by Andrew Alexander

Voices carry in the foyer of the Tabaret Hall in Ottawa University, where I meet up with Guy Buller and Celine Filion, the actors, writers and producers of the fringe show, Who You Callin’ Sweetheart? The echoes of our voices resonate well with the film noir elements of the show they’re producing. One only has to look at their promo video to see the Sam Spade influences they’re seeking, but according to Guy, that’s only one half of the show.

Celine Filion and Guy Buller.

“In the promotional video we went to one side, to play [the Sam Spade style story] up, but we don’t really show in that video the whole coffee shop side,” says Guy. The two speak in terms of “sides” of the play because the set is literally divided into to sections, a coffee shop setting and a Sam Spade 40’s private eye setting. “The whole premise is that it is a modern relationship in a coffee shop romance,” continues Celine. “You’re ordering your typical cup of coffee and then things go horribly awry. We tried to put a vintage twist on it, that’s where the Sam Spade part came through, the simplicity of relationships in that point in time. Everyone had their own role and their own title and that meant something. Dames were dame, broads were broads, and a doll you knew was the girl you wanted to take home to meet your mother.” The show examines the changing nature of societal roles: says Guy, “In that sense what we’re looking at was that iconic concept of the 40’s and 50’s, and now let’s look at what’s happening in the 2000’s. It’s not just the guy who makes the choice. There are objectives that people have but they’re thwarted because of the new reality of the age – the world doesn’t work that way any more.”

Who You Callin’ Sweetheart is the inaugural production for Lead Pencil Productions, a company created by Guy and Celine, with an aim of helping to create new works, and help give a venue for artists in Ottawa to promote film or theatre without having to go through bureaucratic or application processes of more established companies. “We both had a lot of ideas that we weren’t sure how to get them on their feet,” says Celine. “Through our time spent at Ottawa Theatre School we were always told that the best way to get going in this business is to spearhead it yourself. Take your company members, everyone you’ve trained with, and see where you’re at.” Guy’s sentiments echo hers. “You make your own stuff for the things you want to do. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t companies in Ottawa that are producing good theatre, but we’d like to do some of our own work, that reflects our acting muscles and our creative muscles.”

The show is a collaboration Celine and Guy: after winning their fringe spot in Ottawa, it started out as a challenge, to have a script ready by January 31st. “That got the wheels turning,” says Guy. “Every time I read [the script] now, I still find it really compelling. I’m intrigued to find out what the audience will think. It’s a slightly different take than I think I’ve ever seen in Ottawa; we’re trying something with a twist. It’s my first venture into doing any serious writing. It’s a bit nerve-wracking in the sense that it’s a first work that’s going to be seen. You have to let the baby go at some point.” Buller and Filion have enjoyed the process and definitely contemplate writing and producing more: it has been a challenging process, but rewarding. “I think the whole process took us a little longer than we first expected,” says Celine. “Usually you’re just given a script and you learn it and you can put it up no problem. For this show, the script is continually evolving, all the pieces are coming together to give the best piece possible.”

Celine and Guy are first-time fringe producers; while they’ve attended fringe productions before, but this is their first foray into putting on a fringe show. They’ve learned that there are a lot of little pieces that have to come together: says Celine, “There are a lot of little items of importance that one can’t overlook: the media releases, the photos, the promo video, putting a website together, getting a script ready, getting casting done (in their case, casting a director and stage manager), trying to find set pieces, trying to find rehearsal space… a lot of things actors don’t do. You have to let things go, and be willing to not sleep.” For example – one of the times was wrong on their poster, so they had to fix a typo on every poster and postcard they’d produced. As they put it, “the art department got the time wrong for the June 25th show. It’s a three-thirty in the afternoon – not eight-thirty in the evening. But it’s okay, the communications department went through and fixed it all.”

As for what they’d like audiences to take with them? For Guy: “I would like someone just quoting a line. Any line. If they get a chuckle from that, I’m good.” With a chuckle, Celine announces “I have loftier goals.” She pauses, and the silence of the hall is suddenly quite loud as she finds her words: “that love is something worth reconsidering your options for.”

Who You Callin’ Sweetheart? can be seen at the Arts Court Theatre.