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in case you missed the residency showings…

May 25, 2021
Photo of Neema Bickersteth from Residency sharing of 'Black Paris'

that’s a wrap! we continue to be fuelled by the thoughtful discussions, ideas, and creations from the spring residency showing.


If you came through, we hope you’re still feeling nourished too. Your presence is a meaningful part of the process and truly benefits the artists in their development. We’re so grateful for your support. Nothing beats tuning in live, but if you couldn’t make it last week, keep scrolling for a quick rundown. If you like what you see and want to support the exploration of ideas and creation of new work, please consider making a donation. Your contribution goes a long way in the continuation of art making during these wild times!

icymi: here's a quick recap

Creative Producer Rachel Penny joined Exploration artists Neema Bickersteth and Nikki Shaffeeullah, and Assistant Director Gabriella Hamilton for a conversation about Black Paris. Here’s an excerpt:

RP: What you’re describing is so intensely personal, but there are lots of plans for how to involve community in many different senses of the word in the development of this work. What’s meaningful about involving people outside of the immediate creative team to you?

NB: Experiences I’m having within me often resonate in a public political sense, so when I think I’m doing personal private exploration I’m also doing public community exploration.

NS: It’s not even a choice, it feels like an inevitability of working in a particular way where we’re trying to draw spider web-y connections between this piece of text that somebody wrote and this lived experience that somebody had and this pattern we see in the world. Our experience is that it’s been really opening, and why not share that experience with other artists who are trying to ask some of these questions? It feels like a time where lots of people are asking similar questions and it’s better to do that in community.

Residency artist Rimah Jabr‘s collaborators Femke Stallaert and Gülce Oral read scenes from Broken Shapes inspired by her life in Palestine investigating what happens to humanity in the context of borders, surveillance and fear.

“The play is about an architect who died, and on the day of his funeral, his daugther finds his plans and drawings that are surreal and all fall in the same idea of how to be invisible or how to survive a dangerous situation. This is an international co-production so in March 2020, we were in Belgium to produce the work. We had to cancel one week before the opening night and when [the Covid-19] crisis happened we all just flew different directions—now here we are together.” –Rimah Jabr

Anand Rajaram only showed up to this sharing briefly, but fortunately Grimes’ husband Elon Musk graced us with his presence and walked us through Anand’s virtual reality performance project The Monster From Inside the Third Dimension.

“These sorts of ideas of how you move and have interactivity through these rooms is part of what the further design will be. Working with Justine Katerenchuk and her team at Ryerson University was pretty cool because it was a chance to explore how to use performance and improvisation in Mozilla Hub. There’s the design element, but there’s also the audience interactivity and performance interactivity which are also interesting parts of the show. It’s the liveness that really makes it exciting.” –Anand Rajaram

If you’re an artist interested in learning more about character and world building using digital masks, shoot Anand an email.

Residency artist Nehal El-Hadi‘s project now has a title: #000000

“I will hopefully find a snappier way of saying it, but it’s the hexadecimal code for black. I liked it as a title because it spoke almost completely to what I was planning to do where my project looks at the ethics of surveillance of radicalized youth in public urban spaces. For the last few months I’ve been going hard on research and I’m feeling the shift into creation.” –Nehal El-Hadi

Nehal has begun working with six collaborators: artist Coco Guzman, designer Emily Woudenberg of Strike Design StudioRobert Bolton of foresight studio From Later, and Patricio Davila, Dave Colangelo and Immony Men of Public Visualization Studio.

Stewart Legere’s project The Unfamiliar Everything is spread out by nature and getting together is the point. The team currently consists of nine artists—singers, musicians, writers, poets, lighting designers—and is likely to expand.

“The central theme is loneliness, this existential feeling that all humans have, but wanting to examine what it’s like for queer people from different backgrounds living in different contexts. The main point was to find joy and beauty in it, to see what the productive element of loneliness can be. It is so interesting going back and reading all of our old writing, knowing we would then be thrust into a year and a half of different forms of isolation. Especially queer folks who’ve had to go home to places where they’re not affirmed or they’re not safe, it takes on a whole different meaning.” –Stewart Legere

After six phases of development, they’ve gathered a ton of material, so they’re waiting until they can come together in the theatre again to move forward with the next phase. As Stewart said, there’s light on the horizon.

Victoria Mata Soledad is the sole Finishing artist in this cohort, serving as an intensive period of design and technical experimentation for work that’s further along in its development. Though she’s had to postpone the premiere of Cacao | A Venezuelan Lament, she hopes to premiere in Fall 2022. Last year, she and her team were safely able to work at the Theatre Centre for two weeks.

“While I worked with the dancers, I took this opportunity and worked with the designers to look at the script and start designing. If you’re familiar with the dance world, we tend to bring in the designers a week before the show goes up, which has been best practice. In the midst of the pandemic and because of this residency, my biggest takeaway is to never work in that way again. Having the opportunity to sit down with the designers and envision and live within the visual world of what could happen on stage was absolutely rewarding and nourishing, but it also allowed me as a choreographer to influence and inform what will happen on stage.” –Victoria Mata Soledad


To give us more context of the project’s themes, Victoria shared two videos filmed by the Venezuelan farmers she’s been collaborating with showing us how they harvest cacao, as well as the historical, cultural, political, and socio-economic significance of maintaining this kind of work.

Milton Lim and Patrick Blenkarn are working on asses.masses as part of this Exploration program, but for this sharing they led us through a round of culturecapital, a trading card game centred around arts economy across Canada. They take two sets of data, the first being five years worth of real public funding information from performing arts companies to see how resources are being distributed. The second, and most important data set as Milton explained, is hundreds of interviews with artists from each region. With asses.masses and culturecapital, Milton and Patrick are challenging the idea that theatre is a spectator sport.

ML: We take games pretty seriously in that we’d like to see it legitimized more within our art practices as a sector.

PB: We feel like there’s been a lot of exploration of games in various capacities within the performance community, but more often than not they gut the game at the last minute by forcing it to stay within a certain amount of time or imposing certain standards or etiquettes that we hold dear in traditional theatre performance. Between asses.masses and culture capital, we’re trying to see how much we can respect the history and traditions of game design and form and not theatricalize it into something that’s familiar and comfortable.

Residency artists PJ Prudat and Jonathan Seinen read scenes from À la façon du pays, a time-travelling exploration of their relationship, imagining what it may have been five hundred years ago, meeting under that time’s Fur Trade/colonial reality, and what has really changed since then between Indigenous women and white men on this land. Music plays a significant role in this project, and PJ spoke about her influences.

“The section on the train is greatly inspired by Mildred Bailey who was an indigenous jazz singer, she was one of the first and most prolific in the earlier part of the century. I think our hopes are to get someone to collaborate with us that would be able to compose music. My grandmother was Cree and Métis so that’s a certain area I have ancestral roots to so I’m curious about what music might have been like from that era. My grandmother also loved playing guitar and singing her own country twang so there’s a lot of different influences that seem to penetrate into this piece.” –PJ Prudat

Exploration artist Lorena Torres Loaiza is creating a comic about hope. The project, Pandora in the Box, will be a life-sized maze, moving the rules of comic page layout to a 3D space. After explaining that this project had dug up weird feelings about the concept of home and her Colombian identity, she welcomed us around her campfire to talk about the thematic evolution of this piece.

“I was very nervous as a kid and my mom found that making forts calmed me down quite a bit so she let make huge forts inside the house and leave them up for a really long time and they were always in the way. I developed a fixation with arranging small spaces that I could control. I’ve written a story where a girl finds that the world has crumbled apart and her reaction is to build a campsite and share it with someone else. I hadn’t thought about building forts for years so some subconscious thing came up in my brain and I started writing about forts.

Now I have this bittersweet knowledge that we’re still in a pandemic in an unjust society and our planet’s dying, and somehow without the crisis of right now I don’t know that I would have understood what I’m supposed to be doing as a creator and as a Colombian person. It’s left me with this feeling that I’d like to build spaces and stories that are new and different and safe, to imagine worlds that are different. I don’t know how much can be done, but trying is a worthwhile pursuit.” –Lorena Torres Loaiza

Bringing the concepts she spoke about together, Lorena closed by highlighting the mass eviction of people living in the encampment at Lamport Stadium last week, and asked those of us living and working in Toronto to show up for our neighbours by donating tents and contacting our representatives to denounce the City’s actions.

Exploration artist Adam Lazarus’s creation lab Bouffon will bring together a group of artists to ask questions, play around and create the future of bouffon. 

After sharing four pieces about how he’s personally processing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how speaking out has impacted his relationships, and a maddening yet funny performance, Lorena dropped this gem into the chat: I am floored by your ability and willingness to embody discomfort. Can you speak a bit about what that’s like emotionally?

“The ability to sit in discomfort and just go through it is super important. If we stay in this complication maybe we can have empathy and see both sides and the world can be better. I think when I’m ready to do the art, I’ve worked past how I feel right now. I feel pretty bad, I’m not gonna lie. It’s a really tough moment for me and it’s been quite intense. I just want to be present because this is process. If we were in the rehearsal room we would be working this out and I’d feel pretty bad, but then it’s the job as an actor to turn on the acting and play the piece as it was designed to be made. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. There’s a rawness I’m having right now that I would want to work though in the process of creation. That’s why I miss theatre.” –Adam Lazarus