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?
Explosions for the 21st Century
Company: Pressgang Theatre
Written, Designed, and Performed by Chris Ross-Ewart
Directed and Dramaturged by Graham Isador
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.
The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator
1115 Queen Street W, Toronto, ON
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