news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Thursday, 11 July 2013

On Peggy Baker

ROSS MANSON: I first got to know Peggy Baker just over a decade ago while building a show with Kate Alton called Mortality. We asked several famous writers to each address their own mortality in monologue form. we were putting together a dance theatre piece — scored by John Gzowski — that spoke to the great divide we will all cross over. Each writer was paired with a dancer. I cold-called Carol Shields and, to my shocked delight, she said yes.

Carol Shields
Carol was paired with Peggy. The haunting irony of this is that it was during the development of the show that Carol was diagnosed with cancer, and given only a limited time to live. She threw out the piece she had been working on for us, and began another, detailing her own death (which can be found in Brick Magazine, issue 72). Carol was a gift to us all: her humour, her wisdom, her utter lack of ego, her curiosity.

Peggy Baker in Mortality
Photo by John Lauener
Peggy was the perfect artist to realize Carol's words through movement and voice, bringing her own considerable wisdom and depth of insight to the topic. This was a very special time for me, meeting and working with two of the country's greatest artists, who seemed light-years ahead of me in terms of artistry. I watched the serious, dedicated, yet light way they both had of going deep.

Carol never saw Peggy dance her words, but Peggy's performance of them changed my life. I've seen Peggy's own work get more and more refined and shimmering over the years. I've been influenced heavily by her opinions, her dancing, and have watched her teach her masterful classes with a sense of awe at what she can inspire in students. if you can, study with her. she is a rare and exquisite thing.

Visit to learn more about Peggy's class, Movement for Actors, and other courses at the Volcano Conservatory. To register, email

Director Director Director

ROSS MANSON: I can't remember exactly when I met Jennifer Tarver, but it was a loooong time ago now. We were both becoming directors on the experimental fringes of Toronto at around the same time (early 90s). I have always been a fan of her mind, and her energy. Her work has spoken for itself, and has taken her from small rooms at the Music Gallery and the Theatre Centre to Stratford and New York.

Ross Manson: actor
Photo by Nir Baraket
Recently, I had the pleasure of auditioning for her. I haven't acted in Toronto for probably a decade, and Jennifer is one of the few who actually remembers that I WAS an actor (my acting work actually subsidized Volcano for the first decade or so of the company). She brought me in for the role of a director in a show she is directing this coming fall in Toronto. So there were three directors in the room: her, me, and the character, with the first two trying to understand the third.

Jennifer Tarver
Photo: Liz Lauren
We had two sessions together, and it was a pleasure. She is honest and brilliant, and focused on bringing the work to the stage in as deep and affecting a way as possible. I didn't get the part (a bit of a relief — I'm too busy!), but the audition experiences were themselves fun, fulfilling, and more like a real exploration than an audition — to her credit. I imagine her class will be similarly engaging. We're lucky to have her.

Visit to learn more about Jennifer's course, The Physically Active Monologue, and other classes at the Volcano Conservatory. To register, email

A Remarkable Trip

Robert Wilson's The Black Rider
Photo by NYNYNY on Flickr
ROSS MANSON: Sigrid Herzog directed me in a show in Toronto in 1989 (Big and Little, by Botho Strauss). Her approach — and that of the German team surrounding her — opened a window for me on a whole new way to make theatre. I visited her in Munich the next summer, and she was kind enough to set up theatre tickets for me to see the best work on at the time. I saw Robert Wilson's work in Hamburg (The Black Rider: amazing), and Berlin (Orlando: dreamlike), Peter Stein's work in Berlin (Roberto Zucco: astonishing), Tankred Dorst's work in Munich (Kaspar: the audience booed the director, deservedly so), and Klaus Maria Brandaeur on stage in Vienna (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: utterly bizarre). We also took a drive to her famous brother's house in the Austrian Alps, and spent the night. I got to hang out with her and Werner (who asked me my opinion of Donald Sutherland, and fed me an Austrian farmer snack of onion leaves, black bread and dark wheat beer — delicious).

I was a 20-something Canadian actor dropped into an elite of theatre and film in Europe. The trip blew my mind open, and set me on a course that I am still on today. It showed me that one never knows where things might lead.

Sigrid is worth meeting, and worth learning from. She is now one of the leading educators in the german theatre system. There are a few spots left in her class (but only a few). This opportunity will likely not come again.

Visit for more details on Sigrid's course, Body & Imagination, and other classes at the Volcano Conservatory. To register, email