by Andrew Alexander

Ken Godmere and Jennifer Tackabury

Ken Godmere’s a busy guy. In addition to his own one-man fringe show, It’s Just A Stage, he’s acting and mentoring Jennifer as a producer in Kelly’s Instant Mashed Potatoes brings you THE INITIAL REACTION. Oh, and by the time you read this, he’ll already have performed at the NAC’s Fourth Stage, doing a staged reading from his forthcoming book, The Son in My Eyes.

 

So what was the initial reaction for this show? Jennifer, a student under Ken in an improv class at OSSD, asked him whether he would want to put a troupe together, to do a show. “I said sure, I just don’t want to be the producer.” So Jennifer agreed to produce the show, as long as Ken would help. Jennifer chimes in. “Last year I went to the fringe, and I watched one of Ken’s shows, and I said, this sucks!” There’s a lot of laughter as Jennifer struggles to explain that she wanted to be with them onstage, rather than just watching. “So when Ken was putting in his application, I said I really want to do something, but I don’t have enough experience, so Ken said he’d take me under his wing.” Ken follows on. “Jennifer’s really good at character improv, story development improv… she said, will you at least teach me the ropes of producing something for the fringe, but also come up with a show that’s worth seeing. Unfortunately she didn’t realize who she was asking what.” Ken designed the structure of the show, calling it a matrix. “The structure of the show gives us total freedom to do the improvised scenes.”

Ken already knew he was going to be busy during fringe, and wasn’t originally planning to be in the show. But as the structure of the show developed, he found he really enjoyed working with the cast. “Even in class we had fun – we were very much on the same wavelength. So then I thought, I’d like to improvise in this as well. So I didn’t mean for it to be two big shows that I’m working on, but…”

The show itself is set in Ottawa – in the year 1963. Ken’s done a lot of research to ensure the show is true to the time period. “Mashed potatoes were invented in 1962, by a Canadian… 1963, I chose that year because that’s the year I was born… The CJOH television studio was doing a game show, two talk shows in their new studios at Merivale. So we did a lot of research so that the matrix was simply true, and the characters can be totally spontaneous. We came up with this game show.” The show is called The Initial Reaction because the cast asks for letters from the audience, and must do a word game puzzle: whoever finds the best word gets a chance to go into “the reaction chamber” and improvise a scene based on that word. If they can keep their initial reaction going for a full two minutes, they win a point. “We have different games,” adds Ken, “so it’s not boring; it really is a competition.”

Dan Dicaire as the host of THE INITIAL REACTION.

Like many other fringe artists, Jennifer’s a first-time producer, cutting her teeth on a fringe show. “It’s challenging,” she says, “anything you do for the first time will be challenging. It’s hard for Ken because he’s juggling many balls. Then of course your daily life infiltrates.” It’s hard not to notice that Jennifer’s very pregnant. Fortunately, it didn’t take much adjusting to work that particular character trait into the show. “I said, that’s fine, you’ll just play the contestant,” recalls Ken, “it’s perfectly natural that a housewife, but you don’t use the word pregnant in 1963, you’re expecting… in the family way… so she found ways to balance that without taking anything away.”

As we wrap up the interview, it’s back to a classroom for more rehearsal. The cast has brought in their costumes for the show – vintage stock, to be sure, as Jennifer is wearing a lime green dress in contrast to Ken’s classic cut suit, befitting his character – a civil servant working at the mayor’s office. Both Ken and Jennifer talk of sleep, for different reasons. “As soon as the shows have moved in, then I’ll be able to sleep. Producing, co-producing, directing, designing, posters… I know how much is involved in that. To double that and do my show. And then this book reading thing to raise money for the Youth Services Bureau… the timing is just… they’re all at the same time. They haven’t crashed into each other. It’s just, okay, I’ve done two all-nighters this week, I guess it’s going to be three. That’s fine, I can sleep on the seventeenth.”

Kelly’s Instant Mashed Potates brings you THE INITIAL REACTION can be seen at the Arts Court Theatre.