news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

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 Aristiz√°bal

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!