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Announcing Hybrid by Design

April 7, 2022

A participatory video game performance, a live augmented reality escape room, immersive short films, a tiny concert inspired by a giant book… Experience the festival for free online or IRL at The Theatre Centre May 9-15, 2022. The future of live art is hybrid by design.

Hybrid By Design is an experiment, a concept, a festival in progress — it’s developing right now even as this is being written. The Theatre Centre has a long history of supporting artists at the edge of a practice as they follow burning questions and develop new ideas. While this makes it hard to write a press release or meet box office deadlines, The Theatre Centre has always recognized the value of bringing audiences into ideas in process and inventing the way forward, and that includes this festival. 

Running May 9-15, this multimedia live art festival features seven works by former and current Theatre Centre Residency artists and a selection of international work curated in partnership with Battersea Arts Centre in London, UK. Funded in part by the Canada Council’s Digital Now program, which was created in response to COVID-19, the works span opposite extremes; from the entirely analog to the entirely digital, and everything in between.

“If we wanted this emergency funding from the Canada Council to support artists and live event workers—there were strings attached, and the strings were digital”, says artistic director Aislinn Rose. “We thought, if we’re gonna take this money, we need it to support artists in the long-term. This could not be a quick pivot we would immediately abandon once we got back together in person. It had to be about the long-term impact on the future of artistic practice: modifying, shifting, inventing. So we went to these artists who were already exploring the hybridity of live and digital art or working with material that could translate well into a hybrid space, and we asked them ‘what are you thinking about and what do you need?’”

After an in-process showing at Festivales de Buenos Aires in March 2021 to rave reception, audiences in Canada can experience the next iteration of Milton Lim and Patrick Blenkarn’s asses.masses; the participatory video game performance explores revolution, technophobia, and the line between work and play. Using augmented reality, Anand Rajaram will invite audience members into a 3D-modelled virtual escape room to meet digital characters performed by live actors.

 The seven-day festival will also feature animated video installations about surveillance in public urban spaces by writer Nehal El-Hadi, and modern-day fairy tales partly inspired by Latin American storytelling and Japanese Rakugo from illustrator Lorena Torres Loaiza. Inspired by Ian Kamau’s Residency project Loss, artist afrakaren will share the stories of Trinidadian and Greek/Roman female mythological characters, while muralist Jabari Elliot creates mixed-media visuals live in front of an audience. Stewart Legere’s Broken/Sometimes Repaired is a tiny concert inspired by Hanya Yanagihara’s giant 2015 novel A Little Life offering a sparkling tribute to queer resilience and love. Artists Thomas McKechnie and Hannah Kaya round out the Canadian programming with a discussion about their recent theatre-by-mail experience 12 Letters from Your Lover, Lost at Sea.

Curated in part by London-based Battersea Arts Centre, this festival will also include a selection of international work, bringing Canadian and U.K. artists together for performances, panels, networking opportunities and more. After a wildly popular run at Progress Festival in 2019, The Theatre Centre will share British artist Selina Thompson’s salt:dispersed, a filmed performance of her award-winning show salt, unpacking stories of ancestry and colonialism. Guests can also attend a special screening of Grin, choreographed by award-winning Scottish artist Mele Broomes. The film features a masquerade of dance sculptures and a pulsating sound score about Black love and community building, subverting hyper-sexualized ideas of African and Caribbean dance. 

“One of the few good things to come out of this pandemic has been the extraordinary work live performance makers have been developing in the digital space,” said Tarek Iskander, CEO and artistic director of Battersea Arts Centre. “Their unique perspectives and innovations make this feel like a new art form in itself. The work crosses borders seamlessly and in seconds, giving it a truly international flavour. Hybrid By Design is a wonderful opportunity to explore this new art form and compare how it is evolving in different parts of the globe. As always, The Theatre Centre continues to be a place to discover the future of performance.”

The festival’s B-side Series offers artist-hosted workshops, conversations and activations curated by Sue Balint. Following a run of her show Scored in Silence programmed at Theatre Passe Muraille, Chisato Minamimura will host a discussion about creating work as a d/Deaf movement artist. Audience members will also have the opportunity to engage directly with neurodivergent performance artist Liselle Terret sharing her unique approach to her work and practice. Minamimura and Terret are both currently working on commissions from Battersea Arts Centre.

Following our announcement of a financially accessible 21/22 programming year, tickets to Hybrid by Design will be entirely free, though donations are happily accepted. In-person performances will take place at 1115 Queen St. W and virtual performances can be streamed online—tickets are available now!