By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Five years ago, Ellie Heath’s life changed, dramatically. Who changed it? Ellie Heath.
“It was the moment I took charge of my life,” declares the engaging actor/ playwright/ sketch comedian and the creator of the Fringe show Fake n’ Bake. Clutter be gone; enter a new buoyancy. “l quit smoking, a great thing. I went into therapy. I quit my (server) job. I quit my dependency on pain killers….”
And here’s something else. Was it simply cosmic coincidence that this was also the moment that Heath and two of her best long-time pals Alyson Dicey and Caley Suliak, theatre artists all three, started moulding their playful shared sense of humour into stage sketches? Girl Brain, the popular sketch trio that’s gone from success to success in the last five years, was born. Heck, Anxiety and Depression are two of Girl Brain’s favourite recurring characters. Heath plays the character they interrupt at the most inopportune moments, like job interviews or doctor’s offices, or weddings.
The taking charge and the overcoming of addictions have given Heath a new confidence, she says. Which is why she’s bringing to Fringe 2022 a multi-character solo play about exactly that, the re-wiring of a life. Billed as “a coming-of-age story,” Fake n’ Bake is the “first time I’m performing alone in a solo show I’ve written on my own…. This is my chance!” That it premieres at the Roxy, Theatre Network’s beautiful new theatre on 124th Street, is a particular bonus.
As every fringer knows, the Fringe has always been a playground for theatre soloists, in shows of their own device. There’s no shortage of examples in the 2022 Fringe program. Occupying the stage alone is a test of theatrical chutzpah and ingenuity if ever there was one. Transmuting the personal into something sharable and theatrical is a tricky thing; the more personal the story, the more stressful the relationship between art and life. Heath’s source material was her own story, her own struggles with mental health issues, as recorded in “40 pages of essays.”
It’s a story, she says, of the personal experience of making positive change. “And it makes sense to share what happened to me; maybe it can make a difference to other people too…. I feel a little more confident.”
Fake n’ Bake isn’t the first play the Grant MacEwan musical theatre grad has created. She and Dicey took their original co-written kids’ play Tree Hugger to the Fringe in 2013. Four years Heath and Sarah Sharkey’s Cadaver, “about a medical student working on a dead body that comes to life, a bit of a thriller,” was at the Fringe.
With Fake n’ Bake the Heaths en famille stepped up with encouragement. Her dad is a singer-songwriter. “My grandmother, a writer and creative person, loves going to the Fringe, and specifically to one-woman shows: ‘you have to do it. And I am!”
“The subject matter of Fake n’ Bake, says Heath cheerfully, “could definitely stray to the dark side.” But in the course of honing the play with director/ dramaturge Kristi Hansen through six iterations, a play that’s “rooted in my reality” is “a more light-hearted, more celebratory, more playful show. More authentic to my artistic vision.” With original songs. And a lot more characters.
“I play a ton of them,” says Heath. “It is, I think, one of my strengths,” as the Girl Brain archive will attest. Among the gallery, Heath laughs, are “my parents and my psychologist; I got consent from all concerned.”
And so Heath, like her Girl Brain cohorts, is bravely sallying forth to new challenges this summer. Dicey is the director of the KidsFringe. Suliak is starring in The Paladin, an intricate new intergalactic solo comedy written and directed by playwright Kenneth Brown.
Rising to the Fringe challenge has stepped up her producing and marketing skills, Heath thinks. The Fringe has discouraged handbills this year. Heath had T-shirts made with the show image on the front and a QR code on the back, “so people can scan me.” She’s written songs for the show; one will be on Spotify.
“It’s a celebrity journey to self-acceptance,” says Heath of Fake n’ Bake. As she puts it, it encourages people “to give themselves some love.” The voices of negativity are everywhere. “This is about learning to talk back to the voices…. Moments, oh gosh, give me embarrassment shivers. But I think there’s dramatic value in that!”
Fake n’ Bake runs in the Lorne Cardinal Theatre at the Roxy Aug. 12 through 21 (Stage 28). Tickets and show schedule: fringtheatre.ca.