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Karin Randoja: Theatre for Theatre’s Sake

Karin Randoja has many talents. The Theatre Arts – Performance instructor is an actor, director, singer, composer, and one of Canada’s most sought-after dramaturges. She has directed and dramaturged productions to Dora Mavor Moore, Lustrum, and Governor General’s Literary Award nominations and wins, but the work itself is more important to her than the accolades. We caught up with Karin via email to hear more about her involvement with Gertrude and Alice, a 2018 GG nominee in the English-language drama category, and upcoming theatre projects.

Tell us about your involvement with the Governor General’s Award-nominated play Gertrude and Alice. How did the collaboration come about? What was the experience like?

Myself, Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry make up The Independent Aunties. We have been creating original plays together for about 15 years. Gertrude and Alice is our latest collaboration and it took about five years to create, with a year off for a maternity leave somewhere in there! We discuss, improvise, research and create the story together, and then Anna and Evalyn write the script, and I continue to dramaturge—adding my thoughts and re-arranging the script. When it comes time for production, Anna and Evalyn are usually the performers while I direct. And in this instance I was also the composer of an original score.

In our previous works, we had only ever created imagined characters so it was an inspiring and daunting task to create this play based on actual people: Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas. There was a lot of research and reading of Stein’s and Toklas’ writings along with biographies, essays, anecdotes, et cetera, about them and the times they lived in. The published script is a blend of the Aunties’ writings and Stein’s and Toklas’ words and writings. (Theirs appear in italics in the script.)

It took a long time to find the right style and setting to really capture and pay homage to Stein and Toklas. At first, the play was a biography and chronicle of their lives, then it became a musical, then it became a three hander with a maid character and in the end it really became about Stein and Toklas’ legacies as artists, and about how the past, present and future intertwine and affect each other in a continual cycle.

You’ve won multiple awards for your work over the years. Is there one accolade that’s been more meaningful to you than the others?

Not particularly. I know this may sound like a cliché, but it is more about the act of creation for me and not so much about the outcomes. Every award or nomination is an honour and a wonderful acknowledgment that my work has affected someone. Who could ask for more?! This past summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a show that I directed and dramaturged, Huff, won an award. And that is in a festival with 4,500 shows. It felt good to have made an impact and not to have had the show disappear in a veritable sea of theatre offerings.

What’s next for Independent Aunties? Do you have any upcoming projects that fall outside the scope of the company?

Right now the plans for the Aunties is to tour Gertrude and Alice. We are talking with a theatre company in Montreal about perhaps bringing it there next fall. And I have three other shows that are touring nationally and internationally right now—Huff, Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera, and This is the Point—so there is always preparation to get them tour-ready. My ongoing latest project is working with writer Michael Geither on a show about incest in his family background, men’s anger and epigenetics.

Karin Randoja-headshot

Photo credit: Kai Wa Yapp