An Interview With Tess Benger
Updated: Mar 20, 2022
This summer, I got to see Talk Is Free Theatre’s Into The Woods and it was an absolute fairytale!
This week, the show is opening at the Elgin Winter Garden Theatre, and Tess Benger, the production’s brilliant Cinderella, joined me on the blog to chat about the healing power of nature and live theatre.
Before transferring to the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres, this production was presented outside at Springwater Park. What were some of the challenges and benefits of performing outdoors?
Doing the show at Springwater Provincial Park was really special. There are so many themes in this show about humans and their relationship to nature. And with the climate crisis only getting more and more intense, the parallels were unavoidable when we were doing this show in the middle of the woods.
The lack of control when it came to our surroundings was exciting and energizing. We got very lucky, we didn’t have to cancel any shows because of rain, and for the most part the sun wasn’t too strong by the time the show started in the late afternoon. There were some really magical moments where birds would be chirping in places that supported the story, it was a bit eerie how often the crows would caw during the Witch’s songs.
I think sometimes we can forget that storytelling has been around for as long as it has, how sacred it is, and I felt reconnected to that. Having the audience sitting on picnic benches, experiencing whatever the forest threw at us that day, reminded me of oneness and community after such an isolating pandemic, it was beautiful.
What has it been like transitioning the piece to an indoor venue?
We are really lucky to be doing this show at the Elgin Winter Garden. A space that is almost as magical as the woods, almost… This theatre is stunning and really is the dream space for Into The Woods. The transition has been easy, lots of “ohhhing and ahhhing”. We are obviously having to add technical elements that we didn’t need in the forest, but we are in great hands. We all feel really grateful to be here. We don’t take lightly what it means to be back in a space like this doing this piece.
Cinderella is a beloved fairy tale character, can you tell us a little bit about her journey in this version of her story and what it’s been like stepping into her slippers?
Cinderella wasn’t really a character that was on my radar. I was really excited to play her when I was offered the part. I knew “Steps of the Palace” because I sang it in school.
I have found the part challenging, but in a good way. It was important to me that Cinderella be a real person, not a Disney Princess. She goes through a lot in this show, she grows a lot. When we meet her she is in a really horrible living situation with no way out, she sees the Festival as the one thing that could save her. I think all of the characters have a bit of “the grass is greener” syndrome, we watch them get what they want and then negotiate what happens after that, the complexities of life and love and loss. I find this show extremely cathartic. I hear new things constantly, I love this show. I don’t want to say too much about the world of Cinderella that lives inside my head and heart, but I will say that we follow her on her journey of finding her voice, personal power, and capacity to love.
Do you have a favourite moment in the show, either as Cinderella or the piece as a whole?
This cast is so incredible. I have a favourite moment for every artist on that stage. To name a few: Watching Tracy play the witch is incredibly inspired. She is a good friend of mine, I look up to her so much. She leaves it all out there. She is fearless and generous and I feel really lucky to be up there with her in that role.
I didn’t know the song “No More” before doing the show, that one ruins me, Aidan and Derek are so beautiful. The storytelling is so clear and they are both such open hearted actors.
I feel really fortunate to sing “No One Is Alone”, an important mantra after the pandemic, and always.
Why should theatregoers come see Into The Woods?
This is a very well written show, this is an important show. This is an incredible cast in a magical theatre. This show is about humans and love and loss and life and growth and pain and nature and oh so many things. I read a quote once that said “theatre fills you in a way you didn’t know you were empty”…. something like that, I think that’s why people should come to this show. But also, you do you!
What would you go into the woods for?
I love the woods, I’d like to live there. Nature is the best teacher, and I think humans can do better by her. It doesn’t take much to get me into the woods. Although, I don’t have a driver's license and I live in downtown Toronto, so that would be a good place to start.
Talk Is Free Theatre’s Into The Woods will be presented in Toronto’s Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres from October 28th-30th, 2021!
The production will actually use both stages in this double decker theatre, with audience members travelling from one theatre to another in between acts. Adding to the fairytale experience, audience members are encouraged to bring stuffed animals as their guests to maintain social-distancing and create the effect of a full house!
I’ve already booked my ticket, and you can find yours by visiting the link below:
You don’t want to miss this magical experience!