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Canadian Stage and the Department of Theatre at York University

Emma Ferreira, Rose Napoli, Helen Taylor, Jamie Robinson and Allan Louis in Much Ado About Nothing, part of Shakespeare in High Park. DAHLIA KATZ
Emma Ferreira, Rose Napoli, Helen Taylor, Jamie Robinson and Allan Louis in Much Ado About Nothing, part of Shakespeare in High Park. DAHLIA KATZ

After five successful cohorts, Theatre at York University and Canadian Stage will no longer be accepting applications for the joint MFA Program in Stage Direction and will retire this program with the conclusion of the current student cohort.

Building from this successful program, however, Theatre at York and Canadian Stage are developing a new collaboration that will aim to expand opportunities for experiential education in theatre. This evolution of the partnership will integrate existing programs at York with professional opportunities at Canadian Stage, with particular focus on cultivating talent among emerging BIPOC theatre artists. We look forward to providing professional experiences to York Theatre students in the future.

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Spotlight on Alumni: Beryl Bain

February 23, 2016

Spotlight on Alumni: Beryl Bain

Beryl BainBeryl Bain (BFA Acting 2005) is currently performing in The Grand Theatre, London’s production of The Mountaintop by Katori Hall to rave reviews.

The play is a fictional account of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the famous American civil rights leader, on his last day on Earth before he was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. In it, she plays an employee of the Lorraine Motel coming to deliver King a cup of coffee, and a series of events that that he definitely didn’t expect! In a flash, the show becomes a roller coaster of hilarious plot twists and turns, set in the tumultuous America of the 1960’s and beyond.

The show has received tremendous response thus far. People who have seen the show routinely stop Beryl in the street in order to offer congratulations and praise. Check out this review in the London Free Press.

The show has also called attention to some of the social issues surrounding the increasingly diverse population of London ON. Unfortunately, my costar and I were subjected to two incidents of racially motivated harassment, which have also received a great deal of attention from both the local and national press.

Not only is the play funny and full of plot twists (there is a BIG surprise in the middle), the ideas are big and very relevant to today.

For more on the show, see the Grand’s website for detailsThe Mountaintop, directed by Nigel Shawn Williams, who directed Cloud Nine for Theatre @ York this Fall, plays there until Saturday February 27, 2016.

Beryl Bain and E.B. Smith in Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop". Photo by Claus Andersen.

The Mountaintop, photo by Claus Andersen
Beryl Bain and E.B. Smith in Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop”. Photo by Claus Andersen.

 

 

Theatre@York 2020/21 Season

October 21, 2020

Theatre@York 2020/21 Season

We have a dynamic Theatre @ York season planned. The Ashley Plays will kick things off with a bang on October 25 with a series of site-specific plays from the third and fourth year playwriting class (presented remotely). In late November, we will produce two specially commissioned online plays by Aaron Jan and Tabia Lau, directed by faculty member David Jansen and featuring a cast and crew of students from the BA/BFA program in Performance Creation, with support from MFA designers and others. This is a new venture for the department and we’re excited to see how it develops.

 

The Winter semester will be brimming with performances and festivals, beginning in January with the 3rd year Acting class’s studio production of Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Againdirected by MFA candidates Alison Wong and Mandy Roveda (January 21-23), continuing to the playGround festival, a student-run festival of new works in February (February 8-12), always a favourite for first year students.

The 2020/21 4th year Acting Conservatory
The 2020/21 4th year Acting Conservatory

March brings the Devised Theatre Festival (March 16-20) and two MFA thesis productions, Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roidirected and adapted by Philip Geller (March 20-27), and Amy Rutherford’s Mortified, directed and adapted by Mandy Roveda (March 21-27). April will close out the academic year with the Scenes by Design exhibition of student design work (April 7-9), and the 3rd year Acting studio production of Marie Clements’s Age of Iron (April 8-10), directed by Philip Geller. Needless to say, the 2020-21 season is jam-packed with a diverse and exciting range of performance offerings.

Marlis Schweitzer
Chair, Department of Theatre

Spotlight on Faculty: Jamie Robinson

June 10, 2020

Spotlight on Faculty: Jamie Robinson

Jamie Robinson
Jamie Robinson

Jamie Robinson is the newest addition to the Full-Time Faculty in the Acting Area of the Department of Theatre. We’re pleased to introduce him to our community! Welcome Jamie!

1. Who are you?

I am Jamie Robinson, he/him. Born and raised in Toronto’s west end, I am of mixed Caribbean and European ancestry with Black diaspora roots in several West African Tribes and Nations. I’ve been a professional artist for over twenty-three years as an actor of theatre, film and television, a director of both contemporary and classical works and an educator to hundreds of post-secondary emerging artists. These days, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on and acknowledge the extraordinary privilege we all have: telling our stories and communicating globally through on-screen interactions, where technological materials and systems that are built and maintained are by the use of numerous diverse indiginous lands. I am a true believer in the collective creation process and instill values of collaboration and ensemble work into every production or studio class I am in. Now more than ever, we need everyone to be part of a team, and I hope my experience as a team player will fuel the next several generations of artists to be as respectful, daring and compassionate as I’ve learned to be. Teaching is a two-way highway, and I make it my mission to never stop learning from every lane I encounter.

2. Tell us about a creative or research project (or two) that you have been immersed in recently.

My entire body of work has been dedicated to the inclusion of diverse voices in the arts and this will continue to be my number one research focus in the future. In light of recent events, transitioning the work online will be an added challenge that I welcome as part of this initiative, and am excited by the opportunity to shake up our old ways of doing art. I am always interested in stories that punch holes in ideas about what is right and what is wrong, and then forces us to look at everything in between. The stories I’ve worked on that demand this sort of reflection often revolve around a significant period in history or about a specific cultural event, always with some kind of major conflict, not unlike the world we live in today. One such project that I have been immersed in the last couple of years, and am slated to direct, is a new Theatre play that checks off all these boxes, dealing with a time, place and culture that I was very unfamiliar with before. Though I am not at liberty to expand in much further detail at this time, I can say that it will be exactly what the global Theatre community will need after the “new normal” begins, as this story is set in an era where cultural norms were being torn apart everywhere. I’ll keep you curious about that for now, as curiosity is one of the cornerstones of the artistic craft, is it not 😉

Copy That
Jamie directed Tarragon Theatre’s original production of Jason Sherman’s Copy That, featuring York alumni Emma Ferriera and Tony Ofori.

3. What production or artist or scholar has had the most impact on you over the course of your career?

Without a doubt, Obsidian Theatre’s production of Djanet Sears’ Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God has had the single most impact upon my career. It launched Toronto’s Black theatre company onto the scene at a time when I was craving to understand my own place as an artist within the Black community. That show taught me about true diversity, ensemble work, theatre design in every respect, and how I too wanted the world to see Black artists and our stories. Shortly after that production, I had the great pleasure of meeting and working alongside one of the lead actors in the show, Sir Walter Borden, a prominent Black activist actor and educator from Nova Scotia who continues to be a close friend and mentor to this day.

Risky Phil
Jamie’s Dora-winning role for Young People’s Theatre original production of Risky Phil, by Paula Wing.

4. Is there an image or a quotation that inspires you?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.

— Maya Angelou

Theatre Devising Starter Kit: Tools to Create from Scratch

June 10, 2020

Theatre Devising Starter Kit: Tools to Create from Scratch

July 20-31, 1:00 pm. EST, Monday, Wednesday, Friday

 

DT workshop facultyThe “Theatre Devising Starter Kit” will offer a series of FREE online lessons, workshop activities, collaborative opportunities, and feedback sessions for high school students interested in learning how to devise original theatre pieces from scratch. This 2 week, six session online course is aimed at students in grade 11-12 or 1st/2nd year post-secondary students interested in creating their own performance based work from scratch. Student will learn new lessons/activities each day led by professional artist educators, Aaron Jan, Lucy Powis, Luke Reece, & Autumn Smith. See full bios below.

Dates and times: July 20, 22, 24, 27, 29, 31 at 1pm
Via Zoom (Zoom details will be sent to those who Sign Up using the link below)
Interested students can sign up via SignUp Genius

For more info, contact autumndsmith@hotmail.com for more info.

Bios for Guest Artists

Aaron Jan

Aaron Jan is a Hamilton-born playwright, director and dramaturg. He has worked as a creator with Factory Theatre, Canadian Stage, Native Earth Performing Arts, Theatre Aquarius, Cahoots, fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre, the Stratford Festival and the Next Stage Theatre Festival. Aaron is a member of the critically acclaimed, Silk Bath Collective, whose production of Yellow Rabbit enjoyed a sold-out run as a part of Soulpepper’s 2018/2019 season. Aaron is the 2019 winner of the Ken McDougall directing award and has served as TAC theatre projects juror, a TAC Arts in Parks juror, an RGTC Juror with Cahoots theatre as well as an OAC Chalmers Fellowship Juror.

Aaron Jan
Aaron Jan

Lucy Powis

Lucy Powis graduated from York University’s theatre program with specializations in devised theatre and dramaturgy. While living in Toronto, she worked in Soulpepper Theatre Company’s education department and on productions with Theatre Asylum, Theatre Aquarius, Buddies in Bad Times, Little Black Afro, Then They Fight, SummerWorks Performance Festival, and the Hamilton and Toronto Fringe Festivals. She moved to New York City to pursue her MFA in Dramaturgy at Columbia University and now lives there, working in the literary division at A3 Artists Agency and as a freelance dramaturg and producer. She previously held seasonal positions in the artistic/literary departments at Roundabout Theatre Company, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. www.lucypowis.com

Lucy Powys
Lucy Powys

Autumn Smith

Autumn Smith is a director, artist educator and consultant. She is the current Artistic and Executive Director of Littlewoodsmith, a theatre company that brings quality theatre performance and education to the Muskoka Region. Autumn holds an MFA from York University in Theatre Direction with an Emphasis on Teaching and is a conservatory trained actor (Oxford School of Drama/UK). Ms. Smith is a member of the Faculty at AMPD (York University) Centennial College and University of Toronto. As a director and educator Ms. Smith led the Dora Award winning company MacKenzieRo for over a 9 year period in addition to working with companies such as: The Shaw Festival, The Tarragon Theatre, Stratford Festival, National Ballet, Theatre Passe Muraille, The Paprika Festival, George Brown Theatre School, Stagedoor Manor in Association with the American Theatre Wing, StageWest Mississauga, Theatre 20, The Druid Theatre/Galway and the Oxford Playhouse/UK. Most recently, Autumn curated and directed Territorial Tales for Canadian Stage, Oh, What A Lovely War! for Hart House Theatre and is set to direct and choreograph Citronella for the Gravenhurst Opera House 2021 season. Autumn also has a musical theatre podcast that she co-hosts called Before the Downbeat.

Autumn Smith
Autumn Smith

Luke Reece

In a failed attempt to escape Presto, Luke Reece left his hometown of Mississauga under the guise of becoming a Toronto-based artist. He is a theatre producer, playwright, spoken word poet, and arts educator. He is the Producer for Canada’s leading culturally specific theatre company, Obsidian Theatre, and a Member of the Toronto Poetry Project. He continually seeks opportunities to empower and support young-in-craft artists with his collective Little Black Afro Theatre, creating spaces for artists to develop work with and for the communities they come from. Through his work as an artistic leader within the national arts community, he advocates for engaging and nuanced storytelling that challenges Canadian audiences. Luke is one of Toronto’s most decorated slam poets, becoming the Toronto Poetry Slam (TPS) Grand Champion in 2017, winning the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word as the captain of the TPS team and then again in 2018 as the team coach. In 2018 he placed 2nd in Canada individually which earned him a spot representing the country at the 2019 World Cup of Poetry Slam in Paris France where he placed 4th. Most recently Luke has been featured performing for Toronto Raptor and NBA Champion Serge Ibaka on his Instagram Talent Show.

Luke Reece
Luke Reece

Statement in Solidarity with Black students, faculty, staff, & community members

June 4, 2020

Statement in Solidarity with Black students, faculty, staff, & community members

Dear YorkU Theatre community,

Statement from the Department of Theatre, the MA/PhD Program in Theatre and Performance Studies and the MFA Program in Theatre at York University in Solidarity with Black students, faculty, staff, and community members

The Department of Theatre, the MA/PhD Program in Theatre and Performance Studies and the MFA Program in Theatre are deeply concerned about the ongoing racism and violence committed against Black people in both the United States and Canada. We are appalled by the recent brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade in the US, and by the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Canada. We recognize that these horrendous acts of violence are manifestations of systemic discrimination and exploitation that Black people, racialized people and Indigenous people experience on a daily basis in Canada, the US and around the world.

These recent events have caused unspeakable pain, sorrow and grief for Black communities across Canada and the US. We stand in solidarity with our Black, racialized and Indigenous students, colleagues, and community members outside of the academy in demanding justice and equality in our society.

We also are deeply committed to values of equity, inclusion and diversity in our own department and graduate programs. We recognize that anti-racist work begins with identifying and dismantling white privilege and the ideas, structures and processes that maintain it.

We are committed to ensuring that an anti-racist agenda is reflected in our departmental and program activities and curriculum. We have developed a number of current initiatives in response to our ongoing dialogue with students (please see here for more). For immediate support, we encourage our students to access York University’s resources offered through its Centre for Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion and  Student Counselling & Development. For more information on how you can support Black organizations in Toronto, see here.

We are ready to listen, reflect, learn and act to challenge racism in and through the work we do as academics, artists, pedagogues and members of society. First and foremost, however, we are here to support our Black, racialized and Indigenous students and continue to build together a community that treats everyone with respect and dignity. Transparency and accountability are our top priorities in creating a more just academy and society.

Yours in solidarity,

 

Marlis Schweitzer, Chair, Department of Theatre
Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston, Graduate Program Director, Graduate Program in Theatre & Performance Studies (MA/PhD)
Gwenyth Dobie, Graduate Program Director, Graduate Program in Theatre (MFA)

Spotlight on Faculty: Gwenyth Dobie

May 10, 2020

Spotlight on Faculty: Gwenyth Dobie

1. Who are you?

Gwenyth Dobie
Gwenyth Dobie

I am a creator, director, mover, teacher, mentor, student, sister, partner, mother.

With my life and creative partner William Mackwood, we formed Out of the Box Productions in the fall of 2003… where we ponder the agency of humanity in an increasingly digitally mediatized existence. Further, we believe that by combining movement, music and text in unique multidisciplinary works, and presenting in more intimate venues, we have created a powerful way to connect as humans.

In our most recent creations, Is That You?, Chromesthesia, Disrupting Solitude and Rallentando, we have explored diverse methodologies of immersive, digital interactivity; while investigating the ecological and social influence of a natural setting on the creative process.

 

Rallentando
Rallentando—Hub14, Toronto

 

2. Tell us about a creative or research project that you have been immersed in recently.

Is that You? (Affectionally called ITY?) was a physical theatre piece that we created for The Incubator Projects in the Dance Department at York University this past winter. The idea was hatched during the first few months of my sabbatical as I researched the effects of corrective surgery and The Secret Language of Doctors by emergency room physician Dr. Brian Goldman. I then researched the long-term implications of Cosmetic and Plastic surgery and complications and risks of Orthopaedic Surgery.

From this research, I based ITY? on the worst fears and nightmares of doctors, hospitals and surgeries, utilizing hyper stylized grotesque gesture. The three dancers I worked with from the York Dance Ensemble (Dr Lee) Sadie Cahill, (Dr. Smith) Bridget D’Orsogna and (Grandma Marg Hansen) Taylor Zeller were very brave and wonderfully creative collaborators. We investigated interactive technology; having them control the sound effects from an iPad they used which was integrated into the choreography, as they moved through the piece.

Most of the video content was manipulated and controlled through the use of Vuo and Qlab. Toy Chainsaws were used to replace body parts (with an overhead video feed, we had digital blood flying everywhere!) and finally a drill was taken to Grandma’s head—while we watched her memories floated away, leaving her unsure of who she was after all the interventions.

While I wished to create a dark comedy with the broadest “Monty Python-esque” style … with Covid-19 hitting us all very hard, it was a trying time to be creating such a piece! We did get one chance to share, before everything was closed down and received some excellent feedback. However, the macabre nature of ITY? seemed “off” with regards to the heroic nature of our outstanding medical community in these unprecedented times.

As they say… timing is everything.

Is That You?
Is That You? (2020)

3. What production or artist or scholar has had the most impact on you over the course of your career?

Ah… there are so many! When creating the new Physical Aspects of Theatre Course, I was able to assemble video viewings of some of my favorite companies. Netherlands Dance Theatre, Crystal Pite, Hofesh Shechter, Batsheva Dance Company, Punchdrunk Theatre Company, Third Rail Projects and of course the one and only Pina Bausch.

As a deaf artist, I most connect with immersive physical theatre. With the intimacy and immediacy of this form, I am able to feel the piece on a visceral level. With my Devised Theatre colleagues Ian Garrett and Laura Levin, I was thrilled to take many Devised Theatre Students to see Sleep No More in New York City (along with many other fantastic shows!)

4. Is there an image or a quotation that inspires you?

I often share this with my students, when they are deep in the creative and learning process; when they are ONLY seeing obstacles, darkness… with no way through the forest:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. —Martha Graham

5. What are some of the projects you undertook during your sabbatical?

During my 6 month Sabbatical, I was able to fully invest in the largest creation project of my life; the creation of an Artist Residency, situated on Salt Spring Island, Canada.

For the past three years, I have been researching the effects of a restorative natural setting, or the removal of interruptions that consume excessive cognitive resources on the creative process. With the assistance of a SSHRC Research Opportunity Grant “Canadian Spaces for Innovation and Creation: fostering expansive thinking through natural settings”, my partner William Mackwood and I were able to attend the Res Artis conference in Rovaniemi, Lapland. Res Artis is an International Association of Artist Residencies of which we are members. https://resartis.org/

We then made site visits to two outstanding artist residencies situated in natural surroundings.
1. The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts: a multi-disciplinary arts residencies and education centre based in rural Nova Scotia. The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts is a research and development centre for the arts of all disciplines and cultures, and is proud to help facilitate the development of new art from around the world in wonderful facilities on a spectacular farm in rural Nova Scotia.
http://www.artscentre.ca/
2. Fogo Island Arts: off the coast of Newfoundland, is a residency-based contemporary art venue, providing support for artistic exploration and production for artists, filmmakers, writers, musicians, curators, designers, and thinkers from around the world. The location descriptors include: the drama of its Atlantic Ocean backdrop, a brilliant night sky, panoramic views of the ocean.
https://www.fogoislandarts.ca/programs/residencies/

Truss being craned onto the structure.

In May 2019, we began the construction of the Woodland Farm Artist Residency. Situated on Canada’s beautiful west coast, within the territories of the Coast Salish peoples, it is a sanctuary to breathe, dream, experiment, create and play.

I spent all summer and fall continuing to research Artist Residencies, manage, assist, and help construct this new and special space.

Beginning in Spring 2021, Artists in Residency will have 24/hr access to the Creation Barn. The space is approx. 860sqft (83sq Meters) in a completely newly built space with soaring 19ft (6 Meters) gabled ceilings and sprung floors.

The barn includes a conference table, open space with plenty of natural light. William Mackwood has received a grant to buy sound, lighting and Video equipment. In addition, as creators with design and development experience, we will available for feedback and consultation … upon request.

“Patterns observable in nature and society allows us to not only make sense of what we see, but to use a pattern
from one context and scale, to design in another” — Essence of Permaculture, David Holmgren

Drywalling above and below the Catwalk
Drywalling above and below the Catwalk

 

8. How will you integrate what you learned/discovered during your sabbatical into your teaching?

I hope that what I have learned and discovered in the research, development and creation of this Artist Residencies will provide enormous opportunities to my undergraduate, graduate students and colleagues at York. This sanctuary will provide time and space to develop new works- supporting innovative design ideas, testing of music, movement and text ideas… pondering the effects of nature on art. All while residing in a place of beauty and peace.

If you want to learn more about the Artist Residency—and apply to come here—check out our website
www.outoftheboxproductions.ca

The Woodland Farm Artist Residency close to completion
The Woodland Farm Artist Residency close to completion

Spotlight on Faculty: Elena Rakitskaya

February 20, 2020

Spotlight on Faculty: Elena Rakitskaya

Elena Rakitskaya
Elena Rakitskaya
This article is part of our Spotlight series where we feature faculty and staff working in the department. In it, we’ll ask each participant four questions about themselves and their time at York.

1. Who are you?

My name is Elena Rakitskaya. I was born in the Arctic in Russia where my parents worked for the nuclear program that the Soviet government conducted at that time. My first exposure to fashion was a pet polar bear dressed in a sailor t-shirt.

Making clothes for yourself and a family was a valuable skill in the communist and post-communist era. My grandmother taught me how to sew and knit at a very early age. Later, I graduated from the Moscow State University of Design and Technology with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design.

Arctic fashion

When I immigrated to Canada, I had a challenging zigzag career path. But as all roads lead to Rome, In Canada, I eventually found myself in the clothing business but this time around in costume design for film and theatre. In film, the most memorable costume design project was for “Gangster Exchange”. As a Costume Designer, I received an award for the best costume design in feature film at the Action on Film International Film Festival, Los Angeles, 2009.

Action on Film International Film Festival, Los Angeles, 2009

In theatre, my credits include working on projects at the National Ballet of Canada, Canadian Opera Company, Broadway and Off-Broadway shows produced by Mirvish Productions.

My unforgettable events in costuming relate to working with Lady Gaga. In 2017, I tailored her pink leather outfit for The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). And a year later, in 2018, when Lady Gaga came to Toronto to promote “A Star Is Born” at TIFF, I was called to be her personal dresser. That was definitely an honour and at the time a “wow” adventure for me.

Lady Gaga at TIFF 2017.
Lady Gaga at TIFF 2018.

2. Tell us about a creative or research project that you have been immersed in recently

I am planning to complete my doctoral degree in education in 2020. The topic of my research is related to interpersonal relationships amongst students in online classes and curriculum design. The reason why I chose this topic is that I truly believe in the role of interpersonal relations in anything we do in our lives: whether it is personal relationships, business or studying. Building trust between students can be quite challenging, and interpersonal problems can lead to isolation and frustration and therefore impede student learning. I hope, by doing this research, I could contribute to a better understanding of the phenomenon of interpersonal relationships in the learning environment

3. What production or artist or scholar has had the most impact on you over the course of your career?

When I started my career in film and theatre, I was trying to find a book, a text, a manual that would help me to navigate the industry and the trade. There is no such book. Every production is unique. Every production is different. And in every production, you always learn something new.

4. Is there a quotation that inspires you?

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
—Jack Layton, Canadian politician

Spotlight on Staff: Christina Cicko

February 1, 2020

Spotlight on Staff: Christina Cicko

Each month we shine our Spotlight on a faculty or staff member in the Dept of Theatre. This month, we’re focusing on Production Coordinator Christina Cicko.

1. Who are you?

Christina Cicko
Christina Cicko

I’m Christina Cicko (BFA, Theatre Design & Directing, University of Victoria 2000). I have worked in the arts professionally for close to twenty years, primarily as a Lighting Designer and Stage Manager. After graduating from my BFA in 2000, I learned very quickly that working in theatre often requires you to go where the work is. I took a deep breath and moved across the country from a suburb of Vancouver to the big city of Toronto to start my career. Despite this move, I went on to find opportunities primarily outside of the city as I started out, including positions as an Assistant Lighting Designer for the Dance Program at the Banff Centre for the Arts and with the Stratford festival at the Avon Theatre. I eventually found a home in sketch comedy and Improv at the Second City Toronto, where I worked for 9 years. In my time at Second City, I Stage Managed 5 mainstage reviews, designed numerous reviews for the Mainstage and Touring companies, and toured across Canada and the United States. Working in Improvised theatre allowed me to cultivate skill adapting to new and constantly changing work—even in the middle of a show—and creating live design.

I have since had the pleasure of working with many exciting theatres in Toronto including Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, Nightwood Theatre, Canadian Stage Company, Native Earth, Soulpepper, Harold Green Jewish Theatre, Theatre Panik, and Aluna Theatre to name a few. In 2018, I taught Stage Management here at York University and served as a mentor for Theatre Ontario’s Youth Emergence 2.0 Program.

2. Tell us about a creative or research project that you have been immersed in recently.

I recently toured with Buddies In Bad Times Theatres’ Dora award winning production of Kiinalink: These Sharp Tools. I first joined the project for its premiere in 2017 and it will always hold a special place in my heart. There is something very meaningful about being part of a production as it is created. As a Stage Manager, promoting a safe space for artists to explore and create together is my priority and it was a privilege to support such a diverse group of storytellers in their collective process as they challenged views about our land, climate, and sexuality.

Since opening in 2017, I have toured with this critical production to the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver, Espace Libre in Montréal, Luminato Festival in Toronto, and The Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland.

3. What production or artist or scholar has had the most impact on you over the course of your career?

Early on in my career, I was fortunate enough to be mentored by two amazing Lighting Designers: Michael J Whitfield and Paul Mathieson. Michael influenced my understanding of the character of light and colour and how these facets of lighting design support and compliment a narrative. He taught me how to listen and see all of the artists in the room as well as the importance of great paperwork, professionalism, and humor. Paul instilled in me the notion of “thinking outside of the box” and using other artistic mediums to inform design. He introduced me to visual artists such as James Turrell and Edward Hopper, who utilize light to augment the emotions conveyed by their pieces. These artists have inspired many of my designs.

As a Stage Manager, the late Winston Morgan heavily influenced my approach to the rehearsal hall. My SM mentor, Crystal MacDonell further provided me with a master class in paperwork, technique, risk management, accountability, communication, and fun!

4. Is there an image or a quotation that inspires you?

“Light is not so much something that reveals, as it is itself the revelation.” – James Turrell

Spotlight on Faculty: Ian Garrett

December 16, 2019

Spotlight on Faculty: Ian Garrett

This month we’re shining our spotlight on Ian Garrett, from the Production/Design Area of the Department, who returned this year from his Sabbatical.

Ian Garrett
Ian Garrett

1. Who are you?

The phrase I have in one of my email signatures is “Performance Infrastructure Engineer”. I thought I was going to be an architect, but early in my career, spurred on by going to the Prague Quadrennial in 2003, I turned to scenography. For most of my freelance career I worked primarily as a lighting and media designer, with a decent amount of scenic design. I tend to have been a designer in a variety of devised contexts, spending 10 years as the resident designer for the Indy Convergence, a residency that is a bit of a new work incubator. This was typically balanced with arts administration work producing original work and working in communications and marketing. Basically I tried to do everything to support new performance work, but I’m not interested in performing myself. I also start to adapt a lot of the sustainable building training I had in Architecture school to my theatre practice around 2005. That turned in the Centre for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, a think tank I direct that does research and a variety of projects related to Sustainable Development and the Arts.

2. Tell us about a creative or research project that you have been immersed in recently.

One of my more active projects at the moment is a project called TrailOff. It’s a collaboration between Swim Pony Performing Arts in Philadelphia and my company Toasterlab. We’re developing immersive audio experiences for 10 sites along the circuit trail system surrounding Philadelphia with local writers. These will be experienced using a bespoke mobile application which uses information about your location, the time of day, the weather, etc. to responsively deliver the narratives as users walk the trails. That’s going to be launching in June. For me and Toasterlab it is part of our larger project in which we’re developing an open source platform for combining performance, location, and mixed reality content.

3. What production or artist or scholar has had the most impact on you over the course of your career?

There are a few people that have been instrumental in my career. Kevin and Trish Rigdon took me under their wings when I was still studying architecture and continue as mentor figures. They were the ones who spurred me on to attend the Prague Quadrennial originally, and this year I served as Curator for the US at the PQ with Kevin as the Artistic Director. Also Mark Ramont, a director who guided me a lot in my early career. Other key mentors have come from the producing side like Sixto Wagan, Carol Bixler, Leslie Tamaribuchi.

Ian Garrett at the Prague Quadrennial
Ian Garrett at the Prague Quadrennial

There are a lot of influential artists out there that have also shaped my work. Dorita Hannah fits as both as scholar influencing my thinking about space and performance architecture, and as an artist her “Heart of the PQ” design was sort of the first time I really saw the possibilities of thinking about an expanded scenography and architecture practice. In grad school I was assistant producer on a Richard Foreman opera and got to spend hours with him talking about how he came to create work (I have an icon he gifted me in my office). Phil Soltanoff is a director I really like, and I often quote his show “An Evening with William Shatner*” (the asterisks is important, since William Shatner isn’t physically in the show). Also, Teresa J. May (not to be confused with the former UK PM) and Una Chaundhuri on their writing around EcoDramaturgy.

The list could keep going!

4. Is there an image or a quotation that inspires you?

A couple I keep close in mind:

“…And the important function of play is thus revealed: it permits us to gain, without any particular future application in mind, a holistic understanding of the world, which is both a complement of and a preparation for later analytical activities.”
– Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence by Carl Sagan

“The faculty of art is to change events; the faculty of science is to foresee them. The phenomena with which we deal are controlled by art; they are predicted by science.”
– Henry Thomas Buckle, The Influence of Women on the Progress of Knowledge,’, a discourse delivered at the Royal Institution (19 Mar 1858)

“I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.”
– Marshall McLuhan

There is a long one I use a lot from the Soltanoff show I mentioned, but It might be a little long to share.

5. What’s the first meaningful action you took after the start of your sabbatical?

Take my son to his first day of JK at his new school. Because of the remediation period after the strike ended (sorry to bring it up), my sabbatical started in September. I worked out my project schedule so that I wouldn’t be out of town for more than a week at a time, typically only ever once a month. But that meant I was home and could do drop-off and pick-up for my kids, and take on much of the household management for the year. It was a super special thing to be able to be available to my family while working on my sabbatical projects right from the start. My partner was still working full time at the time and it meant we didn’t have to figure out before and after school care and only see each other first thing in the morning and at dinner time.

6. What are some of the projects you undertook during your sabbatical?

One of my big projects was serving as the Curator for the US for the Prague Quadrennial, or the PQ. Its the largest gathering around performance design and space in the world, and as the name describes, it happens every four years in Prague. The curation started before my sabbatical, but there was an exhibition to build and content to collect. The exhibition was built at the University at Buffalo, which was convenient insofar as I could get there and back on the same day while it was being constructed. I also built the digital interface for the exhibition which is mirrored online (http://pq19.usitt.org/). There were 50 designers or design teams included in the national exhibitions, 22 of which who were featured in a podcast series and short videos I produced as well. I travelled to Prague for the PQ in June and brought a dozen York students will me. I also ran a workshop on the use of Mixed Reality with Site Specific performance, and led a program called Light Spot with my colleague Beth Kates. Light Spot was a space dedicated to conversations on lighting and media technology in performance.

I also completed a number of projects with my company Toasterlab. This evolved out of a project called Transmission which I produced for a premiere in Edinburgh in 2017 which had elements in The Edinburgh International Science Festival, the one-time FuturePlay festival as part of the Fringe, and then the Future of Storytelling Festival in New York. This work is on the use of mixed reality technology and site-specific live performance. One of the big projects for the company has been one called Groundworks, which is a collaboration with indigenous artists in Northern California about using traditional and contemporary Indigenous performance that has been geo-located to “re-story” the land.

We did a project in North York in Parkway Forest Park where we did a VR workshop for youth, a pop-up VR cinema, and built a web-app for exploring the park through VR films the participants created. (You can interact with the following 360° VR video by scrolling the image.)

I did a couple of projects with the choreographer Jane Gotch including a VR film in the TTC, and then another geolocated series of VR dance films along the streetcar in Kansas City. With Dopolavoroteatrale (aka DLT Experience) I produced a VR component to their immersive production The Stranger 2.0 and during this time we started TrailOff with Swim Pony in Philadelphia too. And I did do some more conventional theatre (sort of), lighting Remembering the Winnipeg General at the Owl’s Club with Zietpunk Theatre over the summer.

I’ve also worked on the National Arts Centre’s cycle on Theatre and Climate Change, and continue a lot of that research and advocacy work.

7. What insight or discovery did you make during your sabbatical?

I think one idea that has emerged for me is about the future of theatrical performance and emerging mixed reality technologies. I’ve found that one of the interesting barriers to this type of media adoption is that a lot of it has been created out of a cinematic practice, and that asks those that are used to working with framed camera-based forms to throw out a lot of technique. The camera might be technically similar but you can’t zoom… you move closer. You can’t pan… you turn your head. And I’ve found that this is actually more akin to theatrical staging, especially immersive performance.

Another thing that has become apparent is that in the realm of sustainable arts practice there is a hugh uptick in consideration. I was discussing with a colleague at Julie’s Bicycle who has also been thinking on this movement for over a decade and we noted how the field has grown incredibly in the last year even. Where we thought maybe we were losing touch with everything, we both sort of saw that it’s really that there was so much going on we couldn’t keep it all in mind at one time like we used to. And there are so many more people interested in this topic, our great existential crisis, that it’s become more hopeful than before.

8. How will you integrate what you learned/discovered during your sabbatical into your teaching?

I’m starting a new studio class in this Winter called EcoScenography. Part of this has been about bringing all of these ideas that I’ve been exploring together into something I can work on with students. This will integrate the work on site-specific performance, community based work, the integration of location-based technology, collaboration with indigenous communities, etc. I’ve wanted to do something like this since I came to York, but the teaching needs of the department and my loading didn’t allow for it until now. We’ve had some new faculty in Design and Production come on-board and so some of my classes that I taught before my sabbatical have moved to them. It’s always exciting and terrifying starting a class from scratch, but it’s looking like it’s going to be a great way to really bring all this work together and continue the available offerings on sustainability and performance, adding to my existing course which is more of a studies approach.

With all of the activity in the field, there is also a possibility that we might see a bit more in our Theatre@York season in the coming years to better integrate sustainable thinking and expanded performance practice. We’ll see how that shapes up, but my sabbatical has really energized me to advocate for thinking about the future of performance.

https://vimeo.com/346390654/89ca09c40f

 

Spotlight on Faculty: Sean Robertson-Palmer

December 8, 2019

Spotlight on Faculty: Sean Robertson-Palmer

Sean Robertson Palmer
Sean Robertson-Palmer

1. Who are you?

Currently I am a Sessional Assistant Professor in Performance Creation at York University, which is proving to be one of the most exciting and fulfilling roles of my life. However I am also an insatiably curious wanderer, a quality that has led me to playing lacrosse in Germany, climbing mountains in Sabah and writing for a fashion magazine in Cape Town. I train for multisport races in the summer and play pond hockey in the winter. I make my own pizza and pasta dough from scratch.

I have been working in theatre professionally since 2005, mostly in Toronto and mostly with the Kadozuke Kollektif, a performance company that I co-founded with Tatiana Jennings and a group of other misfits. We have produced a number of large-scale performance installations and site-specific performances. I have also facilitated youth arts programming in the public sector and co-ordinated a number of street art projects, which has allowed me to feel richly connected to my community.

2. Tell us about a creative or research project that you have been immersed in recently.

Currently I am finishing my PhD dissertation at York on battle rap in Toronto’s Hip Hop scene. It seems too good to be true, earning a degree by attending battle rap events and writing about them. I credit York’s graduate department in Theatre and Performance Studies for encouraging me to develop original research in an obscure but important corner of the artistic world.

I am also beginning to reimagine what devised theatre means to me after reconstructive hip surgery. Post-recovery, I have been on a journey to understand how my new body moves, what it is capable of, and reconciling with its inability to fit stereotypical tropes of strength and masculinity. In the studio this means experimenting with my new metallic joints, engaging with theories of disability, and playing with pain. My Devised Theatre students at York have been instrumental in helping me cultivate a training environment that experiments with adaptive physical practices, as we collectively work towards an understanding of our own unique bodies. Their trust and fearlessness is inspiring stuff.

Sean Robertson-Palmer in Sandman
Sean Robertson-Palmer in Sandman

3. What production or artist or scholar has had the most impact on you over the course of your career?

Narrowing this down is an impossible task, since I am a collector of heroes. I find people I admire and bother them until they teach me things. I am lucky to be guided through my PhD at York by two of my academic mentors, Dr. Mary Fogarty and Dr. Laura Levin, while also sharing space outside of York with heavy hitters of Hip Hop scholarship, including Dr. Murray Forman, Dr. Mark V. Campbell and Dr. Imani Kai Johnson. My editor at GQ Magazine, the incredibly dapper Nkosiyati Khumalo, was the first person to introduce me to the notion of a writer’s “voice”. In our short time together, he helped me cultivate my voice. Diana Belshaw, who ran Humber College’s theatre program while I was a student in the 2000’s, was the first educator that ever told me I was smart. Despite many stumbles, I try very hard to prove her right.

Early in my career, my artistic practice was greatly influenced by Ker Wells and Tatiana Jennings. Both mentored me during my time at Humber College and the latter became a life-long collaborator. The Toronto theatre scene is so stacked with talent that I seem to find a new hero every time I attend a show. Go watch theatre in Toronto and find your heroes! The great Hip hop producers of my youth such as DJ Premier, J Dilla and RZA continue to score my life and provoke creativity.

Sean Robertson Palmer
Sean Robertson Palmer in Desperate Tenderness

4. Is there an image or a quotation that inspires you?

When I need to be reminded that the world is beautiful, I search images of art by Swoon, Lady Pink, or Faith 47.