SummerWorks: Installation & audience contribution leading up to performance of To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0

evalyn-620x500It was a chillier than usual August night in Toronto last night – and I found myself purchasing hot chocolate and wishing I’d brought a jacket, which felt odd – but it was what it was. To be honest, I’ve really been enjoying this cooler summer. I had some time before my next show, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to stop by Studio C of the Pia Bouman School for Creative Movement to check out Evalyn Parry’s work in progress – with fellow creators/performers Elysha Poirier and Laakkaluk Bathory Williams – for OutSpoke Productions’ To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0, part of this year’s SummerWorks Live Art Series.

The first phase of To Live in the Age of Melting is part installation, part viewer participation, as Parry collects objects and images from patrons of their experiences of the North, and asks people if they’d like to be interviewed about their thoughts and perceptions of the North.

Featured prominently when you first enter the space is a giant map of Canada. Visitors are invited to share how far north they’ve been – and Parry’s assistants (in my case last night, SummerWorks volunteer Pauline and Aidan) will plot your destination on the map, from start to finish, using pins and colour-coded string/thread. In my case, it’s the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA), Ontario to North Bay, Ontario; my thread is black, as I took the trip by car (with my family when I was around 10-12 years old, when my mother’s sister and her family lived in Callendar, ON).

I also took the opportunity to be interviewed. Since I’m not down with spoilers, I won’t mention the specific questions Parry asked me, but I will say they were extremely thought-provoking and interesting. A reminder of relative perspective – when I think of “North,” in terms of perceived geography, I think of it as starting around North Bay – but that’s the farthest I’ve been, so that will be different for someone who’s been to NWT, Yukon, Nunavut or Iqaluit. It was a pleasure chatting with Parry, and I look forward to seeing the work come together in the performance this weekend.

The assembled personal artifacts and interviews will contribute to the final performance piece, which will also be a work in progress (as the installation and viewer contributions continue daily from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.) – with performances running Aug 15-17 at 9 p.m.

Here are some snaps I took of this work in progress last night:

 

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In the meantime, check out NOW Magazine’s piece by Glenn Sumi, where he speaks with Parry about, among other things, her two SummerWorks projects: directing Shaista Latif’s Graceful Rebellions and the genesis of her work on To Live in the Age of Melting.

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SummerWorks: Captivating living collage of memory & restoration in Blindsided

BLINDSIDEDimage-CopyWas back at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman for more SummerWorks adventures last night, for a couple of things – but first, I’d like to talk about Fée Fatale’s production of Sabrina Reeves’ Blindsided, directed by Matt Holland, with film editing by Paolo Santos and video installation by Jacques Poulin-Denis.

Blindsided is a multi-media journey of perception and memory, triggered by a cycling accident – and we see Hayley’s life flash before her eyes. Hayley Hughes teaches a film restoration class – more specifically, the work of her famous grandmother Nan Hughes – and the piece begins with Reeves entering, as Hayley, into the world of the classroom. We are her students and she is the exacting, yet wryly funny, prof.

In a powerful, and also archly funny, performance, Reeves takes on several characters in addition to Hayley: Nan; Hayley’s brother Declan; and a glamourous German film actress, notorious for acting in Nazi films as a child (a subject in some found footage that came into Nan’s possession, and fascinated Hayley and Declan). As Reeves morphs in and out of these characters, and opens up the folding flats to reveal yet another layer of the playing area, snatches of moments from Hayley’s cycling accident appear, then moments from childhood when she and Declan stayed with Nan – and a horrible childhood accident of a friend.

Film restoration becomes a metaphor for restoring a life. In the classroom scene, Hayley tells us that the first step to restoring a piece of film is to assess the damage. We also learn that Nan’s greatest career achievement came through an accident. Accidents have the resulting impact of permanently changing the subject – but not necessarily in a bad way. And like old film stock, we are delicate things, but when handled with great care we can be mended. But, after an accident, things are never the same.

Blindsided is a captivating living collage of moving pictures, memory, mixing art and science, and putting what’s broken back together.

Blindsided continues its run for three more performances at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman until Sun, Aug 17 – see here for exact times/dates.

SummerWorks: Sharing stories to create a new story in deeply moving & playful Trace

HERO-Trace1_72dpi-620x500I attended last night’s opening of Theatre Gargantua’s/Vertical City’s SummerWorks production of Trace at Artscape Youngplace – and left the space both elated and breathless.

Described as a “ghost telling,” Trace – directed by Bruce Barton, who co-created the piece with performers Martin Julien and Michelle Polak – is a unique experience in both the use of the space, and in the relationship between actors and audience. There is no separation between playing space and audience space, and audience members are invited – very gently and respectfully – to assist in creating the story.

Starting with the introductory installation in the cloakroom section of a former classroom (Artscape Youngplace was built from a decommissioned elementary school), the audience takes in a collection of objects, remembrances – many from childhood – as the performers gaze out the window in the adjoining room. Hooks hang from the divider wall of the cloakroom, at small child height; we are also invited to place our bags in the cubbies on the other side, out in the main room of the space. There is a first day of school feeling about this.

Out in the main room, there are table and floor lamps placed around the floor, with several chairs among the lamps. The window that Polak gazes out of has water cascading down it – it’s raining in her world. Julien’s focus is out another window, toward an adjoining outer wall of the building. The chalkboard has text from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein written in cursive, with a small section erased for a game of hangman. Polak will eventually invite several of us to pick a letter, and we gradually decipher the message.

Anecdotes of childhood memory – risks taken, first crushes – intermingle with ghost stories and stories shared by audience members, references and citations from literature, music and childhood games to create the story. The room starts as a blank slate and we all bring what we have into it – and into the story that emerges therein. Sometimes, truth is the biggest dare. Trace will never be performed the same way twice.

At various points during the performance, I stood, sat on a chair and on the floor – and it was on the floor that I felt the most child-like, with that story time feeling. The experience moved me to laughter and tears – and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in that place with Julien and Polak.

With shouts to the design team for the magical, out of time and space environment: Heather Nicol (installation), Michael Spence and Bruce Barton (set), and Lyon Smith (sound).

Trace is a deeply moving, playful and remarkable piece of art and performance work.

The show continues at Artscape Youngplace until Sun, Aug 17 – check here for dates/times.

SummerWorks: New blood performs original piece in Transfusions

transfusionsWas back at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at Pia Bouman to see the AMY Project’s production Transfusions in the SummerWorks fest, co-directed by Maya Rabinovich (who also directed Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales for SummerWorks) and Lisa Codrington, with assistant director Chiamaka Gloria Ugwu.

Transfusions is an original piece, the result of arts education workshopping and mentoring, featuring an ensemble cast of nine young women: Clover Fannin, Natalie Jules, Anna Laribi, Tiffiney Manios, Lia Reyes, Patricia Sailer, Andrea Villanueva, Sara Yacobi-Harris and Natalie Yiu.

Framed with the journey of a rookie red blood cell stepping up on its first day on the job, the piece examines the theme of blood from various angles: menstruation/passage into womanhood and the fight/flight response – via a stressful nightmare math test of negative inner voices and standing up to bullying – as well as mothers and heredity, passion, sickness, and sexuality and slut-shaming.

On its journey from the head to the heart to the groin, Transfusions is a kaleidoscope of music, movement, scenes and spoken word on the theme of blood with an engaging and energetic cast of young women.

You have one more chance to see it – tonight (Tues, Aug 12) at 6:00 p.m.

SummerWorks: From the mouths of babes – wisdom on love & relationships from children in Child Psychologist

Child-Psychologist-620x500The expression “from the mouths of babes” is an especially apt description of a SummerWorks Live Art Series piece I saw yesterday afternoon: Child Psychologist. Created by Philip McKee, Rose Plotek and Amy Chartrand, the piece is a performance experiment that explores the possibility of gaining insight from children as a form of therapy.

Set up in a talk show format in the Theatre Centre BMO Incubator, McKee takes on the role of moderator/host, with Chartrand as the subject and Plotek taping the proceedings. The topic is love and relationships. Chartrand shares her experiences, including her current difficulty getting over a relationship that ended a couple of years ago.

They go on to enlist the aid of four children: Nina (16), Eli (12), Sadie (7) and Eva (4). Starting from with the oldest and finishing with the youngest, McKee called each kid up and ask him/her about Chartrand’s situation – and get some remarkably astute, not to mention hilarious, responses and advice. My favourite comments came from Eli, who thought that perhaps Chartrand was having trouble differentiating between a crush and love. And I also loved his reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series when Chartrand was asking for answers, to which he replied, “42.”

Child Psychologist was a one-performance only piece at this year’s SummerWorks, but be sure to look out for future work from Philip McKee, Rose Plotek and Amy Chartrand (who, ironically, also works as a wedding officiant).

SummerWorks: A powerful, unforgettable & unique theatrical experience in The Container

HERO-The-Container-Publicity-Image-Colour-smallBefore we are led into the metal shipping container, some of us wonder out loud about the heat, the dark, the air. The closeness of others. And we’re just the audience for Clare Bayley’s play The Container, directed by Zachary Florence and running at the Theatre Centre back lot during SummerWorks.

Once inside, we sit on stacks of narrow palettes that line the inner edges of the container, light cushions making the seating more comfortable. We’d each been given a bottle of water and told that if we needed to leave the container, for whatever reason, to stand up or raise a hand – and one of the actors would escort us out. Four people enter: two men and two women. The door of the container slams shut with a loud metallic boom and we are thrown into darkness. Then, one by one, small lights appear – the four actors have flashlights – but the atmosphere is tense with fear and uncertainty, audience placed in extreme close-up with a simulated refugee smuggling operation.

And the journey unfolds, another refugee enters: a woman, who is sick to her stomach shortly after she arrives, and another woman uses the makeshift latrine in the corner, her young companion holding up a scarf to give her some privacy. Although not sensed directly, the audience is reminded of the sickening smells that would be accompanying such a journey.

The cast does a remarkable job of with the complex range of emotions in such a situation. These characters can’t stay in their home country, and must risk travelling to England illegally, paying thousands of dollars, and putting their lives and futures into the hands of men they don’t know. Desperation. Fear. Hope. Despair. Love. Distrust. Kindness. Cruelty. Each has a story, a reason, a goal. Fatima (played with guile and strength by Bola Aiyeola) and Asha (Ubah Guled, bringing a kind, tender and hopeful young woman), fleeing life in a refugee camp. Jemal (played with strength and conviction by Adriano Sobretodo Jr.) longs to be united with his young family, while former businessman Ahmad (played with a nice layering of fierceness and moral frailty by Sugith Varughese) worries about his financial future and that of his children. The newcomer to the group, Mariam (played with a lovely balance of vulnerability and courage by Lara Arabian), is a recent widow and has a secret – her illness is not what it seems. And Constantine Karzis is equal parts seductive and snake-like as the Agent/middleman to this mission of refugee smuggling.

We got the mildest taste of what it would be like to be a refugee being smuggled across borders this way – but we knew, in this simulated environment, that freedom was 60 minutes away. And we heaved a collective sigh of relief as we got back outside into the sunshine and cool breeze.

Winner of the 2007 Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, The Container is a powerful, unforgettable and unique theatrical experience.

The Container runs until Sun, Aug 17 – performance dates include two shows per day; check for details here.

For more info on refugee protection, visit the sites of: Canadian Council of Refugees, Romero House or The UN Refugee Agency (thanks to The Container folks for providing this info in the program).

SummerWorks: Kick-ass rock & ongoing disruptive shenanigans @ Army Girls/Cara Spooner Failure Fest

armygirlsMusic and intentional performance disruption at Army Girls/Cara Spooner Failure Fest, with opening act Omhouse, at a one-night only SummerWorks performance at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at the Pia Bouman last night.

Omhouse brought a kick-ass set of trippy rock, playing in front of a large projected illustration of the four-member band.

For the main event, Cara Spooner started to shake things up even before Army Girls (Carmen Elle of DIANA on vocals and guitar, and Andy Smith on drums) started playing, reversing the audience and staging spaces, setting the scene for ongoing shit disturbance and shenanigans throughout the duration of the band’s kicky, indie rock sound set. Spooner’s impish antics were both fascinating and hilarious, keeping us all on our toes – a woman after my own heart.

The Failure Fest title comes from the fact that Army Girls set out to play “orphaned” songs, once thought awesome and now abandoned as embarrassing shit. And with Spooner moving with the music, beside and through the scene – and moving the microphone, sound equipment and even the drum kit (piece by piece!) – the band and audience can’t help but have a new perspective.

Makes me wonder how Army Girls feels about these songs now.

Here are some snaps I took last night:

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