The experience was such a great one—filled with passion, excitement, risk and adventure—maybe that’s why we all decided to formally create a company.
With over 80 shows in the festival across 16 venues in the city, the SummerWorks Festival which is opening today presents theatre that “encourages risk, questions, and creative exploration while insisting on accessibility, integrity and professionalism.” It offers an experience of theatre that promises to be anything but the “same old”. The last time we talked to Vojin, the artistic director of Ars Mechanica, they were in the middle of developing a new work. Now you’ll have a chance to see their first work as a company, Show and Tell Alexander Bell, remounted at Summer Works to celebrate the recovery of Bell’s voice in a recording released by the Smithsonian Institute.
In this Q&A with Sasha Kovacs who plays the operator, Mary Moore, in the show. We get an insider perspective from one of the company’s founding members, and insight into the creative drive that binds performing artists together in their common pursuits.
Their show opens today and runs until August 18th. You can get your tickets here.
1. Can you tell us a bit about the roles you have played in the performing arts? Is it what you set out to achieve when you started your career, or did it change along the way?
All throughout my student years, I was producing my own work wherever and whenever I could, which was often quite experimental and interdisciplinary. When I stepped into the professional world of theatre, I thought that I needed to make a choice about what kind of artist I really was. My agent struck all the directing and producing credits off my resume and I was quickly informed that we live in a culture of specialization. Doing the commercial and film thing wasn’t totally fulfilling for me but I didn’t see many other alternatives. In the mayhem of commercial auditions, I seemed to be unable to execute ideas, nevermind develop them. I was too tired.
I suddenly realized that school never taught me how to be an artist. I sat in a rut for a while—totally lost my voice. It wasn’t until a number of generous companies opened their doors and let me see how they worked in a different way that I began to see how there were existing structures in place for performers to create and collaborate on original works.
Companies like Small Wooden Shoe and Bluemouth inc., Zuppa Theatre, Gargantua—they were instrumental in providing me with models of artistic collaboration that allowed for healthy partnerships. In those environments, you see actors being directors, directors being producers, producers being designers, writers being…you get the picture. Working with those companies inspired me to reclaim my artistry. I came to understand that if I wanted to make the art I needed to make, I have take on the multiple roles that serve it.
I’ve since been a performer, director, producer, publicist, grant writer, administrator, teacher and historian. When I can bring a bit of artistry to these roles, that’s when I think I have achieved what I set out to do.
2. How did you come to be a part of Ars Mechanica? What drew you to collaborate with them?
Ars Mechanica started with Vojin and Show and Tell Alexander Bell. Vojin had asked me to perform in the show and told me the story about Bell’s relationship with his deaf wife and deaf mother. The historian in me thought it was a fascinating story to explore. I was unable to perform in the first workshop, but joined Natalie and Vojin (as well as Joe Culpepper) after their first development period. I extended some of their initial explorations of the history of communication and Bell’s history to develop the audience’s experience with communication technologies today as part of the show.
The experience was such a great one—filled with passion, excitement, risk and adventure—maybe that’s why we all decided to formally create a company. I knew that I had found a space where I would be challenged to develop as a creator with Ars Mechanica. We work in a collaborative structure, we all work equally hard, we always try to include new people on our projects, and the ideas motivate the production. Also—there’s laughter. I’m thrilled to be one of the company’s core and founding members.
3. Tell us more about Ars Mechanica’s upcoming performance in SummerWorks, Show and Tell Alexander Bell. What is the audience you want to reach with this work?
I play the operator, Mary Moore, in Show and Tell Alexander Bell. My function is to connect the audience to the surreal rendering of Alexander, Mabel and Eliza Bell’s history that is taking place onstage (performed by Natalie Mathieson and Vojin Vasovic). While they perform a series of episodic and dream-like scenes that draw on certain aspects of Bell’s past, I ‘plug in’ the audience to the history that informs those displays.
I think this show has a wide appeal: Canadian history buffs will love to see our take on Bell’s story, theatre researchers will appreciate the way the show plays with liveness and intermediality, and anyone who has ever wanted to talk and text throughout a theatre production will love some of the magic we can make with your phone during this show!
4. What do you see as the main challenges for theatre today? Could you share some examples of the kinds of challenges that you have faced yourself as a performing artist?
I think changing the paradigm for theatre education in this country is a major challenge today. Learning institutions need to empower students to develop as artists, first and foremost. There’s a copy of Sean Holmes’ speech online where he talks about this mania of “literalism” that’s plaguing the professional theatre in UK, and how the existing structures of theatre creation don’t allow for the kind of questioning, and artistic rigor that some of us want to cultivate.
I think in Canada, the start of that problem might be located at the level of education—when institutions bring in guest directors, have them meet a group of anxious students who are uncertainly about their careers and put them in rehearsals for three weeks followed by a straight run. In that commercial model there isn’t much room for imagination. There isn’t much room for questioning or conversation. I think places that claim to teach theatre, that aim to make performance makers, need to revitalize their own models to encourage curiosity, bravery, and personal development.The priority needs to be the development of artists.
5. What words of advice would you give to emerging performing artists who are interested in theatre?
Go to the theatre, not just where you live, but especially in other places that you can get to. Go outside of the theatre sometimes too. Ask people whom you admire if you can work with them, or just watch them work. Offer to help. Invite others to join you.
Even when it feels like there is no time remember Virginia Woolfe: “One has only to read, to look, to listen, to remember.” Let your ideas drive you. Find out what you want to say and express it your own way.