“Elvis’s Toenail is a slice of 1960’s Irish Culture with a charming allure.”

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David Elliot Dickie was born in the west end of Toronto. He discovered his passion for acting at a young age and attended the Lorraine Kimsa Theater for Young Actors (now Young People’s Theater).  He recently portrayed Inspector Hopkins in The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca (Scarborough Players). Portraying Christy in Elvis’s Toenail marks his debut performance with the Toronto Irish Players.

What drew you to audition for the role of Christy? 

 Originally I had auditioned for the role of “Mother Francis”, alas I couldn’t quite pull off a matriarchal religious figure head of 1960’s Ireland. Maybe another time.

 Christy is a charismatic flirt with a big ol’ soft heart who brings an upbeat comedic touch to some of the plays serious tones. I have deep Irish roots myself, which are greatly fertilized by being part of this production, and that I’ve always wanted to explore. I just had to.

 What’s your favorite play (Irish or otherwise)?

Changes like the seasons but I’ll have to go with a classic Irish playwright Oscar Wilde with The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).

What’s the best role you’ve played as an actor and why?

I don’t really have one in particular, but I spent a few years in Nova Scotia where I had the opportunity of being a part of the Dramatic Society at Saint Mary’s University in many awesome roles, and worked with a whole slew of lovely folks.

 How would you describe the play to someone who knows nothing about it?

Elvis’s Toenail is a slice of 1960’s Irish Culture with a charming allure. It’s the story of a group of women and young girls in a clothing factory facing heartfelt and very real issues of the time via social and religious practice. All while having a bit’o craic too, set ta’ the tune o’the King himself.

What’s your favourite part of community theatre?

The people you meet and the connections you develop with them. I think it’s amazing being in an environment surrounded by people free of any incentive, other than being driven by their passion, to take a piece of art in it’s written phase and bring it to life right off the page, in all aspects of a show, cast and crew.

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Third time to “inhabit the habit” for Elvis’s Toenail actor

Long-time TIP member, Barbara Taylor, who plays Mother Francis in upcoming show Elvis’s Toenail, shares her Mother Superior secrets.

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I believe it is not your first time to play a woman of the cloth?

This is my third time to inhabit the habit.

 Where do you draw inspiration for such characters?

I was a student of the Dominican Convent, Eccles Street, Dublin and no stranger to “The Nuns”.  I had a particularly challenging relationship with a Sister Mary Henry or The Hen as we all called her.  She certainly supplied me with lots of experiences to draw from.  Each of the roles I have played as a nun have been different but being educated in a convent provided me with a wealth of Sisters to help develop my “holy” characters.

Do you relish playing imposing characters?

I enjoy playing a role of any kind but I do feel finding the right level of being imposing is important.  I love the process of developing a character.  Once we have got to the mid stage of rehearsals I like to read the play again and note what all the other characters in the play have said about my character.  I like to make a decision about how my character got to where she is at and build on that.  I find this helps me to feel and embrace the character so that the audience truly believe in me.

 What was your last mother superior role?

 I played Sister Aloysius in the Village Players production of Doubt a Parable by John Patrick Shanley in 2012.   It was hard work but a very rewarding experience and a great production.  It was the tale of a very different challenge for  the church.  It was wonderful to research and develop the character to make sure the audience actually left the theatre in doubt!

What is the most important element of getting it right for a mother superior?

  I feel Mother Francis has great passion for the church and is not a fan of change.  She has very high standards for herself and everyone around her.  The author has cleverly given me a glimpse of who she was as a young girl and the material to see what framed who she has become.  I think the most important element is to make her real.  I like to think that the work I do through the rehearsal process successfully brings her to life for the audience.  The play is very well written and has a wonderful array of characters.

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Elvis’s Toenail was inspired by real childhood experiences and “dark side” of 1960’s Ireland

Read this brilliant Q&A with playwright Fionnuala Kenny, author of  Elvis’s Toenail.

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Born in Dublin, Kenny joined the Abbey Theatre in 1968. She graduated UCD and continued working at the Abbey until 1974.

High points of her early career were working with The Dubliners in “Richard’s Cork Leg” and working with Thin Lizzy (and the great Phil Lynott) at the Peacock Theatre, being in the premiere of two Tom Murphy plays, and playing Nora in the RTE production of “ Riders to the Sea” starring Siobhan Mc Kenna.

She moved to London in 1974, married stage designer Voytek, and took up a career teaching literature in Adult Education. Head of Faculty of Arts in West London College until 1997. She relocated with her daughter, Taya, to the United States to take up a position as Artistic Director of STOP-GAP, an interactive Theatre company in Southern California.

Now a full-time writer, she lives in Long Beach, California. With her dog.

Where did the idea come from for the play (the toenail), and how long did it take you to complete it?

I suppose, like many things, that this play has been with me for most of my life. My Mother, Ann Kenny, had a clothing factory (and a shop) built by my Father, Brian Kenny, in working-class Dublin. The factory workers were girls from the surrounding areas of Sundrive, Crumlin and Drimnagh. They were fun, stylish, sharp, and had fantastic banter in the true Irish style. A lot of the workers were ‘Teds’ – teddy girls who dressed in the height of fashion, with stilettos, tight drainpipe trousers or huge flared skirts with cinched waists, backcombed hair in high beehives, and heavy make-up with pale lips and dark, dark eyes. They loved music and dancing. I was always fascinated with their stories, their fashion, their easy way with wit and laughter. On Saturday nights, they’d work late making dresses to wear to the dance, and they’d send out for chips, before getting ready. I can still smell the vinegar, the hair lacquer and the perfume.

But there was a dark side. Occasionally, a girl would ‘disappear’ – to England, or ‘down the country’. Her machine would lie idle, then a new girl would come and take her place. Questions were shushed, and fingers would be laid on lips to signal silence. I knew early on that something bad had happened, because when a girl left to get married or to take another job, there would be a goodbye party. It was years before I began to recognize that in all probability, someone had gotten ‘into trouble’. I wanted to write about both sides of that story, the light and the dark. The publication of the Ryan report was a milestone, and as I read it, things that I had witnessed all those years ago began to make sense. I started to write. The play took about six months to finish.

Do you think plays should provide some sort of social commentary as well as entertain?

I think it’s great if a play lends itself to social commentary, and it was a defining moment for me when I realized that this was an important aspect of Elvis’s Toenail but not all plays do. Plays are basically about people; the most important thing for an audience is that they care about what happens to the people onstage. Some of my favourite plays – “The Seagull” or “Streetcar” for example, have no obvious social commentary, but we get completely involved in the lives of the characters. I love to hear an audience laugh, that release is the greatest sound in the world. You know when an audience is listening, because the power of their concentration is so strong. That’s what makes live theatre transformative and unique. So, plays may or may not have a social commentary, but the dilemma that the characters are facing must be compelling. That is the most important thing for me.

What you think your play says about Ireland at that time?

Elvis’s Toenail is set in Dublin in 1961. I chose that period because it was a time of great change and excitement. Elvis had just been released from the army, President Kennedy was in the White House, Billy Fury had performed an act so scandalous in Dublin that they had brought the curtain down, and the Pope had called an ecumenical council. In 1961, there was also a slight spike in the numbers of children committed to reformatories; the “Mother and Baby” homes were still active, and adoption of Irish children by foreign parents was not yet illegal.

It’s hard to reconcile the Ireland of today with the Ireland of that time. It’s difficult to convey, from this perspective, how intensely anxious a society Ireland was during the 40’s and 50’s. Irish people were terrified of being overtaken and corrupted, seeing Ireland as the last bastion of Catholicism in a godless world. Protecting the status of Ireland as a Catholic country became a paramount national concern. Legalities became intertwined with religious belief to the detriment of individual rights, and there was much public and private fretting about the dangers of losing Ireland’s identity as “The Island of Saints and Scholars.”

In the play, the representatives of the “established order” are trying to preserve the “status quo” against youngsters eager to embrace change. In the middle, we have the realists with a foot in each camp, the people who ‘know and don’t know’ what really goes on, but are reluctant to speak out for fear of being branded troublemakers. The resulting battle between the conflicting camps forms the heart of the play, and – hopefully – the capacity of the Irish to see the funny side of everything lets us explore the issues without getting too bogged down.

Were you concerned about putting it on for a US audience initially?

Yes, because originally I thought the forced removal of children from parents was a problem particular to Ireland. When I was researching Elvis’s Toenail, I learned that it was more widespread than I had ever thought. Even in Canada from 1890 to 1960, the children of First Nation Peoples were routinely removed from the birth families and sent to residential schools. According to the reports, abuse and neglect in those institutions was frequent and forced adoptions common. It seems that the events in Elvis’s Toenail have, unfortunately, wide applicability.

However, the encouragement for the play from this side of the water has been fantastic, from the Sidewalk Studio Theatre who performed it in LA to the Toronto Irish Players who have been committed and supportive and are now producing the play. The audiences so far have been wonderful, getting every joke, even the ones where the vernacular is very local. Many people seem to have experience of been educated by a religious order, so the recognition is universal. I’m delighted that I will get to see the Toronto Irish Players perform; their reputation is stellar. The fact that my sister, Cliona, a long time member of TIP, is directing and my nephew, David Dickie, is playing Christy is an added bonus!

 Are you working on anything new and if so can you share a little of what it is?

Yes, I can talk a little about it because it is nearly finished – normally talking about work is not a good idea. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the fun of talking, instead of doing the work of writing. I am just finishing a collection of short stories, called “Irish Accents.” Each story explores an aspect of growing up in Ireland and it includes “ The Orphanage” – the story that was the model for “ Elvis’s Toenail”. I am also working on a new play, but I’d prefer not to say anything about that right now as it is still in the planning stages.

 What’s the state of Irish new writing/theatre at the moment, in your opinion?

The Irish, wherever they are living, have a genius for taking an individual experience and making it a collective one. We grow up hearing brilliance all around us, in plays, in songs, and in stories. That can be daunting; it’s a huge mountain for any writer to climb. The challenge is to avoid being intimidated by that immense body of work and just get on with your own.

Thankfully, every generation produces their own inspirational geniuses – Murphy, Friel, and Keane were followed by Carr, Farrell, Roche and Barry; they’ve been joined by such phenomenal writers as McDonough, Mc Pherson, and Walsh. That’s just in my lifetime! Irish Theatre also continues to be provocative and exciting. I wish that I’d had the opportunity to see the “ Monto Cycle” by ANU productions at the Dublin Festival. I’m very glad that such innovation and brilliance continues. It’s an inspiration.

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“Play focuses on class, gender, and religion, all set to the music of Elvis!”

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 Nicole Marie McCafferty plays Rose in upcoming show Elvis’s Toenail. Originally from Nova Scotia, she is a graduate of Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts. Past roles include: Pride & Prejudice (Lydia), Spring Awakening (Ilse), A Month in the Country (Vera), The Mousetrap (Miss Casewell), Our Town (Mrs Soames), The Hypochondriac (Angelique), Murder on the Nile (Christina), and Brighton Beach Memoirs (Nora) among others, as well as several musicals, numerous independent films and some TV.

1. What drew you to audition for the role of Rose? The play is so well written; all of the female characters are so full, so strong and so real. I would have been delighted to play any of them, but I feel that Rose is interesting because unlike the others who are… defiant in a way, and feel that the church should not be ‘sticking it’s nose in,’ and believe very strongly that they have the right to their own decisions and their own lives, Rose takes it very seriously. She believes that she has done wrong. She is struggling with her guilt and shame, and she is desperate to try and escape it and get back to normal life, and do whatever she can to get back to being obedient and ‘good’. She just wants so badly to fix it, but she can’t. She believes what she has been taught, and the guilt of it is huge and very sincere for her, and very overwhelming. It’s making her lose her sense of self-worth. I think, having been the ‘good girl’ my entire life, I can identify with torturing yourself with guilt whenever you feel you’ve done something wrong, even if no one has found out yet, though I can only imagine how absolutely crushing it would be. She has such huge dramatic moments, too, and I think she pushes the play to the brink of how painful this situation can be, in every possible area

 2. What’s your favorite play (Irish or otherwise)? That’s so hard!! That’s definitely the type of thing that shifts, but the first thing that comes to mind is ‘Spike Heels’ by Theresa Rebeck. It’s a modern day twist on Pygmalion; incredibly funny and every character is amazing.

 3. What’s the best role you’ve played as an actor and why? I end up falling in love with any character I play, but one that really stays with me is Rachel in ‘A Tiny Piece of Land’. It was my first serious drama outside of school. The play was about a certain conflict that is still going on in the world. More than the role, it was the audience response that really got me. They were so engaged in everything I did; the character was so real to them, I suppose because they knew people like that, family members, friends. People would come backstage after the show in tears, saying how grateful they were that we were telling their story, and sharing their own real life stories… It was an incredible to experience firsthand the power of theatre, to be part of something that affected people that strongly. The other one that I have to mention is Stacey in MUTE the musical (she is the villainous bully in this anti-bullying musical) because I originated the role, and it is just so darn fun to play mean! Plus, she’s got all the best songs😉

 4. How would you describe the play to someone who knows nothing about it

The play is about girls working in a garment factory in Dublin in the 1960s. It focuses on injustices related to unplanned pregnancy, classes, gender, and religion, all set to the music of Elvis (whom the girls worship and adore)! Most of the characters struggle to some degree with upholding their reputations or ‘good name’ in light of religious pressures. Though there are difficult and frightening choices to be made and hurdles to be faced, they still manage to find much joy, humour and love. It is very well written, both hilarious and poignant, and full of heart.

 5.What’s your favourite part of community theatre?

Community theatre is a great way to learn more about acting and pull from the knowledge of lots of different people. It gives you the chance to try things in an encouraging & supportive environment, free of expectations or judgment. But most of all, it’s the people. I have met the most amazing people, some of whom have become lifelong friends.

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“When I read Elvis’s Toenail I was brought to fits of laughter and floods of tears.”

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This is Kearsten Johansson’s debut with The Toronto Irish Players.

Theatre Credits: Best Actor; Footloose (Center 2000), The Good Doctor (Sue Miner), Best Supporting Actor; Macbeth (Center 2000), Red Coat (Melissa D’Agostino), Strictly Murder (Village Playhouse), James and the Giant Peach (Center 2000), Check, Please (Sears Drama Festival), Shakespare in Action and Shakespeare on the Platform. Film Credits: Real Dreams Award; Six Seconds (Art Driven Community), Exposed (LEFT Film Festival & TFS Film Festival), Lucky Penny (Niagara Integrated Film Festival), The Box (TFS Film Festival), Man & Knife (TFS Film Festival), Ready or Knot (48 hour Film Challenge).

 What drew you to audition for the role of Imelda in Elvis’s Toenail?

I first stepped foot on Irish soil when I was 14 and immediately felt at home there. I’ve since felt a strong connection to my Irish heritage. The history of Ireland is the history of my family, their lives; the struggles and the triumphs, the tragedies and the love stories, oh the love stories. When I read Elvis’s Toenail I was brought to fits of laughter and floods of tears. I knew from the moment I read the final words I wanted to be a part of bringing this story to life. Art is made to inspire, educate and move people. Elvis’s Toenail moved something in me and I hope to do the same with our audiences each night.

 What’s the best role I’ve played as an actor and why?

I feel truly blessed for every role I get to take on. For each character holds new opportunities to discover and play. There is one role in particular that stands out for me at this time. I recently performed in a film called The Blink of an Eye. I had a similar reaction to this script as I did with Elvis’s Toenail. The film is a tragically uplifting story based on true events. It follows the journey of a young girl in high school, diagnosed with cancer and given an expiry date on life. With her supportive friends, family and loving boyfriend by her side, she is given an extraordinary final month of life. I had recently lost a friend of my own from film school and felt a huge responsibility and honour when asked to portray her.

 How would you describe the play to someone who knows nothing about it?

I don’t want to give away any spoilers but what I think should be taken away from the play is how important the progression of women’s rights has been in creating our modern society. Education and the freedom to make our own choices have been instrumental.

 What’s your favourite part about community theatre?

My favourite part would be the friendships made during the process. The artists involved in this show, along with the many from former community theatre experiences, are the most caring, supportive and fun-loving people. Going to rehearsal is the highlight of my week and I thank everyone involved for this positive work environment.

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“You will never meet a group of people so dedicated to the creative process as you do in a community theatre production!” #TorontoIrishPlayers

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Renee Cullen is a high school English and Drama teacher in Toronto, with an acting background. After a fairly lengthy break from the stage, she returned to community theatre last year in the East Side Players production of Noel Coward’s Nude with Violin where she played Anya Pavlikov, a Russian “princess”. This is her first play with the Toronto Irish Players.  She players the travelling saleswoman Miss McEvoy.

1. What drew you to audition for the role of Miss McEvoy?

 I really loved the play when I read it, and honestly would have been happy to play any of the fantastic female roles. Age-wise, however, that wasn’t realistic! I love Miss McEvoy’s energy – she is always looking for new ideas, and she is a true career woman in a time and place where there were limited opportunities for women.

 2. What’s your favorite play (Irish or otherwise)?

That’s too hard!   I love so many.   I’m going to pick Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet  by Ann-Marie MacDonald.  I love the language, and how clever and intelligent it is.

3. What’s the best role you’ve played as an actor and why?

Years ago I played the fairy godmother in a re-imagined version of Cinderella.  The character evolved throughout rehearsal, and ended up being a sort of lovable scatter-brained bag lady… I loved her.

4. How would you describe the play to someone who knows nothing about it?

 The play explores the roles of women in Ireland in the early 1960s, both real and the very rigid and limiting expectations that society and the church had for them at that time. It is funny and sad and very genuine.

5.What’s your favourite part of community theatre?

The people.  You will never meet a group of people so dedicated to the creative process as you do in a community theatre production!

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“You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, this show’s got everything!” Elvis’s Toenail opens in Toronto on Feb. 19

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Kasia Lee, who plays the lead role of Rita in Elvis’ Toenail, was born and raised in Toronto. She attended Sir Oliver Mowat C.I. for three years and was actively involved with their theatre program. In their production of Eurydice, they went to the Sears Drama Festival’s Regional Showcase, where Kasia won a joint acting award of excellence. She now attends Inglenook Community School. Elvis’ Toenail will be her debut role outside of high school.

1. What drew you to audition for the role of Rita? 

I think I liked Rita’s resilience. She’s very determined and passionate, and she’s willing to work hard for what she wants, in this case, to keep her baby. To be an unwed teenage mother in 1960’s Ireland would have been extremely, extremely difficult, and the fact that she’s not fazed by that proves just how brave she is.

2. What’s your favorite play (Irish or otherwise)?

I’m going to go old-school with Hamlet. I would love to play Ophelia, but if there’s ever a chance I could play a female Hamlet, I’m there!

3. What’s the best role you’ve played as an actor and why?

I had a role as Little Stone in Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice. My role was in a kind of chorus with two other actors, and that was incredibly enriching. Since not much was said about my character, I got to create my own back story as well, which was a lot of fun!

4. How would you describe the play to someone who knows nothing about it?

I would say the play is a unique look into 1960’s Ireland. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, this show’s got everything!

5. What’s your favourite part of community theatre?

Most definitely the people you work with. You can tell that everyone has passion and that everyone wants to be there, and that definitely shows in the finished product. As a young actress, getting to work with talented, experienced people has been invaluable to me. I couldn’t be more grateful.

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