news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

"Mischievous and Compelling" Sigrid Herzog: back in Toronto for the first time in 20 years

One of the things we pride ourselves on, here at Volcano, is connecting local artists with the latest in  international trends. It's one of Ross' key considerations when curating the Volcano Conservatory, and for the first time ever we're bringing the cutting-edge ideas and styles of contemporary German theatre to Toronto.

Sigrid Herzog
Body & Imagination: Contemporary Training from Germany

We're honoured to have Sigrid Herzog join us in July for the Conservatory. Sigrid is the assistant director of the Otto Falckenberg School for the Performing Arts - part of Munich's Kammerspiele, and one of the leading training institutions for German-language artists. Sigrid has directed at renowned theatres across the world, including our own Harbourfront Centre. This summer, she's in Toronto exploring a pedagogy designed to make acting more physical and uncensored. If the body is the actor's instrument, why do we let our heads get in the way? This is the question Sigrid will unpack with Conservatory participants.

Ross on Sigrid: 
"an approach to theatre that would literally change my life"
Ross: before Volcano

I first met Sigrid when she cast me in a show that was part of a Focus on German Art festival at Harbourfront, back in the late 80s. It was my introduction to an approach to theatre that would literally change my life.

We clicked. I was baffled by the play, and the whole non-naturalistic, inspiration-laden approach the Germans had to the stage. It was utterly unlike anything that I was acting in (or seeing) in Canada at the time. I wanted to learn more.

We became friends. I travelled to Munich a year or so later to work on a project with her. While there, I also worked with her assistant director - a young guy named Roland Schimmelpfennig. Roland is now the most produced living German playwright in the world. Back then, he was a drinking buddy, and hadn't written a word. Nor had I directed anything. Nor had Sigrid taken over the acting program at one of the top schools in Germany, for that matter.

But for both Roland and I, Sigrid was a mentor. She was (and still is) an imp. A brilliant, provocative, caring director / teacher with very high standards, and tremendous vision. She is mischievous and compelling. She has now trained a whole generation of German actors, and is doing the same for young singers at the Bavarian State Opera (one of the great companies in the world). She is having an true effect on performance in our era. And - on this side of the pond - my meeting Sigrid ended up in my pursuing further training in Germany, and the resultant founding of Volcano. 

Sigrid hasn't been back to Canada since we met over 20 years ago. This is an opportunity to study with someone truly brilliant. I cannot recommend her highly enough.

A little bit more on German theatre: 

German theatre-makers - particularly the country's contemporary indie artists - are widely recognized for shaking the foundations of the performing arts. The Goethe Institut has written extensively about Germany's indie scene, differing from the publicly owned state and municipal theatres operating in even the smallest towns across the country. In recent years, cost pressures have begun to dissolve the duality between indie and public systems, resulting in a variety of mixed organization / funding forms. You can read more about it here.

Rimini Protokoll's Best / Before
German cultural exports have made headlines in Toronto: She She Pop's Testament at World Stage (2012) and Rimini Protokoll's Best / Before at Luminato (2010) both spring to mind.

"When you see real people onstage there's a real vulnerability and accessibility," says World Stage Artistic Director Tina Rasmussen in the video above.

Real being the operative word: both Testament and She She Pop bring non-professional artists onstage to tell their stories, one of the major aesthetics that the Goethe Institut identifies in German indie theatre:
  • participation: casting non-professional performers in the production
  • inclusion: involving differently-abled performers (Theater RambaZamba)
  • interculturality: asking questions about migration (Ballhaus Naunynstra├če) 
  • interactivity: breaking the barrier between performer and audience. Gob Squad, a German/British performance collective, will be engaging with audiences at Luminato in June, if you'd like a taste of that style.

Artists who'd like to experience the German method first-hand with Sigrid should visit and register now - Body & Imagination is already 50% full! Register here.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Music & Theatre: Bedfellows at Last

Pig Iron's Quinn Bauriedel is making his way up from Philadelphia for the Conservatory this summer. Quinn was with us in 2011 to offer a wildly popular workshop on devised theatre:

Quinn with Volcano Conservatory
participants (July 2011)
"The theatre I enjoy doesn't show me back a one-for-one copy of life; it understands that what theatre can do best - better than movies, better than TV - is to play with life, to fantasize with it, to treat life poetically. Yet most training only asks us to take one approach to the stage. At this moment, I am interested in pushing theatre to its extremes, shaking up the conventions that bore us or that only serve to stimulate our sense of sentimentality and nostalgia." 

(read Quinn's full thoughts on that summer here)

Quinn's musings:

Music and theatre are bedfellows: both require expertise in dealing with rhythms, tempos, and duration for an audience and both are built upon tensions, relationships, crescendoes and decrescendos  cacophonies and silences. Yet, so often, music is brought into theatre only during blackouts to cover scene changes or is relegated to the pit so as not to distract from the action onstage. And in many concerts - rock or classical - images are crudely brought forth to amplify what the music is already saying.

How can music and theatre co-exist without becoming opera or Broadway? In Bali, there is no performance without a gamelan orchestra. In Japanese Noh Drama, the stage is literally a drum so each step an actor makes has musical implications. In Pig Iron's work, sound, music, silence, song, and soundscapes are nearly always a part of how we make theatre and are a primary element from start to finish.

What if characters entered the stage supported by a trio of musicians, as in Emir Kusturica's films? What if every "ordinary" moment onstage was accompanied by a choir, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary as in Christoph Marthaler's world-class spectacles. What if sound design ran underneath scenes from start to finish, laying an emotional carpet to heighten the tension onstage?

This workshop aims to bring these two forms into the same sphere and to propose a neo-music/theatre form in which every stillness is supported by a body as well as by sound, and in which both languages of live performance are in complicity with one another. We aim to interrogate this relationship, resulting in things as wide ranging as musical numbers, soundscapes, spectacles, moving dramas supported by choral music, and clown numbers with a clown band.

The workshop is intended for actors who can make a little music (with their voice, a piano, a drum, a keytar or the spoons...) and musicians / sound designers who are okay taking a few steps onto the stage as performers (whether playing music or working with music as a partner).

We'll have more from Quinn soon! In the meantime, visit for registration details for this course and the rest of our Conservatory.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Exciting news! Jennifer Tarver joins us at the Volcano Conservatory

We're super excited to announce that the newest AD in town, Necessary Angel's Jennifer Tarver, will be teaming up with us this summer at the Volcano Conservatory.

Jennifer joins an all-star roster of instructors from Canada, the US, and Germany, at our annual program of alternative training workshops for all kinds of artists - directors, actors, dancers, singers - whether new professionals or seasoned practitioners, who are looking to expand their horizons and delve deep into new artistic territory.

The Physically Active Monologue:
an exploration of the Grotowski method

Based on the methods of Jerzy Grotowski, the course will focus on the ability to create a precise physical action, and to infuse voice and text with the intention of that action. In preparation for the course each student will prepare a monologue. The monologues will be used as foundational texts from which to explore the elements of action: form, impulse, rhythm and direction in space. The course is an investigation into how meaning, and narrative fuse with physical impulse in space to create dramatic action.

From Ross: "Jennifer Tarver is a director whose startling vision and dedication to craft was formed in the indie sector, and she has carried that perspective to great success at Stratford, in New York, and now as the incoming AD of Necessary Angel Theatre. This is a terrific chance to study with someone who has worked across many sectors with an idiosyncratic and original voice. Not to be missed."

Jennifer joins instructors Cynthia Ashperger, Peggy Baker, Quinn Bauriedel (Philadelphia), Sarah Bild, Sigrid Herzog (Munich), Sonia Norris, and Volcano AD Ross Manson at the Conservatory June 19-28. For full details, and to register, visit

Check out this vintage video of a training session at Grotowski's "Laboratorium":