November 20th, 2015

Behind the Curtain: Ira Sokolov (Bites of Life)

Ira Sokolov

Director, Writer and Actress in Bites of Life

Bites of Life - Customer Service

QDF: Why did you decide to do it in a hair salon?

Ira: Actually that is connected to my individuality. I like unconventional spots along with conventional because MainLine Theatre was in its first year of productions when I started doing productions here. It is my favorite theatre because the opportunity to do three or four sides view theatre pieces was not popular at all ten years ago. Even then, I was always looking for something that was not regular, something that is more edgy, and something that will provoke people that is my interest in general. I want to provoke. I provoke myself actually because when looking for unconventionality it challenges me. That is very important for me. I am a generous person and I am very selfish towards me on that point because that is my life. If I start to not challenge myself, I get into a routine and I hate routines. And I think art should not be allowed to become routine.

QDF: Who were the three plays written by?

Ira: Ok, so it is interesting to know, that along with my personality, and this is the salon of my personal hairdresser. She is a very artistic woman also. Her salon is very cozy, not big but cozy and artistically arranged. And I was doing hotel theatre last year. One of the plays I staged in the hotel, it was written by C.S. Hanson. She is a New York based playwright. So, I was looking for a short play, not to do like a long piece. So, what I did with her piece is I did it with two casts in two facing hotel rooms. The same play at the same time. We could fit 17 to 19 people in the room. The action mostly happened in bed, between a couple. The audience is brought in the room, in total darkness. They start in the dark with flashlights. This is where I met the playwright Cynthia Hanson. We invited her and she came. She was amazed by the concept. We had a reception after the show. It was interesting to hear one person who saw one cast talking to another who saw the other cast. Of course, though one director and one playwright created it, the individuality of the actors brings different nuances. And I did both performances in one night, so that when the audience would meet in the foyer they shared what they saw. I provoked a certain curiosity with the audience members who didn’t get to see both rooms.


QDF: And how does this relate to your present show?

Ira: It relates because I also wanted to do short things in a salon, not a big play. I wanted to do three shorts. First of all, I am interested in the short 10-minutes plays genre. It is not popular in Canada. I also believe I was the first company, before many years, who did bookstore theatre. This was at the bookstore Diamond, it doesn’t exist anymore, but my company did a whole season, from September till June, of 4 productions with short 10-minutes plays. I think I was the first company to stage 10-minute plays. This genre is very popular, in the United States, where it comes from. They have competitions; they have a lot of submissions for that. There are festivals and the best plays that go to these competitions at these festivals; they usually get a publication in a book. Then I read the best ones and select the best ones that can suit me.

I am interested in this genre because it is a tough genre. It is eight to ten pages of written text but it should not be a scene. It has to be a whole play. And you have to have all the elements to make it fell like a full play only through dialogue. I admire that. It is a challenge but I like challenges. That is why I like short pieces. I like to combine them in an interesting way, to incorporate them in an unconventional space.


QDF: Why did you choose a salon this time? 

Ira: One day I was with my hairdresser; I was doing my hair. I was working on the hotel project. She came to see the show, and she liked it. Almost like a joke, she said: “Ok, if one day, you want to do something in my salon, I won’t mind.” At the moment, I didn’t have time because I participated with the same play in the FRINGE festival. It was called Where Were You When I Was Coming. That time, there was a change in the cast and I didn’t double cast but they did it simultaneously at the same time. It was really something. It was the same play that I took from the Hotel, and I staged it at Espace 4001. So, I restaged it in a totally new concept. Since we became friends with Cynthia, she allowed me to reconstruct the play. She came again, for the festival. It has been twice she has come up from New York, and she says, “Ira, you dig out things from my play that I don’t consciously know that I wrote.” I always look for deep underlying texts. I look for texts that allow me to work psychologically with characters and question why they react like that and what is going on. And she was like “Wow, these are very interesting things that you see in my play.” She really thinks I am a great director and I present things in a very interesting way.

So, my hairdresser asked me “Do you have an idea for my salon?” I said, “Yeah I think I can get an idea, sure!” I thought she was saying it as a joke. “No, no, if you would like, let’s do something” she said. Then, I started thinking more seriously about that. I was thinking if it is in the salon, I didn’t want people to just sit in a salon and watch whatever play with whatever subject, set in whatever location. I wanted to incorporate the space. That is why when I was looking for plays, even if they were written for another location, if they could be set in a salon, they could have been a part of the show. It is not very easy to find such plays that could be incorporated in the space. It means the characters are in the salon; they are waiting for the hairdresser to do their hair. And you know when you are in a hairdresser’s, you will overhear people talking, and that is my concept. Actually, Farida Benjandar, my hairdresser, is doing hair at the same time. So, it is really incorporated. She is doing the actor’s hair and she is incorporated within the play.


QDF: Just to confirm, you took three short 10-minute plays and turned them into one play. Why do you call the show Bites of Life?

Ira: Yes, but they have different themes, but that is why they have a common name. When seeing the show, you get to see small bites of life, because one story is about one thing, the other story is about another thing and the third story is about a totally different thing. All this is happening, and you are able to grab bites of real life. And that is my title that brings the togetherness of all the pieces.


QDF: So, what is the order of the show?

Ira: The first play is Customer Service. Philip Hall, an American playwright, wrote it. The whole Bites of Life is short satires that are criticizing certain things. With Customer Service, I am sure you can imagine what it is talking about. Stalked Me, Baby, by C. S. Hanson, is focusing on romance and the connectivity we lose because of technology. For example, if we see each other in a café every day and we like each other. Just to say hi, it will be tough because of our phones and stuff. She focuses on that and how we approach somebody we like. That idea of longing for love and a relationship is the main theme of her play. And the third one is my play that talks about female directors and actresses in our society.


QDF: Did you rehearse in the salon?

Ira: Actually, I had to imagine, and build the play with the three scripts. The question was how would I get the vision I want from my head to the salon. My hairdresser was working and scheduling was hard with the actors, so we didn’t have much time there. So, I had to figure it out, and I used a lot of the mirrors to show the emotions, so it is very cinematic. I also mixed a lot of the actors with the audience. They don’t have their own spot. So, next to the actors, there are audience members watching you. The acting happens a lot in the salon chair and the actor is facing the mirror. The other actor comes from behind and then you see the two actors in the mirror. It’s really cool and I really love it.

On the other hand, it looks like I am already pretty successful with my imagination because I wrote the script and we rehearsed at my place (I have a big apartment, it is my studio). When we stepped for the first time in the salon things were going pretty well. Of course, I did a little bit of blocking in the salon but the concept was working. The bad thing about this is that the concept works so well, that it doesn’t even impress you. I don’t know if it is clear what I am saying but I took a video on opening night, and I watched the audience. Things go so smoothly, the hairdresser is moving and the actors are going through their lines. All of this goes like an orchestra. Just like I wanted it to do. But it makes it look like anybody can do this. It is very natural. I don’t know how to take it, like a self-compliment or I should do something to shock them. Actually, I like that, I like life on stage. I am a Stanislavski method actor. The rule that applies to me is forget about the acting. Don’t act when you are on stage. It is probably in me, as a director, because I like things not to be forced. Even though the pieces may be new and challenging, they need to go smooth, to be able to have the space, feel the environment, and to be apart of it even as a director, not just as an actor. It looks like I got that. Cause it is interesting, but it is not about the shock. Things go very smoothly from one play to another. The audience loves it.

Another interesting thing, I made my debut as a playwright in this production, totally by chance. My play is called The Best is Yet to Come. It is the final play. It is strange how it happened. Usually when I direct I usually don’t like to act. Julie Barbeau who is an actress I worked with before. She was one of my actresses in the hotel theatre and the FRINGE Festival show. I was the playwright and composer of The Little Red Riding Hood at Centaur Theatre last year. Because she is a singer, she became my Red Riding Hood. After all of that, she wanted to do the salon theatre with me. I had a wonderful play that I had selected. I am very influenced by Samuel Beckett, the playwright. We were also a company that staged a lot of Beckett here. We did, in MainLine Theatre, the 100-year-old celebration of Beckett’s birthday; it was the only Montreal Company who did that. It was a double bill with Woody Allen. The box office for Beckett beat Woody Allen’s, this was the one production that not only covered everything, but it gave me extra money from box office. It was amazing. So, Beckett, absurdist and simplicity are things that I like. I am person who also likes humor. I like deep things too. And I found this absurdist story, a wonderful play for Julie. The actor I needed had to be more like 40 something years old, someone who is more settled down. We did auditions after audition, but no, I could not find a partner for her. So I had the option of telling her, that I wouldn’t need her for the production cause I don’t have a partner or, because I am a very loyal person, since all the other scenes were already rehearsing and being off book and we were behind because we never found her a partner, and since we could no longer audition, I decided to change for a two female play. She said, whatever you find, it is no problem. I started reading, and nothing could fit my concept. There were some nice plays, but nothing that could fit in the salon the way I wanted it to. I said to Julie, “There is no good play, I have to write a play.” So, I wrote that play to accommodate a good actor, that I like to work with. That is the main reason why. On the other, since I knew that it had to fit within my concept, I knew what I wanted. The play talks about a personal artist event that could happen in an actor’s life.

Comments Ira has received from her show:

  • “Great! Wonderful to see a play from such a unique perspective! Congratulations!!!” 
  • “Unusual and wonderful! Funny and entertaining! The cast is fantastic and Ira S is superb! 
  • “A very engaging and intimate experience! The core emotions of a human existence on full display!” 
  • “Fabulous show! Superb acting and the flow from one play to the next was seamless!” 
  • “A most enjoyable concept! Good luck!” 
  • “Ira! You are ahead of your time! Well done!” 
  • “Very creative and innovative theatre!” 
  • “One in a million! Looking forward to your next production!”


Len Richman, Quebec Drama Federation board member attended this unique “salon” production November 6th with his wife and a writer/director/actor colleague.  If theatre people get a chance to read: Theatre of the Unimpressed: In Search of Vital Drama by 27 year-old award-winning Author Jordan Tannahill, they will recognize that Ira, who has been practicing theatre here for 12 years, is way ahead of her time. Those in theatre who resist leaving the comfort zone of theatre will find the book and Ira’s production eye-opening.

Bites of Life is playing every Wednesday and Friday till November 27th

There is a special “Starving Artist” price at 12$ on November 25th

Starring: Jane Fiske, James Benchimol, Sonia Soria, Calder Levine, Julie Barbeau, Ira S, Farida Benjandar ( hair stylist and owner of Coiffure 3)

Playing at Coiffure 3

5256 Sherbrooke St. W

Box Office: (514) 942-1253

Presented by Gleams Theatre

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