She’s an indie theatre darling, an effervescent 30-year-old writer and director who greets her interviewer with a hug even though we’ve never met before.
He’s one of Toronto’s most influential media moguls, a senior presence in TV, music and radio whose current company, ZoomerMedia, focuses on entertainment for the 45-plus set.
On the surface they may seem unlikely creative partners, but Kat Sandler and Moses Znaimer have found a common interest in making performances that cross back and forth between live and recorded media, and a belief in following their instincts.
They are working together on Late Night, a new play by Sandler set during the taping of a fictional Letterman-like talk show, being performed in the new Zoomer Live Theatre, a converted TV studio in Znaimer’s Liberty Village entertainment complex. During performances, the onstage cameras will be running, capturing the TV-show-within-a-stage-show for potential later airing on Znaimer’s VisionTV.
Karen Knox, part of the four-person theatre team working on the project, calls it a “weird dual meta, meta, meta thing.” Sandler says it’s “an updated bizarro Noises Off happening on TV.” And for Znaimer, it’s “a theatre piece that looks like the real thing and then becomes the real thing,” the gauge for reality for him clearly being that which can be televised.
The seeds for this encounter were sown a couple of years ago when Znaimer — co-founder of City TV and MuchMusic — started seeing shows on the indie theatre scene. “I became an admirer,” he explains. “Indie theatre’s very visual, very smart and clearly influenced by video in ways that previous generations hadn’t been.”
Sandler won the 2014 Toronto Fringe 24-Hour Playwriting Contest with an earlier draft of Late Night, which she ably elevator-pitches thus:
“A late night talk show host is passing the torch to his protégée, so think someone in the realm of Letterman passing to someone in the realm of Amy Schumer. During his final show, they have a Freudian slip revealing that they may have slept together. And then chaos ensues — and the show kind of falls apart in front of America and a live studio audience.”
Sandler met Znaimer through indie connections and, while touring Zoomer’s Museum of Television, found her way into the adjacent TV studio “and I was like . . . I have a play that would fit really well here!”
Znaimer eventually formed a new live entertainment company, ZoomerLive, and put up the funds to stage the show as a co-production with Sandler’s company Brouhaha.
This is not Znaimer’s first foray into theatre that tests the boundaries of the genre. In the 1980s he produced Tamara, an immersive piece set in a mansion that played on three continents and created a precedent for site-specific audience-interactive theatre several decades before such work became the theatrical vogue.
“Tamara was amazing,” says Znaimer, “and I had plans to expand on the circuit and mount more shows. I was interested in making a show about the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II . . . but I never got around to it. I got sidetracked.”
Fast forward a few decades; he meets Sandler and her crew, “and these things flash at an intuitive moment. The big bonus is that these are engaging, smart young people, nice to hang out with.”
His contact with Sandler’s play itself has been light-touch, he says, save a round of comments on her first draft, which was focused on sexism. “I said, ‘There’s another, secondary story there: aging.’ (The Letterman figure) is aging, his audience is aging with him. The network feels they need a younger star. We’ve seen this transition in U.S. TV. So it’s perfect: come to Zoomer for this thing that’s part fiction, part real and bring out the ageism.”
For Sandler, this has been a fortuitous connection on any number of fronts. The budget is well beyond anything she’s worked with before: “A full three-week rehearsal, crazy! And everyone had to be there every day because we could pay them!” Plus she’s increasingly interested in working in TV and film, so she can “dabble and get my toes wet a bit” in how the TV world works.
And if this goes well, Toronto might be getting a new performance venue in a neighbourhood — Liberty Village — that’s underserved for live entertainment. It all depends on how this “beta test” (as Knox calls it) goes. Znaimer’s even sweetening the deal with over 100 free parking spaces for audience members at every performance (yes, Toronto, you read correctly, free parking).
“I wanted to see how this would work organically, without massive involvement from me,” says Znaimer. “Generally speaking one step leads from the next. I’d like to make this work.”
Late Night plays at 70 Jefferson Ave. through Oct. 23. Go to www.zoomerlive.com or call 416-603-4740 for tickets.