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Porchside Ponderings: In Conversation with Jake Epstein & Gabi Epstein

Tis the season for patio weather, music playing on the breeze, and the anticipation of catching up and pondering with friends on a warm summer day. Welcome to the first post in our series; ‘Porchside Pondering‘ with the performing artists of PORCHSIDE SONGS! We learn all about their work during the ongoing pandemic, their love for music, and their hope for the future. This week, we’re sitting down with Jake Epstein & Gabi Epstein, the incredible in-sync sibling duo of FAM JAM.

What is it about PORCHSIDE SONGS you are most excited about?

Jake: Hands down, the chance to perform for a live audience! What makes PORCHSIDE SONGS so brilliant is that it is the one event specifically designed to happen during COVID – with social distancing in place, having it outdoors, and bringing the show right to people’s backyards. As live performers, getting the chance to make people smile and feel moved in person is such a gift, especially now! We couldn’t be more excited or honoured to be part of this.

You are siblings! Have you performed or collaborated in the past?

Gabi: We are indeed siblings! Considering we are both in the same industry, our paths have crossed less than you may think – other than our epic creations as kids obviously. The first show we ever performed together was actually a cabaret for The Musical Stage Company over 10 years ago for their DARK NIGHT CABARET series. This was the first time we collaborated on concept and arrangements and it was truly awesome.

A few years later we were cast in the world premiere of the Kooman and Dimond musical, DANI GIRL, with Talk is Free Theatre. I (Gabi) played a 9-year old girl going through Leukaemia treatment and Jake played my imaginary friend. Never has there ever been a more appropriate brother-sister casting in the history of musical theatre. It was perfect and remains one of our favourite experiences to this day.

Which artists or genres inspired your concert themes and setlist?

Jake: We set out to create a show about our unique upbringing which was all about music. Every Summer, our family would take these long road trips through the US and spend the whole trip blasting our favourite music. My sister and I would be in the back seat trying to ‘out-belt’ each other the whole way. We decided to base our setlist on the music from these family road trips. It’s a mix of folk songs, 60s pop, and Broadway classics, with both of us accompanying each other on piano and guitar.

Photo of Gabi Epstein & Jake Epstein as children, posing for the camera on a playground

What has the rehearsal process looked like for your concert?

Gabi: Because we know each other so well and understand our individual work ethic, our rehearsal process has been pretty wonderful. We took a big long walk to brainstorm. Once we figured out exactly what we wanted to create, it came pretty easy. We chose specific songs to fit specific stories and vice versa. We made a rough draft, chatted on Zoom to discuss details, and have recently started rehearsing together, masked of course. Rehearsing in a pandemic has its challenges but we have the luxury of being in each others’ inner circle which makes things easier. Jake and his wife Vanessa are the ONLY people I see other than my parents outside of my household! All of that being said, it’s been so nice to feel creative with another human being, especially my brother!

If there was an entire musical you could bring to people’s porches, which one would you pick? Why?

Jake: I’ve wanted to somehow revive the musical, BIG, which is based on one of my favourite childhood movies. Besides the fact that the music by Maltby & Shire is fantastic, and there are many great roles for both young and older actors, I think there’s a message in there that people need to hear. Everyone wants this pandemic era to be over. But like it or not, it’s going to be part of our lives in some way or another for the foreseeable future. Despite the unimaginable hardship we’ve all faced, we also need to remember to enjoy the good moments in our lives that are still happening now, and appreciate the present. For instance, children will only be that age for so long. If we don’t stop and appreciate the good, we may wake up one day when this is over and wonder what we did with our lives for the past 5 years.

If you could choose any musical artist to see in a PORCHSIDE SONGS concert, who would you choose? Why?

Gabi: I would choose Joni Mitchell. Not only are her songs some of the best ever written but she has led the most fascinating life. The PORCHSIDE SONGS series is all about songs and stories and boy oh boy does she have some incredible stories. I would also love to see her perform her own songs. Her voice sounds so different now, versus on ‘Blue and Clouds‘ and it would be really moving to hear an authentic performance of her songs NOW with all of her life experience behind her.

As an artist, what have you missed most during the pandemic surrounding live events and performances?

Jake: Besides getting to perform for living, breathing people (not on a screen!) – I’ve missed the feeling of scheduling normalcy. Normally, if you’re lucky enough to get a gig, you rehearse the thing, you immerse yourself in it completely, and then you do it for an audience. Over the past few months we’ve had so many gigs cancelled and rescheduled, that you’ve almost had to hold your breath that something will in fact get to the final performance stage. I miss the feeling of putting all the energy and anxiety into the actual performance, and not whether or not it will even happen.

We have hope that these concerts can help bring some brightness to communities, and renew that hope for the future – what would you say your hopes are for the future of our theatre community? 

Gabi: This is a big question. The past year and a half has been a time of learning, unlearning, reflecting, and reexamining. I sincerely hope we are able to focus in on the things we have learned and put them into action to better the theatre community as a whole. I love our community but it is flawed. We have gotten away with a lot and have made unnecessary excuses over the years. We need to hold people accountable. We need to stop making blanket statements and take ACTION. It would be an outrageous waste if we go forward without using what we have learned to our advantage. We can create a kinder more open-minded community and I hope our leaders step up to practice what they preach. Music and theatre can change the world. Sounds dramatic but it’s so true.

FAM JAM will start June 2021, as part of PORCHSIDE SONGS – taking place live and in your front yards, all across Toronto.

Learn more about the show and PORCHSIDE SONGS by clicking here.