As we prepare to sing songs from 3penny together, an event that warms my heart every year, I want to share an open letter to the collaborators and supporters of Small Wooden Shoe.It is bolder in tone and more forthright than my Cape Breton upbringing usually feels comfortable with - but it is all also honest and true.
This is a statement of values and of dreams.
This year I applied for a few other jobs and opportunities - sometimes publicly and sometimes not. Each time, I returned to my love and belief in what Small Wooden Shoe is and could become. Each time made it clearer that while there’s a ways to go my interest and passion is in growing something different, something that embodied my history and future and the histories and futures of the people I work with and who support us.
I also realized that the only time I express my interests, passions and plans are to anonymous juries and committees - and that is ridiculous and harmful. The people I work with and who care for us might want to hear too. I will be better for you hearing it and me hearing your feedback.
Thank you for being a part of something and for making it possible.
May we continue to visit regularly.
Dear friends of Small Wooden Shoe,
You are a constellation of people with whom I’ve worked and I can only imagine continuing to collaborate and support your inspiring work. You are people whose intelligence, curiosity and talents feed my practice as a director and we have, with few resources and great resourcefulness, created art unlike anything else. We have affected the way theatre and performance is thought of in this country. Thank you.
We are presented with a special opportunity to bring excellence and energy to the Toronto theatre scene.
We are in midst of a significant social change – generational and demographic shift, changing global economies and politics, new ways of connecting to one another and accessing information and media. Theatre in Canada has been painfully slow to participate. The changes we face aren’t cosmetic adjustments to how we do the same old things. They inspire and shift priorities, they leave behind some models and open a window on others.
There must be a theatre that spreads like wildfire through networks; ideas and events that emerge from and point to singular experiences; experiences that are live and immediate, that remind us of human connections and reasons for leaving the house.
It is these singular experiences that I’ve strived for in making theatre. Simple songs in middle of the night at Koerner Hall (Difficult Plays and Simple Songs at Nuit Blanche), a massive reading of a new translation of a major work that brings a community together out of love (Life of Galileo – for Tracy Wright); a tender, intimate science fiction about three friends that travels the country and touches its audience with vulnerability and delight (Perhaps in a Hundred Years); a bootstrapped vaudevillian lecture demo about science that announced a generation of Toronto theatre makers to the country (Dedicated to the Revolutions).
All are singular experiences carved out of our frantic times, created in collaboration, with your help.
With your help, I continue to pursue of experiences that matter and speak to the needs of our times. I want to build on our history of collaboration and the knowledge and passion of artists, volunteers and supporters; seizing the opportunity for Small Wooden Shoe to take a leadership role in Toronto, in Canada and internationally. We have the potential to lead, as exemplars of artistic excellence, critical curiosity and embodied pleasure.
In leading Small Wooden Shoe I see the opportunity to find a populism I can stand behind, on a scale that excites and thrills me. Putting the company in front of the public more often and in more ways with iterative development and the creation of digital content – not as mere promotion but as delightful experiences in themselves. I imagine stadium shows and intimate evenings that become legends. I believe that accessibility and diversity in theatre is born through lowering the barriers of access – primarily cost – and the need for a good night out. We live in times and a city where there is so much to do, even if I stay at home. The reasons, joys, politics and transformations of leaving the house for the live experience must be our priority and we must go to people where they live, with affordable shows that admit the pleasure and complexity and emotion of life.
Artistically I value the present and engaged performance. I start from questions about our world and by imagining the shows I wish existed. The work has varied in style and approach but leads with values of social engagement, theatrical investigation and an open sense of play. I believe that as artists we must examine and confront the awkward and uncomfortable problems of society with kindness and generosity. I believe in great, complex writing and simple powerful performances. I believe in the comedic turn and the undeniable power of singing and music. I include all of this in my work.
Plans going forward:
- The first priority is a full run and possible tour of Antigone Dead People. With performances by Maev Beaty, Philip Shepherd, Liz Peterson, Frank Cox-O’Connell, Sean Dixon, Antonio Cayonne, Lindsey Clark and Sky Gilbert, the designs of Christopher Willes and Trevor Schwellnus our initial prototype performance was met with full houses and great response. Evan’s voice is unlike any other playwright in Canada – epic and complex while deeply personal, he brings old stories into the present with poetic language and a healthy dose of humour. Together, we've created an evening of theatre that transcends genre and imagines ways forward.
- Developing and launching Delayed Knee Jerk Reactions – a bi-monthly 90-minute live variety show that produces two 30-minute podcasts and five or so 5-minute internet videos.
- Finding the right tone, work-flow and frequency for Minor Expletives as a podcast and a blog.
- Continuing Small Wooden Shoe Reads Difficult Plays and Sings Simple Songs and the 3penny Concert as traditions that make people happy.
- I would like to find opportunities to go back into a room with Ame, Chad and Kilby to make a sequel of sorts to Perhaps in a Hundred Years while find chances to perform it again. This year I understood that this is a seminal collaboration for me and Small Wooden Shoe.
- I think about translating / adapting more Brecht, born from the translation and development of Life of Galileo. I would like to return to this project, including many of the collaborators from the original Convocation Hall reading. It might be a project, along with Delayed Knee Jerk Reaction to develop the combining of live theatre with “radio” recording (in quotes since podcast distribution is more likely) and the creation of internet videos. Live streaming and digital distribution should not be the sole domain of the operas and the National Theatre’s of the world. Contemporary practitioners should be leading this work.
- Finding and developing playwrights and theatre makers with similar interests in scale, the questions of our time, and specific voices is a priority for me. Since we bring a different openness and challenge to new play development, Small Wooden Shoe can be a platform for kinds of work that has a hard time fitting into the traditional Canadian development pattern.
- I hope also to continue to develop collaborative non-script based projects – specifically, having the time and resources to return to Upper Toronto, a science-fiction design presentation that takes the form of a sales pitch for the building of a new city in the air above the current Toronto. It is a project that requires partnership and collaboration with architects and designers, city builders and front line workers. Ideally in partnership with a large civic event, Upper Toronto is an ideal candidate for touring inside the GTA, a practice that I think is vital for the future of Toronto theatre.
- I’m curious about how these questions are being looked at elsewhere. My interest in international work has led to trips to Argentina, the United States, Germany and Austria for training and experience in theatre, contemporary dance and dramaturgy. Additionally I’m drawn to work in the UK – from Forced Entertainment and Welfare State International to the National Theatre and the Donmar Playhouse – where there is a shared interest in pushing the form while opening the doors. I am excited to explore international relationships as well as the important local and national presence. References and introductions are more than welcome.
- Outside of theatre making, I believe strongly in the need for contemporary, boundary pushing theatre to be involved in education, training and neighbourhood outreach. We cannot silo ourselves and expect public support or the next generation of art makers and lovers to emerge from out of blue. I want to develop Making and Showing Labs for professionals.
- Last year we ran a Recreational Performance class in which non-artists worked on a play, learning skills for their professional lives, while developing a shared understanding of theatrical choices.
- We’ve also convened three iterations of the UnConference on the Future(s) of Toronto Performance which brought together artists from across spectrums of age, ethnicity and practice to share common struggles and articulate ways forward. I would like to continue to develop these programs with additional support.
Along with the artistic ambition and vision, I’m excited by the work that is required to be an Artist as Producer. As times shift and government funding becomes less reliable, I believe strongly in the need to find other sources of support. Public funding is vital and must be protected, but we have to start looking outside the historic frameworks.
I believe in, and hope I foster, a positive collaborative environment and I want to to continue to work on how-to-work. I want to get better at communication and sharing, of embracing leadership when needed and being open to other voices.
So that’s it. Big, crazy and a bit much - but what else is worth it?
Great ideas come from collaboration with purpose. I am proud of and humbled by the bands of remarkable people on the stage, in the rehearsal studios and behind the scenes of Small Wooden Shoe.
I believe, despite all the pressure and scarcity, that by bringing together people from different backgrounds to work on the wicked problems that face us as citizens and artists, we can participate and contribute to positive change.
It is with this spirit and these beliefs that I continue forward with Small Wooden Shoe.
Thank you for being a part of it.