Toronto Diary
11 min

Summerworks Log — Eye Weekly Readers Get Irony

The Summerworks Festival of indie theatre continues to create wave with its “viral” video marketting campaign (yes, in Toronto’s indie theatre community, when something is viewed 218 times, it’s considered viral).

Eye Weekly apparently thinks that videos like the following, where festival producer Michael Rubenfeld giggles like a dumb jock while interviewing Maev Beatty about the nudity in her play Montparnasse are degrading to women.

At least one of Eye Weekly’s readers grasps the irony — check out the first comment on the web article. “Nice guns,” Rubenfeld.
Then there’s this video, where Alon Nashman makes a spoof pitch to the Toronto Arts Council for a play about a lesbian native woman. I think it’s meant to spoof Buddies’ recent show Agokwe, which despite winning six Dora awards, frequently gets called “arts council bait” among hipster theatre people.
One of the plays I’m looking forward to checking out this year is The Art of Catching Pigeons by Torchlight by queer wonderkind Jordan Tannahill (whom I’ve previously blogged about), which is being produced in a blanket fort at Rolly’s Garage on Ossington Ave.
I chatted with Jordan recently about his play, and he gave me a couple of numbered lists in his responses. 

Rob Salerno: Tell us about your show? Why should we (queer Torontonians) go see it?

Jordan Tannahill: The show was developed from hundreds of hours of verbatim material we collected from various workers of Toronto’s night shift. The interviews range from an obstetrician to a prison guard to a Tim Horton’s worker and can be, by turns, hilarious and heartbreaking. There’s a line in the play which sums it up perfectly: “If you’re working the night shift, you screwed up… you became a ghost.” The play looks at how these various people came to be where they are between 11pm and 5am and how, in a respect, they have become Toronto’s ghosts: invisible, solitary, and at the societal fringes. Placing these ‘ghost stories’ within a blanket fort renders them both intensely intimate but also serves to expound upon humanity’s primordial relationship with night: building shelter, seeking light, yearning for the human touch. Like all of our work its documentary performance but infused with a range of other elements including acapella choral work, projections, and hand-drawn animation.

And Queer Torontonians should come see it for the following reasons: 1) it’s pushing some radical boundaries in performance (immersive installation, multi-media, verbatim, etc..), 2) it features the brainpower of two young queer artists, myself and the illuminating Tawiah M’carthy, 3) it features some arresting queer content (a beautiful monologue by a male prostitute), and 4) let’s face it… didn’t we all realize we were gay when in a blanket fort sleep-over? 

RS: You’re currently completing your degree in film production at Ryerson. Why is someone who’s pursuing an education in film choose to devote as much time as you do to theatre? How does your film background inform your work?

Well, my focus in the program is actually documentary. I’ve been heavily influenced in my creative practise by cinematic movements like neo-realism and cinema verite and visionaries like Vittorio De Sica and Michel Brault who understood the power of the non-performer years before these trends have begun emerging in the theatrical zeitgeist. Really, my process in the development stage of any project is almost indistinguishable between documentary film and theatre, both involving months of filmed interviews and research. Plus, my work frequently has an extensive multi-media component; something which I regard as intrinsic as a second text, not an auxiliary function to be determined in a tech-run. So to be able to employ alternative authorship skills from other mediums, I think, greatly informs the work we do through Suburban Beast.

RS: Did putting on a play in a garage present any unique challenges?

JT: When I arrived the first day of rehearsal and found three cars being fully serviced in our space I thought… oh, wow… this is a lot rawer than I imagined. Which was great: there’s no better cast-bonding experience than mopping 30 years of tar and grease off concrete floors together. But we chose to mount the piece in the garage for two reasons: 1) it afforded us an immense amount of physical freedom to create our fort unimpeded by a conventional proscenium set-up, but also the scheduling freedom of being able to keep our fort erected throughout the run of the show (it would be impossible to dismantle it after every show… you’ll see why when you see the show). Of course, blue collared locale ties in nicely with the proletariat nature of the night shift. Somehow the feeling of squatting in a garage adds a whole further extra-textual element to the work.

RS: What excites you about this year’s festival?

JT: You know what? There’s something so incredibly exciting about seeing your friends’ work. It galvanizes your own drive to engage in the ongoing dialogue we’re having about the fundamentals of human nature. And that’s a dialogue I never grow tired of.