The cast of Shut Up, Brenda McFarlane Jonathan Tanner, Astrid Van Weiren, Gabrielle Epstein, Kathryn Haggis, Erik Kever Ryle

Far Fetched Roots by Brenda McFarlane

I came up with the name “Far Fetched Productions” long before I ever imagined a way to produce theatre and before I had written my first script. I dreamed of having a theatre, it was a recurring desire and yet, at the time, it was so farfetched I thought to myself, if I ever achieve this dream, I will celebrate by calling my theatre Far Fetched.  


I suspect the early 90’s was as great a time as has ever to be an independent theatre artist.  The first Toronto Fringe happened in 1989. Today it is Toronto’s largest theatre festival, welcoming over 90,000 patrons and giving voice to over 1,200 artists annually. But far more importantly, it is a non-juried show that allows anyone to do theatre. An unjuried Fringe Festival was the only way I could have gotten a start.  At the time, I saw zero opportunity to get work as a director. I had served as an Assistant Director for 8 plays and had not one single hint from any director I worked with on how to get an opportunity to direct. I felt really hopeless. There were very few women directing and none who hadn’t gotten their start by being extraordinary performers. 
The Fringe movement changed all that. 
But even then, the Toronto Fringe was hard to get into so, in 1991, five friends decided to launch a Toronto Theatre Festival exclusively for Toronto artists. Benj Gallander, Greg Holmgren, Carol Pauker, Rob Sherwood and Ben Stadelmann – came together to put on the first SummerWorks Festival.  I’ll always be amazed by their stamina and grateful for their contribution because it was this festival that gave me my start. I am so glad that, at the time, it was unjuried because there is no way I could have gotten my play in otherwise. When they accepted my application, I had no script, no cast, just a wonderful partner named Sanda Jensen. The play we produced was called Suzi Got Her Lips Tattooed and I remain enthralled by what we achieved.  
Far Fetched Productions shows included
Penis Play
and next:
Dog Gone

Theatre can be so much more than a moment of entertainment. It is always an experiment, good or bad. At its best, it is an act of hope, at it’s worst self-indulgence.

The picture above represents a moment a group of us experienced theatre at its best. This cast included Jonathan Tanner, Astrid Van Weiren, Gabrielle Epstein, Katherine Haggis, and Erik Kever Ryle. It was the love, the trust and the sheer creative exuberance this cast expressed during those rehearsals and during the run of the show, produced at an early Toronto Summerworks Festival. 

Shut Up! was a play meant to celebrate creative expression and encourage breaking free from repression. I had no particular insights about how to free ourselves from our own fears, how to change society’s expectations, or the inevitable death of creativity in the slog to survive. 

However, I did have a fierce understanding of what I wanted;  I wanted to create and collaborate with other people!

This show was the most free and fun I’ve ever had as an adult. It was also very satisifying personally. It was my big fuck you to Tulane graduate school and my male-centric teachers Buzz Podewell, John Rouse and Ron Gerral.  They colluded to do everything in their power to break me like they must have been broken themselves. They had to prove that their pursuit of intellectual dominance in the arts was the only way to do theatre and that anything else was doomed and bad. Rather than encouraging, they berated, scoffed, and belittled and called it teaching.  They made it as hard as they could and felt like bigger men.  They had to show me that collaborative, explorative, and feminine approaches to directing theatre were not serious and would never lead to a career in theatre. They almost broke me, they did break me in ways I have not healed from. 

However,  Shut Up! was my declaration that they could, indeed, screw themselves with their condescension and attempts to gratify their overblown egos.

And it was only possible because these people in this picture and the others behind the scenes chose to believe in me and they were willing to play with me. I will always be grateful for their trust and their creative spirit. They helped me rediscover a truth I had known before graduate school and almost lost.

I will always yearn that this kind of work could be supported without the kind of sacrifices demanded of our theatre artists. The road is too hard for most of us. I will always mourn what was done to me as a young theatre artist. And I am dedicated to trying to never do what was done to me but rather fan the flames of love and excitement and originality in others.

I have not been able to find a place for myself in the Theatre establishment, yet! But I know how many others like me are out there.

Today, I see opportunities for the voices of women and people of color have increased but not enough. We live in a patriarchy, our tastes come from the dominant culture. We are all prisoners of it, all of us.

Doing art remains too fraught with fear, difficulties, and misunderstandings.

Yet, I look at this picture and I would not have given up my experiences in theatre. The photo was taken by my Mother. I asked her because she was willing and she had a good camera. She did a good job.  It depicts perhaps the best moments of my life. Spent in Astrid’s attic, rehearsing and choreographing this play, part script, part poem, and part found words. 

We can never hold on to the beauty we experience but we can hold on to what experiencing it inspires; for me it is optimism.