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Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe Festival.

Q&A: Smith & Somers on HOOTENANNY!

By Apartment613 on June 13, 2017

Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe Festival.

Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe Festival.

Apt613: You play a duo… Describe Hoot and Annie in five words.

Will Somers: Hoot is not boyfriend material, maybe hook-up.

Kate Smith: Annie is focused, frenetic, fun, feverish, f***able!

For those of us now intrigued… What’s HOOTENANNY! about, briefly?

Will: Children’s band HOOTENANNY! are about to perform their last show ever, but only one of them knows it.

Kate: Have you ever experienced a relationship that slowly curdles over time but no matter how many times you try and end it you just can’t get out? That.

What stereotype of children’s performers do your characters Hoot and Annie completely live up to?

Will: That’s tough for me to answer because, having done it myself, I think I look at those performers from a different perspective. It’s very tough work, very rarely are you fairly compensated, and everyone I’ve ever met who does that work is doing it for the right reasons. I don’t know, what is the stereotype?

Kate: While HOOTENANNY! employs a lot of classic tropes of children’s concerts and programming (Polka Dot Door, The Wiggles, The Elephant Show), much of the conflict and comedy is centered around the responsibility that these performers have to their audience. When you’re performing for kids there are higher expectations for behaviour because it’s clear you’re a role model. By taking the kind of bad behaviour that we would expect from a rock star and applying it to a children’s entertainer, it really emphasizes the absurdity of society’s acceptance of poor behaviour in our public figures.

What do we tend to take for granted about children’s entertainment?

Will: That it’s easy. Often, simplicity is the most difficult thing to achieve. A gymnasium full of elementary school kids is the toughest crowd I’ve ever performed for.

Kate: Yeah, kids don’t give pity laughs. If they don’t like you they stand up and walk away. It’s hard to do well, and you don’t earn a lot of respect doing it. People who do it for a living generally really genuinely care about children and education. Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) is someone who worked passionately for decades to ensure that the children who tuned in every day felt heard and cared for; they could trust him. In our show, the characters give you reasons not to trust them, and it makes one feel uneasy at times.

“By taking the kind of bad behaviour that we would expect from a rock star and applying it to a children’s entertainer, it really emphasizes the absurdity of society’s acceptance of poor behaviour in our public figures.”

Do either of you have children? What song or artist of theirs do you really enjoy but rarely admit to liking?

Will: I do not, but I’ve watched a lot of Paw Patrol with my nieces and nephew. That show’s pretty fun.

Kate: Kill me if I ever have to watch another episode of Paw Patrol. I’ve been to my fair share of Wiggles concerts in my life with my daughter, and their song ‘Fruit Salad’ is one hell of an earworm! In addition to my now 11-year old daughter, I am also raising a 3-year old son. (Related: why do kids find Thomas the Tank Engine interesting? It is SO BORING.)

Kate Smith and WIll Somers in HOOTENANNY!, photo by Cory Thibert

Kate Smith and WIll Somers in HOOTENANNY!, photo by Cory Thibert

Backstage, do you have any pre-show music? What gets you fired up?

Will: We like to hear the pre-show music as the audience comes in. At this point, it’s way less about getting fired up and way more about staying loose and relaxed, so we often dance around to the music. It’s about having fun, but I make sure I’m doing things that keep my hips and shoulders relaxed.

Kate: Okay, Shakira… I love when we dance to Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ in the dressing room mirror together. Your hips don’t lie, Will Somers.

HOOTENANNY! Premiered at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe Festival. Has the show changed since then? What’s different?

Will: The show has changed so much. I think it’s fair to say 2015 was us sharing a work-in- progress. The Fringe can be a useful development tool because it puts you in front of an audience in a theatre at a relatively low cost. We were at the stage where all of the writing and workshopping on our own wasn’t going to get us any further, and what we needed was to try it in front of people to see what worked and what didn’t. I think there are four major changes in the show since 2015. A few medium-sized changes, and countless edits to jokes, flipping lines around, and all kinds of tweaks to the script. If you saw the play two years ago, you’ll recognize it. But there’s so much that’s new.

Kate: Yeah, we did a lot of ‘punch up’ on the jokes trying to keep things current. We re-shot some video sections, added a new scene, and worked on our transitions. I also got better at playing the piano in front of people (first time I’ve done that in a show!). There are sections that we keep intentionally improvisational so we can be responsive to our audiences. 2015 was the first time we ever put it up on it’s feet, but that baby is running now!

Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?

Will: It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on stage, and if you see the show, you’ll get it.

Kate: It’s smarter than it looks. Oh wait, I was just describing myself.


HOOTENANNY! is playing at Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Ave) until Saturday June 17, 2017. Tickets cost $12 online and at the door. Visit ottawafringe.com for the show schedule and box office info.


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