5 Questions with Byron Abalos

Category: stage 481

Toronto-based actor takes the lead in TNB’s new season.

Abalos portrait by Andrea Mapili.

Theatre New Brunswick opens its new season in just a few weeks with the Thomas Morgan Jones play, You Play Beautifully.  For his first production as Artistic Director, Jones cast Toronto-based actor Byron Abalos for the role of Jonah, a world famous pianist who over the course of the play, shares with the audience his love for his mother, his music and his one great love affair.

We caught up with Byron just days before he arrives in Fredericton to begin rehearsals at TNB.  This production will also be the first held at the company’s new Studio Theatre, located at 55 Whiting Road.

Tell us about a recent production you’ve been involved in that you’re especially proud of.

One recent show that I’m especially proud of was Monday Nights. It’s an interactive basketball and theatre show that I co-created as a member of the 6th Man Collective. The show had its world premiere in September 2014 in Toronto in a co-production with The Theatre Centre, which helped develop the piece. This past July, they presented a remount of the show to correspond with the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. I describe the show as part choose-your-own-adventure, part play and part real basketball game. It’s a completely interactive and immersive experience where audience members literally get out of their seats and into the game. The show took about seven years of development and I’m really proud that we were able to create such a unique theatrical experience. We had everyone from kids and grandparents come out and our audiences were so diverse. But what I’m most proud of is how people connected with the piece. People would lose their voices cheering for people they had just met and the energy was incredible. We’re hoping to be able to tour it across the country in the future.

Will this be your first time visiting/working on the East Coast?

Yes, this is my first time visiting and working on the East Coast and I’m very excited to see more of Canada and to experience the local culture and to meet new people. I always find that I gain more perspective about myself and my work when I’m away from home. And seafood. I’m looking forward to the seafood.

How do you prepare to begin working with a new theatre company?

When working with a new company, I’ll do a bit of research to get a sense of who they are, what kind of work they do, but really my focus is mostly on the piece. One of the things I enjoy most about being an actor is that it’s project-based and every piece is entirely unique. The fun of it is figuring out the world with the director and designers and creating a new artistic vocabulary to best tell the story. Outside of the work, I’m really excited to explore Fredericton’s neighbourhoods and restaurants.

What excites you most about the upcoming TNB season opening production, You Play Beautifully?

You Play Beautifully excites me for so many reasons. First of all, the play is beautifully written and every actor loves to take on great text. Also, working with Thomas Morgan Jones again is a dream come true. I worked with him years ago in a two-hander by Anusree Roy called Roshni at Theatre Passe Muraille. Thom is one of the most sensitive, kind, generous and curious theatre artists I know and it’s a joy to play with him. I’m also really looking forward to tackling a one-person show for the first time. A lot of my work tends to be ensemble-oriented so I’m excited (and slightly terrified) of it just being me up there. But I think the thing that excites me the most is the fact that I was cast in this show as an artist of colour and that there is no reference to race or ethnicity anywhere in the script. As an actor of colour, that doesn’t happen often and there are less opportunities out there because some people are still stuck in a narrow view of who can play what roles. I’m happy to say that, at least for me, I’ve seen that change a bit over the past decade. It’s encouraging. And for TNB to cast me in this particular show, I think it’s a huge statement about what Canadian stages can (and should) look like.

Can you offer any advice for new audiences interested in experiencing theatre for the first time?

My advice for someone interested in experiencing theatre for the first time is to go just for the ride. Be transported. Go in with an open mind and heart and trust that the actors, directors and designers will take you on a journey. The best part of being an audience member for me is opening up to experiences, ideas and worlds beyond my own. I’d also say it’s important to ask questions. If you loved it, ask yourself why you loved it and if you didn’t love it, ask why not. But more importantly, ask yourself what the piece said to you and then ask yourself what you’d say back in response. At the end of our day, it’s our job as artists to affect you in some way, whether it be in the mind, in the heart, or ideally, both.

You Play Beautifully | TNB Studio Theatre | 55 Whiting Road, Fredericton | Sept. 9-13, 2015 | 7:30 p.m. | Buy Tickets

Visit TNB for complete production details as well as tour dates in Bathurst, Florenceville and Miramichi.

Byron Abalos - webByron Abalos is an actor, playwright, and producer from Toronto, Ontario. A graduate of Ryerson University, he has been nominated for 3 Dora Mavor Moore Awards (2 for acting and 1 for producing) and was named one of Toronto’s Top 10 Theatre Artists of 2010 by NOW Magazine. Select theatre credits include Monday Nights (The Theatre Centre), Twelve Angry Men (Soulpepper), Roshni (Theatre Passe Muraille), paper series (Cahoots) and Banana Boys (fu-GEN). Recent film/TV credits include Defiance, Dark Matter, Covert Affairs and The Listener. Byron was awarded one of the inaugural Bob Curry Fellowships from The Second City in Toronto and is a former member of Asiansploitation, Toronto’s all-Asian sketch comedy troupe. As a playwright, Byron was the first playwright-in-residence for Carlos Bulosan Theatre and his play Remember Lolo won the NOW Magazine 2005 Audience Choice Award. His play Brown Balls was produced in Toronto’s Factory Studio Theatre by fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company in 2011. He is currently co-writing a play for young audiences with his wife Andrea Mapili called Through the Bamboo.

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