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SummerWorks Interview:The Templeton Philharmonic's An Evening in July

Briana Templeton (left) and Gwynne Phillips
 aka The Templeton Philharmonic
photo courtesy of SummerWorks
donna g: In your program notes you write that An Evening in July was “Inspired by the cult documentary Grey Gardens and Helene de Rothschild’s 1972 Surrealist Ball." Could you please elaborate  for those not familiar with those works?

Gwynne Phillips: Of course! Grey Gardens is a 1975 American documentary about two reclusive upper class women, a mother and daughter named Edith and Edie Beale, who lived in a decaying mansion in East Hampton. They were the aunt and first cousin of Jackie Onassis. We were very much inspired by their story and relationship, and our venue fit the aesthetic perfectly. The Surrealist Ball was hosted by socialite Helene de Rothschild in 1972, and was essentially an elaborate star-studded ball with celebrities like Salvador Dali to Audrey Hepburn in attendance. Look it up online you will not be disappointed!

dg: Briana, how would describe May?
Briana Templeton: She's June's sister, and they live together as recluses in a strange, crumbling mansion. They're both well-moneyed and neither of them have jobs or much to do except pick each other apart with witty repartee. But they live in a creepy, "out of time" place.

She's a fairly narcissistic person... She's always been very materialistic, and has a really brassy, loud veneer which she uses to hide her inner pain. Through out the play she is less and less successful! BT

 dg: Gwynne, how would you describe June?

GP: The character of June exists in two different timeframes; her life before her sister died, and her life afterward. During the play she simultaneously lives both, replaying the night of the party over and over again in her mind - hoping that maybe one time her sister will survive. She lives out her days alone, trying to remember the good times they had together. But on a more surface level, she is just a manipulative flirt who claims to love parties and fashion.

dg: How did you decide who would play which character?

GP: We often write a dynamic which  involves my character being haunted or plagued by Briana in some way. We're not really sure why, it just seems to always turn out that way.

photo by donna g
dg: What was it about Thom Stoneman that made you cast him as the  manservant?

GP: We have known Thom Stoneman for many years and have worked on several different plays together. We had originally wanted him to just be the bartender for this show, but we thought it would be more interesting to expand his character to be part of the narrative. Also, he looks the part. 
dg: I loved the 1970s set décor and your costumes. Could you please share your team’s process in creating this world?

BT: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. Gwynne and I knew we wanted to create something from that era - and throw in touches of surrealism. While we were writing and developing the look of the show, we watched a lot of movies from the era - like "Valley of the Dolls" and "Grey Gardens". Then, we scoured thrift shops in Toronto and New York to find things that fit the look! Pretty fun. I think co-designing the set informed the script a lot too. Also, our stage manager Vanessa Purdy found some GREAT 70's self help books for the set.

dg: An Evening in July, is staged indoors and out  at St. George the Martyr Anglican Church (Music Gallery). How have you been dealing with the challenges of various weather conditions? 

GP: This is the second time we have produced this show. The first time was for the Toronto Fringe Festival last year. In over 20 performances in this space, we have never been rained out. If it's a rainy day, the skies somehow clear right before be performance. It's very eerie!

dg: With this play being interactive, you have to rely and adapt to audience response. What has that been like for you? For example, you had a matinee and evening performance last Saturday. Could you please share how your audiences differed,  and how you dealt mentally  with such a quick turnaround in performance?

BT: We developed a lot of the script through improv originally, so we feel very comfortable improvising as May and June which helps. The audiences each night can really change the feel of the show. Sometimes it can feel like a pure drama, and sometimes people laugh the whole time! That was our intention-the malleability is really exciting as actors, and our audiences seem to like it too... You never know what's going to happen.

dg: Do you have any projects lined up after SummerWorks, or will you be sitting back and  sipping martinis once you've shrugged off the polyester?

GP: Ha! We do love martinis. But we also have a few excited things coming up this fall! We are creating an art installation for Scotiabank's Nuit Blanche entitled, "Lillian" in October, as well as taking part in an exciting charity event called The Generator hosted by Chris Hadfield on Oct 28th at Massey Hall!
An Evening in July (Final Performance)
Sunday, August 16, 8:00 PM
St. George the Martyr AnglicanChurch (Music Gallery)
197 John Street (north of Queen, behind the Art Gallery of Ontario)
Tickets $15
No latecomers
Find out more about The Templeton Philharmonic at



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