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Suitcase in Point – An Oral History

Suitcase in Point – An Oral History

By Chris Illich

Brian Foster, Deanna Jones, Alex Brown, Natasha Pedros, Miles Coverdale, Doug Ledingham, Cole Lewis, Sergio Forest, and myself are all the founding members of Suitcase in Point. Our work was very different back in 2001. But also the same. But different. Back in the day we made a few more serious shows. I use serious loosely. Serious for us. We wanted to be deep. Our shows were a little darker. But always had a sense of humour. When we started we would meet together and write until our hands hurt and we would laugh until our sides hurt.
-Edwin Conroy Jr.

The first play Suitcase in Point ever did was a play I wrote called Call to Mind back in 2001. We had all met at Brock University. I had left Brock to go to National Theatre School and I studied playwriting there. So, I wrote a play and I missed all of them so I asked them if they would do a play with me. That was the first production, and from there they moved on to their first cabaret.
– Cole Lewis

Our first Cabaret was called The Wape and Grine Cabaret, in September of 2001. We were inspired by our time in Calgary with One Yellow Rabbit and wanted to share the work that we had created there and more. The first Cabaret was epic. We performed all over the place in The Merchant Ale House, entered through the windows and I think the whole show was maybe 4 hours long.We called it Wape and Grine, and premised the show on the idea that we were a hill-billy family named the Wape and Grine’s and mistook the Grape and Wine Festival for a festival in our name.
– Deanna Jones

I remember that show being particularly long. 3-4 hours in length. I don’t remember too much about the show but a heady mixture of scripted pieces and off the cuff/improvisational pieces (which probably helped make the cabaret as long as it was).
– Brian Foster

I remember our second cabaret, the SCI-FI Cabaret. We unknowingly scheduled it on Super Bowl Sunday and we thought we were screwed. BUT! We had a good audience out and we pushed ahead. It was a long cabaret too! They all were for a while. Then we got better about cutting scenes and saving ideas for future cabarets. As we got older we stopped being so precious about ideas. If the idea kept coming back, it’d eventually make its way into a cabaret.
– Natasha Pedros

How could you forget the doozy title of that cabaret? The Sci Fi Cabaret was called – Alien Nation FX, A Sci Fi Cabaret (2002). And yes, I think the original focus of these shows were to experiment and test ideas, collaborate. The more we did this, the more we found our language together.

Jeffrey Rosetto and Sergio Forest made a giant UFO that we rigged above the outside windows and dropped for the opening – with a smoke machine!
– Deanna Jones

We used to love using that window. A classic was Dee in a swim suit getting attacked by a shark on St. Paul St. Sergio was always up for making fake blood and really stepped up to the challenge on that one! We were scrubbing fake syrupy blood off the sidewalk for days.
– Natasha Pedros

The Sc-Fi cab was very long (but a lot of fun). After that Cabaret I went to teachers college and did not work with Suitcase again until 2007-2008.
– Brian Foster

The next Cabaret was the Cowboy Cowgirl Cowbaret (2002) and I think Doug and I did a scene in it that was a shotgun wedding. We had these fake bottles that you could break safely. I just remember it looked like he was served a beer from the Merchant Ale House and I think we were standing on top of the bar top and he broke the bottle over the bar and the audience was really shocked by it all.
– Cole Lewis

Edwin’s performance at the Cowboy Cowgirl Cowbaret was a favourite of mine. He came out on stage, naked, with a lasso around him, and he was holding a cowboy hat over his, ahem, junk. It was called “I Got Roped In” and he delivered a monologue about getting caught with the farmer’s daughter. At the end of the monologue, he raised his hands over his head and MIRACULOUSLY the cowboy hat stayed in place. Miraculous to the audience, yes. But I think more miraculous to Edwin that the tape held up. Edwin went through a naked phase that was inspired by the late and great Michael Green’s performance of The Whaler. We had the pleasure of seeing this infamous piece at the One Yellow Rabbit Summer Intensive in 2001
– Natasha Pedros

The longest Cabaret I can recall was Sound of Niagara: Winds of Change (2004) and it was a cabaret to celebrate The Niagara Artist Company. And it went on forever and forever, but it had an awesome dance Number to the Scopions’ “Wind of Change”.
– Miles Coverdale

A few of my friends had done the Halloween cabarets with Suitcase and they did some Hamlet-esque very bloody cabarets at Bond St. at the NAC, but I remember going to see Cabaret Beach (2005). We were just looking for a bar to go to, and the Merchant Ale House had this going on and so we went there. They did a great video series with a bust of Elvis, it was the middle of the winter and they were down at the beach in Port Dalhousie with a bust of Elvis. Then Edwin did a two-hour buck story in a bathrobe. It felt like it was 2 hours long, he may have had a couple of wobbly pops at that time but I thought they were hilarious.
– Graham Shaw

I do miss some the experiental bits that we would do, especially the strange movement pieces. My favorite one was from Cabaret Consevative: A Conservative Cabaret (2006). It had this movement piece that showed the birth of Stephen Harper and the shifting power between the Conervatives and the Liberals. We were all wearing either blue or red t-shirts until finally one of the red shirts revealed that they were wearing a blue shirt underneath in an epic victory. Then little wee Cole came running in all by her lonesome in an orange t-shirt saying “Hey, what about me?” I believe it was set to the music of Conan the Barbarian and it was insanely funny.
– Miles Coverdale

In 2007 I had just started working at the Merchant Ale House and I had just graduated from The University of Windsor’s Dramatic Art (BA) Program. A professor had said that performing Grass Roots theatre in your own hometown would be the best thing you could ever do as an artist/actor. That stuck with me. So, I saw their style of scetch comedy, and I knew I had to be a part of it. I started bugging Miles Coverdale shortly after to allow me the chance to do something…whatever.
– Mike Wale

When I returned to the fold, I noticed the Cabarets were much shorter and much tighter. Exactly what Natasha said about being not so precious with ideas and really embracing quality over quantity. Being away for as long as I had been, I was amazed (and proud) at how much everyone in the company had grown as writers and performers. And from there on out, the Cabarets became tighter and shorter with more focus on the show as a whole and less of an emphasis on trying to fit as much as we could into a cabaret.
– Brian Foster

To be honest, prior to working with Suitcase I was definitely a little intimidated by them. I had seen several cabarets and their show Downtown Stupor (2007) and I really looked up to them. Perhaps a tad starstruck, which is funny to admit now. Years ago, a few friends of mine, including Graham Shaw, decided that we wanted to perform Vaclav Havel’s Unveiling and we needed assistance and sponsorship from Suitcase to apply for a S.C.C.I.P (St. Catharines Cultural Investment Program) grant to pull the show off. They were so helpful and so kind and really stood behind us. We received the grant and we were able to perform the show 4 or 5 times at different venues throughout the city. Afterwards they invited me to perform with them for their “Big Time Fundraisers” and cabarets and I’m lucky to say that I’ve been performing with them ever since.
– Heather Lowe

See Also

I can’t even remember what my first Cabaret was. Oh yeah, it was Countdown to Christmas, a Christmas Cabaret (2007). It was the first of what has become our annual holiday cabaret. We used to decorate and have elaborate costumes and props. I took most of that on with great pleasure. Eventually I started writing and acting with the gang too because #yolo.
– Annie Wilson

I first joined Suitcase on stage for The Spring Break Cabaret (2010). I was given 3 smaller roles, and I believe I was in drag while reading the news portion of the evening. Since then I have participated in ever Cabaret, except for Xmas 2014. Plus, I’ve participated in each of the Fundraisers.
– Mike Wale

In 2013 we brought in Lisa Brooke for a week long sketch writing workshop. This resulted in Suitcase Reloaded a sketch comedy revue that she directed over the course of the week. We honed in on our writing skills. Working together everyday of that week. And we became fast freinds with Lisa, who has directed our shows ever since. Lisa is incredibly talented. She is a Second City allum and brought so much fuel to our fire. And hilarity.
– Deanna Jones

Where do I see Suitcase in the future? I would love see Suitcase get to a point where the members in the company are able to focus on creating work and continue to grow as writers and performers while not having to divide time between the work and the hustle. My role in the company allows me to focus on the work but there are other members in the company who have to crank out grants and find ways for everyone to be compensated for the time and energy devoted to the creation of new and original work. It’s hard out there for artists and Suitcase has been in the game for a long time. That’s a long time walking against the tide trying to make a living doing the thing you love to do.

During the creation of every Cabaret, Edwin will say to me, “wouldn’t it be great if it was our job to create a Cabaret every week?”

That would be the ideal.

Getting up every morning to go to the office would mean seeing Edwin, Miles, Dee, Annie and Natasha every morning for a writer’s meeting. Sharing a cubicle with Edwin. Looking over at him and saying “hey, what do you think of this idea?” Taking all of the energy and attention that I have to focus solely on writing and performing.

As I type this, I am sitting in an empty classroom after work thinking about that perfect scenario where I get paid enough to make a living doing the thing I love the most: creating funny shit with the people I love and turning it loose on audiences everywhere.
– Brian Foster

Suitcase In Point perform their Gimme! Gimme! A Holiday Cabaret at the First Performing Arts Centre from Dec. 11-13

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