news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Friday, 19 December 2014

Volcano's biggest FlashbackFriday

December marks the 20 year anniversary for Volcano Theatre. Volcano began as a group of theatre artists who first worked together on Ross's translation of Woyzeck for Equity Showcase Theatre in 1993.  In December 1994 Volcano opened it's very first show, The Third Land, at Factory extra space. It was a haunting show about migrants and uprootedness.   

The Third Land
Written by: Susanne Fritz
Starring: Waneta Storms, Nigel Shawn Williams
Featuring: Christine Brubaker and James O'Reilly
Written and translated by: Ross Manson
Set (made of paper): Jan Komarek
Lighting: Bonnie Beecher
Choreography: Laura Taler
Projected Animation: Bruce Alcock 

Waneta Storms and Nigel Shawn Williams. Photo by Tonia Miovska.
Waneta Storms and Nigel Shawn Williams. Photo by Tonia Miovska

Where are they now?

Susanne Fritz - still living in Germany, Susanne is a successful novelist, short fiction writer and essayist. She is also a composer and pianist, and has melded her music and writing in a series of "WordMusic" pieces. Here is a link to her most recent work with New York trombonist Steve Swell. 

Waneta Storms - as an actor, Waneta went on to work in stage and screen, and was nominated for a Gemini Award in each of her three seasons on The Eleventh Hour, as well as for her guest role on Blue Murder in 2001. More recently, Waneta has been working on the writing side of the camera as a screenwriter and story editor for television (most recently for Saving Hope). There's a great interview with her here.

Nigel Shawn Williams - Nigel is a multiple Dora award winner (as both a director and actor), and the Artistic Co-Director of Factory Theatre. He has worked for companies large and small across Canada - including Stratford, Shaw and Canadian Stage. Nigel is also the actor with the record number of roles with volcano (The Third Land, Two Words for Snow, Variété and Hedda Gabler).

Christine Brubaker -  Christine is an actor who has won two Dora awards (and has been nominated for seven!), has been part of the NAC ensemble, and the faculty at Humber College. She began directing three years ago, and this year won the Gina Wilkinson prize.

James O’Reilly - as a playwright, James went on to write many plays, often acting in them. He was one of the writers and subjects of Jennifer Baichwal's documentary Act of God, about the effects of being struck by lightening. There's a great short film here with James leading the viewer around Parkdale - in 1998 - before it became what it is today.

Ross Manson - Artistic Director of Volcano Theatre. He's still doing that. Still directing and making things. He wishes he could act a bit more again...

Jan Komarek - Jan is a Czech lighting and scenic designer and theatre maker. He studied painting and design in then Czechoslovakia, worked extensively in Puppet Theatre, lived in France, then moved to Canada, where he founded Sound Image Theatre with composer Rainer Wiens. In 2001, he returned to Prague where he became known on the alternative scene for his design work and performance making. He was voted ‛Theatre Personality of the Year 2009’ by the New Wave Festival and was awarded first prize for Lighting Design by an international jury at the 2010 Czech Dance Platform Festival.

Bonnie Beecher - as a lighting designer Bonnie works regularly across Canada and around the world, designing lights for the Shaw and Stratford Festivals, the National Ballet, the Mannheim Ballet, the COC and many others - including Volcano (where she designed The Third Land, Building Jerusalem, The Africa Trilogy, Hedda Gabler, Mortality and Two Words for Snow - the latter for which she won a Dora award).

Laura Taler - Laura was a choreographer and the founder of Dances for a Small Stage. She went on to make dance films and then branched into visual art. She is now working across a range of media including dance, film, sound, sculpture and installation. This has taken her around the world, with residencies in Buenos Aires, Ottawa, and Berlin, and she has collected film awards in Chicago (Chicago International Film Festival), Toronto (Hot Docs) and New York (Dance on Camera Festival).

Bruce Alcock - Bruce is a proud Newfoundlander and founder of the animation studios Cuppa Coffee (in Toronto) and Global Mechanic (in Vancouver). Bruce was the animation director on Volcano's international award-winning The Four Horsemen Project, and has made a mountain of innovative animation - his 6 min film Vive la Rose is viewable here.

Andrew R. Miller - a composer and double bassist Andrew now lives in Saint John, NB. He is the founder of the Motion Ensemble, and the principle bassist in Symphony New Brunswick. He has lately been focusing on contemporary and experimental music, developing original compositions, audio installations and media art exploring interactive electronics, extended instrumental techniques and psychedelic dissonance. 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Behind the scenes with Graham McKelvie

With one week left in the run of The Four Horsemen Project at Soulpepper Theatre, we touched base with the fabulous Graham McKelvie, one of our Four Horsemen performers. We wanted to see what it was like to prepare for this insanely demanding role. 

Did you know anything about the Four Horsemen poets before beginning to work on The Four Horsemen Project?

GM: No, I knew nothing of the Four Horsemen before the project. What an interesting and pleasant surprise it was for me!

What was the very first rehearsal like? 

GM: The very first rehearsal we started working on "Allegro 108" and I thought I was going to go insane and pulled big diva moments where I was all "I NEED A BREAK CUZ I'M GOING CRAZY!!!" ...... lol.... the work of the Four Horsemen is often not easy to learn as it purposefully deconstructs syntax. The journey was bewildering but really engaging.

When Ross called you to say he was remounting the show, what was your initial reaction?

GM: Of course I was quite filled with joy when presented with the possibility of a remount. It's a great time for a performer to go nuts in a way one rarely gets. And the piece is by now such a familiar thing, that it's like reconnecting with an old friend.

What did you do to prepare for this remount?

GM: Initially I freaked out when I thought of preparing for the remount, but then I realized it was all still there in my brain and body and not too far from the surface. Funny thing how a brain works.

What’s your favourite “pome” in the show?

GM: My fav pome is probably, Aleph Beth. It's a lovely play on words, and the recycling of them. But in addition it is dramatically layered in a way. At one glance, it is like a serious instructional told to listeners. And on the other hand it's almost like a soliloquy, the thoughts inside the head of someone who has thought long and hard on the subject matter,  the nature of poetry always dancing around him, which is what is happening choreographically.

Be sure to ride with Graham and our other three incredible horsemen in The Four Horsemen Project playing at Soulpepper before it closes on November 22. For tickets, purchase here.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Riding with The Four Horsemen Project

The Four Horsemen Project at Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre, is underway. Woohoo! For those of you who know only a weeeeeee bit about  The Four Horsemen Project, hopefully this will help.

The Four Horsemen Project is based on poetry from Toronto's original Four Horsemen poets, Rafael Barreto-Rivera, Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery and bpNichol back in the 70's. To get a taste of their work, check out this video below. It is absolutely unlike anything you've ever heard before.

In 2000, Kate Alton and Ross Manson heard a recording of The Four Horsemen (you can find out about The Four Horsemen Project: Origin Story here) and decided to create a show using four dancers reciting the sound poetry of the 70's. That creation has become The Four Horsemen Project.

Naomi Skwarna of Hazlitt recently sat down with Ross Manson and Kate Alton to talk about our revival production. Read her piece "At the Bleeding Edge of Language" here. Naomi talks with Ross and Kate about how The Four Horsemen recorded their poetry using charts. "They'd riff on a sound written in a certain cell. Then all four horses would move from left-to-right. "

Now that you're a sound poetry expert, be sure to join our Four Horsemen at Soulpepper Theatre, November 6 - 22. Tickets are available here.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Four Horsemen Project: Origin Story

Today marks one month until the opening of Volcano’s The Four Horsemen Project in association with Crooked Figure Dancers and Global Mechanic Theatre, presented by Soulpepper. This incredible production was originally produced back in 2007 and here we Throw Back to ’07 to see how this show came to be.

Says Ross:

On August 5th, 2000, Stuart McLean broadcast a piece of sound poetry for four voices on CBC radio called Allegro 108. Kate and I were having a coffee together when we tuned in. We stopped talking. This was one of the most arresting, musical, and innovative arrangements of text for the human voice that we had ever heard: percussive, pitched speaking ingeniously arranged. The piece was so good, so radically different from anything we knew, that we both assumed it was: A) brand new; and B) created elsewhere. We waited to hear who these cutting edge artists were, and what country they were from. Stuart MacLean came on at the end, “Well, that’s one you won’t find anymore.” He’d been playing a thirty-year-old vinyl recording made by a group of Canadian experimental poets called the Four Horsemen.  We’d never heard of them. So we took some steps.

Cast of The Four Horsemen Project: Naoko Murakoshi,
Graham McKelvie, Andrea Nann &  Jennifer Dahl
Photo by Etai Erdal

Says Kate:

I don't know that anyone other than the poets themselves could truly do justice to this work, but my choreographic interpretations are all created in the spirit of play, admiration and tribute. I fell in love with the first piece we built, Allegro 108, the first time I heard it on the Vinyl Café. On digging deeper, the effect of the poetry has gone far beyond its initial fascination for me and has come to represent a whole world of possibility - of the imaginative creative power that humans possess, of what can happen when the verbal moves beyond the literal to the ineffable, of "the depth of vocalization which is possible", to quote bp.

The First Cast of Allegro 108: Jennifer Dahl, Naoko Murakoshi,
Andrea Nann, Michael Sean Marye.
Photo by John Lauener

This piece has been a labour of love, which means it’s been a lot of work, vastly complicated, and deeply rewarding. We thank the many inspiring and tireless individuals who have worked on this project. We thank our intrepid performers for their remarkable gifts and for making the near-impossible so much fun. In particular we thank Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery, Rafael Barreto-Rivera and Ellie Nichol, for making it so easy to ask for help and for their tremendous generosity of spirit in giving it. Finally, thanks to bpNichol, in absentia. We never knew him, and we’ll never forget him.

Check back with us regularly in October and November where every day will feel like a Throw Back Thursday to the original Four Horsemen and The Four Horsemen Project. Be sure to get your tickets today by clicking here

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Family News

We're super lucky to have worked with so many amazing artists over the years - here's what a few of them are up to:

Our Associate Artistic Director Clare Preuss is in Zurich, Switzerland right now leading a very cool creation lab:

Itai Erdal, lighting designer on The Four Horsemen Project, was recently nominated for a Total Theatre Award at Edinburgh Fringe for How to Disappear Completely. If you're in Edinburgh this month, definitely check it out:

Haley McGee - who's starring in our upcoming co-pro with Tarragon, Infinity - will be opening Helen Lawrence at Canadian Stage in October. More info on their website,

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Reflecting on the art of play, creation, and imagination the Conservatory

It was a great week at this year's Conservatory!  An amazing lineup of courses attracted artists from Vancouver, Montreal, and even overseas, to learn from our industry's finest instructors.  All the way from Colombia, Mariana Aristizabal traveled to Canada to immerse herself in a full slate of classes at the Conservatory. After a fruitful week, Mariana shares her thoughts and takeaways from an inspiring experience...

I decided to come to the Volcano Conservatory without hesitation when Ross invited me for several reasons: I wanted to get in touch with people involved in theatre in Canada, to find about different ways of creating, and I wanted to get a sense of the people - in Toronto at least - that conceive and live theatre. 

During this week I've been able to get a touch of not only Canadian theatre, but also to learn about other people's vision of theatre, about creation, and about being an actor. 

Everyone that has taken part in this workshop has shown his or her self as a very generous person - willing to collaborate with others, ready to share experiences, ideas, and knowledge.

All of the teachers were very clear with their instructions, and committed to transmitting what they wanted us to learn.   They have shared their knowledge in the most generous way, and they remind us that theatre is the art of play, of creation, and imagination.

Thanks to Susie Burpee and Peggy Baker, I’ve come to realize that dance is much more than movement, and that movement itself has endless possibilities - maybe movement could be the starting point of a great creation.  With Sonia Norris I've come to realize that a mask needs all of our engagement when realizing an action with it.  And Stephen O’Connell got me thinking about collaboration and relationships amongst humans in order to create, leaving egos and personal desires behind and focusing only on the work. 

To finish I would like to thank you for making this possible, thanks for this wonderful experience!

Mariana Aristizábal

Friday, 25 July 2014

A Moveable Beast Workshop Update

Clare Preuss is Volcano's Associate Artistic Director, and the Assistant Director of A Moveable Beast. She's sent us a few updates from the rehearsal hall - have a read! And don't forget to check out the PWYC performances running Aug 1-3, 2014.

On day one, performer Neema Bickersteth, and musicians Greg Oh and Deb Sinha, reviewed all the music in the piece and caught Greg up on the project as he is replacing Reza Jacobs (who’s partner just had their baby) as piano player for this round of the project. The music spans a wide range of styles and Greg’s ability to ingest this work so quickly is admirable!

In the afternoon, the whole team gathered to devise a new, symbolic projection sequence to suit Neema’s stunning performance of John Cage’s haunting piece – A Flower. I love how Kate Alton’s choreography integrates so seamlessly with Cage’s music. Neema has a way of performing the song while dancing that leaves me transfixed. I’m happy that the new projection scheme supports the surreal nature of this penetrating piece.

Day Two:

The whole team, including projection artists Momme Hinrichs and Torge Moller (from fettFilm in Germany), engaged in a three hour talk-through of all projections in the show. This piece has a lot of projection and there is a level of rendering work that exceeds anything Volcano has attempted before (one five minute sequence, for example, could take three or four days to render). We’ve had to let go of some ideas that just aren’t feasible, and have become more precise about exactly what will be built in the next two weeks.

In the afternoon, the whole team began to work through the show with all its current elements. There is a lot to put together! The piece has so many elements to integrate. I’m keen to see how things flow once we add the many period costumes, some of which are changed on stage as part of the choreography. The costumes span fashion eras and we had a discussion later in the afternoon about Neema’s costume for the John Cage piece. I like the Katharine Hepburn wide pant look. Some agree and others in the room seem keen on the Audrey Hepburn pencil pant silhouette. I wonder which Hepburn will win? Perhaps they are placing their bets from the afterlife.

Days 4-6:

It’s quite amazine to watch Neema rehearse these elements of the show as they take so much energy and focus and precision! There were numerous times during the particularly complicated and virtuosic Recitation pour voix seule No. 10 by Georges Aperghis that Neema literally collapsed (playfully) to the floor mid-rehearsal – it takes so much stamina to get through that sucker!

Another challenging part of this process has been the timing of all sequences for our video masters Torge and Momme. Choreographic and musical work is still in development, yet it is imperative that the video team receives precise timings ASAP in order to complete their animated projections. We are doing our best to balance the needs of all artists involved.

* * *

We are halfway through the second week of A Moveable Beast rehearsal and in the thick of creation and clarification. This piece truly is a mix of projection installation, dance, opera recital, and a one woman collectively created play. What a layered and challenging piece. I suppose that’s why it’s a Volcano project – Artistic Director Ross Manson and company are well known for big risks and bold art, and A Moveable Beast is a great example of this.

Clare Preuss, Assistant Director

The Work-in-Progress Showings of A Moveable Beast take place August 1-3 at The Theatre Centre. PWYC at the door, and reserve your spot in advance at

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Belarus Free Theatre in Toronto

The 2014 Volcano Conservatory kicked off on Monday, with Belarus Free Theatre co-artistic directors Natalia Kaliada and Nicola Khalezin headlining the program. We're super excited to be able to offer this rare training opportunity to Toronto artists.

Q on CBC Radio hosted Natalia Kaliada on their program to share the incredible story of the company. You can listen to audio of the interview at

Or, if you'd prefer, come hear their story in person! Volcano artistic director Ross Manson will host an intimate conversation with Natalia and Nicolai at The Theatre Centre on Saturday, July 26. It's a free event, but seating is very limited. Email to hold your spot.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Improv for Actors with Becky Johnson at the Volcano Conservatory

Becky Johnson is known as one of the finest comics in Toronto. She is one half of the improv duo, The Sufferettes, and was recently nominated for 2 Canadian Comedy Awards in improvisation! In her workshop, Improv for Actors at the Conservatory, Becky draws on influences from clown, and plays with rhythm, awareness and the dynamics of comedy to build performance-ready improvised scene-work with actors.  In lead up to her masterclass happening on Saturday July 26, Becky shares with us the benefits of improv, and that it's not as scary as you may think!

1)  What was it that  drew you to improv, and what (do you think) makes it valuable to actors?

BJ: I was drawn to improv comedy originally as a teenager because there was more opportunities in it for women at my high school as compared to play. As I got deeper into it, I also found that I am particularly attracted to its immediacy. It doesn't require development, approval or dramaturgy in the same way other theatre practices can.

2) Outside of improv and comedy, you are also an actor.  How do you feel these two disciplines inform one another in the work that you create?

BJ: I think the biggest difference for actors who are used to scripted theatre is that the performance impulse also has to include the invention of material in improv.

3)  For some, improv can be scary, particularly in theatre.  What do you consider the personal risk of improv as a performer and how do think Improv for Actors can help overcome these challenges?

BJ: First, I always explain to performers who are used to scripts that audiences are much more forgiving of improvised theatre. And they should be. They are exchanging polish and tightness for impulse and collective discovery. Both approaches, to me, are equally thrilling in different ways. Both are valid. It is just worth understanding that you are not unprepared to perform just because you haven't specifically prepared.

4) What do you want participants to take away from your workshop?

BJ: I really want to demystify performance improv for actors who may find the idea overwhelming. In more standard conservatory training, it seems that improv is only taught and used as a development tool. Actors have so many of the skills required to get on stage and improvise well shaped, funny work. I would like students to leave with new confidences in that direction.

Photo of Becky in A Beautiful View
by Hilda Lobinger. 
5) Tell us about what you're currently working on!

BJ: I am working on an awful lot at the moment. I am currently on a six week tour of Toronto with my improv duo, The Sufferettes. Even though touring one's hometown is a bit of a joke, it has been surprisingly gruelling to do this. I am also getting ready for my first Off Broadway production - the American premiere of Sheila Heti's All Our Happy days Are Stupid at the Kitchen in New York City. That's not until February, but the planning phase is well under way. I perform regularly at Catch23 Improv, the Friday night improv show that I co-produce at Comedy Bar. I am also really stoked to be playing a leading role in the first show at Bad Dog Theatre's brand new space. That show is called 9 to 5, an Improv Show for Working Women. I get to play the editor-in-chief of a 1990's women's magazine, so it is a doubly dreamy project for me.

Improv for Actors happens Saturday July 26, 10am - 6pm.  To sign up for this masterclass with Becky Johnson email to reserve your spot!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Remaking History with Susie Burpee: Exploring Ways to Repurpose Our Stories

We are thrilled to have theatre and dance artist Susie Burpee teaching at the Conservatory this year.  In her workshop Remaking History, Susie works through the methods and ideas used to create her Dora award-winning work, Road Trip, calling upon memory and the meeting of chance and craft in order to create. 

Susie on Remaking History:

In 2009, I made a work called Road Trip, with my longtime artistic colleague Linnea Swan.  We co-created and performed the work together, and it was a wild ride.  Linnea and I had wanted to work together for a long time.  Our artistic histories were intimately linked.  We trained at the same professional school, danced for the same choreographers and companies, and had performed the same roles.  We had known each other for fifteen plus years.  And we shared similar perspectives and interests around performance and its relationship to audience.

Susie Burpee and Linnea Swan in a rehearsal for Road Trip.
Photo by Kevin Konnyu
We wanted to use our shared artistic history as source and foundation for the work.  But we weren’t interested in retelling our history verbatim.  We felt that if we could find a way to repurpose our stories, we might be able to create a new narrative that would give greater meaning to already existing themes and ideas. 

So we first gathered an arsenal of ‘moments’.  Pieces of choreography we had danced (we got permission), snippets of conversation, and other gestures and events that were somehow significant in our journey together.  Out of context and without understanding the back story, these bits of abstracted information would be a mystery to anyone but us.  We needed to find a way that we could put them together to create something understandable.

Susie and Linnea in rehearsal.
Photo by David Tilston
We devised an arbitrary way of ordering the ‘moments’ that included a particular way of repeating or revisiting events.  Through workshop, we began to realize the importance of this method of making.  By creating a simple language of moments, and over time returning (sometimes in an augmented way) to these events, the audience became versed in this new world by learning its language.  By becoming literate with the language of the piece, they were able to understand the implications of recurring events.

Linnea and I made an important discovery in the process.  The picking apart of important stories somehow removed the ‘preciousness’ of particular events.  Or perhaps, more importantly, it removed our own point of view about the implication of said event.  In this way, it liberated the moment to become something useful for creation.  The moment could take a different shape or color in different contexts.  And importantly for us, it could become both tragic and comic.

This workshop, Remaking History, employs the same process used in the making of Road Trip, which eventually became a two-part work.  The first half, created in 2010 for the Canada Dance Festival, had the feel of a ‘whodunnit’.  Events happened in strange succession and eventually ‘added up’ to an understanding of the world and these two characters.  In 2012 we created the second half and premiered the entire work at DanceWorks here in Toronto.  The new half was created as a deconstruction of the first half – a deconstruction of a deconstruction, if you will.  It was self-referential in the sense that it looked at the actual making of the work - with a distinct lack of reverence.  

Remaking History is a workshop for makers and interpreters of theatre and dance, and runs July 21 - 22, 2014 at the Volcano Conservatory.  To reserve your spot email

Watch an excerpt of Road Trip...

Monday, 2 June 2014

Meredith Potter Celebrated for Leadership in Arts Administration

A quick post to say that we are BEYOND ECSTATIC that Volcano GM Meredith Potter is the recipient of the 2014 Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award for Outstanding Leadership in Arts Administration.

Meredith has been a vital force for Volcano since 2005, and is an astounding administrator, mentor, and volunteer. In Ross' words, "Meredith is a uniquely talented, dedicated, hardworking and fun person, and without her - I have no idea how any of Volcano's accomplishments in the last few years would have been possible."

THANK YOU Meredith, for everything, and congratulations!!

You can read the whole press release about our fabulous General Manager at

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Conservatory Bursary Opportunity

We're so incredibly grateful to Cahoots Theatre and their AD, Marjorie Chan, today: they've just announced a $100 bursary for an artist who identifies as diverse, and plans to take two or more courses at the 2014 Volcano Conservatory.

Volcano Conservatory 2011
From Marjorie Chan:

"At Cahoots, we hold professional development as essential for any artist at any level, so that one may continue to challenge aesthetics, explore new skills and invigorate one's own practice. The Volcano Conservatory has strong dynamic programming born of traditions that may be unfamiliar to our community. We're offering a small bursary to encourage engagement and professional growth, especially with culturally-diverse artists."

Applications are due to Cahoots by Monday, June 9 (details are below). You can read more about the Conservatory course offerings here.

We'd like to extend a BIG thank you to Cahoots for creating this bursary. It's an astounding commitment to artists in our community.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Collective Creation: "celebrate our talents and exploit it for the good of the idea."

With devised theatre and creative collaborations becoming increasingly popular, we are very excited to have Stephen O'Connell (Artistic Director of bluemouth inc.) teaching Collective Creation: The Pluralized Director at the Conservatory this year. In the lead up to his workshop, we've asked Stephen a few questions about his ideas and experiences in creating devised theatre and working in collectives:

What exactly is devised theatre?

I collectively began creating site specific performance in Vancouver with a company called Radix Theatre around 1990. I remember someone at the time suggesting we document the process so we could share our discoveries with other practitioners. However, we found that each new project we were presented with had a completely unique set of challenges that it became increasingly impossible and somewhat undesirable to nail down a prescriptive method for devising.

Stephen organizing a canoe trip for bluemouth's
 new creation with Necessary Angel.
The only consistent rules that we could all agree upon was that all the material we would use had to be originally created. No found text. No prerecorded music. No appropriated video. All original. All new. All the time. The word devising didn’t exist for us at the time. We simply wanted to exercise our own voice and we felt more than capable of creating the images and words to do that. It wasn’t until later that we heard the word devising used to describe UK performance companies that were creating work that shared a similar methodology.

In the early phase of my experience with collective creation we all felt the need to contribute equally. Literally counting the number of words or ideas each person contributed to make sure that we were all represented equally.

Later in our creative development we began recognizing the affinity that certain individual in the collective had to certain modes of expression. One person was a really strong writer while another person was particularly gifted at singing. Rather than limit one another’s excellence we began to celebrate our talents and exploit it for the good of the idea.

Why do you think it's becoming increasing popular among emerging theatre artists?

I recently attended a book signing by a renowned Artistic Director from an independent New York company that devises theatre. I found it to be an incredibly illuminating experience. I was fascinated to be in a room surrounded by actors who historically had imbued the words of others and who had now been given the responsibility to speak from their own creative voice.

It was as if a door that had been closed for centuries had suddenly been open and there was no way of retreating back. These actors wanted to continue speaking. They wanted to express their own thoughts with their own voice. They weren’t ready to completely abandon hierarchy, they still desired guidance from the director, however in my estimation a welcome step forward had been taken and a major shift in the theatrical paradigm has begun to take shape.

bluemouth is currently in the middle of new project with Jennifer Tarver and Jordan Tannahill. Can you tell us a bit about that project, and what the process has been like?

Field Guide by bluemouth inc. at Summerworks 2013
Last August during the SummerWorks Performance Festival bluemouth presented a sketch of a new show called Field Guide in Trinity Bellwoods Park that proposed to explore the notion of grief. A number of us had recently experienced the passing of an immediate family member and we wanted to explore the complex emotional landscape associated with significant loss.  This is often how we get started. Someone from the collective identifies a theme and we tangentially begin gathering and generating images around that idea. Sometimes independent of one another, sometimes collectively in studio.

We realized at the end of the summer process that we had gotten stuck. Either as a result of the weight of the theme or the fatigue of working together for so many years or more accurately a bit of both. We recognized that something had to change in order to unstick the work. We decided to invite new people into the group in hopes of helping us uncover some of the truths we wished to unravel.

Richard Windeyer and Stephen O'Connell
We approached Jennifer Tarver the new Artistic Director of Necessary Angel and Jordan Tannahill from Suburban Beast. We respected both Jennifer and Jordan’s work and intuitively felt they shared an aesthetic sensibility with the bluemouth collective. We all had our first blind date in January at the new Artscape Youngplace building where we locked ourselves in a studio together for two weeks. During this concentrated period some of the creative goo that held us back started to come undone. At the end of this first dating period we eagerly agreed to continue the romance.

For the first time in bluemouth history we have invited into the process someone who was designated as the director in this case Jennifer and someone else who was designated as the writer, in this case that would be Jordan. I had always felt that certain hierarchical titles would inhibit the creative process, but in the interest of unsticking what had become stuck we decided to give it a whirl. What I discovered was very little had changed in our creative process. We still contributed in a fluid and associative manner however this time someone else was attempting to keep track of the inherent logic.

Jordan Tannahill with bluemouth inc.
We briefly had the pleasure of inviting Daniel McIvor to wrestle with us in the studio for an entire week. It was quite fascinating watching the worlds of narrative logic collide with the abstraction of collective creation. I felt like a scientist testing out a new theory. Bending and manipulating our ideas until they would eventually broke or learned to withstand the force of logic. I had a personal epiphany when Daniel announced as a matter of fact that we hadn’t spent the last 2 years developing a piece about grief, we were actually creating a piece about love. That is collaboration at its best. When someone can simply take an object that you have been focused on for an extended period of time and suddenly turn it on its side so you see it as something completely new. That is pure magic.

What do you consider the challenges in creative collaborations and how do you think your workshop can help overcome them?

Language. Finding the words. Naming it. Owning it.

Over the course of the workshop we will work together to create new strategies for making theatre. Templates designed as points of departure to begin building the creative journey. Where do you begin? How can you fill the empty space?

Collaboration involves genuine listening, strong communicating and inevitably action. I will propose some warm up exercises designed to facilitate the unsticking of the creative goo. Followed by brainstorming, prototyping and performing short collectively created performances.

What do you want participants to take away from your workshop? 

The confidence to trust your creative impulses. The knowledge that it is okay to create within a state of ambivalence. The trust that intuition is actually the art of informed choice. The courage to get up on our feet and start embodying the theatre we envision.

Collective Creation: The Pluralized Director runs July 23 - 25 at the Volcano Conservatory. Email to reserve spot or visit for more details.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Benedictus, a free reading coming up on March 20

On March 20, Volcano and the Koffler Centre are presenting a free reading of a political thriller by Israeli playwright Motti Lerner.

Benedictus is a riveting look at international back-room dealings taking place at a clandestine location in the Vatican. An Iranian-born Israeli arms dealer meets with a reformist presidential candidate from Iran and the US ambassador in Rome.

Motti Lerner has won just about every award you can win as a playwright in Israel, and has maintained a very political / critical stance as an artist. He's worth checking out.

The reading stars Levon Haftvan, Richard Greenblatt, George Masswohl, and Michael Rubenfeld; and is directed by Volcano AD Ross Manson.

Benedictus, by Motti Lerner
March 20, 7:30 - 9:30 PM 
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street (map)
Free, but space is limited: click here to register

Benedictus is part of the first-ever "Spotlight on Israeli Culture." For the full lineup of artists and events, visit

Monday, 10 March 2014

Catching up with Deborah Pearson

In preparation for our experimental creation lab inFORMING CONTENT, workshop leader and Associate Artist Deborah Pearson tells us what she's been up to, and what we can look forward to at this year's workshop!

It's been some time since you were last in Toronto.  Any new projects to tell us about?

Since I saw Volcano last I finished and began touring my newest piece, The Future Show, which is a monologue I read out to an audience from a binder, that details everything that is going to happen to me in the future, starting from the end of the performance and going up until I die. I have to rewrite the show for every performance, since all of the material that refers to the events that will happen immediately following the performance move from Future to Past as soon as I finish speaking. The final third of the show always stays the same, but the rest of the show is in constant flux, moving further and further forward into my future. I have now performed The Future Show in the UK, Canada, Ireland, the USA and Belgium, and I will be performing it as a double bill with Tim Crouch and Andy Smith's newest show this at Culturgest in Lisbon.

I'm also heading straight from inFORMING CONTENT to Melbourne, Australia, for the Next Wave Festival, where I will be testing out a new project called Drifting Right. Drifting Right is a conversation between myself and a conservative voter, which takes place in a canoe on a river. We co-pilot the canoe, and during the ride I try to figure out why on earth they (and so many other western people) are voting conservative. At the end of the festival I'll be hosting a town hall style discussion, featuring the footage of these canoe rides, and my co-pilots, exploring the rightwards drift in Western politics.

How do you think this year's inFORMING CONTENT will differ (if at all) from previous years?

Every inFORMING CONTENT is different, specifically because of the line-up of team leaders (the artists) and academics who participants get to work with. The workshop is really theirs - myself, the JHI and Volcano just set up the framework that allows the magic to happen. The JHI will also be hosting a different theme for the academics research this year, so though I'm sure the event will have the same feeling of possibility and experimentation as in past years, the content and the forms will be entirely different. I'm really excited to see the results. I can't predict how it will all turn out, which is the best part of this kind of intensive workshop.

What is it about inFORMING CONTENT that makes it so unique/different from other creation workshops?

inFORMING CONTENT is the only creation workshop that I've ever heard of that acts as a meaningful exchange between artistic and academic research. Scholars at the JHI give a presentation on their research, and then a group of artists create a site specific piece based on those lectures, in the same offices where the scholars usually do their research. There really is nothing else like it. It's an opportunity for academia and art to have a fast but meaningful conversation with each other.

Anything else you want to share about this year's workshop?

I've recently started my own journey into academia - I'm currently in the second year of a practice-based PhD at Royal Holloway in the UK, where I also teach a practical class to first year students on devising theatre. Both the contemporary performance and academic scenes in the UK are impressively experimental. That said - I don't know of another academic institution that would consistently take the open minded, and up-for-experimentation approach that the Jackman Humanities Institute has taken every year with inFORMING CONTENT. They offer our artists and their academics such a unique experience through hosting this workshop every year. It's one of the highlights of my year, both as someone who is interested in theatre-making and in academic research.

inFORMING CONTENT is a FREE experimental creation lab taking  place May 2 - 4 at the Jackman Humanities Institute.  For more info, go to our website.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Beautiful View Rehearsal Journal

An update from the rehearsal studio, by Assistant Director Clare Preuss...

The joys of remounting a great play with wonderful artists are in effect as Volcano prepares to bring Daniel MacIvor's insightful and touching play, A Beautiful View, to the Factory Studio theatre. In the fall of 2012, director Ross Manson, actors Amy Rutherford and Becky Johnson, and I (as assistant director) gathered at the Goethe Institute in Toronto to rehearse this production, which was a part of BeMe Theatre's season in Munich, Germany.

We worked at break neck speed that first time around as we had a short rehearsal period in Toronto and then flew to Munich for tech rehearsal and performance. From the start, we were enthusiastic about Ross' physical, simple, esoteric directorial vision for the piece and dove in with vigour. Our time in Toronto allowed us to set the bones of the production and when we arrived in Munich, we had the opportunity to work with the delightful BeMe team.

Our time in Munich was also filled with great bonding experiences! We happened to be rehearsing during Oktoberfest, which meant the city was enveloped by a communal sense of jovial theatricality as streets were filled with citizens clad in lederhosen and dirndls (traditional Oktoberfest costume) and the city was overflowing with traditional Bavarian music, beer, and sausages. Also, BeMe lent us bikes for our time there, which meant beautiful commutes to and from rehearsal on Munich's many gorgeous bike paths.

All this to say that, after our time in Munich, Ross, Amy, Becky, and I were bonded in a way that I have only experienced in this kind of international theatre creation environment. Now, we come to this Volcano remount of A Beautiful View filled with our communal Munich experience.

A Beautiful View centres on two women who share a deep, undefinable, long-term connection. As we gather to remount this show, Amy and Becky's BeMe experience has given them a deeper connection to the text and to each other as people - this dynamic is incredibly useful for Daniel's piece about truly complex and beautiful friendship and love. Plus, Ross and I have also been jamming on projects ever since our first collaboration on this piece in 2012, and we have a grounded understanding of each other as artists. It is such a pleasure to continue to work with Ross and get to know him more as a director. His thoughtful, playful, irreverent approach is just what Canadian theatre needs, and I feel honoured that he trusts my opinion as his assistant as we remount this gem of a play.

It is also a pleasure to have AJ Laflamme on board as our Stage Manager. She is great at her job and has been so detailed in her study of the original production that she knows the piece inside and out, and is able to be of great help as we continue to deepen the work during this remount while maintaining key choices made during the first production in Munich.

This past week, all artists in the room found ways to get more in-depth with choices, to expand the piece physically, and to continue to excavate the richness embedded in this truth-filled play.

I'm particularly excited by Ross' continual encouragement for us all to delve into the nuances of the play with courage to make new choices or allow previous choices to become fresh again by posing new questions and applying our current understanding of each other and the play to this innovative production.

I continue to find more reasons to love A Beautiful View. Daniel has been one of my favourite playwrights for a long time and I find the honest humanity in the piece powerfully reassuring. Our team continues to find dynamic ways of expressing his words with imagination and clarity. Now, today, we all have a day "off" and tomorrow, we will dive into tech rehearsal in preparation for our opening this Thursday!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

At City Hall: arts funding results are in...

There has been no shortage of conversation about Toronto's municipal politics in the past few months, but it isn't often that arts and culture policy are a big part of that.

So here's our contribution:

At the end of January, Toronto City Council passed the 2014 budget (you can read about it here, here, and many other places). The 2014 Budget includes some important changes that impact the arts community and its supporters:
  • $4.5 million in new funding has been added to the 2014 budget lines for arts and culture
  • this money is in addition to the $6 million increase we saw in the 2013 budget - in total, $10.5 million has been added to the municipal arts budget since 2012
  • Council has begun to phase the Billboard Tax out of the arts and culture lines, opting instead to fund arts and culture through the property tax base (which, in theory, is more stable and less vulnerable to cuts)
  • the target timeline to reach $25 per capita has been extended to a five-year plan, rather than the four-year plan they were working toward last year
(you can read how the motion breaks down here)
The kids at Lakeshore Arts showing their support for
Arts Day at the City 2013
Overall this budget is a positive step forward - and one that is made possible because of your participation in the process. Please keep it up:
  • write to your Councillor about the 2014 budget
  • invite Councillors to your performances / events - show them the impact of this funding
  • VOTE VOTE VOTE in the next municipal election
The 2014 municipal election is on October 27, 2014. It'll be a big one for the arts community - and for our city. Volcano is an active supporter of ArtsVote: we hope you'll get involved too, and help us champion the fine artists of our city. Email ArtsVote for more details on how you can get involved.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Q & A with Amy Rutherford

Toronto actor Amy Rutherford - a longtime Volcano collaborator - answered a few questions for us in anticipation of A Beautiful View opening later this month at the Factory Theatre Studio, and touring southern Ontario. Enjoy!

Favourite rehearsal space in Toronto:
Pia Bouman, because it has windows and is around the corner from my house.

What tunes are on your pre-performance soundtrack?
No pre-performance music...just the sound of my own hum.

What was the most memorable Toronto show you saw last year?
Too many!! The Little Years, Miss Caledonia, A Synonym for Love, How to Disappear Completely was a big one.

Camping: yes or no?

Amy Rutherford in A Beautiful View
Photo by Hilda Lobinger

Can you tell us a little about A Beautiful View, and the character you play?
I play "L" in A Beautiful View. Which can be any name that starts with L, really. Also, as Becky [Johnson]'s character is "M"...I like to think of those two being side by side in the alphabet. And when singing the alphabet, those to letters kind of slide together. H, I, J, K, LM, N, O, P. Not sure if this was MacIvor's intent. But I think that it's a cute idea.

I understand the show involves some improvised performance from you and Becky. Can you tell us a little about that? Was improv a big part of building the show during rehearsals?
We do a little movement improvisation in the show. The text sings without us messing with it. Ross [Manson] is always creative in rehearsal. We do a number of exercises separate from the script to create complexity in our characters as well as a specific history of their relationship together. A lot of our physicality in the show was born out of improvisation. We would break our characters down into archetypes and then find precise movements to express those archetypes. 

What was the original run of A Beautiful View in Munich like? How did German audiences connect with the show?
We performed for a beautiful little English theatre called BeMe, in a venue which was formerly a schnapps distillery and is now called the Einstein Kulturzentrum. They have a passionate audience of theatre-goers. They were fascinated by the Canadian-ness of the play. Germans love bears and the outdoors and both of those things feature prominently in the piece. During our talk-backs, we were amazed at people's deep and thoughtful feedback. While there is a lot of humour in the play, they seemed to take its existential ideas seriously. German audiences also clap more than Canadian ones. Three curtain calls is the standard, and we often had more.

You’ve toured to a number of destinations with Volcano. Tell us one of your fave memories of touring with us:
I have been lucky to work with Volcano a lot over the years. Goodness has had many lives and I've toured with that production to Edinburgh, New York, Rwanda, Vancouver and many more cities. Ross has a talent for hiring fun people and I've definitely enjoyed many wild and crazy nights on tour. And we've met many brilliant artists wherever we've gone. In Rwanda, we met pioneering, visionary artists who were building the foundation for theatre and performance in their country.

Why do you think A Beautiful View is a good show for audiences here in Toronto? What do you hope people take away from it?
All of MacIvor's plays remind us of how brief our time here on earth is and what is important in life. Love and friendship. I first saw this show performed by Tracy Wright and Caroline Gillis in 2006 and it lives in me still. I hope that our production will be as enduring and memorable to our audiences and that Becky and I are able to be as beautiful together as Tracy and Caroline were.

Becky Johnson and Amy Rutherford in A Beautiful View
Photo by Hilda Lobinger

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Way Back to Thursday

Our Metcalf Foundation Intern, Natasha Powell, shares her thoughts on The Way Back to Thursday, from Theatre Passe Muraille:

I love musicals - and the other night I had the pleasure of watching two gifted artists in a new one to hit the stage in Toronto. Rob Kempson and Astrid Van Wieren perform in The Way Back to Thursday inside Theatre Passe Muraille. Written by Rob Kempson himself, this is a musical about unconditional love that crosses generations, genders, and lifetimes. Cameron (played by Rob) and his Grandmother have a special tradition - movie nights every Thursday. Together they escape into the glamour and romance of the Golden Age of film. But as Cameron grows, so does the distance between them.

Rob and Astrid are dynamic, infectious, and relatable. It all seemed so natural - reminding me of relationship that I have with loved ones in my family. I sometimes hear of people steering clear from musicals because of the sudden outburst into song and dance - but there is a flow to this show that is seamless and kept me completely engaged the whole time. They sang their stories in a way that you couldn't help but listen to their awesome voices and feel right in the moment with them. Their delivery is truly genuine, reminding me of the importance of maintaining and figuring out what those special relationships really mean. I'm extremely attached to those that are close with me, which is why this show resonated so much - seeing that presented on stage was a nice, gentle reminder about the important things in life. You may feel the urge to call someone whom you've thought about calling for a very...very long time.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A Trip to the Arab World

Volcano AD Ross Manson is sending updates from the United Arab Emirates, where he has been invited to present at the Fujairah International Monodrama Festival.

You can keep tabs on his travel blog, A Trip to the Arab World.

"we're flying over iraq. it's night. and completely clear. i can see lights of villages and towns. we're close to the border of kuwait now. and i am struck unexpectedly by where i am. it's an entirely strange feeling flying over this place. an uneasy feeling. and i realize that mine is the point of view of all those american pilots that bombed this country. it's the view i saw on tv's during the two gulf wars coloured green by night vision. in real life, the lights look warm and yellow, tiny dots on a train model landscape. so clear, so small. so immediate. unseen are the people. i just know they are there."

Click here to read the full blog post.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Big in Munich: the European Premiere of A Beautiful View

We at Volcano have hit the ground running in 2014 - or hit the air flying, as the case may be...Ross is off to the UAE at the end of the week for the Fujairah International Monodrama Festival!

Soon, we'll be deep in rehearsals for A Beautiful View, Daniel MacIvor's phenomenal play about love and friendship, starring Becky Johnson and Amy Rutherford. First produced in 2005, our upcoming production was originally mounted in Munich for BeMe Theatre - an English-language theatre company headed up by Canadian Elisa Moolecherry.

"I first met Daniel at the Stephenville Drama Festival in Newfoundland where we became friends, and where we both got our start. Nearly 30 years later, in 2012, I was honoured to bring one of his finest plays to Europe."
Ross Manson 

In 2012, BeMe invited Ross to direct a new production of A Beautiful View. The show was cast and rehearsed in Canada, then staged and designed in Germany for its European Premiere. The new production used physical and improvised performance, and Volcano's signature experimental style, to craft an imaginative take on MacIvor's celebrated script.

Becky, Ross, Amy and Krister in rehearsal for
A Beautiful View (Munich 2012)
Working internationally introduces us to some incredible people: BeMe connected Volcano with Munich-based composer Krister Schuchardt, who wrote a new score for the play. You can check out a few samples of Krister's recent work on his website here - including the score for BeMe's production of Cherry Docs, featuring Canadians Jamie Maczko and Michael Rubenfeld.

The BeMe / Volcano production of A Beautiful View was a critical success, playing to near sold-out houses. We're proud to bring the show back home to Canada.

"Becky Johnson and Amy Rutherford deliver a brilliant performance...A Beautiful View is a reminder to just let go, 
and a beautiful thing can happen..."
The Munich Eye

"...under the surface is revealed a search for deeper meaning. Playwright Daniel MacIvor and director Ross Manson succeed [thanks] above all to their wonderful actors..."
Suddeutsche Zeitung

A Beautiful View runs Feb 27 - Mar 9 in Toronto, then tours to Kingston, Burlington, Milton, St. Catharines, and North Bay throughout the month of March. You can find out more about the production - and how to score cheap tickets! - on our website here.

Watch the production trailer for a first listen to the original music composed for A Beautiful View by Krister Schuchardt: