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Posts tagged ‘Mel Hague’

In Conversation with David Yee about “Walk the Walk”, fu-Gen’s National Festival of Asian Canadian Women

by Bailey Green

During a fu-GEN theatre planning meeting in 2010, former general manager Carin Lowerison remarked on the lack of plays produced by the company that were written by Asian women. It was an off the cuff comment but the weight behind the statement hit home. “I really wanted to do something,” says fu-GEN artistic director David Yee. “Stats were coming out about the percentages of women directors and writers across the country, and reality is a fraction of those [directors and writers] are women of colour. Theatres were called out and they would say that they believe in women and women of colour, but they just don’t know any, or everyone’s busy, or we don’t have access. And then the initiatives by theatre companies weren’t about engaging with communities or putting a focus on the work.”

Walk the Walk is a national festival presented by fu-GEN theatre and six partner theatres from across the country. The format for the festival was inspired by a conference the company had mounted in 2010 called GENesis. The conference had staged readings, panels and paper presentations from academics in the field of Asian Canadian theatre. It was fu-GEN’s first foray into something large scale and was a week geared towards meshing art and academia. But with Walk the Walk the focus will be on new work by Asian Canadian women from across the country.

“The plan with Walk the Walk was to partner with organizations who had historically not done very well supporting women of colour, even if that was now taking an upswing,” Yee says of the new festival. “We sent out our offer to a lot of theatres. Some of them just didn’t respond, some responded that they didn’t have the time or the money, but some of them really engaged with us. Manitoba Theatre Centre really engaged with us and worked to find a candidate, and to make up the money they were missing from their budget. We found six theatre companies who would go the distance and were invested in changing the landscape.” Yee mentions 2B theatre and Theatre New Brunswick who searched tirelessly to find a candidate. fu-GEN held on for a month before they had to move on. At a national panel at GENesis in 2010, there was an empty chair to represent Atlantic Canada.

The goal of Walk the Walk is to connect artists with theatre companies that may not have had the opportunity to engage with their work. Walk the Walk seeks to create routes of access for women of colour. Mel Hague is facilitating the KXIII this year and the playwright unit is comprised of four emerging Asian Canadian women. “We’re partnering them with the more established creators in the main event for mentorship opportunities and celebrating the work that is out there,” say Yee, “ and it’s exceptional work.”

The week includes four new play readings, a panel, a cabaret and the annual Potluck Festival.

The festival opens with the funny and touching Burning Mom. Written by Mieko Ouchi from Edmonton, Burning Mom tells the true story of the author’s mother and her decision to go to Burning Man after the death of her husband. Tuesday night presents Chinoiserie by Marjorie Chan, “Marjorie engages with history in such an intersting way,” says Yee. “She deals with epic, complex human emotions and roots them in these sort of grand mysteries.” Wednesday night is a panel on the link between nostalgia and colonization, and the friction between them. The panel is facilitated by cognitive psychologist, neurologist and artist Dr Shanti Ganesh from the Netherlands.

Thursday night is Da Jia by Sophie Gee from Montreal. Da Jia is an Asian Canadian meditation on Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and is a multilingual play told in English, Mandarin and Cantonese (with surtitles.) And Friday night is Chinese Vaginies, a performance installation presented by Natalie Gan (one third of Vancouver group Hong Kong Exile). Yee doesn’t reveal the content of the piece, but shares that it is an interactive one on one, that somehow Drake’s involved and that the performance is an investigation of food, labour, racism, violence and the human body. The weekend closes the festival with a cabaret and the Potluck Festival and KXIII.

“It’s stunning, exciting work,” Yee says. “These communities have been under-served for so long and the strength of the theatre community has always been determined by its women. All of the mentors I have had in building fu-GEN were women and women of colour. So when I compare it to my personal history, I find it so strange that that isn’t the work that is celebrated or lauded nationally. They have been the ones driving artistic innovation to a greater degree than anyone.”

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When: June 13th – 29th

Where: Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street

Tickets: fu-gen.org

For the full festival schedule and more information, visit: fu-gen.org

“Ohio” and Tadeu end their lives in the Montague Parkette at the 36th annual Rhubarb Festival

by Bailey Green 

Director, composer and librettist Bruce Dow’s upcoming piece in Rhubarb Festival, “the one with the goddamn long name,” is a new opera (?) about young love and suicide that focuses on the romanticization of suffering and depression in LGBTQ teens. This theatre-with-music creation tells the story of Ohio, a pre-op trans woman played by Jordan Bell, and her suicidal bully Tadeu, played by Jordan Fantauzzo. The performance will be 25 minutes of what would be a 40 minute first act in a three act piece. “Truncated like mad,” Bruce chuckles.

The action takes place in contemporary Toronto. Tadeu works in the back of his uncle’s meat shop in Little Portugal. Tadeu is in love with a trans woman and cannot accept that he is homosexual. His self-hatred manifests in the violent bullying of Ohio (and presumably others.) The other characters include his girlfriend and members of his high school clique (played by Cassie Doane, Kayla Coolen and Danik McAfee.) The themes are current and relevant. “We pretend that here [Toronto] it’s very liberal and forward thinking, but there are still many old world areas in town where it’s primitive,” says Dow. “We hear of middle class kids thrown out for being LGBTQ, of them committing suicide even when they have resources to seek help. How much of this happens here in our own neighbourhood?”

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Photo Credit: Vince Ha

 

The piece originated from a performance Dow had seen as a child. The show was bunraku, a form of traditional Japanese theatre where three-quarter life size puppets play out the action. “You see the operators but you’re watching these amazing people, or puppets, act.” The plays have high emotion and drama, love and death. One particular bunraku writer completely captured Bruce’s fascination: Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote a play called “The Love Suicide at Sonezaki” which tells a very romantic tale of trapped lovers who eventually commit suicide. Bruce was drawn to the story and adapted it, re-configuring the courtesan as Ohio and the young merchant clerk as Tadeu. The structure shifted and changed beyond the original, but the framework remains.

As for the question mark next to the words “new opera” in the show poster, Bruce describes it as a marriage between opera and theatre with music. “It’s my idea of contemporary music theatre but the libretto is how people would talk,” Dow describes after delving into a brief history of verismo opera. “It’s very graphic in content and description and language, and they’re all singing, God bless Buddies.” The music is written for two pianos, though for Rhubarb they will be singing to tracks with the help of associate music director and conductor Mike Ross. Bruce says the experience of writing has been both vulnerable cathartic and has ultimately lead him to claim the title of composer with a sense of acceptance and joy. “Working through this libretto has been very personal. Even though I am not a trans woman, I know people who are,” Bruce says of creating the character of Ohio. “I will never know what the experience is like, but I’m coming to understand it more and empathize.” Bruce also found himself reflecting on his own coming out at the height of the AIDS crisis compared to the different, and yet similar, realities faced by young LGBTQ teens now.

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Photo Credit: Vince Ha

 

“The singers are incredible,” Bruce praises his cast. “Jordan Fantauzzo is a member of the Theatre 20 Emerging Artist Ensemble and he did his MFA at The Boston Conservatory. Jordan Bell has this kick ass voice, but I don’t think anyone quite knows how absolutely great of an actor he is. Brilliant.” The other three members of the cast, Cassie, Kayla and Danik are recent Randolph grads. Their characters’ presence in the show would expand as the show developed further and Dow describes them as “smart little actors” who are “fucking fierce.” Stage manager Katie Honek, who Bruce met while Honek was apprentice SM on Sextet at the Tarragon, is brilliant and completely on top of things. Associate Director and Dramaturge Isaac Robsinson is “a smart hothead who helps me make the libretto work.” Bruce laughs, “I’m having the time of my life working on this.” Bruce also credits Mel Hague for inspiring him as an artist to be brave and risk big.

As for Rhubarb, Bruce is thrilled to be a part of the festival. “Once you’re accepted you’re given carte blanche to go create. It’s really new work in the sense of the word. Raw, and not quite complete. I can’t wait to see what other people are doing.”

 

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A new opera about the romanticization of suffering and depression in LGBTQ youth. This workshop presentation will feature early explorations of the music and writing for the first act of the show.

When: February 11-14 at 9:00pm in the Chamber

Artists: composer / libretist Bruce Dow | performers Jordan Bell + Jordan Fantauzzo with Kayla Coolen, Cassie Doane + Danik McAfee | dramaturge / associate director Isaac Robinson | production stage manager Katie Honek

Tickets: included in your $20 Evening Pass