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Mr. Shi and His Lover is a Cantonese-language musical that won big at this year’s Toronto Theatre Critics Awards; bug is a solo performance by Yolanda Bonnell about parenting and addiction on Canadian Indigenous reserves that was part of Luminato this summer; Daughter is Adam Lazarus’s divisive dive into toxic masculinity, currently wowing audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe; Counting Sheep is a “guerrilla folk opera” about the Ukrainian revolution that has won awards in Europe and the United States.
What do all of these productions have in common? They were discovered at the SummerWorks Performance Festival.
SummerWorks has long been seen as a launch pad for theatre productions to gain valuable development time and programmer attention. So this year, artistic and managing director Laura Nanni decided to make it official: production and artist development are now just as important to the festival as presenting completed works. The 2018 festival format has been split into two streams: SummerWorks Presentations and SummerWorks Labs.
“Reframing this stream of programming makes the clear invitation for audiences to engage with the artistic process, to be open to creative risk and to imagine what the future possibilities for performance can be, with us,” Nanni told the Star.
For the first time, SummerWorks released two calls for applications, one dedicated to projects in need of detailed audience feedback, in very early stages of development, or attempting to engage with technology and experimentation in new, deep ways. Many Lab performances will conclude with in-depth audience discussions, and creators in the stream received more hands-on guidance in marketing and producing.
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“I see programming within the SummerWorks Presentation stream as essential viewing for those interested in a snapshot of contemporary performance today in Canada and beyond,” Nanni said. “As part of the ecology of the festival, Lab projects are representative of the future of performance in many ways. They involve artists testing new ideas and venturing into new territory with form and content.”
Due to the breadth of the applications, the 2018 festival program is evenly split between Presentations and Labs, all of which operate on the same pay-what-you-decide sliding scale that debuted last year ($ 15, $ 25 or $ 35 per ticket, or a multi-show pass).
But in the world of performance creation, the concept of “completion” or “being finished” can be a nebulous, evolving process. Until the festival opens on Thursday, we won’t know if there’s a noticeable divide between the productions in either stream or what will be fair game for the world’s stages once the festival closes on Aug. 19.
In the meantime, here’s a list of what to catch. All performances are at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., unless otherwise noted:
That the title of Rock Bottom Movement’s latest dance-theatre work conjures the ’90s era music of Mariah Carey, Shaggy, La Bouche and more shows you exactly the kind of mood Toronto has come to expect from this young company. Their productions are nostalgic, bubbly soap operas for millennial crowds that fuse mainstream culture with abstract artistic expressions and a lot of pure, unbridled energy. This particular piece, choreographed by Alyssa Martin as always, channels the pursuit of a useful utopia of feminism through the tropes of classic Hollywood films. (SummerWorks Presentations)
A Girl Lives Alone
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As the world is painfully becoming increasingly aware, women and non-cis males have a lot to fear, and solo living can be simultaneously liberating and terrifying. Take Jessica Moss, who spent her time as the first Canadian woman in the Juilliard playwriting program developing a play about the horrors of living in New York City. Considering that women are fuelling a major rise of true crime in pop culture, Moss’s return to Toronto after the Fringe hit Cam Baby is right on time, featuring live foley effects and sound design by Richard Feren. (Presentations)
the aisha of is
Aisha Sasha John is too many things to be properly categorized: a “singing dancer,” a poet, an author and an artist with a background in African studies and semiotics, creative writer and clown. Her performance work encompasses all of this at once, and she has earned an earnest following in Toronto and abroad. This work premiered in 2017 at New York City’s Whitney Museum of American Art under the title the aisha of oz, and uses her writing, movement and voice to counteract violence perpetrated against herself and the audience in their everyday lives. (Presentations)
The Private Life of the Master Race
Susanna Fournier and ted witzel are a classic-adaptation team to be reckoned with, after their radical interpretation of Frank Wedekind’s Lulu plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre this season. They’ve teamed up again with director Esther Jun to tackle Bertolt Brecht’s The Private Life of the Master Race (commonly known as Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, which Jun directed at the 2009 SummerWorks festival). With the combination of Jun’s understanding of the text and mastery of many moving theatrical parts, witzel and Fournier’s creativity in theory and form, and the charm of the evening’s host, Jason Collett (solo musician and member of Broken Social Scene), this will be journey that’s worth watching. (SummerWorks Labs)
CAFÉ SARAJEVO episode 1
Bluemouth inc. is already known to SummerWorks audiences for Dance Marathon — which is exactly what it sounds like — and returns with a project that continues to break down the typical theatrical experience for audience members. CAFÉ SARAJEVO is an experiment with live performance, smartphone apps, podcasting, mapping, dance and 360-degree video inspired by the 1971 debate between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault on human nature, broadcast in the Netherlands. (Labs, Toronto Media Arts Centre, 32 Lisgar St.)
THIRD WORLD and ZAYO
This double bill of dance-theatre works combines two estimable female dancers and choreographers of colour: Diana Reyes (a.k.a. FLY LADY DI) and Esie Mensah. Known for mixing traditional Filipino dance with hip hop and house culture in the group HATAW, Reyes is taking these influences and funneling them into her first solo show, featuring projections by Maylee Todd and dramaturgy by Romeo Candido. Mensah, meanwhile, has already taken over the commercial dance world by appearing on So You Think You Can Dance Canada, performing with Janelle Monae, Nelly Furtado, Rihanna and Drake. But she’s also an accomplished filmmaker and independent producer, staging her own works like ZAYO, a piece of Afro-futurism that imagines a hero’s quest for destiny on another planet. (Labs)