Actor Chronicles: Voices from Inside Alumnae’s Latest Production: “The Heidi Chronicles”

by Suzanne Bowness

The Heidi Chronicles debuts this week at Alumnae! ​Directed by Ilana Linden and produced by Alison Smith; co-produced by Kim Croscup and Chenyi Guo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is opener to our 102nd season. Written in 1988 by Wendy Wasserstein, the play covers 20 years of a woman’s life and relationships as she and her friends seek political, professional and personal fulfillment in a rapidly-changing world. There is also lots of room for nostalgia with many costumes from the 1970s and 80s (peasant blouses, anyone? Shoulder pads?)

“The Heidi Chronicles”: Hello New York.  Daniel Jones (Scoop), Breanna Dillon (Heidi), Eitan Shalmon (Peter), Brianna Diodati (April).
Photo by Bruce Peters


And while audience members usually have to wait for our post-show Talkback (coming up on Sunday, September 29) to hear from the actors, we’ve already managed to pin down Daniel Jones (who plays leading man Scoop Rosenbaum) for a Q&A right here on this blog! Here’s what he had to say on everything from the play’s appeal to its characters and even those multiple costume changes.


I love that it is a coming of age story—for Heidi, of course, but also for the other characters in her life—over decades of significant cultural change and upheaval. I love that we get to see who these people become, their hopes and dreams and disappointments. What happens when you stick to your beliefs and what happens when you settle?

I love that it’s really funny and tender and gives profound insight into the road women walked. And, without question, Wendy Wasserstein’s writing is brilliant with characters that feel real and relatable.


Along with the rest of the cast, I did a good bit of research on the time period the play spans. For Scoop, I spent time focusing on what it would be like for a Jewish-American man to make his way in the WASP-y American northeast when anti-Semitism was prevalent—particularly at boarding schools and universities.

How would he face it? How does that inform the choices he makes? And what expectations would he have faced from his parents, peers, and of course, from navigating white male dominant culture. What does Scoop need to do to succeed—who does he need to become?

And then, of course, I focused on relationships, particularly his relationship with Heidi.

“The Heidi Chronicles” –
Heidi (Breanna Dillon) and Scoop (Daniel Jones).
Photo by Bruce Peters

Ilana walked Breanna [Dillon, who plays Heidi] and me through multiple exercises to explore, including having us write letters to each other’s character. This was significantly helpful and profoundly moving.

Lastly, Breanna and I had a good deal of conversation about these two characters—what attracts them and draws them together, even though they may not be so good for each other. Why they act on the impulses they act on and why they end up where they end up. Always a gift to collaborate with other actors and explore this world together.



The play feels resonant today and gives tremendous insight into the road women walked, the road my mother and her generation walked during their coming of age. It’s fascinating to step into their shoes—but for a brief moment—and imagine the complexity of choices and costs made to fight for justice and what is good and right or to perhaps succumb to expectations, fall in line and settle.

I appreciate the profound difficulty and possibility of that experience and appreciate the glimpse into this time through the voice of Wendy Wasserstein.


Tough one. I feel pretty nostalgic for the eighties—big fan of eighties pop culture and there may or, may not have been a few movies in there that inspired me to become an actor—E.T., Indiana Jones, The Goonies.

If I had to choose, I find the 60s intriguing and exciting. It’s when my parents grew up and a time when everything was being upended, both for good and sometimes for not so good. But a fascinating, energetic era.


All people can fulfill their potential. Love it. Love the possibility and hopefulness in that.


Fortunately, my changes are not quite quick and crazy like some others in the play (ahem…Breanna).

But I love how the period and changes in costume help define change and growth and helped me understand who Scoop is becoming—going from the casualness of youth to a suited, successful entrepreneur and businessman. It’s fun to imagine the persona your character is trying to project and why, through the clothes they’re wearing.


Hard to pick a favourite.  Love the era and the music and the truths that are presented. Love getting to speak brilliant words. Love collaborating with this cast and crew.


The Heidi Chronicles runs from September 20 to October 5, 2019. Click here for tickets:

Photos: Bruce Peters


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Remembering Nonnie Griffin

Remembering the remarkable actress* and writer, Nonnie Griffin, who died unexpectedly on June 7, 2019.

*she insisted on the feminine version – hated being referred to as an “actor”!

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Photo from Bluffs Monitor.

Nonnie Griffin and I became mutual fans, from opposite sides of the stage, while working on two different productions at Alumnae Theatre in 2008: she as the formidable Irish matriarch in Lucy Brennan’s Daughter of the House and I as the compassionate, no-nonsense oncology nurse in Margaret Edson’s Wit.

I had the pleasure of seeing and reviewing Nonnie’s work in the years that followed; and particularly enjoyed her own one-woman shows Sister Annunciata’s Secret and Marilyn—After, both brave, resonant portraits of older women navigating life’s joys and heartbreaks. And she came out with two friends to see me perform in The Sad Blisters this past April (on Easter Sunday); she enjoyed the show very much and sent me a lovely email, along with a big virtual hug.

Nonnie was to launch her new one-woman show, Before Scarlett—about the creation of Gone with the…

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A family confronted with its own #MeToo secret in the complex, honest Lies and Consequences

Alumnae Theatre Company member Carol Libman‘s play “Lies and Consequences” is staged at RED Sandcastle Theatre, April 30-May 5, 2019. Directed by fellow company member Jeanette Dagger.

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You can’t change the past, but you can share it.

Rare Day Projects presents Carol Libman’s Lies and Consequences, directed by Jeanette Dagger and running this week only at Red Sandcastle Theatre. With the genesis of the play occurring well before the emergence of the #MeToo movement, playwright Libman was inspired to return to it and complete the script—and tell this story.

Lauded popular author Martha (Tara Baxendale) is under pressure to complete her next novel, inspired by Catherine the Great, as she juggles the scheduling nightmare that is her professional and personal life. Struggling with writer’s block, but looking forward to catching up with her sister Cathy (Martha Breen) at an upcoming weekend of celebration around her cousin/BFF Peter’s (Ryan Bannon) science award ceremony, she’s suddenly thrown back into the past when a drunken make-out session with her journalist boyfriend Andre (Derek Perks) goes from clumsily enthusiastic…

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Impressionism: “The Girls in the Gang” – Part 3

The last of Alumnae Theatre Company member Diane Forrest’s series of blog posts on some lesser-known women artists of the Impressionist period.  Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism (which is set in an art gallery) runs to April 27. Audience members are invited onstage before the show begins, to walk around Teodoro Dragonieri’s set and Suzanne Courtney’s replicas of Impressionist artworks.


Eva Gonzalès

“Woman Awakening” (1876) by Eva Gonzalès

Gonzalès was a protege of Édouard Manet, his only official student (and also a handy pawn in his on-again, off-again relationship with Berthe Morisot), and her work showed his influence. The daughter of a well-known writer, Gonzalès actually studied with several artists. While she exhibited at the Salon, and her technique and approach were admired, she never quite distinguished herself from the influence of her mentors – perhaps because she didn’t live long enough. She died at 34 from complications from childbirth, just five days after Manet expired.


Victorine Meurent

Born into a family of working-class artisans, Meurent became infamous as the model for Manet’s most scandalous paintings, “Luncheon on the Grass” and “Olympia,” along with a few other more sedate works. Until recently she’s been popularly dismissed as a loose woman who turned to alcohol and died young.

“Palm Sunday” (1880s ) by Victorine Meurent – her only surviving painting.


Perhaps that’s because the real woman was confused with the role she played on canvas. Because the shocking truth is that she was an accomplished artist and musician who died a respectable home owner at 83.

 It seems she fell out with Manet when she decided to pursue a more traditional style of painting. Soon after, she began exhibiting at the Salon and was later inducted into the Société des Artistes Français, with the support of the organization’s founder.

 Those who bothered to discover Meurent’s true story thought that her work had been lost. But in the early 2000s her painting “Palm Sunday” was discovered and now hangs in a local museum.


Suzanne Valadon

While Valadon started out as a model, she became a famous and controversial artist in her own right and was the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. While Valadon was, uhm, casual about her personal life, she was extremely serious about her art. The many men in her life stood in her way at their peril. In fact, most recognized her talent and helped advance her career.

“Self-portrait” (1898) by Suzanne Valadon

Born poor and illegitimate, Valadon started work at 11 and would have continued with her first love, the circus, but for a trapeze accident. Working as a model for a wide variety of artists, including Renoir, Steinlen, and Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne learned her art from observation. She also became close friends with Degas, who helped her develop her technique and range. Breaking the current taboo – you will find no naked women in Morisot or Cassatt’s work – she became famous for her female nudes, including self-portraits.

As if to cap off her career, Valadon also gave birth to the hero of postcard and hotel room art, Maurice Utrillo (whose father may have been Renoir – or any one of half a dozen others in Suzanne’s circle). Strictly speaking, her style was probably more post-Impressionist than Impressionist, and she would outlive most of the group. But it was the support of male artists from those circles that helped her break through as a heroic female artist.



For more information on the artists:


This is the final week of Impressionism at Alumnae Theatre – the play close on Saturday April 27, with performances Wed – Sat at 8pm.  Tickets on Wed are 2-for-1; $25 for rest of week.  See website or Facebook event  for details.


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Impressionism: “The Girls in the Gang” – Part 2

Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism, which takes place in an art gallery, opened April 12.  Audience members are invited onstage before the show begins, to walk around Teodoro Dragonieri’s set and Suzanne Courtney’s replicas of Impressionist artworks.  Alumnae member Diane Forrest, a writer and editor, has researched some lesser-known women artists of the Impressionist period – here’s the second of her blog posts.  Impressionism runs to April 27.

Mary Cassatt

Cassatt was the only U.S. painter to exhibit with the Impressionist group. As with Morisot, she came from a wealthy family who stood behind her work – sort of. Her father supported her personally, but not her art career, and Cassatt was determined to make a living as an artist. After several false starts, she decided to move permanently to Paris.

“The Child’s Bath” (1893) by Mary Cassatt

She achieved some success, exhibiting at the Salon for seven straight years. But as a dedicated feminist, she was appalled by the expectation that women artists would cater to the egos of the male jurists. In 1877 the Salon rejected her work – had Cassatt been a little too outspoken? — and her friend Edgar Degas invited her to join an Impressionist exhibition. Cassatt delightedly threw herself into this new alliance: “We are carrying on a despairing fight & need all our forces,”  she declared.


Cassatt and Degas became allies, combining to tackle technical challenges and marketing issues —  until Degas proved capricious. But Cassatt had already acquired considerable skill in pastels and printmaking from her friend. In later years, Cassatt opened up to other influences, including Japanese art, and focused on intimate portraits of women, particularly mothers and children. But she remained close to Degas and the other Impressionists throughout her life. She was also instrumental in helping to develop large Impressionist collections in the U.S.

Marie Bracquemond

With Cassatt and Morisot, Bracquemond was named one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism. Unlike the other two, however, her family was neither well-to-do nor artistically connected.

“On the Terrace at Sèvres” (1880) by Marie Bracquemond

Nevertheless, she managed to have a painting accepted at the studio when she was only 17, attracting the attention of the great master, Ingres. She did not remain long with him, however: “…he doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting… He would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lives, portraits and genre scenes.” She left his studio and kept getting commissions — including the Empress Eugénie – and appearing at the Salon. She came under the influence of the Impressionists – Monet and Degas in particular, and later Gauguin – adopting many of their approaches, but retaining her tendency to plan her paintings carefully. Her artist husband, an engraver and ceramicist, was part of the Impressionist circle, but disapproved of his wife taking up the style. Worn down by ill-health and her husband’s carping,  Bracquemond stopped painting for public viewing.

Impressionism (and its on-stage art gallery!) runs to Saturday April 27 at Alumnae Theatre.  See website or Facebook event for details.



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Impressionism introduces some lesser-known artists – Part 1

April 12-27, 2019,  Alumnae Theatre Company presents Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism, which takes place in an art gallery.  Audience members are invited onstage before the show begins, to walk around Teodoro Dragonieri’s set and Suzanne Courtney’s replicas of Impressionist artworks.  Alumnae member Diane Forrest, a writer and editor, has researched some lesser-known women artists of the Impressionist period – here’s the first of her blog posts.

THE GIRLS IN THE GANG – Forget the water lilies. Here are some Impressionists you may not know.

If you were one of the many budding women artists who came to Paris in the second half of the 19th century, what were your career prospects? There was plenty of work painting china, wall art and other home decor items.

 But if you wanted to be a star at the prestigious Paris “Salon” — the annual exhibit of the best of French art – you faced all the familiar obstacles.

 Women were not accepted into the official art school, the École des Beaux Arts, though they could attend certain studios or take private lessons – provided they didn’t attend “life classes.” (For some reason it was okay for men to stare for hours at naked women, but not for women to do so. Since the study of the nude was central to serious art training, this was a bit of a disadvantage.) Respectable middle-class women also found it difficult to paint landscapes or the scenes of public life that were becoming fashionable, since they could go nowhere unchaperoned. And, of course, there were family pressures.

 Nevertheless, a certain number of women did manage to break into what would become perhaps the most popular artistic revolutions of all time, Impressionism.

 The male Impressionists were surprisingly supportive of their female colleagues (although the senior member, Manet, could be a pain). And the women Monet, Renoir, Degas, et al. shared insights with came with their own impressive array of talent. Berthe Morisot had already exhibited at the prestigious Salon several times when she met the Impressionists, a feat most of the group had not accomplished. Marie Bracquemond had her first piece accepted at the Salon when she was only 17.

“The Cradle” by Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot

The star of the female Impressionists was Berthe Morisot. Morisot’s mother was warned by an instructor that her daughter could become a successful artist – a result he felt would be “almost catastrophic” in a haute bourgeoisie family. Nevertheless, Berthe’s mother continued to encourage her. Morisot first exhibited at the Salon de Paris when she was 23. One critic wrote approvingly, “You see, ladies, one may be an artist and take part in public exhibitions of painting and remain, as before, a very respectable and very charming person.” Some years later she was introduced to the Impressionists by a family friend and mentor, the painter Édouard Manet. While convention limited her to domestic scenes, she quickly became one of the most admired of the group.

 Morisot is also famous as part of a romantic Impressionist triangle. She and the married Manet likely fell in love (though it’s not clear they were ever, technically, lovers), but she eventually married his brother Eugène. Unlike other Impressionist partners, Eugène neglected his own career to support Berthe’s work. She continued to exhibit with the Impressionists, but unfortunately, both died young, Morisot at only 54. Her orphaned daughter, Julie, was treated as a member of the wider Impressionist family and appears in many of their paintings.

Edma Morisot

Berthe was not the only artist in the family. Her older sister, Edma, studied and exhibited with her and was a

“Edma and Berthe Morisot” by Berthe Morisot

strong support and influence. The sisters often modelled for each other. (That’s Edma and her baby in Morisot’s famous painting, “The Cradle.”) Unfortunately, Edma abandoned any serious attempts at art after her marriage – a common occurrence among women artists of the time.


Profiles of more female Impressionist artists to come!

See Impressionism the play onstage at Alumnae Theatre, April 12-27, 2019.  Directed by Nicole Arends.





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The Sad Blisters: April 12-27 at The Commons


World premiere production of Andrew Batten’s “The Sad Blisters”.
Poster Design: Vic Finucci

Director Victoria Shepherd is a member of Alumnae Theatre Company. Andrew Batten made numerous appearances of Alumnae’s stages, including “Lady Windermere’s Fan” (2007), “Hedda Gabler” (2010),”Sylvia” (2011), “A Woman of No Importance” (2013), “This“, and “August: Osage County” (both in 2016).  His play “Or Not To Be” was staged in New Ideas Festival 2017.

The April 2019 production of “The Sad Blisters” is its world premiere.

life with more cowbell

Poking my head out of hiatus to jump onto the blog with details of Glass Hammer Productions’ upcoming run of Andrew Batten’s The Sad Blisters, directed by Victoria Shepherd, and featuring Bonnie Gray, Andrea Lyons, Anne McDougall, myself and Esther Thibault.

It’s a hilarious, poignant dramedy about family, memory, love—and a wedding!

The Sad Blisters runs April 12-27 at The Commons (587a College St., Toronto). Performances run Thur/Fri/Sat at 8pm, with matinees Sat & Sun at 2pm. Running time: approx. 80 mins. Tickets: $20 regular; $15 student/senior/arts worker. CASH ONLY at the door.

Check the Facebook event page for more info, photos and wedding anecdotes, as well as advance ticket purchase (Brown Paper Tickets link pending as of this posting; in the meantime, there’s a reservations email).

I’m honoured and happy to be working with this team of amazing, talented theatre artists. Hope you can join us!

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