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Michael Wheeler & Aislinn Rose of Praxis Theatre on Co-Curating HATCH2014 at the Harbourfront Center

Interview by Ryan Quinn

R: I’m here with Michael Wheeler and Aislinn Rose of Praxis Theatre who are co-curating the HATCH program at the Harbourfront Center in 2014. Can you tell me a bit about the HATCH program?

A: The HATCH program is through the Harbourfront Center. We took part in it in 2010, and it was a really transformative period for Praxis theatre because it was really our first foray into integrating our online activities with our artmaking activities. That’s why we’re looking at projects for this year’s submissions that are going to be working on some of the same things: incorporating social media into either the communication about the project, integration into the actual creation of the project, or use of social media in the performance of the work. So, essentially what the program is, is an opportunity for a company, or a collective, or an artist to work on a particular aspect of a project that requires a space to experiment in. You get a week’s residency in the Harbourfront’s studio theatre. You really do have the use of that space for the whole week to work on something you couldn’t do in a rehearsal room, or someone’s back yard, or your own apartment. So, for our project, we worked on a piece called Section 98.

M: That was very concise. The only thing I would add to that as to core elements of the residency is that your one week of residency at the Harbourfront studio theatre has to end with some sort of public presentation. However, I think we’re adamant that it’s not about presenting a final work. Hopefully, people are experimenting throughout the week, then that presentation is more a revelation of what that week’s experiment was rather than “here’s our play”. A couple other things that come along with the residency are, firstly, a lot of support from the Harbourfront center that you wouldn’t necessarily get if you were producing your own show, you get marketing support, mentorship, publicity. So, a lot of things that if you were producing yourself, you’d have to come up with the cash for.

A: In terms of producing, the focus of HATCH is on the process rather than the product. So, we’re not looking for companies that basically need a week of rehearsal time in a space before they put on a show. We’re really looking at projects that are in some form of development or really need an aspect to be developed. The other thing we found since we started talking about co-curating this program is that there is the perception out there that HATCH is for emerging artists only, and that really isn’t the case. We’re looking at applications from emerging artists as well as established companies, collectives and artists. But, from those established artists, we’re looking for something new that they want to experiment with. We’re not looking at applications from artists doing what they always do. We really want to see them experimenting with something quite different, and in this case it may be the social media aspect of the work. That’s something that studio space can provide them an opportunity to work on. We’ve also gotten a lot of questions from people asking how immediately integrated the social media needs to be into their applications, and that’s a great question to talk about because, as Mike pointed out, part of the week’s process includes mentorship. That’s mentorship from both the Harbourfront center and the curators. So, if social media is something you want to experiment with, but you have no idea how to do that, that’s a part of the project we can mentor you on.


R: How does the process of curating work for you two?

M: Well, applications are due Friday, July 12th. The curators will come in and we’ll go through the applications. Harbourfront center has a specific system they ask their curators to use. Out of that, there will be a certain number of projects that will be chosen for interviews, which will take place in August, and companies should know if they’re participating by the time September rolls around.

A: I guess the other thing that we’ve been doing in the lead-up as part of our curation process is getting excited to hear from artists we don’t know about. We’re excited to see the submissions that surprise us. We’ve also been speaking with artists of all levels of experience to say “Your work is of interest to us. You should consider applying”. The other part of that is we’re not just speaking with theatre artists. We’re speaking with artists across disciplines, whether it’s someone working in music, dance, et cetera. So, if you’re not a theatre artist, that is not an obstacle to you applying.

R: All the resources for applying are on the Harbourfront website?

A: Yes, I think if you go to “submissions”, there is a section with all of the criteria as well as the form you can use to apply.

R: So artists of any discipline should really get on filling out their applications now.

A: Yes, I would totally agree.

M: Yes, I think the Harbourfront center, through their World Stage, has a very multidisciplinary approach to how things are curated there anyhow. So, if you look at a World Stage season, and imagine an indie/experimental version of that, with some social media integrated into it, that’s probably around what it will end up looking like.

A: And speaking of World Stage, I think it’s important to note that projects that have been involved in HATCH have actually gone on to present at World Stage. The project LEAR by Philip McKee actually started as a HATCH project and ended up in this past season at World Stage. That’s one of the amazing things that Harbourfront is really great at is investing in Toronto artists.

M: No small irony that World Stage finds the resources to invest in local artists!

A: Other projects from World Stage then go on to find their world stage outside of Canada, which is incredibly important for the ecosystem of Toronto and Canadian theatre!

M: Something else I might add is that there have been a couple of articles in the Globe and Mail and other mainstream sources about online integration and if you read the comments afterwards, which maybe you should never do, but if you do, there’s a lot of reticents to embrace any of these tools with performance. I think it’s because there’s a sense that there’s a “pure art form” and by bringing these tools in, the art form is being polluted in some way. So, part of our work is to reveal and assist people who’ve found ways to use those tools to deepen and broaden the work. It’s not a gimmick, it’s not a marketing play, it’s about finding new ways to express things that couldn’t be explored before. Obviously, a lot of things have changed in the last ten years for every industry, and there are perils and opportunities there. The thing I always say to people who are adamantly against this is “I’m sure a lot of people thought electricity ruined the theatre when people had to start lighting it with lamps and not candles”. But technology changes, society changes, and the art we use to express our world and our lives changes with it.

A: There are a lot of opportunities for the art form if we can become a little less precious about it.

R: When we treat formalism as sacred, I suppose that’s when people see it as dusty.

M: I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone who pays even a cursory attention to theatre that we have a bit of a museum problem, and that quickly turns into “eating your vegetables”, and that turns quickly into not going. So, hopefully this is more like dessert.

R: Amazing. Thank you very much!

M: Thanks!


To apply for HATCH2014 at the Harbourfront Center, read more here:
DEADLINE: Friday July 12, 2013
For more on Michael Wheeler, Aislinn Rose & Praxis Theatre, check out their website.
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