From Ottawa to Washington DC June 7 – June 15, 2013
Bravo to all organizers of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival 2013! As a recipient of the 2013 Canadian-Washington Theatre Partnership, I was delegated to participate in the festival in Ottawa, Canada in June 2013. From the moment I received this award at the Helen Hays Award Gala to the moment of arriving at the airport in Ottawa, I was amazed by the treatment and professionalism I encountered from everyone involved. First, I have received all information from Michelle Mahoney from the Embassy of Canada who made sure that I was fully equipped with all necessary knowledge about the trip, itinerary and she also connected me with the organizers of the festival. Thanks to her I got introduced right away to Brenda Leadlay, Artistic Director, who connected me with many directors and authors who even sent me the scripts of the shows I was about to see at the festival before I came. This was truly helpful in better understanding all presented plays since I had very little knowledge about the Canadian theater. It was also an interesting way to connect with the artists via e-mail and discuss their projects beforehand. Thanks to her I was also able to briefly visit Toronto and see my friends, the Polish Theater and walk through various exciting sites of the city before landing in Ottawa June 9th. I truly felt well received and recognized by all theater creators, lovers and supporters. Thank you theatreWashington and the Embassy of Canada for such a fantastic opportunity and experience!
Well prepared and packed with so many exciting events and encounters the week of June 9 – June 15, 2013 in Ottawa
Upon my arrival at the airport in Ottawa I was greeted like a queen by one of the producers of the festival, Richard Cliff; I was driven to the hotel, presented with a nice gift bag with my full itinerary, tickets to all shows and events and I was showed my way around Ottawa. The fully packed week with all interesting shows and events begun! Right from the start I felt like a “Fairy Queen” in a beautiful city of Ottawa who flew from place to place as a turn of a magic wand. I loved the city and its friendly atmosphere with its very characteristic architecture of spiral rooftops, especially the Grandiose Parliament Building and others around it. I felt at home, surrounded by very friendly faces and very inspiring people. I blended so easily and was carried by this amazing energy all the way through. As I was part of the festival I was also part of each show and event, as this year’s productions and theatrical events were all very interactive and I even came to call them anti-theater, since all spectators became not only witnesses but had to participate in many of the performances.
Spreading out the ashes of a friend with Peter and Valerie
First, I met Peter and Valerie at a private house where I was greeted by Peter Reder, an actor from UK, along with 8 other spectators at the door and set in a nice small room around coffee table and offered a cup of hot tea. Right from the start we became part of the family grieving over the artist from Malta who immigrated to Canada and died in early age of 46 while biking. Peter introduced us to Valerie Buhagiar who walked us through Frank’s life by showing us the photos, short film, sharing some memories and at the end taking us to a nearby park to spread out the ashes. While watching or rather being part of this gathering you forget for a moment that this is actually a theatrical experience. This is how Valerie and Peter came with an idea to create a new way of communicating with the audience with very intimate surroundings and by using a fictional story presented in semi real way. They travel with this partially improvised script around Canada, UK and other places and change their stories. Wherever the show is presented they would find a new private home and change the story to relate to the specific place. We all ended up in a nearby pub and drank some beer while continuing our very casual conversation about life and blended the story that we have just witnessed with our own life stories. Before the end of the whole evening we all became friends and walked back to the festival’s pub in a gallery where we met with the rest of delegates, artists, directors and actors who just came out from other theaters and shared our experience with them while listening to their interesting encounters with other theaters from all over Canada, drinking and eating tasty Polish kielbasa. I felt at home again since the kielbasa was made by a Polish Canadian fellow whom we all spoke and laughed with in a courtyard. The mingling did not finish until dawn and then we walked back together to a hotel while exchanging our contact information and talking about our theater experiences, and life. That was a great way of finishing a very inspiring and stimulating day.
Monday, June 10 started very early for us with a nice breakfast meeting with Kathryn MacLellan, KAZAN CO-OP, Mary Lou Martin, Chester Playhouse and Stew Art from Zuppa Theatre Company in Halifax. We exchanged information about each company they represented and could not stop talking about the new trends in the theater, searching for new way of communication with the audience. I was not surprised how much passion and devotion I could witness while listening to their ideas and styles they work in their theater companies, and once again, I felt at home, passion is the one thing that we as performers and lovers of the art all share. They were very interested in the works of the Ambassador Theater and what we have done so far and where we are going. We already planned our future meeting next year and started thinking about possible collaboration on future projects. I cannot wait to go to Halifax next June to continue our creative brainstorming.
Excited and inspired by each other’s energy and passion for the theater, we all went to the World Market Café to meet with many Artistic Directors, producers, directors of various theater festivals, actors, designers and playwrights from all over Canada, UK, Ireland and US. As one of 88 industry delegates I was able to be part of interesting discussion about theater and share ideas with many talented directors and actors from all over Canada and abroad. I met several producers and directors of other theater festivals such as Harun Morrison, director of Fierce Festival in London from UK or Michael Rubenfeld from SummerWorks Performance Festival in Toronto and many others. Meeting them and listening to their stories about their works brought back my idea of starting the international theater festival in Washington DC. They reminded me that it is possible to make my dream a reality by consistently perusing what we have been doing already by creating our International Artist Series as a way of taking small steps towards future theater festival. After that meeting I knew what I would be looking for at this festival, interesting shows to bring to DC. There are many interesting works and plenty of talented artists that I would like to invite to perform in DC and collaborate with the American actors and artists. The list is constantly growing and I cannot wait to make this happen very soon.
War of 1812 - A Fantastic Satire that must be seen in Washington DC
I was absolutely enchanted by the VideoCabaret Company, one of most inventive and celebrated theater ensembles in Toronto which uses TV/video technique in the way they use light and stage their works. The War of 1812 written and directed by Michael Hollingsworth dramatizes the history of the war and a successful defense of Canada. It mocks all sides of the war by showing the audience its caricatures and downfalls. Nobody wins but the spectators who leave the theater absolutely mesmerized by the fabulous acting skills, beautiful and very creative costumes, movements and lights. I immediately imagined watching this show in Washington DC at Ford Theater or at the Library of Congress. I would be very curious to see how DC audiences would react to this very creative and very provocative satire, showing us all idiocy and results of the war provoking us to think about all wars and its results and about its impact on everyone’s life. The grotesque fast tempo of the play showed us all how “ugly and stupid the war was.” The action and scenes change very quickly requiring all the actors to transform from one character to another in a split second, creating at the same time an image of fast forward film like result and allowing the audience, to travel from one side to another. We meet President James Madison, Americans and the British, who were allied with the Shawnee chief Tecumseh as well as learn about the personal dramas of Isaac Brock, John Strachan, James Fitzgibbons and Laura Secord. Bravo to all creators of this fast paste, and very clever grotesque satire! I hope to see you in DC soon!
Inspired and uplifted by the performance of War of 1812, we all went to a special welcoming dinner to meet the rest of the delegates from other theater companies at the Performing Arts Center. While getting ready to sit, I learned that I was chosen to be one of the presenters at that dinner to talk about Ambassador Theater and Washington DC. I was a bit terrified since I did not prepare any speech but the friendly atmosphere of all new colleagues and the uplifting mood that I carried out from the VideoCabaret’s performance, helped me to quickly stand at the podium and address the audience. I realized once more of the importance and value of the opportunity I received and how important this partnership is. As I always say, “theater is a collaboration of all art forms and a collaboration of many creative minds from all over the world” and I felt again that this recognition helps me to meet the goal of expanding the circle of the collaborators and develop many valuable artistic partnerships. I spoke from my heart and my passion for the theater and for the arts which run through my veins, and for that I received a standing ovation. I felt the same from everyone in the room and wanted to fly up above singing the song of joy for creating, discovering, as well as building and developing the theater I have started.
The Day was not over yet….
Straight from the exciting dinner I ran with other new friends to see a play written by Michael Tremblay, For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again produced by the Western Canada Theatre Production. I was intrigued by the script revealing a compelling story of a native Canadian and the interesting relationship he had with his mother that continued on even after her death with her spirit that would constantly visit him and interrupt his everyday life. Aboriginal actors Lorne Cardinal and Margo Cane took the spectators on a compelling journey through their lives. The symbolism of the play inspired me to get in touch with its author to read the play and also read some other works by the beloved Canadian playwright Michael Trembley. I see this play as a great potential for an intriguing production with many possibilities for an artistic collaboration. After the play we all gathered again at the Market Café to mingle and talk about everyone’s experiences of the very intense day. Our busy Monday continued on until early hours of Tuesday.
Tuesday, June 11 started with an early Panel Discussion on Authenticity. Since this year’s festival brought interesting shows that reveled real life stories and involved audience in most of them, we have discussed how real or make believe those stories were. Is this a new way of communicating with the spectators? Or are they anti theatre performances created to provoke its audiences and actors to real reactions, breaking the 4th wall of the theater? Does this type of theater really matter? We exchanged our ideas, answered lots of questions but truly did not find the final answers or recognized the trends as a permanent change in today’s theater. We all found them as an experimentation that was always going on in the theater from its beginning. We all search for truth and authenticity in the theater that is a reflection of our lives. Straight from an interesting panel discussion we all went to Arts Marketplace to meet and greet theatre makers from all over Canada. At the Marketplace, I felt I was part of Canadian Theatre EXPO with many theatre booths filled with brochures, banners, programs, fabulous display of various theatrical achievements of many talented actors, designers and artists. I was part of live happenings in which actors and directors from all over presented their current and future productions live. Overloaded with brochures, cds, business cards and photos I left for well-deserved lunch accompanied by new friends from Canadian theaters. The Arts Market Place and later Speed dating session during which I was able to talk to many Artistic directors, designers from various theater companies around Canada brought back my idea of creating an International Theater Festival in Washington DC. With fast developing theaters in Washington DC and help of a wonderful TheatreWashington organization, we could also start Washington DC Theater Festival in near future to allow artists from all over USA and from abroad to come to DC, see each other works, exchange artistic ideas and at the same time continue an artistic cultural dialog. That way Washington DC would be also a true capital of the world.
Full of creative ideas inspired by fantastic people I have met, I went to see an interesting performance of A Brimful of Asha created by Asha and Ravi Jain, another example of an authentic theatre, called also “A Why No Theatre”—an example of another production breaking the 4th wall by inviting its audience on the stage and offering very tasty Indian food before sharing the story of an Indian family tradition of an Indian-Canadian actor and his mom, an authentic Indian woman—not actor with the audience. The combination of an authentic story told by an actor/creator of the performance and his mom’s performance, made us all part of their family and brought us all closer. Mom, Ravi Jain, absolutely stole the show with her punch lines and sense of humor. We all left the theater as we would live a very good gathering full of love and fun stories.
Wednesday, June 12th was full of interesting panel sessions with Producers and Presenters during which I learned a lot about the true relationships between the producers and presenters and how their collaborative work may benefit audiences going beyond entertainment. I listened to various view points from presented by many producers and presenters from Canada and abroad, what are the challenges and fears and how to work with it. I learned a lot about each role and how to balance two roles if it happens that you wear “both hats” at the same time. My notebook is full of ideas and interesting things to look for and to investigate for the future development of my theater. Here again, I felt at home, shared the same fears, challenges and at the same time understood how every challenge is actually an opportunity to create more and better.
There were two more big productions to see, The God That Comes and Winners and Losers. Both very different experiences of theater, The God That Comes created by Christian Barry and Hawksley Workam and performed by a multitalented Hawksley Workman actor, musician invited us to a Cabaret celebration of rock’n’roll with wine and “ecstasy”. It was a very provoking, full of interesting images, musical effects and phenomenal acting skills theatrical experience. I would love to invite this very talented artist to DC and perform in one of our spaces in the area such as “Black Cats” bar or maybe at the Birchmere in Alexandria VA, which might be a perfect place to present the show.
Thursday, June 13
Another very creative and engaging performance that I was able to see, was Winners and Losers created and performed by Marcus Youssef and James Long. It was a very funny and provocative game that tested both actors’ limits of their friendship. It was a partially improvised performance bringing to life both actors’ life stories, their social and economic status presented in a form of a game that could end violently. Here again, the audience was pulled into the game where broth actors battled over the imaginary nets of a tennis match, sometimes crossing the lines, sometimes winning and losing their game. Both experienced both sides of the game and the audience stayed for after show discussion to ask very interesting questions. I would like to see them both engage Washington DC audience in their theatrical match.
The festival in Ottawa concluded with Industry Series, 10 theatrical happenings, mini shows presented by 10 different theatre companies. That was an interesting and very clever idea to provoke the artists to create shows for variety of spaces in one area.
Each participant was given a space, under the stairs, attic, office, board room, outside patio and more and then they had to come up with the story. The audience members were walking from space to space to be part of interesting stories, happenings, and theatrical experiences. We became part of the Board Room Agenda during which we had to follow the rules given to us at the entrance and learn how to act under pressure. Who did not follow the rule they were fired right in front of everyone. We witnessed the staged rape during the sorority’s events or were invited to an attic to go through various things and hear the story or laugh and cry with 2 clowns who lost their script of a play and then created an improvised play by using found things in storage. During two late nights I was able to see all 10 mini plays and meet all the artists afterward in the Market Café afterwards and talk about their clever ideas. That was a very creative way of closing the Magnetic Festival.
Few days of very intense schedule of panels, sessions, pitches, very creative performances was going very fast. During just few days I was able to see all performances presented by the theaters from all over Canada, meet lots of very creative and talented people and learn about the Canadian Theater. Now, I would like to go over all of the brochures, business cards and cds and relive those few days again. I am sure to go back to Canada next year to Halifax to reconnect with all those I met in Ottawa and start working on a creative collaboration. Thank you Helen Hays and the Embassy of Canada for giving me the opportunity to learn about Canadian theater, meet so many talented artists, producers and playwrights and for opening me the door for very interesting artistic collaboration.