On the last lovely warm day of November, I sat down with Montreal playwright, actor and video game maker Travis Martin. Friends Jimmy Karamanis, Alexander Smith and Travis met at Dawson and began writing plays together. They founded Playwright Hero in 2011 and have since delighted audiences with their comedic works. Travis talks about their influences, Patreon campaign, and their upcoming play No One Like Hugh.
Stephanie Weiner (SW): Tell me a bit about your backgrounds.
Travis Martin (TM): I was born in London, ON. My mom got a job with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Moved here when I was very young. My entire family are musicians. My dad’s a professor of brass at U of M, and my sister is an opera singer studying acting in England. The other guys come from less artistically inclined backgrounds, but we met while studying at Dawson and converged nicely. I also make video games. Jimmy is a musician, too. Alex is a light designer and a stage manager and he is working a lot right now.
SW: Where do you find the time to write and produce your shows?
TM: Alex has a lot less time than Jimmy and I do. We manage to get together as much as we can. For this play especially, we started writing it a couple of years ago and it was kind of put on the back burner while we worked on other projects and life was happening. Then earlier this year, we decided to pick it up again and finish it in time for rehearsals to start, which didn’t quite happen [laughs]. But we always wrote the three of us. Being slightly less busy, Jimmy and I have done more of the production, especially for this show. Following our success this past summer at Fringe, we all decided to really push and make the company bigger, put the effort in, get some patrons.
SW: You’re using a unique method of raising funds for your company with Patreon. Tell me about how Playwright Hero is using this platform.
TM: I actually had the idea for Patreon a year and half before I saw the site! I was like, there should be a site where people can get patrons just like in the old days when artists were supported by one patron and he would pay all their living expenses. I think it’s perfect for theater, especially with the rewards system the way we’ve set it up is that every time you make a donation towards a show, you get tickets, or a signed program. We were even featured on the front page of the site. We charge patrons when the show is up, and then the funds go towards the next show. Which is what we’ve always done, we’ve always made a profit on our shows and then put it forward.
SW: I’ve read about your company’s interest in making a mark on the English Theater scene in Montreal. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing theater today?
TM: Relevance and exposure. If I’m sitting at home and I get a Facebook invitation to a play, and it’s all the way downtown, and I have Netflix, why would I go to see theater? The answer to that question is that theater is magical, nothing can emulate theater. Sure Netflix is great, but it’s not going to tell the stories that are here, that are local, that relate to you. A great play is born from the city where it’s written. In order to attract more theater goers, we need to be relevant and put our selves out there and I think comedy is a great way to do that.
SW: Comedy is a big part of what you write, what would you say are your influences?
TM: It’s quite eclectic actually. Alex, Jimmy and I all have diverse tastes. A lot of The Simpsons. I’m influenced by Mel Brooks and Monty Python. Alex likes a very British type humour, like Hugh Laurie. I think we do a good job of pulling it all together. Oh! And Shakespeare too, his comedies are a big influence on No One like Hugh.
SW: How did No One Like Hugh come about?
TM: Jimmy had the idea to do a spoof on Shakespeare’s mistaken identity comedies. Where two identical twins named Hugh, who were separated at birth and who look nothing alike but no one can tell them apart on stage except one character. We’re exploring the trope of the inevitability that identical twins in a play like this could never look alike but they do because stage magic. Another thing that I love from Shakespeare is the cross dressing and playing with what the audience knows and what the characters know. It plays a lot with themes of identity on different levels.
SW: If you could say one thing to folks to get them out to see No One Like Hugh, what would it be?
TM: Theater will save your life. If you wanna have your life saved by theater, why not laugh at the same time?
No One Like Hugh at Mainline Theater (3997 St-Laurent) November 26-29th. 8pm and 10pm (Saturday only). $15; $12 for students.