My friends, I am exceptionally excited. I am exceptionally excited and shivering with electric anticipation because on Friday evening I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peak of the SummerWorks Theatre Festival’s 20th Anniversary Season. The Lower Ossington Theatre was crammed with artists and creativity brimming through the space and out into the rainy night, as Artistic Producer Michael Rubenfeld introduced us to a feast of theatrical works which will be showcased as part of SummerWorks 2010 this August.
According to its website, SummerWorks “supports work that has a clear artistic vision and explores a specific theatrical aesthetic. It encourages risk, questions, and creative exploration while insisting on accessibility, integrity and professionalism. SummerWorks is the place where dedicated, professional artists are free to explore new territory and take artistic risks. Rather than getting larger, we strive to get better. We look to introduce professional artists from diverse communities to each other and be inspired by our similarities and differences.” In 2008 Michael Rubenfeld became the Artistic Producer of SummerWorks and I can’t think of anyone more suited to helm such an ambitious and exciting Mecca of creativity and merriment.
Michael Rubenfeld is at once infinitely passionate about the creation and production of good theatre and music in Toronto and intrinsically charming, compelling and eloquent in his ability to champion the theatre and musical artists in this city and to give a home and an audience to work that deserves to be seen, heard and experienced. Teaming with ideas for the festival to expand into the streets, for music and Improvisation to provide a late-night Cabaret atmosphere and to bring theatre artists to Toronto from all over the world, Rubenfeld’s enthusiasm for independent theatre is both contagious and inspiring.
The evening begin with a very exciting new venture from the National Theatre of the World, whose improvised play series Impromptu Splendor garnered much success and accolades in the 2009 SummerWorks Festival. Matt Baram, Ron Pederson and Naomi Snieckus are back this year with a brand new improvised format called Fiasco Playhouse, so novel its definition is still be written! On Friday, Fiasco Playhouse presented an improvised play reading of their newest work, a play entitled Post-Eden, which (not so) coincidentally is the title of another play being performed this year at SummerWorks. Poised with their scripts of blank pages on music stands, Pederson and Snieckus read their lines in a delightful mixture of performing subject and character, at times making mistakes and with Snieckus adamant to highlight all of her lines with a highlighter. Baram read the stage directions, at times having his words trampled by the over-zealous actors, and all three never failing to evoke much laughter with their simultaneous page turning. The idea of improvising a play reading may seem silly at first, and of course, the inherent silliness of the concept is readily embraced and celebrated by The National Theatre of the World, but it also proves fascinating to watch, especially for those who frequent professional play readings. Professional play readings are designed to showcase the script and therefore audiences often overlook the antics, quirks and interactions of the performers and the often under-rehearsed nature of the reading in lieu of focusing on the playwright’s words. When the play being read is improvised however, the odd experience of the performers suddenly becomes the show and we recognize the duality of performance intrinsic to play readings which makes them so interesting to watch.
Andrew Kushnir’s verbatim theatre piece The Middle Place, another smash success of the 2009 SummerWorks Festival which will be produced as part of Theatre Passe Muraille and Canadian Stage’s respective seasons this coming year, was also featured at the launch. Kushnir interviewed inhabitants of the Rexdale Youth Shelter and created this play from their stories. What struck me as so wonderful about this play is the way that Kushnir is able to capture so much of an individual’s personality and history in the way that he or she chooses to express him or herself. There were lines that jumped out at me that were constructed in such a way that they did not entirely make sense, not only grammatically, but that also seemed to capture a difference in thought process. This is where verbatim theatre shines so organically because the characters’ cadences and vocabularies are not limited to any one person’s experience or imagination, but are able to transcend beyond, which transports the audience into a whole new environment with stunning immediacy.
Matthew Barber, a brilliant singer songwriter with a gorgeous voice, and that is putting it mildly; he is seriously dreamy when he performs, sang an assortment of tunes from the strange quirky musical The Haunted Hillbilly which is coming to SummerWorks this August. His lyrics are poetic and strange, and the music, aptly, is a great mixture of musical theatre and country and includes a number about venereal disease; because nothing is more conducive to breaking out randomly into song than a particularly acute bout of the Clap.
There was also a performance from the actual play Post-Eden, written by Jordan Tannahill, which was very interesting in its use of multimedia and projected filmed scenes overlapping with a more traditional narrative between two characters that seemed to belong in a sort of American Beatuty-esque household. Tannahill writes compelling dialogue and although it was not clear from this excerpt how each of the elements connect with one another, nor the concept or unifying theme of the play, my interest is piqued and I am eager to see the play this summer to put it all together.
I missed Nina Arsenault’s sold-out, critically acclaimed sensation The Silicone Diaries at Buddies this year simply because the show sold out, twice I believe, before I even had time to coordinate my schedule. Now I understand why. Arsenault is a divine, engaging, beguiling and enchanting story teller. She performs a new work, i was Barbie, at the Festival this summer and I think it may be the first show that I rush to see. I am entirely enamoured of her. I could listen to her talk all day.
Then this happened; except it was even more hilarious Friday night and Jeigh Madjus’ voice soared with even more falsetto bliss than this video gives justice to. He is a sensation. Can you feel it?
I am stoked for SummerWorks 2010, my friends and I hope you are too. We are so fortunate to have Michael Rubenfeld working in this city. He is helping to make this theatre community stronger and greater and encouraging us all to strive to be the best that we can be. He is also a huge example of an Artistic Producer who refuses to pigeonhole the theatre, who refuses to impose limits on the imagination and self expression and for this reason, SummerWorks will continue to thrive, will continue to soar to new heights and to be a beacon of love and light for all of us who cherish independent theatre.