news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Q & A with Kim Collier

Kim Collier is a Director, Creator, Teacher, Actress and the co-founder of Electric Company Theatre where she was Artistic Producer for 15 years. She loves site-specific work has a vast array of large-scale, site specific works.  Kim is the recipient of the prestigious Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize for Directing; 4 Jessie Richardson Awards and a Sterling Award for Direction and with Electric Company,  3 Jessie Awards for writing and numerous innovation awards. She is a Graduate of Studio 58 as an Actress. Kim brings her passion for site-specific theatre to the 2016 Volcano Conservatory, teaching "Site-Specific Performance Creation" July 25-29 at The Theatre Centre.

Kim Collier
Q: Why are you so attracted to site-specific performance?

A: I love site-specific work for a number of reasons. It breaks down the institutional barrier between the audience and the performer. It is a way to bring theatre to the people and meet them in a place where they may feel more comfortable or excited to join in. Live arts in sites transforms how we view an everyday space and creates meaning and a sense of event. When rehearsing in a site-specific place you often get curious public walking by and before your know it, they are signing up to come back to see the show. I believe in creating community, and I feel site-specific work has some real tangible results in connecting community to artists and expression.

I also love site-specific work because, if done well, it's so theatrical. A site stimulates the artists' mind to imagine in all kinds of surprising ways. I think surprise is a great word. Surprise in the theatre or live performing arts is gold. We all want to experience something new, something fresh, something alive. There is an 'aliveness' to site-specific work.

However, some artists impose a piece of theatre or art into a space. Can the performance answer the question "Why is this work in this location?" If not, I think it has failed to be site-specific. You often see this: a normal stage play set under a bridge (for example), with no adjustment for the space. I would not call this site-specific; I would call this a play set under a bridge.

Kim working with her 2015 Conservatory class.

Q: What will you be exploring in your Volcano Conservatory workshop? 

A: What I want to explore in the workshop is thinking big and being immersive with sites, to dive deeply into the creative potential of a space, and to push ourselves to create work in a short amount of time into sites collectively. Spaces can tell you what stories they want to tell. You can follow the site. 

My work at Electric Company on several occasions mined sites for stories. One example is: The Wake
For this play we toured around Vancouver looking for a site with great creative / staging potential. This site was near a community centre where we gathered our audiences, and from there the performance proceeded along False Creek Inlet, passing by a tennis court, a factory, docks and bridges, etc. We loved the site; so then we began to create our show from researching the history of that land. It had been a First Nations burial sight, then owned by the CPR and then an ammunitions factory for WW2. There were great characters in this history and points of conflict. We used this history and the layout of the land to create a play in eleven locations.

Q:  Who should take your class? Why?

A: Directors, actors, creators, designers…really anyone making theatre or live art. You should take this course to exercise your creative mind, to gather skills in creation, to know how to prep  for the challenges of sites as a Theatre Maker / Producer,  to widen your imagination and ambition as to what is possible in site-specific theatre making, and to benefit from a safe work environment to take risks and play as a creative artist making work in a collaborative, mutually supportive setting.

Kim Collier teaches Site-Specific Performance Creation at the 2016 Volcano Conservatory, July 25-29, 2016 at The Theatre Centre. Space is limited, so register now!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Q & A with Deborah Pearson

Deborah Pearson is founder and one third of the award winning UK-based arts collective Forest Fringe. In Toronto she most recently showed a work-in-progress of History History History at the Progress Festival, and co-created the immersive dance piece The Queen West Project with Allison Cummings in 2012. In 2009 and 2016 she and her Forest Fringe co-directors were named in the Stage 100 list of the 100 most influential people working in UK theatre. She is an associate artist with Volcano, and recently submitted a practice-based PhD on narrative in contemporary performance at Royal Holloway, where she was a Reid scholar. Deborah is co-creator of Volcano's experimental performance lab, inFORMING CONTENT. Much of Deborah's own artistic work blurs the lines between reality and fiction, and in her 2016 Volcano Conservatory class "Playing with the Real: Approaches to Non-Fictional Theatre" she will push her students to explore 'truth' on stage. 

Q: What is "Playing with the Real"?

"Playing with the Real" is a course about collaborating and negotiating with “the real” in theatre.  "The Real" or "Non-fiction" is about moving us out of a frame of mind where we take fictional characters and settings for granted as being a default-setting for theatre.  I'm interested in having us explore theatre that attempts to tell no lies, and when it is lying, is honest about it.  The course will be split up into “real people”, “real places” and “real time."  We will spend time focusing on either playing yourself on stage or working with performers (or non-performers) who are playing themselves on stage, and on including content about real people on stage.  We'll move on to working with the reality of a space, not attempting to have a piece transform a space so much as allowing the space to transform and collaborate with the piece.  Finally we’ll look at the “real time” that audiences and performers spend together – how to acknowledge the shared time spent in the theatre, and when a performance becomes an event or a happening.

Q: You're a returning teacher at the Volcano Conservatory--what makes you want to come back?
I had a great time teaching the Volcano Conservatory last year – the students are intelligent and engaged and really committed to expanding their practice, taking risks and introducing new ideas and perspectives into their work.  The topic I’m teaching at the Conservatory this year is about distancing Canadian theatre from fictional stories, characters and settings as a default setting for live performance, and instead thinking through the possibilities of a performance as an unrepeatable event with the potential to change and provoke.  There are a lot of artists in Canada already doing amazing work in this vein, and a lot of artists who I know are interested in making more of this kind of work.  I'm very much looking forward to seeing who comes out and to getting to know their interests and preoccupations!  

Q: Who do you imagine will benefit from participating in "Playing with the Real"? 

The course is for artists who are already making more unconventional theatre as well as theatre artists who are accustomed to more conventional theatre. It's for any professionals who are interested in expanding their practice and making work that focusses more on the live, the real and the unrepeatable. This class is about encouraging artists to shift the priorities and conversations that begin the process of making a new piece. Like many of the workshops I’ve taught with Volcano before, I’m always on a mission to help make work that does not take form for granted in theatre – that does not see a well made play taking place in a fictional world as a default, but as one possible choice among many.  I like to help make and facilitate work where the form that artists choose for their work is born out of the content they want to explore.

 If you’re a theatre maker who is already making this kind of work, this course will give you an excuse to make more of it, and to think through and question what you perhaps already know instinctively or from experience.  If you’re a theatre maker who has primarily acted in plays or written plays with fictional characters and settings, but who is interested in doing something else with audiences, who is perhaps interested in conceptual art, performance art, live art and installation-based art, and bringing some of the techniques and thinking used in that work into theatre, then I hope that this course will also be for you.

Deborah Pearson performing History History History 

Q:  As you've mentioned, the majority of your own artistic practice is based in 'the real'. Can you tell us about a recent project of yours made with these approaches?
Almost every project I’ve ever made has worked with “non-fictional” approaches in some way.  I'm constantly collaborating with real sites, or real people, or real objects.  I'm interested in trying to tell "true" stories in a theatrical form, even if the "truth" is an illusive, ephemeral and largely absent thing.  My most recent piece, History History History, which I showed a work-in-progress version of at Progress in Toronto this January, collaborated with a Hungarian film from 1956 to attempt to tell the story behind the film in terms of its historical implications, and the large scale political (now historical) events that impacted both the film, and me.

Although the actors in the film are playing fictional characters, framed in this way the audience can see them as living, breathing human beings, just doing their job - the job of being actors in a film.  The audience begins to sense the very real consequences that the political events in Hungary had on the actors who are immortalised on screen doing a funny dance or pretending to play football.  The people in the film, the writer of the film, the director of the film, are all real people, many of whom have died and some of whom are alive but very very old.   I had some ethical concerns while making the piece around how to frame their stories/histories, and whether or not I was the right person to tell them given that I could not offer a definitive version (if a definitive version even exists).  I tried to bring this ambiguity and sense of the loss of a "definitive version" of the truth through history into the piece.  I was as explicit as possible with the audience about my personal connection to the film and to the piece, and the biases and difficulties that connection creates.  Using real people’s stories and biographies is always a minefield – it generally makes for very interesting work, but I do believe it should be done responsibly, as much as possible.  Then again, the UK comedian Kim Noble’s show You’re Not Alone uses almost entirely real people's images and stories without their consent – it’s probably one of the most unethical pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen – and one of the most interesting.  This is just one element of working with the real in performance, and one that I'm constantly grappling with, as both an audience member and an artist.

Deborah Pearson's class "Playing with the Real" runs as part of the Volcano Conservatory from July 25-29, 2016 at The Theatre Centre. You can register here.  You can find out more about Deborah's work at her website

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Q & A with Daniel Brooks

Daniel Brooks is a writer, director and performer who has collaborated with a wide range of artists throughout his career. He was co-artistic director of The Augusta Company, Artistic Director of Necessary Angel from 2003-2012, and is currently an associate artist at Soulpepper, where he teaches. His many awards include the Siminovitch Prize. His work has toured across Canada and around the world. Daniel has taught at the Conservatory several times, and joins us this year with his course "Dynamics of Space". Here, Daniel speaks to Erupting Now about this class and his unique approach: 

Q: What will "Dynamics of Space" be all about? 

A: I will be teaching a course that strips away all politic, metaphor, and psychology, in order to explore simple stage dynamics:  the body in space, the body in motion, the body in relationship to other bodies. We will do simple exercises - but simple in a way that is often difficult, for it requires a kind of training and concentration that demands a simple presence and awareness. Participants will act as “directors” and actors. The exercises we examine will be beneficial to both directors and actors, as we will be exploring fundamental aspects of stage dynamics.  

As the “director” works on a presentation, we will also be examining how each individual communicates, how they can more effectively communicate and command the attention of the actor and of the room. We will also explore the actors ability to collaborate with a director. How can an actor contribute to a collaboration while at the same time taking exacting instruction?

Q: Your class follows a very specific series of exercises. What do you find to be the benefits of this more structured approach?

A: There are endless skills and capacities that theatre makers can develop. I believe we sometimes overlook simple technical skills, that can be applied to any kind of theatre creation. A more structured approach allows the participant to examine their work more objectively. By stripping away more conventional “meanings” (political, psychological or otherwise), by clearing the air and working technically, other unexpected meanings emerge in the work. In addition, I think working technically is fun!

Q: Who will benefit from participating in Dynamics of Space?
A: Actors and directors who are interested in stage dynamics, especially the dynamics of the body of the performer in space, and advancing their ability to communicate clearly.  

Q: What makes you want to return to the Volcano Conservatory as an instructor? 

A: I always look forward to being inspired by the energy, talent and enthusiasm of the participants.  

Space is filling quickly for Dynamics of Space! You can register here. Information about the full slate of Conservatory offerings in 2016 can be found here. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

Q&A with Peggy Baker

Peggy Baker's Movement for Actors course has been a staple of the Volcano Conservatory since 2011. This course allows participants to connect with their physicality in new, exciting and imaginative ways and has had been popular among actors, directors, dancers, physical theatre performers and more every year that it has been offered. 

Peggy Baker is an internationally acclaimed dance artist and a master teacher. She teaches all across Canada and has designed programs accessible to dancers and non-dancers alike, across the spectrum of ability and background. We spoke to Peggy about Movement for Actors and why she keeps coming back to the Volcano Conservatory.

Photo of Peggy Baker by Vikram Dasgupta

Q: What can participants in Movement for Actors expect?

A: This work provides time and space and projects that bring us home to our bodies. We will connect with the reality of our flesh, blood, bones and breath and prime ourselves to listen to the images and impulses that emerge in an embodied state.

2015 Movement for Actors participants
Photo by Elee Stalker

Q: What excites you about teaching as a part of the Volcano Conservatory?

A: Working in a stripped performance space, with a group of artists ready to explore and create, is food for my soul. 

Q: Who might benefit from participating in Movement for Actors?

A: This class is designed for anyone who’d like to set aside the time to tune in to their body as a locus of creativity and expression. We’ll explore pathways to relax, to focus, to energize, to create, to perform and to witness. 

2015 participant, Photo by Elee Stalker
Q: What can actors learn about their bodies by taking your class?

A: The language of the body is sensation, intuition, imagination… and we’ll be working to access that language, and to speak it, with immediacy and originality.

Registration for Movement for Actors is still open. Spaces are limited, so register now! For more information on all the classes on offer in the 2016 Volcano Conservatory, click here. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Q & A with John Beale

John Beale is a Toronto based actor, teacher and director. A graduate of The Philippe Gaulier International Theatre School in Paris, John also trained, performed and taught extensively with Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts and is now an artistic associate with reWork productions in Toronto. This is John's first year teaching at the Volcano Conservatory. 

We spoke to John to learn a little more about his class, "Presence", and his approach to teaching:

Q: Can you tell us about "Presence", the course you’ll be teaching for the Volcano Conservatory?

A: With this work we discover the ways in which we reveal ourselves and how we hide away. This form connects us with our enormous pleasure to play but then presents us with the formidable task of making everyone burst out laughing. Our ego rushes in to save the day either pushing too much or shying away. This fear of failure brings out all our tricks we use to avoid being exposed. It's when our best intentions fall flat the pretense of the ego is revealed. The rug is pulled. The thin ice cracks and what is uncovered is a beautiful, sensitive, vulnerable presence behind the slipping mask of ego- a presence that fills the room. We show up. It's very powerful. So in the end it's not about being funny or goofy or small or cute it's about showing our true presence. Paradoxically the goal we set out to achieve in the first place happens by accident. There is a burst of laughter but not a derisive or pitiful laughter, it's a huge heartfelt, belly laugh at the human condition. The audience falls in love. 

Q: What about the experience of teaching in the Volcano Conservatory are you looking forward to?

A:What a great opportunity to be under one roof with such a great collection of teachers and students drawn from all corners of the performance world. 

Q: Who should take your class? Why?

A: The form is studied to discover one's clown. For actors it's Jedi training - an essential workout to become more sensitive, open and connected to your audience. For non-actors it's a practice of facing fears, showing up and finding a powerful connection with others, opening that channel between you and them. Everyone will have the experience they need. People come to this challenging and rewarding work when they're ready. 

Q:  You offer this class for performers and non-performers alike. What’s different about working with those two groups? What’s it like when they come together in class?

A: I always prefer working with a range of ages and experiences in the room. Having a large cross section of participants enriches the ride for everyone. A lot is learned through observing. Actors witness how present non-actors can be by accident and non-actors see how it's possible to craft these "accidents". 

Registration is open for all courses in the Volcano Conservatory. Don't miss out, spaces are limited. Check back soon for interviews with some of our other illustrious instructors!