome. My friend's like, they don't do refunds. We're going on this trip. I'm like, the guide died!

We ended up going. We didn't find the body, though.

When I was writing my book, Machu My Picchu, I remember calling my friend and saying, this happened, right? This is not a figment of my imagination? Because you know you're worried the story's so crazy that you're like, did I remember this correctly? She goes, oh no, it happened, it happened.

But again, even that, when I share it, it was more about me going on this extreme experience to get out of my head and then this happens.

BWW: Get out of your head, but here's this giant memento mori.

BAHR: Exactly, here's a dead man floating right beside you. That'll get you out of your head.

BWW: Is there anything else that I haven't asked that you want audiences to know about you or your show?

BAHR: I'm single. No, kidding. I want audiences to know it's not a heavy show. It's about my relationship with my mother, and it's very funny.

The Toronto Fringe Festival runs from July 3-14.

For tickets to SEE YOU TOMORROW, click here.

Photo of Iris Bahr by Gail Hadani




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