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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Theatre For Thought, August 11, 2012

joel fishbane

The world of simulated medicine is getting a comedic approach thanks to Vanessa Matsui, the actress / writer / brain behind The Simulation Centre, a new sitcom she’s pitching at Toronto’s Pilot Week Festival. “It’s about a former child star who is now the most unemployed actress ever,” said Matsui, speaking to me during a brief sojourn in Montreal. “The pilot is the disaster episode where everyone has to pretend to be dying.” 

There are many things they don’t teach in theatre school and the ability to feign gastro-enteritis is definitely one of them. Yet across Canada countless actors are being asked to become adept at having abdominal cramps, nausea and perhaps a little vomiting. Canada’s several Simulation Centres are used to train young doctors in the art of diagnosis. They’re also places where the hungry actor can come to find a steady paycheque; cast in the role of Simulated Patients, actors both contribute to science and explore an untouched realm of their own abilities.

Matsui’s cast includes the a parade of neurotic doctors, quirky co-ordinators and aging actors still looking for a second chance.

Now in its third year, Pilot Week is a festival that celebrates “half hour comedies intended for television”. The concept is simple: applicants submit a half-hour pilot and the organizers choose the best twenty for presentation. Applicants then present stage adaptations of the pilot for audiences, as well as a panel of industry professionals. The semi-finalists are whittled down until a winner is chosen. The prize? A development deal and $5000.00 cash 

Matsui learned of the Pilot Week festival on the last day applications were being accepted and scrambled to get her script in on time. But this doesn’t mean she started from scratch: she’s been developing The Simulation Centre for some time now, thanks to a grant from Emploi Quebec. Inspired by her time at the Arnold and Blema Steinberg Simulation Centre at McGill,  Matsui began developing the idea into a web series, though she quickly saw the possibilities to expand it into its current form. 

Based loosely on her own experiences, Matsui’s cast includes the a parade of neurotic doctors, quirky co-ordinators and aging actors still looking for a second chance. Coincidentally, the cast for the Pilot Week performance features a handful of Montrealers including Holly O’Brian, Anna Hopkins and Greta Papageorgiu. Despite scripting the central role for herself, Matsui decided to focus exclusively on the writing / directing. It’s a job she’s taken a shine too; she admits to being bitten by the writing bug and hopes for chances to continue it into the future.

Pilot Week will run from August 13 – 18 at Toronto’s Comedy Bar. Four pilots will be seen a night with the top three finalists earning an extra performance on the last night. If the pitches are to be believed, The Simulation Centre is up against some exciting competition, such as shows about meter maids, a canine talent agency and something with the intriguing title “Porn Therapy.” 

Even if the show isn’t picked up now, Matsui remains hopeful the show will find a home in the future. “There’s lots of time,” she laughs. “The main role was written for myself for when I turned 35.” Never a child star, Matsui nonetheless understands what it’s like to be an actor in search of a living. After struggling in Montreal, Matsui eventually made the move to Toronto where she quickly found a world of difference. “There’s so much more work there,” she said. “It made me really appreciate every opportunity I have.”

“The Simulation Centre” by Vanessa Matsui runs at 7:30 PM on August 17 at the Comedy Bar in Toronto. For a full schedule of Pilot Week, visit

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