Alisha Stranges grew up wanting to be a mathematician. Though the writer/performer spent much of her youth in Niagara Falls taking classes at her mother’s dance studio, she never saw a future for herself on the stage. Instead, it was in the finite nature of numbers where she thought she’d found her true calling.
“In math you’re either right or wrong, but in performance everything is subjective, so there’s no such thing as perfection,” she says. “I was always seeking perfection growing up, trying to get a hundred percent on every test, but that all unravelled when I came out. I used to think being gay made you imperfect, so that left me feeling like I could never achieve perfection.”
She’s long since reconciled her sexuality, but her teenaged confusion had the fortunate effect of opening her up to a career as an artist. Since graduating from Humber College in 2006, she has toured across Canada and Europe with Corpus Dance Projects and was most recently seen in the SummerWorks hit Still Life. Her current project, People4Change, had its roots during her studies. Developed with former classmates Colin Edwards and Marissa Zinni, under the direction of Cleveland Public Theatre head Raymond Bobgan, the play was born of a collective process developed with Bobgan and Toronto director Karen Randoja when they taught a devised theatre intensive at the school.
“They introduced us to this way of working that led us to really getting the best of ourselves, and we wanted to keep working that way when we graduated,” she says. “The show is really satisfying to do because it’s as much about who we are as people as the subjects we’re dealing with.”
People4Change ponders the great paradox of Generation Y, a recognition of the problems left on their shoulders by previous generations, combined with a sense of utter powerlessness to respond to them. The story begins when strangers Dale (Edwards), Lisa (Stranges) and Jaelene (Zinni) witness a tragic accident on the subway, an event that bonds the trio in a quest to change the world. Each has a hot-button issue they’re compelled to act on, and they decide to create a fake charity to collect money for various causes. Not surprisingly, things go horribly wrong and they find themselves in a sea of trouble.
Stranges knows the Gen Y struggle well, though, unlike her character, she’s found an effective meeting point for politics and practice. As the assistant director of Buddies’ Pride Cab program for youth for the last two years, she’s helped numerous young queers through the process of creating their own work.
“It’s really rewarding to help people who are coming to understand themselves figure out what they need to say and how they want to say it,” she says. “It’s been a great learning experience for me, as well a chance to pass on what I know to the next generation of artists. It’s a process of trial and error, but the failures are often just as interesting as the successes.”
Though perfection was her mandate as a youth, Stranges has come to appreciate the flaws in life and art. While she asserts that most audiences seek out art that confirms their existing reality, her preference is for art that leaves her feeling transformed.
“The best shows are the ones you walk out of not being totally sure how you feel,” she says. “Great works of art are full of sharp edges, not smooth surfaces. Sometimes when you’re working on something, you feel like you need to file those edges off, but that’s the problem. The sharp edges need to be there.”