Interview with Vanessa Smythe on Outside the March collaboration for 100 Outside Voices

vanessa smythe
Vanessa Smythe

“Maybe a city is not just a place, but a suggestion of what we place in our hearts.” – Vanessa Smythe, 100 Outside Voices

Outside the March (OtM) asked Toronto actor/poet/spoken word artist Vanessa Smythe to compose a 100-line love letter to Toronto. The resulting piece, 100 Outside Voices, will be performed and recorded by 100 OtM Artists, each reciting one line, and unveiled in the Fall. I last saw Smythe during her very busy – and successful – summer 2015, performing her spoken word piece In Case We Disappear at the Toronto Fringe, which she took to the Edinburgh Fringe later that summer. She recently appeared in the Canadian Stage production of Domesticated back in December. I asked her about 100 Outside Voices and how she came to be involved in the project.

LWMC: Hey busy lady, congrats on this exciting commission from Outside the March. How did you come to be involved in 100 Outside Voices?

VS: Hey thanks! Yeah, Mitchell Cushman approached me and asked if I could write a 100-line poem that could double as a love letter to our city, and a bit of a manifesto for why we tell stories, especially in a site-specific way throughout Toronto. It would celebrate the 100 artists Outside the March has employed, and also be an inventive way to invite fundraisers for the campaign. Much of my poetry is about personal experience, so it was nice to look outward for this one, wonder about something bigger.

LWMC: What can you tell us about the genesis of the piece and your writing process? Any particular inspiration(s) or impetus?

VS: I’ve often come to Mitchell when I’m creating or developing new work. He acted as an ad hoc director to me for my solo show In Case We Disappear, and he’s always been very encouraging of my writing and exploring. For this one, I was intrigued, but had no idea where to start. How could I speak on behalf of everyone who lives in Toronto, who cares about it? How could I capture all of that in one poem? I felt I couldn’t possibly capture everything, and on the day I started writing it, I was actually feeling really down, really uninspired. I ended up wandering around the city, walking my favourite places, riding streetcars with no destination in mind, just getting close to the city – spending time with it, seeing if I could gaze at it, listen to it. I ended up recalling the people and memories that are borne out of the city. The things that animate and give the city its life and its breath. It became about the things we care about – how traces of that care are all over our city, and how if all of it vanished – what we’d lose. It’s not meant to speak on behalf of everyone, but is instead an offering of love to the city and the people who care about it.

LWMC: How and where it will be performed? And can you tell us about any of the actors you have onboard?

VS: 100 artists are each assigned one of the 100 lines. And they’re not just actors. Designers, writers, all of OtM’s artists. They go to their favourite place in the city, and speak the line (recording it with their phone). We stitch them all together so the poem literally becomes this 100-person offering – all of us celebrating our mutual playground.

LWMC: The big, multimedia reveal will be this Fall. When and where will folks be able to see the full piece?

VS: Outside the March tends to operate with an exciting bit of mystery. I’m not sure the details of the reveal yet. My guess is it’ll be some kind of gesture. Something that celebrates the multiple voices of our city.

LWMC: 100 Outside Voices is also a fundraiser for Outside the March – and folks can donate on the project’s Canada Helps site. Anything else we should know about 100 Outside Voices?

VS: 100-voices.com is the website for all the details. It’s funny too, since writing the poem, I’ve had more thoughts about our city, more layers that I wish I could’ve explored in the poem, which – though frustrating at times – is such a nice reminder of the uncountable parts of where we live, and how even our act of celebrating it – though never finished – makes us curious to keep learning about it, keep listening to it.

LWMC: I like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire: What’s your favourite word?

VS: Yes. Home. Please.

LWMC: What’s your least favourite word?

VS: I like a lot of words. Maybe “your,” spelled wrong.

LWMC: What turns you on?

VS: Kindness. Being physically present. People talking about what they love. People not giving a f*ck. Spontaneity.

LWMC: What turns you off?

VS: Rudeness. Piercing, complaining voices.

LWMC: What sound or noise do you love?

VS: Computer keys being tapped really fast. My nephews laughing. Rain falling on the lake. When you’re walking through a forest and you can hear the water nearby before you see it.

LWMC: What sound or noise do you hate?

VS: People filing their nails. The sound of the dance floor on a Saturday night at 2am at a bar I used to work at. The sound would be murderous.

LWMC: What is your favourite curse word?

VS: Fuck.

LWMC: What profession other than your own would you like to pursue?

VS: I’d like to start a company that did something good, helped young people feel free, more themselves.

LWMC: What profession would you not like to do?

VS: Sell used cars. Unless it was just for a day, and I could be really bad at it.

LWMC: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

VS: Hello again, my friend. Hello.

Thanks, Vanessa!

Keep an eye out for Outside the March’s production of Vanessa Smythe’s 100 Outside Voices in Fall 2016. In the meantime, take a look at the teaser trailer:

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One weekend, four plays – SummerWorks closing weekend

And we’re back. Juggling a busy summer social schedule, with an impromptu trip out-of-town the first weekend of the festival, I managed to do a bit of SummerWorks catch-up this past week, seeing most of the shows I managed to catch this past weekend, including three yesterday. SummerWorks 2012 has wrapped – and here’s the scoop on the four shows I saw on closing weekend.

Medicine Boy (Anishnaabe Theatre Performance – Scotiabank Studio Theatre). Written by Waawaate Fobister, directed by Tara Beagan, and featuring an all Indigenous creative team and cast, Medicine Boy takes us on a hero’s quest as Mukukee (Garret C. Smith), guided by the mysterious and mischievous storyteller Daebaujimod (Jonathan Fisher), is transported via visions, dreams and memories of personal family history – with images projected on the fabric of the set – on a mystical journey of self-discovery and identity. From the smell of sage and the sound of crickets before the play begins, to images of violence and terror that mark the residential school experience, and the enraged wild girl Mukukee encounters, as well as moments with his deceased mother (both female roles played by PJ Prudat), the audience is carried along this journey with laughter and tears – through the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. An amazing cast, and an engaging and moving production.

Terminus (Outside the March – Factory Theatre Mainspace). I managed to squeak in after waiting on stand-by for the closing performance of this Irish spoken word ballad by Mark O’Rowe, directed by Mitchell Cushman, and featuring another outstanding cast of three: Maev Beaty, Ava Jane Markus and Adam Wilson. With a black metal and nylon strap set, resembling the supports of a crane against girders of a building in progress and at the same time a pair of black wings, the audience is seated across the upstage half of the stage with the set and playing space taking up the downstage half – making for an incredibly up close and intimate experience for both actors and audience. A mother (Beaty) estranged from her daughter tries to help a young woman in peril, while a young woman looking for love (Markus) finds her evening out with friends taking a nasty, then supernatural turn, and a shy young man who adores the music of Bette Midler proves to be a tortured and dangerous fellow (Wilson). Both lyrical and profane, terrible and wonderful, beautiful and grotesque, Terminus is a riveting, visceral and powerful piece of condemnation and redemption.

The Hearing of Jeremy Hinzman (Foundry Theatre – The Theatre Centre). This is verbatim theatre project, created by Josh Bloch and Oonagh Duncan, and directed by Richard Greenblatt. With dialogue taken from transcripts, interviews and using live video of actors re-enacting newscasts, it is the true story of a U.S. soldier who became the first American citizen to request refugee status in Canada. Canada’s dilemma: in order to grant his request, it would have to find that the United States’ war in Iraq was illegal. Socially conscious, enlightening and engaging, Hinzman features a fine ensemble of multi-tasking actors: William “Bill” Colgate (Hinzman’s lawyer Jeffry House), Joris Jarsky (Hinzman and Jimmy Massey), Dov Mickelson (Brian Goodman, who presided over the hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada), Sarah Orenstein (counsel representing Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Judy Sgro), Jamie Robinson (Chuck Wiley) and Kevin Jake Walker (Joshua Key), with most cast members doubling up for newscasters, political pundits, etc. Hinzman’s case is ongoing.

France (or, the Niqab) (Old Pirate – Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace). Playwright Sean Dixon and director Tanja Jacobs bring a social message home through laughter. Featuring yet another trio of brilliant actors – Salvatore Antonio (who Lost Girl and Saving Hope fans will recognize), Charlotte Gowdy and Beatriz Yuste – France (or, the Niqab) is a smart, irreverent, sexy and funny look at the assumptions people make about both women who wear the niqab and those who don mini-skirts and high heels. Antonio does double duty as the hilarious Clouseau-esque police officer, and as the charming and handsome mystery man who pays the fines of women charged with wearing a niqab in public in exchange for a photograph. Yuste also takes on two roles: the quick-witted, good-humoured Samira who is charged with wearing the niqab in public, as well as the hysterically opinionated  secretary of the mystery man. Gowdy is the wry-witted, ballsy high heel wearing lawyer Tabatha who takes on Samira’s case – on the condition that she wear the traditional clothing for one business day. Movement, dance and music are incorporated into the production: from Tabatha trying to work out how to wear the garments to a lovely dream sequence – where the two women dance together in a bond of sisterhood and woman power. Great big, thought-provoking fun.

Come to think of it, all of the plays that I saw this year were thought-provoking, engaging and entertaining – making the theatrical experience of each play both worthwhile and unforgettable.

Also check out what these other good theatre blogger folks had to say about the SummerWorks program:

Mooney on Theatre: http://www.mooneyontheatre.com/

Theatromania: http://www.theatromania.ca/

What did you like at SummerWorks this year?