news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Monday, 30 December 2013

Infinity Rehearsal Journal: December 20-21, 2013

Clare Preuss is Volcano's associate artistic director. She's keeping tabs on the beginnings of Infinity, a new play by Hannah Moscovitch currently in development... 

I write this final Infinity workshop 2013 entry from Pearson Airport, ready to take off for a family holiday season in Switzerland. I feel inspired to share excellent new Canadian theatre with the rest of the world.  This is one of the reasons I’m so delighted to the be the Associate Artistic Director at Volcano – Ross and team are not only dedicated to creating some of this country’s most poignant, touching live performance but they are also committed to touring productions to countries across this planet.

Hannah has written a play with many universal threads that touch our hearts and stimulate our minds.  After this productive and collaborative two weeks of development, it is my hope that audiences in Canada and around the world will have the opportunity to experience this touching piece of theatre.

In the final two days of this round of workshop process, we gathered to refine the staging, musical, choreographic and text based creation that we have conjured up over this time together.  Then, on Sunday, we had the opportunity to share the piece with an invited group of artists and loved ones.  It was a passionate day of presentation of and conversation.  Now, the Volcano team continues to work toward bringing a full-fledged production to audiences in Toronto and beyond!  

Infinity Rehearsal Journal: December 17-20, 2013

Clare Preuss is Volcano's associate artistic director. She's keeping tabs on the beginnings of Infinity, a new play by Hannah Moscovitch currently in development... 

We dove into week two and went right to the heart of Hannah’s incredibly evocative piece.  This team is incredible!  Hannah has found a story line that deeply connects theoretical physics, music, human relationship and the legacy we leave our children.  It is an emotional, thoughtful script that requires virtuosic performance and a highly imaginative creative team.  I come away from the first four days of this week’s exploration truly in awe of the company gathered to jam on Infinity.

On Tuesday and Wednesday the creative team, lead by choreographer Kate Alton, created what I secretly call the lonely atom dance.  It is a beautiful and upsetting piece of dance that encapsulates the tormented love of a husband, wife and their eight-year-old daughter.  I find Kate’s choreography to be quite emotional as we follow daughter Sarah Jean’s attempt to find order in the chaotic reality in which she is being raised.  

Why the lonely atom dance?  Well, first of all, at times in the dance, all three actors look like atoms bouncing off each other, trying to connect but unable to do so.  Also, when Elliot and Carmen meet at a party years earlier he mentions to her that he is a theoretical physicist who studies the nature of time.  They get talking about the specifics of what he does and finally, Elliot talks about listening to atoms and hearing their dull ache, their longing.  Carmen replies "They sound lonely?" and after Elliot agrees she concludes "The atoms are lonely."  It is one of the most beautifully funny and also terribly sad moments in the play and one that I feel foreshadows so much of what comes as these two people begin a tragic love affair and parental partnership.

Witnessing Kate and team co-create this piece is satisfying.  I enjoy how the characters’ journeys are so clear and that this dance in the middle of a text based piece is necessary – the only way they can express themselves in that moment is through dance.  It is brilliant visioning by Ross, Kate and Kong Kie to create a dance sequence at this point in the play and delightful collaboration by all artists to come to this poignant piece of movement.

For the last two days, we’ve been semi staging the play – finding the right balance of blocking and classical workshop reading vibe for our invited presentation on Sunday.  It is wonderful to experience Ross and the team’s innate ability to play with various staging possibilities with courage, speed and precision.  It is delightful to see how different a scene plays depending on the physical relationship of the characters.  I know this intellectually but it feels like magic every time creators put theory into action - as we make choices on stage that fundamentally shift the meaning and impact of the words being spoken.  I think the team has come up with a nice balance of staging and music stand reading.  Of course, we haven’t run it all together yet so, we will see how that goes before I get too sure!  Hannah has been busy writing in TV land all week and joins us again tomorrow.  So, we will show her what we’ve got and then, once we have all tasted what we’ve put together, we can assess the stew we’ve cooked up so far.  

If today’s weepy rehearsal hall is any clue, we’ve got a moving play on our hands!  

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Infinity Rehearsal Journal: December 13-15, 2013

Clare Preuss is Volcano's associate artistic director. She's keeping tabs on the beginnings of Infinity, a new play by Hannah Moscovitch currently in development... 

As we delved into the second half of the first week of the workshop, we were in the thick of play development.  On Friday, we continued to investigate the piece scene by scene, finding the aspects of both character and story that are useful to continue exploring in more detail.  The piece is really coming to life and some deep questions are being asked that will allow the play to grow in fullness and clarity.

On Saturday, we had the great honor and pleasure to welcome world-renowned theoretical physicist, Lee Smolin, in rehearsal.  We read the play for Lee and were thankful for his enthusiastic reaction and clarifying notes regarding both the physics and the relational content of the play.  It was our first big snow day in Toronto and, at the end of our rehearsal Lee was trying to make a hair cut appointment but the cabs were taking forever to come - so, I volunteered to cut Lee’s hair and he accepted!  I’m Ross’ hairdresser as well and it was a delightful impromptu experience at the end of a completely inspirational day.

The Infinity Team: actors Paul Braunstein, Amy Rutherford,
and Haley McGee; violinist Andrea Tyniec; and (seated)
choreographer Kate Alson and director Ross Manson

Sunday was split into two distinct sections.  We began the day by taking all of Sarah Jean’s adult solo moments in the play and stringing them together to find the internal arch of Sarah’s present moment journey.  This experiment was very helpful in finding the drive behind Sarah Jean’s monologues – what she is working to figure out.  After our break, the rehearsal hall was opened to Volcano’s supporters.  We gathered for a potluck lunch that was followed by Andrea playing some music from the play as well as a reading of a scene from the piece.  The mood was jovial and everyone seemed to enjoy this sneak peek at this dynamic and innovative new piece.

Infinity Rehearsal Journal: December 10-12, 2013

Clare Preuss is Volcano's associate artistic director. She's keeping tabs on the beginnings of Infinity, a new play by Hannah Moscovitch currently in development... 

The Infinity team has gathered at the welcoming Aluna Theatre rehearsal space for another round of workshopping Hannah Moscovitch’s deeply moving and intellectually stimulating play.  We have congregated numerous times in the past year for short, one-day workshops. These mini workshops have all been fruitful as Hannah continues to develop the piece under the direction of Volcano’s Artistic Director Ross Manson and with the support of actors, Paul Braunstein, Haley McGee and Amy Rutherford along with choreographer Kate Alton, composer Njo Kong Kie and violinist Andrea Tyniec and myself, Associate Artistic Director Clare Preuss.

It is such a delight to have the luxury of a two-week workshop process as it gives us the ability to deepen the textual, physical, movement and design elements of the play with a continuous flow of collaboration.  The first three days of this adventure have been very rewarding.

On day one, we began with some fun and illuminating physical warm up lead by Ross.  Then, we each brought in five objects and placed them around the border of the hall.  Some of these objects were meaningful to the story of the play and others were mundane, everyday objects.  Each actor picked three pieces and we then asked the actors a series of questions about the objects, which they answered in character.  This exercise proved to be an ideal way to delve into the shared back-story of this family of three - unearthing potential commonalities and links in behavior as well as points of long-standing tension and challenge.  That afternoon, we began reading Hannah’s newest draft of the piece.  We almost made it to the end of act one.  It was a full and productive first day!
Actors Paul Braunstein, Amy Rutherford, and Haley McGee
On day two, Ross once again led us in some group warm-up.  This time, we had fun imitating each other’s walks, which is always a great laugh, but also proved useful for the actors as they are portraying a family unit and this kind of body awareness is a useful tool in feeling intimately connected to each other.  Following the warm-up, Ross led an exercise to devise two archetypal gestures for each actor.  This Michael Chekov-based technique provided results that were compelling and will help both Ross and choreographer, Kate Alton, develop the physical world of the piece.  After break, we got back to reading the play and almost made it to the end of the text.  Following rehearsal, Ross, Kate, Hannah, Kong Kie and stage manager Isabelle Ly had a script meeting and Hannah left eager to make some changes.

On day three, Hannah brought in a whole new draft!  We dove right into it and worked through the play at the table, engaged in scene work and discussion.  One of the big questions the team is mulling over is the use of music in the piece.  As both mother (Carmen) and daughter (Sarah Jean) in the play are violinists while the father (Elliot) is a theoretical physicist, we are keen to discover how the powerful music that Kong Kie has composed and Andrea plays can support and partner the text-based work.  We also continue to investigate the relationship between Sarah Jean’s solo adult scenes and the childhood scenes she shares with Carmen and Elliot.  By the end of rehearsal day three, the team seems inspired and ready to continue the development of this play rich with poignancy.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Urgent issues facing Canadian artists

Volcano AD Ross Manson just sent the follow email to our fans and followers. If you'd like to subscribe to Ross' updates, please email

Two pieces of news from government regarding the arts community are extremely troubling, and should concern us deeply. I propose some actions on our part - writing councillors, MPs and the new Minister of Culture. Here's what's troubling me:

1) The recommendation from Toronto city staff to renege on a promise to increase per capita arts funding in Toronto. The initial increase was made possible through the billboard tax - conceived and fought for by artists, for artists - and since then, council has committed to making enhanced arts funding part of their operating budgets moving forward. This is from the NOW Magazine piece:

"If council reneges on meeting the 2016 target it will be the third time the city has missed a deadline to increase arts funding to $25 per capita, a level seen as the standard a decade ago when it was reached by Montreal. In 2003, council endorsed a plan that set 2008 as the target, and once that was missed, approved another report in 2010 that set 2013 as the deadline. As Toronto has struggled, Montreal has increased its arts funding to $55 per capita."

This recommendation is not yet enacted. If we push back hard as a community, council will not pass it. But we must write our Councillors to let them know we care. Even a two-liner will suffice. I expressed fury to my Councillor. Find your City Councillor's email here.

2) Buddies in Bad Times has lost its Department of Canadian Heritage funding for the Rhubarb Festival with no explanation as to why. This stinks of an arbitrary measure coming from the conservative government. Of course, there is no proof of that, because the process is opaque. But that in itself is troubling. This is from the eloquent statement issued by Buddies:

"What is troubling this time is that we have not been given any clear indication as to why we no longer meet their criteria. This has left us surprised and confused. Why do we no longer meet the program's objective? We did not propose any significant shifts to the festival in our application. There has been no announced change in policies or priorities. The only source of new priorities that we can see at Canadian Heritage is the appointment of the new Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the Honourable Shelly Glover."

Buddies has a right to know how and why Rhubarb suddenly no longer fulfills this objective, after 35 years. Please write to the Minister of Culture and cc your MP. Feel free to copy and paste from above.

Mister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages:
Find your MP here.