dossier: Adam Lazarus for The Art of Building a Bunker / SummerWorks

As SummerWorks gets ready to open, and as the performers are applying the last of their pre-audience polish to their shows, I am trying to figure out my schedule and how to fit everything in. Just like the artists’ minds before opening a show, there is always so much to do and not enough time to do it. 

Luckily, I was able to connect with Adam Lazarus a couple times this year about interviewing him for this site. The first was for The Toronto Festival of Clowns, but, as it goes when you are organizing a festival, time just disappears. Adam then got in contact with me shortly after the festival to do something for his SummerWorks show. I said I’d be more than happy. We gave each other so much time! Almost too much time… I almost forgot about it, this time. 

But! Here we are: a day before the festival, and a dossier for proof. I’m very excited to share this honest and humourous dossier with you today. The first time I saw Adam he was dressed as a recently deceased Vladimir Lenin who took to haunting a soldier stuck in a boxcar of a motionless train on its way to Tyumen. I remember it well. It was definitely one of my top Fringe experiences that year.

Enough said. Here we go, with dossier #22:

summerworks_logo_FINAL

Who are we talking to?

Adam Lazarus. Born and raised in Toronto. Theatre maker, teacher, husband, father. Travelled around, learned some here and there and then started making shows. I love actors and creative thinkers. I love problems and the process of finding possible solutions.

What drew you down this path? (to theatre, to this particular show, to wherever the hell you are in life)

Bunker is born out of a meditation on my difficulty functioning in the world — I’m too sensitive, I’m not always a great communicator, I’m not well read enough, I’m misunderstood, I’m moody, I’m angry, I’m defensive, I’m an egomaniac, I’m an underdog, I’m private. I want a better world and can’t do anything about it. I want my family to be safe. I want to take more naps.

More generally, I wanted to write a show about how people are tricky.

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?

I’ve always been a bit of a masochist with art. I like impossible situations and put pressure on projects to fulfill an impossible artistic desire — to fully fulfill. If a project doesn’t, I change angles for the next venture. What I’m doing with my life is always changing and evolving. I’ve never had an absolute, resolved moment of career realization. I just keep working: I love acting, writing, directing, teaching, studying, producing, gardening, hiking, swimming. I do them all and then some.

Why The Art of Building a Bunker or Paddling the Canoe of Myself Down the River of Inclusivity and Into the Ass of the World?

As a title? Cause it’s funny and you remember it. Or at least remember that it’s the long titled show.

As a show? Cause that’s what we’re all doing right now – we’re building our bunkers, our safe spaces, and happy places. We do it to protect ourselves from, or to function better within, this complicated world we’re living in.

What kind of atmosphere do you intend to set up, or can someone expect when attending BUNKER?

Prepare to enter the mind of Elvis Goldstein. It’s a little noisy in there. And funny and sad and confused.

How did you and Guillermo Verdecchia meet?

I met him outside the theatre a few years ago. We were introduced. We shared a few jokes. A beautiful relationship blossomed.

Have you two ever co-created a show before? If so, what drew you back together? If not, how did this all get started?

This is our first time working together. Guillermo is a deep and intelligent thinker, and a fantastic storyteller. He’s also very funny. Really, it evolved naturally. We got into a room, started improvising, and now we’re premiering the workshop presentation of our play 8 months later.

What is your favourite memory from a past Summerworks experience?

In 2011, Susanna Hood’s Shudder. I love her work. That, and winning the Spotlight award for my bouffon show Wonderland…

Describe BUNKER in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

AAAAAHHHHH!!!! WAAAHHHH!!!! HAHAHAHA!

Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

Early on in rehearsals, Guillermo and I listened to this terrifying and mesmerizing woman rant about the world for 20 mintues. As Guillermo puts it, she became our spirit guide as we ventured along the rivers of our bile and toward the shores of our spleens.

Here’s the poster of the show (click on the image to be taken to its SummerWorks profile):

bunker poster copy

dossier: Heidi Strauss, Kate Alton and Luke Garwood for “for me?” / Summerworks

Heidi Strauss, another of the past ADs of hub14, has been instrumental in helping us get up on our feet and making sure we are headed in the right direction. Her care for detail and efficiency is quite motivating. I’ve never seen her work before, so am definitely looking forward to catching this original, site-specific Summerworks show.  I’ve also never met Kate Alton or Luke Garwood, but if Heidi was commissioned to choreograph / direct this piece, I’m sure the dynamic created between the three artists will be an experience worth seeing at Summerworks.

I’m grateful all three of them decided to participate in this dossier, so without any further ado from me, as this is a super-sized post, we’ll get right into it.

dossier # 20:

kate alton and luke garwood heidi Strauss

Who are we talking to?

Heidi Strauss, Kate Alton and Luke Garwood.

What drew you down this path? (to dance, to wherever the hell you are in life)

Heidi: Many people are probably responsible for where I am and what I’ve learned to this point. But the bottom line is that I love dancing, the simple act of moving and the possibility of what it can do to move people, to transform.

Kate: I was always drawn to dance. As a child there was never any question in my mind about what I wanted to do. It has always felt like part of me. It feels particularly good to be doing it now, with one of my favourite choreographers, a fabulous partner and after a hiatus from performing while I stayed home with my young twins.

Luke: Mostly street signs. oh…the figurative path? The figuratively gravel laden, dusty, dance path? Well I started because I saw it on TV and thought it might be fun to do. I was about 10. I enjoyed it so much I haven’t looked back at a map or gps (trying to stay in theme) since.

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?

Heidi: Going haywire on a ballroom floor when I was 2 at a wedding reception. I was wearing a violet dress with purple flowers that I called a dirndl, even though it wasn’t (my mom bought it at JCPenny). But seriously, it’s a question I keep asking: is this what I want to be doing? So I am not continuing out of habit – that it’s a decision — because some days it’s a hard decision.

Kate: I don’t remember ever thinking anything else.

Luke: There was no ‘one’ moment but rather a culmination of experiences. I have trained for the goal of becoming a professional dancer since the age of 11. So I was pretty set early on, but it was through the teachers I was lucky enough to work with, encountering fellow students/colleagues who shared the passion, and the performance opportunities I was able to gain, that truly made me want to commit “my life” to the art form.

Why “for me?” ?

Heidi: ‘for me?’ because it is a commission made think very much about Kate who asked me, and about the nature of what developed in the first process with she and Luke a few years back. I often think a duet is able to translate so much so clearly about behaviour, about why we react certain ways, why we do certain things for each other, and why we don’t. The commission also came about at a particular time when I was/am asking a lot of questions about whom we are doing all this for, what is performance? On a personal level these questions relate to acts of generosity in life, and professionally (though a distinction between personal and professional is often blurry) through work we make and perform. In the latter part of the process the question ‘for me?’ became one the three of us asked about our city – which will be evident when (if) you see the show.

The sweet answer, however, is that there is stage when a toddler is growing up and given things, from a glass of water to a new toy, when they ask with disbelieving delight: ‘for me?’ I think, as adults, we do this too — but silently and particularly when we are taken by surprise, or something we are given has a special kind of weight.

Kate: Really a question for Heidi, but one sense of it is the exploration of who a performance is actually for. Is it for the performer, the creator, the audience, and what are our respective roles in those relationships? What does it mean to give and to receive, in the context of performance and beyond? What are the gifts that are given to us by our ancestors, the gifts of our personal history?

Luke: My interpretation is that it’s a play on the give and take that happens in a theatrical performance. We’re trying to create a piece for an audience to enjoy while actively pursuing our own artistic and aesthetic goals, which could generate the question: who is this performance for? I think Heidi hits a rare balance with her work by creating pieces a wide-ranging audience can truly enjoy while still being artistically relevant and challenging. As far as I can tell “for me?” is actually for all of us.

What kind of atmosphere do you intend to set up, or will someone experience while attending “for me?”

Heidi: One where the weather co-operates, the audience is welcomed and feels comfortable.

Luke: We unfortunately have little control over our atmosphere and seeing as our piece takes place outside it’s especially disconcerting. We have all doubled up our efforts to recycle and reduce our green house emissions so that the atmosphere maintains it’s healthy-ish state of protectiveness. Fingers crossed.

Have you worked with each other before? How did this specific collaboration begin, and, if applicable, how did the very first collaboration between you begin?

Heidi: I danced with Kate Alton in a work of Laurence Lemieux’s shortly after I finished school and then again in stage and film work of Michael Downing/dancefront. Later on I danced in a number of her works when her company Crooked Figure Dances was Overall Dance. Those works included Tartan Briefs and Great Leap Forward. She is one of my mother’s favourite dancers. This is the first time I have worked with Luke, although while I was a co-director of hub14 we commissioned him to create something for Full Stop, and Luke and I are working on and off on a gallery project with Jenn Goodwin. It has been a real pleasure, and honour to develop something with these very generous folks.

Kate: The three of us have never worked together before. I have worked with Luke both as a fellow dancer at Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie, and also as rehearsal director there. I think the first time Heidi and I worked together was on a solo I did for her way, way back for Series 8:08. So long ago I don’t know what year it was! I have never worked for Heidi as a dancer before but she has been involved in two of my projects. I have been admiring her work for years.

Luke: I had worked with Kate at CLC and Heidi and I had done a collaborative project together but I had never worked on a piece like this with either of them, so I was more than eager to come on board.

What is your favourite memory from working on “for me?”

Heidi: Being unable to continue working because of uncontrollable laughter, speaking in double negatives, rehearsing in a baseball diamond when we were double booked in the Lower Ossington rehearsal space.

Kate: Off the top of my head I would say it was the last run-through we did, the first full run-through onsite. I had a sense of the whole work coming together and it was very satisfying. We laughed a lot in the process, worked hard and I rediscovered the dancer in my body, so lots of good things.

Luke: There was a day of gift giving where we ended up sharing more than just material gifts, we gave each other our stories, memories and histories, and that was pretty special.

Describe “for me?” in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

Heidi: What we do is what we do.

Kate: Colour, Connection, Conversation. Not adjectives, but those are what come to mind.

Luke: ohhhhhooooooooooo (that’s a sound)

Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

Luke: I wish you’d all come see the show and let us know what you think.

for me poster

dossier: Cathy Gordon for HAMMER / Summerworks

As the year chugs impressively forward, with no immediate end in its tunnel-esque sight, new relationships are building, strengthening and changing from what they once were. As one of the new Associate Directors of hub14, I’ve recently had the pleasure to spend time with the lovely Cathy Gordon, an artist who wears her heart on her sleeve and whose passion is easily admirable. You can see she’s always analyzing and, because of this, what she brings to a conversation, or piece of art, is truly unique. I had the pleasure to catch HAMMER earlier this year, when it had a showing in May at hub14, but somehow dropped the ball in getting a dossier built around it. 

This time around, however, not only have I appealed to Cathy for a dossier, I’m also going to be rather involved in the logistics of this incarnation as HAMMER is now being co-presented by Summerworks and hub14. And! As a bonus to this, because hub14 is going through a large change at the moment, with the old team of artistic directors moving out (Cathy being one of them) and us moving in, each of the five new ADs are going to be introducing HAMMER with a short, 10-minute piece of their own! Not only do you get to see this provocative piece of art from an integral member of hub14’s history, but you also get to see what the new guard is capable of! This is, if you can’t tell, really exciting to me (I haven’t even seen what my fellow cohort is capable of yet). 

Alright, straight to it.

dossier # 19:

Cathy Gordon

Who are we talking to?

Cathy Gordon

What drew you down this path? (to theatre, to wherever the hell you are in life)

Since I was a child I’ve been writing, directing and performing. I went to Canterbury School of the Arts for performance + then York University for Playwriting & Directing.

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?

Playing with my dolls and realizing that I wanted to do many things with my life and as an actor, I could live all those lives within my one lifetime.

Why HAMMER?

In recent years, I’ve been doing a lot of different kind of performance (relational work, community work, installation work) and I wanted to get back “into the studio” – to create a piece with a more traditional actor / audience relationship. The quality of HAMMER is in line with some performances I had done years earlier as part of the annual Parkdale Project Read fundraiser. HAMMER in particular was inspired by reading the news one day in December 2012 and being struck by the level of violence against women that was making headlines across the globe. I was compelled to address this within my own family’s history of abuse.

What kind of atmosphere do you intend to set up, or can someone expect while attending HAMMER?

Well, people have said that it’s intense & compelling even if they are unsure of everything that is happening. On this version I’m working on clarifying certain moments while trying to avoid a whole lot of explaining. It’s true that I’m a pretty intense person but I’m also quite funny.

You’ve toured and performed in many festivals over the years. What is your favourite thing about bringing your work to a new audience?

Each audience has a collective boundary, I like to discover that boundary and really test it. I try to create a space that is charged with the energy of every single person in that room. However, I’m the one that is putting myself in a vulnerable position, and by trusting the audience to respect that, I hope to give people a real opportunity to invest in the experience without ever forcing anyone to do anything they don’t want to do.

What is your favourite memory from a past Summerworks experience? Or, what is your favourite memory from HAMMER’s development and production?

Chad Dembski has been my outside eye both in Montreal and this past May. He is the best. I’ve known & worked with Chad since the 1990’s and it was wonderful to reconnect with him (especially because I don’t see him as much since he moved to Montreal.)

Describe HAMMER in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

Ok, I’ll take a line from video:

“Here is place where we pretend we are pretending but, really, we are telling the truth: our subjective truths”.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

Here are some photos from rehearsal & the May production… I’m afraid I didn’t get any proper photographs, I just grabbed some images from the video.

And the schedule of opening acts for HAMMER are as follows:

Aug 8: Kate Nankervis

Aug 9: Coman Poon

Aug 14: Aria Evans (dance films)

Aug 15: Andrew Gaboury

Aug 16: Marie France Forcier