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Posts tagged ‘2017 SummerWorks Performance Festival’

“It’s Mad Max meets The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” Performers Amanda Cordner, Christina Bryson & Director Claire Burns on DIVINE at SummerWorks

Interview by Megan Robinson

When I walked into the rehearsal space for DIVINE, the women of the cast were already in costume. I caught sight of holsters and cow hide wrapped around their waists. Two actors were clasping plastic bottles molded into the shape of guns. It’s a hot room, and the cast was dressed head to toe. The women, a powerful group, sauntered across the stage and stood ready to begin.

DIVINE is a Western set in a post-apocalyptic Ontario where water has disappeared. Playwright Natalie Frijia, who is currently pursuing her PhD in environmental studies and theatre, first conceived of DIVINE during Storefront Theatre’s first playwrights unit.

The play portrays characters finding strength in a desperate situation. I can’t help but reflect on how the themes of the piece mirrored real life for the cast and crew. Days before rehearsals were set to start, Storefront Theatre was evicted from its space last December. DIVINE, and half the season, was cancelled.

After the run, I sat outside with cast members Christina Bryson and Amanda Cordner as well as director Claire Burns, who tried to remember the exact timeline: “We’d booked off work for rehearsals and everything,” Cordner said of the challenges that face artists who work in indie theatre; more often than not the people involved are also navigating their day jobs (or night jobs…Hi bartenders!)

But the show has landed on its feet and has a new home at SummerWorks. The changes that were made to fit festival needs have also opened up new possibilities. With a set that needs to be easily torn down, and a trimmed version of the original two-hour script, the show is perfect for touring and Burns went on to mention plans to share the show beyond the festival.

The idea of an Ontario in drought might be terrifying, but DIVINE is surprisingly playful in its telling of the story. However, keeping it light took some work. Bryson and Cordner explained that once they delved into the reality of their characters’ despairing situation, they had to be reminded one day in rehearsal that it was a comedy. Cordner, who plays Penn, rolled her eyes at herself and laughed, “I was bringing all the drama.”

Photo Credit: John Gundy

“The play itself isn’t an issue play. It’s a kind of fantastical adventure story but underneath it is that message of conservation and sustainability. We don’t want to get to a place where we don’t have water,” said director Claire Burns. There’s a sweet spot in this work of marrying activism and theatre, but Burns is clear on her approach, “You catch more bees with honey.” “People never learn when you point fingers at them,” Cordner added. Burns nods, “It’s like subliminal messaging.”

The show itself may not hit you over the head with its message but by forging relationships last fall with the World Wildlife Fund and Wellington Water Watchers, DIVINE is a show supported by those who are actively working towards the preservation of water. “It was important to me that we had partnerships with legitimate environmental organizations,” said Burns.

Originally written with male roles, Claire made the decision to work with an all-female cast. Her reasoning? “The women were legitimately the best people for the roles.” I asked if they ever played around with women playing men, using fake moustaches or other costume devices, but Cordner and Bryson just laughed as Cordner explained, “Claire made it very clear from the beginning that we were not going to do that.”

Burns shook her head, “I hate that shit.” And she’s had plenty of experience with it. “The guys who played women were always making everyone laugh and then I’d get on stage with my fake moustache and it would just be dumb. We didn’t want to do that. We’re not trying to fool anybody that we’re not women.”

Photo Credit: John Gundy

The choice to go with a female cast and crew has clearly paid off. When I asked the women to speak to the community they’ve created in DIVINE they didn’t hold back:

Claire Burns: “What I think is special is that I’m given the opportunity to get to know and get to work with so many powerful and smart women. With every show you work on you create these bonds with people and in this show in particular – I think it’s like 17 women working on this show – everyone is pulling their weight and so it’s such an easy process. I’m having such a good time. I’m really enjoying my community right now. I’m also enjoying that my community is being so generous letting me take this role and I’m so grateful that I’m allowed to shape this story in the way that I want. I’m also part of the                     queer community so I’ve put that into this, very much so…”

Amanda Cordner: (imitating Claire) “There will be a kiss. I don’t know where but there will be a kiss!”

Claire Burns: (laughing) “I’m very grateful it’s so fun.”

Christina Bryson: “It’s fun to get to kick-ass! How often, as women, do you get to do all this stage combat with like ten of you kicking ass at the same time?! That’s my favourite part.”

DIVINE

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Who:
Presented by Red One Theatre Collective with the generous support of The Storefront Theatre
Written by Natalie Frijia
Directed by Claire Burns
Assistant Director Molison Farmer
Dramaturgy Emma Mackenzie Hillier
Performed by Amanda Cordner, Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Christina Bryson, Sarah Naomi Campbell, Haley Garnett and Rehaset; Ensemble Annie Yao, Sabah Haque, Kathleen O’Reilly, Khadijah
Producer Sedina Fiati
Associate Producer Olivia Marshman
Set Design by Christine Urquhart
Lighting Design by Imogen Wilson
Costume Design by Sage Paul
Sound Design by Suzie Balogh
Fight Director Louisa Zhu
Assistant Fight Director Erin Eldershaw
Stage Managed by Lin-Mei Lay

What:
Ontario is out of water and a pair of bandits search for their last hope – a water diviner by the name of Penn. Stories say she can crack the world like a coconut and make water bubble to the surface with nothing but her hands. But the bandits aren’t the only ones hunting her down. And what if there’s nothing left for Penn to divine?

An all woman cast in Natalie Frijia’s post-apocalyptic wild west asks how we would survive in world without water. Would we turn to community… or to revenge?

Join the creative team of DIVINE for some post-show discussions – August 5 in the Factory Courtyard with Paul Baines from the Great Lakes Common and August 12 at The Paddock with guests from Wellington Water Watchers, the World Wildlife Fund and Surf the Greats.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON

When:
Tuesday August 8th 9:45pm – 11:00pm
Wednesday August 9th 8:00pm – 9:15pm
Saturday August 12th 7:00pm – 8:15pm
Sunday August 13th 1:30pm – 2:45pm

Tickets:
summerworks.ca

 

Artist Profile: Chris Ross-Ewart, Sound Designer & Composer

Interview by Hallie Seline

“listening more critically and sensitively might be what saves the world” – Chris Ross-Ewart

I first met sound designer and composer Chris Ross-Ewart in the ultimate Toronto Summer Theatre setting – a Fringe tent (or rather this year’s Fringe “rink”) conversation. We got to speaking about making art and sound and all of the weird and wonderful ways you could do a one person show, which is where I found out about his upcoming project at the SummerWorks festival. It was a pleasure to re-connect with him to chat more about his show Explosions for the 21st Century, exploring sound as a character, and after completing his MFA at the Yale School of Drama, what he’s observed about making art in the States compared to Canada.

HS: Where did the idea for this show come from?

Chris Ross-Ewart: I was commissioned to create a 10 minute performance using only sound for a festival about a year ago. The response was positive and I was encouraged to turn it into a full length show.

HS: You describe the show as using sound design to explore your anxieties towards contemporary culture. What is it about sound that you are drawn to as a primary means to explore and communicate in your work?

CRE: Most political and cultural discourse occurs online these days, which confines our conversations to words, ideas, and abstractions.

I am curious how a more sensory approach to understanding and discussing the world might actually be more valuable. I’ve found many contemporary issues seem to have a very tangible connection to sound, and many people ignore the importance of sound both in how it is made and how it is heard. As I hope to prove in the show, listening more critically and sensitively might be what saves the world.

HS: After having completed your MFA at Yale, can you speak to me a bit about your experience training in the States and what you observed about making art in the States compared to Canada?

CRE: The US truly wears its heart on its sleeve, in the best and worst ways. Opinions and values are expressed very loudly and publicly, in a way I was not used to. This leads to both an amazing amount of artistic expression, and also a terrifyingly in-your-face political and cultural antagonism that we don’t see much of in Canada. It’s an inspiring country but extremely exhausting.

HS: What, in your work, do you find yourself currently drawn to explore?

CRE: I’m interested in how sound can be its own character; a living, breathing creature in the room. Technology is taking stories away from shared collective experiences into more personal ones. I’m interested in both sound that counteracts this, by pulling us back into the larger world around us and sound that enhances intimate and private experiences.

HS: What have you been inspired by lately?

CRE: I just saw the O’Keeffe exhibit at the AGO. I loved seeing her life’s process, how she evolved, how she dealt with critics, how she found the places she needed to thrive. It’s always inspiring to see someone grow and struggle and inquire continuously for decades.

HS: Current mantra or best piece of advice you are currently living by?

CRE: Don’t be a victim of your own good taste.

HS: What are you listening to right now?

CRE: Jeff Beck…and my neighbour’s birthday party.

HS: Describe your show in 5-10 words:

CRE: A TED talk on the side of the highway.

HS: Lastly, what are some other shows that you are looking forward to this SummerWorks?

CRE: the last chance you’ll ever have, The Only Good Indian, Icône Pop

Explosions for the 21st Century

Who:
Company: Pressgang Theatre
Written, Designed, and Performed by Chris Ross-Ewart
Directed and Dramaturged by Graham Isador

What:
With field recordings, audio effects, and a well timed air horn, Explosions for the 21st Century uses sound design to explore contemporary culture. The result is part lecture, part stand up, and part existential crisis. Written and performed by Chris Ross-Ewart, the show is an erratic, real time, exploration of why we make sound and how we listen.

Where:
The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator
1115 Queen Street W, Toronto, ON

When:
Friday August 4th: 8:00pm – 9:00pm
Saturday August 5th: 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Sunday August 6th: 9:45pm – 10:45pm
Tuesday August 8th: 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Wednesday August 9th: 9:30pm – 10:30pm
Friday August 11th: 7:45pm – 8:45pm
Saturday August 12th: 4:45pm – 5:45pm

Tickets:
summerworks.ca

Connect:
chrisross-ewart.com