I have a minor fear of acting warm ups. Okay, that isn’t totally fair: I’m scared of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone and take risks and for me, acting warm ups fall into that “outside the realm of my experience” zone. In an effort to make this experience painless as possible I decided to take the morning warm up in a totally different direction. I swung by Loblaws and picked up two packages of toothpi
After 10.5 hours of sleep last night I was refreshed and started off today feeling like I could take over the world. I’m even becoming more comfortable with our morning warm ups.
In our conversation about what we saw last night, the idea of being seen came up again. When we talk about being seen in a performance, we are talking about the idea that our presence in the room was felt by the performers and changes the show – that our presence is a necessary component of the show. There are certainly some shows where the proscenium curtain could be in the whole time and the performance could happen just as it has every other time, and nothing would change. I don’t mean “does the performer talk directly to the audience?” because I have also seen shows where the performer is talking to the audience without ever seeing them, while some shows that have no direct address feel very seen.
The comment that resonated this morning as we talked about this topic for the fourth or fifth time was this: “How much is the work a reflection pool for the audience?” or to put it another way, “Is this play asking questions which the audience must answer for themselves or showing them a piece of their own soul?” Have you ever been at a performance where you felt seen? Or where you wished you’d been seen? I was at a site-specific piece recently where I desperately wanted to feel like the performers were seeing me, that my presence (and the presence of my fellow audience members) was informing the show.
This morning we were joined by Mani Soleymanlou, creator and performer of One/Un to talk about his piece, process, and my take away from our converstaion with him was three-fold.
One: Always make sure your collaborators are artists. Be prepared to tell them that their ideas are better than yours. Be prepared to throw their ideas away.
Two: Know when to stop rehearsing. Be precise on stage, but not “rehearsed.”
Three: If we all decided to stop working with people who worked unethically or who are assholes in the room, change would happen and it wouldn’t “have to be that way.”
After lunch, our focus was on fundraising. Jacob Zimmer, Julie Tepperman and Alexis Da Silva-Powell joined us and we began with the question “Why do people donate to the arts?” We talked about types of fundraising, tools for fundraising, and previous successful strategies. Then we did a group exercise – my favourite part of each day. Today we were divided into groups and given a ridiculous show concept (a burlesque Charlie & The Chocolate factory, a new musical about Louis Riel, a 3-hander farce written by an established playwright in collaboration with a grade 6 class, etc) and then asked to create the foundation for an online fundraising campaign, target some corporations, and list some people you would make personal asks to and why. It was a great exercise and it was interesting to hear the feedback about everyone’s proposals.
It was a three show night, seeing Breath in Between, When it Rains, and Petrichor. What are the chances of seeing two shows in one night that feature people killed by being struck by lightning? Odd. I’ve seen a lot of shows at SummerWorks that feel kind of half-finished, which is not what I expected coming in, but I suppose that I simply didn’t have a good sense of what SummerWorks existed for. I now see SummerWorks as a type of “work in progress” festival – a middle step between the Fringe and a full production.
First of all, 2.5 hours is not enough sleep to get going into a 12 hour day. Just a piece of advice for your life.
Sunday was, thankfully, a shorter day. We we joined in the morning by Deborah Pearson who curated the Live Art series to continue our ongoing conversation about Live Art. What I took away from our conversation with her were two key points.
1. People put their defenses up when they feel inadequate. In a Live Art setting, this means that if people are uncertain of how they area expected to behave, they won’t participate at all.
2. Using the term Live Art makes it easy to dismiss. Let’s call it experimental theatre instead.
Debbie gave us the names of some experimental theatre artists who are working internationally, including her own work with Forest Fringe in the UK, Dickie Beau (who apparently has great videos online) and Mammilian Diving Relfex.
Jordi, our program coordinator, managed to get some tickets for Dutchman set aside for us during the afternoon. I was very excited to see this show because it is being done here site specific on a bus. While I ultimately felt that it was not successful, I really enjoyed the experience of being on the bus with them. I am looking forward to taking that experience back to my Onsite program in Vancouver.
After Dutchman I met up with the lovely Nancy Kenny and Pat Gauthier to see One/Un which was one of my top five of the festival. Pat had to head straight back it Ottawa, but Nancy and I were able to go for drinks and get in a real visit.
Day four was a combination of the most rewarding and the most frustrating day thus far. In the morning we were joined by Adam Paolozza from Artaud: Un Portrait en Décomposition – our first visit from one of the artist mentors for our program. A few of the nuggets that I gleaned from our conversation were:
- Sometimes it doesn’t start with the money. Do the work and sometimes the money will come.
- In a rehearsal process, don’t always do eight hours a day: discover the rate at which you’re stimulated and productive.
- Breaks (between workshops and rehearsals, between weeks of rehearsal, etc) are essential and healthy to the artistic process [note: this is completely what I experienced on Re:Union with our workshop a month in advance of the beginning of rehearsal. By bringing the whole team into the room early we were able to create a language and a style to work from so our first official day of rehearsal had a foundation underneath it and we weren't starting from zero.]
In the afternoon we discussed grants and how to write them with a professional grant writer. It was that odd combination of exhilarating and exhausting and at the end of the day I wanted to go home and get to work on my Canada Council grant application. Hopefully that enthusiasm will carry over to a couple of weeks from now when I have a bit more time.
That session ended with a reminder that nobody cares about your art. Perhaps a little bit harsh, but certainly true on many levels. I know many people felt a bit dejected at the end of the day, but we headed over to the Lower Ossington Theatre for Brian Lobel’s Purge, a part of the live art series that deals with the concept of unfriending someone on Facebook while also exploring the death of his ex-boyfriend. It was a really moving piece and lead to many conversations about the economics and politics of friendship, while also underlining the value of friendship in our lives.
After Purge I was sent to another live art show: Motor Vehicle Sundown. This is a half hour long headphone piece takes place in a car and was the source of a large part of my personal frustration with the day. When I arrived at the venue I was informed that they were running a few minutes late. The festival has a timeliness policy so I was surprised, but I understand how easy it is for things to get behind. But when it reached half an hour past our scheduled start time and no one had communicated what was going on, I felt my frustration going. Finally the volunteer arrived to take myself and my partner down to the car, but the FOH manager wasn’t ready and once ore we found ourselves waiting without explanation. It was almost 40 minutes after our scheduled start time when we finally walked down to the car. The volunteer instructed us to put on our headphones, get in the front seat, and push play on our mp3 players.
We did this and began to listen to the stories and follow the instructions, but we quickly found that we had been given wrong instructions. We weren’t supposed to be in the car yet, and oh, we were supposed to get into the backseat first. About 7 minutes in we gave up on the piece. Our frustrations had gotten to the point where we were no longer able to just experience and enjoy the piece – we were angry and knew that if we restarted, everyone else would be that much further behind. Time to move on.
For our final show of the night, many of us headed to the Theatre Centre for The God That Comes, a collaboration between 2b theatre and Hawksley Workman based on the story of Bacchus. This show was by far the highlight of my day. As we waited for it to begin, we drank wine from the bottle and a beautiful young woman draped us with grapes (ever so appropriate for an event about the god of wine!) The show is still a work in progress, but I was delighted to discover that it will be coming to Club PuSh this winter, so Vancouver – don’t miss this show!
After the show, at around midnight, a handful of us made our way back to the house where I was staying and spent some time getting to know each other and laugh – not realizing until too late that it was five in the morning and we needed to be up and useful in only a couple of hours.
I find it very easy to listen in a room. I find it much easier to listen than to speak my mind. This is especially true in rooms full of opinionated people. Because of this, I made my goal for today be to ask a question and voice an opinion. I’m so pleased that I did both, although I feel that my question went entirely unanswered!
This morning we talked about performance art, and especially the performance art that is coming out of London, England right now through conversation with Brian Lobel, Debbie Pearson & Tania El Khoury. Here are just a few of the things that were said that stuck with me (and are sadly paraphrased from my notes):
“Art is really boring. There is nothing inherently interesting about it.”
“Ambiguity is the difference between live art/good theatre and a popular story where we all need to feel the same thing at the end.”
“Let a little idea hole big meaning – Let others read the big things in it.”
“Sometimes we get paid, sometimes we don’t, but faith in yourself as an artist makes investing in yourself worthwhile.”
“Our work is about relating to others. Otherwise it is masturbation.”
“[Getting in with a company] is not about going to the top of the ladder, it’s finding the right person who will be excited about you.”
“The pickier you are, the more successful you will be.”
There is so much in there and at 2am I cannot even begin to unpack it now, but I’m so glad that I have it to think about for the future.
In the afternoon we met with SummerWorks AD Michael Rubenfeld and GM Lucy Everleigh to talk about producing the festival and the work that excites them.
The evening was full of shows – four of them to be exact – as well as numerous run ins with friends. It’s what makes it feel like a real festival, I think – the running into people you know at every venue you show up at. The final show we saw tonight - Haunted – was my favourite of the festival so far. I think that the reason it was my favourite was that it felt the most like a completed piece rather than a work in progress.
Alas, I must sleep. We’re back in the room in 8 hours and tomorrow we are being joined by the first artist whose work we have seen – I wouldn’t want to be tired for that!
I love budgetting. I know it’s weird, but I get this strange thrill of playing with the numbers in microsoft excel and making the numbers add up the way that I want them to. The moment things balance is a really magical moment for me. But I know that is not everyone’s experience with budgets and I was excited today to hear what other people were learning and what stuck out to them. It was so wonderful to hear people realize that budgetting could be an artistic endeavour and not just an isolating, frustrating process.
One of the exciting parts of today is that I had a chance to have lunch with my artist mentor, the lovely Renna Reddie, and talk about what I want in life, how she’s ended up where she is now, and what will make our partnership a success. I was quite delighted when we looked at the time and realized we had to leave RIGHT NOW so I could get back to the workshops. To me that’s a sign of a good conversation!
And there’s nothing like seeing three shows to kick off a festival! Yup, I had a three show day today. I saw Your Side, My Side & The Truth at 5, My Pregnant Brother at 7, and France or the Niquab at 9. They were three very different shows and I can’t wait for tomorrow morning when we will get to discuss My Pregnant Brother as a group. As I sat watching it tonight, I flashed back to the first time I saw that show, just over a year ago, at the Neanderthal Arts Festival in Vancouver. I was there as an usher and was sitting directly in front of the brother referred to in the title, as well as their mother, as they watched the show for the first time. It was a really moving experience, because I don’t know if there is anything that exposes you more than the moment that the person your work is about sees your work for the first time. Even when it is created with their permission, the first time they see it there is a special electricity in the room. Which made this time watching it almost a let down. But I can’t wait to hear what everyone else thought!
To wrap up the night, we all headed over to the official SummerWorks opening night party which included a tonne of performances – music, live art, and things I’m not sure how to define (I heard from a friend a story of a unique hand washing, for example) – but was mostly an opportunity to get to know the other SLIP participants better as well as to network with other people connected to the festival. Other than being overwhelmingly warm I had a great time and was not ready to leave at midnight, but tomorrow will be another action packed day and I don’t want to miss a moment of it because I’m too tired.
I don’t know if the rest of you can understand the terror that goes through my mind when I hear the words “group physical warmup.” Laying on a disgusting floor and concentrating on my breath is not actually a physical language that I speak and the whole “count as a group to 21″ gives me shivers.
“Always do what you are afraid to do.” Right. Yes. Onto the floor I lie.
In another “get to know you” exercise we were asked to each draw a self portrait in 10 minutes and then explain it to the group in one minute. I am terrible at drawing, so I went with a pie chart: 85% kick ass, 15% crippling self-doubt.
All in all the day was a bit of a whirlwind: meeting the 13 people I’m going to be spending the next week and a half with, conversations with some Toronto theatre professionals on the subject of Professional Etiquette, and then drinks with the whole group and a chance to get to know the others.
My takeaway for today: when someone asks how you are, find an answer other than tired – no matter how true it is. If you need to be honest about it, try an answer like “Today has been rough, but I love what I do.” or some other answer that infuses the truth of a difficult situation with a glimmer of joy and graciousness.
Tomorrow: Budgetting! Group photos! Seeing shows! The opening party!
Tomorrow is the first day of the SummerWorks Leadership Intensive Program aka SLIP and today was all about preparation.
I get really anxious in new situations, especially if I feel unprepared for them, so I knew I wanted to spend some time today getting myself ready for tomorrow: figuring out public transit from my friend’s house to Factory Theatre, from Factory to the LOT, and from the LOT back to my friend’s house. Armed with my weekly TTC pass, iPhone, and a sharpie-drawn map I began my journey. Now let me be clear – I am pretty bad with directions. It took me more than two years to figure out north, south, east and west in Vancouver, even when working in a venue that uses those four terms instead of upstage and downstage. I’m not holding out much hope for figuring out Toronto in the next two weeks.
My very first attempt to get out of the neighborhood, I got on the streetcar going the wrong way. I didn’t figure out that I was going the wrong way until I pulled up the maps app on my iPhone. Thankfully I was right near the end of the line and it turned around and I got going the way I needed to. Hooray! Factory Theatre: found. Again on my way to the LOT I found myself going the opposite direction from what I needed (once more due to my trusty iPhone map). Jump off the streetcar. Cross the street. Jump on the streetcar heading the correct direction. Breathe. Lower Ossington Theatre: found. SummerWorks seven show pass: acquired. Number of minor freak outs: only one.
To wrap up the day, my lovely friend and host Amanda and I made our way to High Park to see CanStage’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was certainly a very Toronto way to spend the evening, and it was delightful to open the program and learned that the show had been designed by a friend. As the sun set over the park I felt the temperature go down for what seemed the first time since I arrived in Toronto four days ago. Lovely.
Now it is getting late and I’m going over the mental check list for tomorrow.
Festival kit: check
iPad charged: in progress
iPhone charged: once the iPad is done
Notebook ready: yes, but if I get up early I’m going to go buy something special
Re-reading everything about tomorrow: done
All that’s left is to get some sleep and go into tomorrow ready for adventure. And hope I don’t get lost on public transit on my way there.
If things change, I’ll try to keep this updated.
Thursday, August 9, 5pm – Your Side, My Side & The Truth @ Scotiabank Studio
Thursday, August 9, 7pm – My Pregnant Brother @ TPM Backspace
Thursday, August 9, 9pm – SummerWorks Opening Party
Friday, August 10, 7:30pm – Artaud @ LOT
Friday, August 10, 9pm – Dutchman @ LOT Parking
Saturday, August 11, 5pm – Medicine Boy @ LOT
Saturday, August 11, 7pm – Live Art Series – TBD
Sunday, August 12, 4:30pm – One @ The Theatre Centre
Sunday, August 12, 7:00pm – BAR NIGHT/2amt meetup – Location TBC
Monday, August 13, 5:30pm – Breath in Between @ TPM Main
Monday, August 13, 7:30pm – When it Rains @ Factory Main
Monday, August 13, 10:00pm – Petrichor @ Factory Main
Tuesday, August 14, 7:30pm – I, Animal @ Factory Main
Tuesday, August 14, 10:30pm – Barrell Crank @ TPM Main
Wednesday, August 15, 5:30pm – Haunted @ TPM Main
Wednesday, August 15, 8pm – Extinction Song @ TPM Main
Thursday, August 16, 5pm – Iceland @ LOT
Thursday, August 16, 9:30pm – Peachy Coochy @ LOT Performance Bar
Friday, August 17, 5pm – Fierce Monsters @ LOT
Friday, August 17, 10pm – Performance Bar @ LOT
Saturday, August 18, 10:30pm – Marine Life @ TPM Main
Sunday, August 19, 7:30pm – Closing Party
One of the great things about SLIP is that the timing allowed me to come out to Toronto for my dear friend Adrianna’s 30th birthday party. And when Adri throws a party, it’s not your average party. This party was a 1930′s Speakeasy, complete with live jazz trio. I don’t have much to day about it, but I do have some awesome photos to share.