Preview: Survival, resilience & resistance in the powerful, raw, timely Four Sisters

Bea Pizano & Company. Production design by Kaitlin Hickey in collaboration with Susanna Fournier. Wardrobe and props design by Patrick Peachey Higdon. Video design by Steph Raposo. Photo by Bernie Fournier.

 

Four Sisters is the final installment of Susanna Fournier’s Empire trilogy; produced by Paradigm Productions and commissioned by Luminato, and running this week at the Theatre Centre. Directed by Fournier and choreographed by Amanda Acorn, this powerful, raw and timely tale takes us to the Empire 259 years after the events of The Scavenger’s Daughter; into a world of plague and social cast-offs, where a 279-year old former madam raises the orphaned children of women who worked for her. A doctor arrives, promising to help as she works to come up with an inexpensive cure for marginalized, low-income populations; and she needs to experiment on the children.

We are in the Skirts, an outlying neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city where society’s marginalized and cast-off people dwell—the poor, mostly women and sex workers. And because this is the Empire, this is a world where only those with money, power and connections can afford to survive and thrive in the toxic, disease-ridden mess left behind after centuries of greed, violence, war and cut-throat capitalism. Former madam Sarah (Bea Pizano) has managed to cheat Death and now finds herself being mother to Abby (Chala Hunter, Krystina Bojanowski, Yolanda Bonnell), Beah (Aria Evans, Ximena Huizi, Jennifer Dahl), Cassie (Claudia Moore) and Dee (Virgilia Griffith)—children of women who worked for her, who all died of plague. When a Doctor (Krystina Bojanowski, Yolanda Bonnell), driven by the desire to find an inexpensive cure that can be used on the low-income population, arrives from the city with the promise of medical help, Sarah must decide if she’s willing to let her girls be Guinea pigs or die of plague.

The story plays out both within and without time and space—on a bare stage, sculpted with light and punctuated with video on a solitary TV screen (designed by Steph Raposo), the chilling atmosphere hauntingly complemented by Christopher Ross-Ewart’s sound design. Time folds and bends in on itself, with the multiple casting for Abby and Beah allowing for both younger and inner selves to speak to these characters, with shades of things to come for an older Beah. And the ongoing role swapping between the actors playing Abby and the Doctor (Bojanowski and Bonnell) shines a light on the choices health care practitioners have when it comes to their practice: to play a role in the male-dominated arenas of capitalism and Big Pharma, promising low-cost health benefits at unknown personal and societal cost, or working on the front lines of health care among those who society has discarded.

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Krystina Bojanowski & Company. Production design by Kaitlin Hickey in collaboration with Susanna Fournier. Wardrobe and props design by Patrick Peachey Higdon. Video design by Steph Raposo. Photo by Bernie Fournier.

Compelling work from this remarkable cast, as the staging incorporates movement, video and voice-over to tell a story that, like the earlier parts of this trilogy, is both visceral and cerebral, past and present, present and future. Pizano nicely balances Sarah’s wry-witted madam pragmatism with the tender-hearted, concern of a good mother. Bojanowski and Bonnell mine the Doctor’s clinical detachment and sense of social responsibility to great effect. Are the Doctor’s later efforts a move toward redemption—or too little, too late?

The four girls grow before our eyes, from children playing in Sarah’s kitchen into conflicted adults struggling to choose a path in a world where paths are being cut off and replaced with walls—literally and figuratively. Hunter, Bojanowski and Bonnell bring sharp focus and inner conflict to Abby, who becomes an apprentice to the Doctor even as she longs to be a mother—and in the painful light of her new-found medical knowledge and expertise. Evans, Huizi and Dahl are loveable and heartbreaking as the energetic, resilient Beah; the dancer sister who longs to study at the academy—her exhausted, battered feet continuing to create despite the unexpected turns her life takes. Griffith brings both profound vulnerability and power to the deeply wounded, angry Dee; self-medicating in an effort to deal with troubling visions, Dee becomes an addict and an outcast among her own marginalized family, setting her on the path toward a surprising evolution. And Moore’s Cassie is adorable and wise; ever a child, Cassie sees and responds to unfolding events with innocent honesty.

Operating both in and out of time and space, we witness what the Empire has come to following centuries of war and social disintegration—leaving us wondering what, if anything, will rise from the ashes. (During intermission, you can view artifacts in the National Museum of the Empire installation in the upper lobby, outside the theatre.) In the end, through pain, grief and loss, there is resilience and resistance. It is apocalypse with a glimmer of hope. And all with the recognition—both disturbing and reassuring—of our own time and place.

Four Sisters continues in the Franco Boni Theatre space at the Theatre Centre until June 16. Post-show talk backs with the artists are scheduled to follow the 8 pm performance on Fri, June 14 (hosted by Ted Witzel); and the 2 pm performance on Sat, June 15 (hosted by Maria Vamvalis). Advance tickets available online; it was a full house at last night’s final preview performance, so advance booking or early arrival is strongly recommended.

If you’re like me and missed the first two installments of the Empire trilogy, or want a refresh before seeing Four Sisters, you can catch up and listen to the podcasts of The Philosopher’s Wife and The Scavenger’s Daughter on The Empire website, co-produced with Expect Theatre’s PlayMe Podcast.

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Adventures in arts & culture in Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014

Arts adventures continued last night at Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014, as audiences roamed the night to view and engage with various arts and culture exhibits around the city.

A lot of the exhibits I saw (along with pals Lizzie Violet and Zoltan Hawryluk) were part of the Night Circus series. Here’s what we saw last night, followed by a slide show:

All Together Now – Group Exhibition @ Hart House. Video and live performance with choirs, featuring LGBTQ choir Singing Out, among others.

Queen’s Park was rockin’ with a cosplay rave vibe, with a DJ, fire juggling and eating, peeps in animal costumes and clowns. Dancing, music and a fun, energetic atmosphere.

8th Wonder – Michael Oatman and Brian Kane @ Union Station

A very cool interactive light box installation (will see if I can find title/artist).

Un/natural History: Drowning Captiva 2014 – George Bolster

The Melodious Malfeasance Meat-Grinding Machine 2014 – Dana Sherwood

Night Suite – lightsweetcrude

Big Top Grand Stand 2014 – SuttonBeresCuller

Cascade – Ananadam Dance Theatre, Brandy Leary, Eamon MacMahon, James Burton

Impressions – Mina Vedut, Alice Song, Andrea Ng, Alice Chen @ Wychwood Barns

Hive (2.0) – Hopkins Duffield @ Wychwood Barns

Dried Beans Models of the Universe from the Department of Household Sciences and Advanced Proverbs – John Shipman @ St. Matthews United Church (which also included a helping of very tasty vegetarian chili)

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SummerWorks: The beginnings of a beautiful ode to the North in To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0

evalyn-620x500For my final SummerWorks production, I returned to Studio C of the Pia Bouman School for Creative Movement to see the closing night performance of Evalyn Parry’s To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0. You can read the post about my visit to the installation here.

The table of objects and remembrances of visitors’ experiences of the North has been moved to the side of the space to accommodate chairs for an audience. The stage is set against the back wall, designed to look like a wall of ice.

Frank, the studio cat, lounges upstage right and eventually wanders about during the course of Parry’s performance. This is his space, after all, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that he inserted himself into the show.

Weaving history, songs, personal anecdotes and images of her trip to Greenland with Students on Ice, along with some visitor interview excerpts recorded during the installation’s residency at SummerWorks, Parry takes us from the Franklin expedition to the present day, winding through exploration, a brief history of the Dominion’s early and shameful relationship with the Inuit, to her own personal thoughts and experiences of the North. The performance has a kitchen party quality to it, especially when we are invited to turn our chairs around to face the map, with Parry’s soundscaping and singing continuing throughout, in a crystal clear and soothing, mantra-like celtic folk style. Parry’s father David, who was a folk singer and member of The Friends of Fiddlers Green, also features prominently in the performance – and To Live in the Age of Melting may be as much an homage to him as it is to the landscape.

History, geography, ecology, politics, art and culture merge in this moving and enlightening performance. And although the SummerWorks installation and performance is now over, this is just the beginning of Parry’s exploration. She plans to continue honing this work, and will go on to conduct a similar examination of Northern views of the South.

Evalyn Parry’s To Live in an Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0 is the beginnings of a beautiful ode to the North.

Keep an eye out for Evalyn Parry and To Live in an Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0 – and its continuing evolution and addition of Northerners’ perspectives.

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Frank, the Pia Bouman studio cat, lounges on Parry’s t-shirt on the exhibit table

 

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.

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.

Saturday = Artaday

Yesterday was a day of art and friends – “Artaday,” as my partner in creative crime Lizzie Violet coined it – as we attended two art exhibit openings and a very unique haunted house experience. Here are some highlights, as well as the details, of these events.

5 By 5 exhibit at the Gladstone Hotel Art Bar Gallery features five local artists, who have joined forces for a collaborative painting exhibit:

Jacques Albert uses a mostly subdued palette of earth tones, creating organic, flowing pieces featuring nature and figures that are both moving and haunting.

Brenda Clews combines text and figures using a vibrant primary palette for a series of electric works.

Jennifer Hosein’s beautiful paintings are sometimes disturbing, sometimes ethereal, and water colour-like in a striking use of blues and greens.

Anna Karoliina Koskinen’s works include some lovely snapshot moments of human and animal subjects, the images of people capturing a second’s worth of joy and pensiveness.

Greg Nordoff’s paintings have a sharp photographic quality to them, with images of mysterious, sexy women, as well as finely detailed architecture and portrait work.

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5 By 5 – Brenda Clews performs some of her poetry.
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5 By 5 – Lizzie & Laurie take in Jennifer Hosein’s work.
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5 By 5 – Opening reception guests mingle, with Greg Nordoff’s work in the background.
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5 By 5 – Guests chat, with Jacques Albert’s and Anna Karoliina Koskinen’s work in the background.

5 By 5 closes on October 26, so get on over to the Gladstone Art Bar Gallery.

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Kill Joy’s Kastle – The tour waiting area aka “the Womb”
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Kill Joy’s Kastle – The larger than life Goddess figure.
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Kill Joy’s Kastle – The Carpet Muncha installation.
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Kill Joy’s Kastle – The Hall of Straw Feminists (Liz Lemon & Margaret Thatcher).

Kill Joy’s Kastle at 303 Lansdowne Ave. is a scary fun haunted house trip into women’s studies, feminist thought and gender fluidity. Our tour guide Keith Ann McWoman, a prof at McMaster U., leads us through the space, which features thought-provoking, spooky and humourous images and installations. Totally destroys the stereotypes of joyless, humourless feminists and lesbians by giving these preconceived notions a good send-up. On until October 30 – 4 till 8 p.m. daily or by appointment. Take the alleyway on the south east side to get to the entrance.

Urban Federation of Artists at Gallery Catalyst is a remarkable, edgy and eclectic multi-artist show. Here are some artists that stood out for me:

Nik Beat’s work is a selection of darkly whimsical multi-media collage pieces, featuring images of pop culture and famous musicians.

Dr. Seuss – yes, that Dr. Seuss – unique drawing style is on display, and for sale, in numbered prints of illustrations from some of his most beloved books.

Tanja-Tiziana gorgeous black and white photographs combine nostalgia, memory and iconic architecture.

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Urban Federation of Artists – Opening reception guests mingle & view the art at Gallery Catalyst.
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Urban Federation of Artists – Lizzie Violet & artist Nik Beat.
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Urban Federation of Artists – Nik Beat’s and Alice Zilerberg’s art on display, with pieces & prints available for purchase in the trays below
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Urban Federation of Artists – A live model in full body paint stands in the front window.

Alice Zilerberg’s stunningly beautiful altered photographic images are where dream meets nightmare meets fairy tale.

What art has inspired you recently?