SummerWorks Performance Festival preview


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Lemon Bucket Orkestra's Counting sheep performance

Image: Carlos M. Garete

The SummerWorks Performance Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, with an expanded program that now includes dance, and plenty of programming reflecting its interdisciplinary focus - some of which is free, all of which is attractively priced, especially with the passes available.

The festival is throwing a preview gala tonight, COUNTDOWN, featuring an excerpt of Freya Olafson's HYPER_ from the Special Presentations program, as well as catered food and drink. On Thursday August 6, SummerWorks gets properly underway, with a kickoff party at the Festival Hub at Factory Theatre, and continuing daily (and nightly) until Sunday August 16.

 
image: michael douglas

 

New this year, there's a "Taster" pass, which gives patrons one discounted ticket to each of the five programs: the Theatre series, the Live Art series, Special Presentations, the Music Series, and the new Dance series. (The Taster pass also includes a complimentary drink at the Festival Hub bar.) 

We've combed through the program to find good bets for your one sample per each series that pass provides. Of course, this is a festival that prioritizes risk and experimentation, and we definitely encourage you to see as much of what intrigues you. But there are returning artists who've wowed audiences before, at SummerWorks and elsewhere, and we have the lowdown on which shows you'll want to book first.

The Dance Series

The newest series in the festival, though there's certainly been dance-specific shows at SummerWorks in the past. (The Musical Works In Concert series wrapped last year, and is relaunching, independent of SummerWorks, on August 20 - 23.) As with the other smaller programs, there are shows in the main Theatre Series that could be considered dance, such as MacArthur Park Suite: a Disco Ballet. This is the program we're least familiar with, but we like the synopsis of Are You Still Coming Tonight?, which reminds us of Thus Spoke... at last year's SummerWorks. Street Vs. Stage's head to head competitive format also sounds intriguing.

The Theatre Series

The series the festival started with in 1991 is still the largest and most popular. Many of the shows aren't the typical "stage show with a fourth wall" most people think of when they think of modern drama, but all of the shows in the series feature actors, telling stories. In An Evening in July, a site specific piece previously staged last year at the Fringe Festival, two strange women (created and performed by sketch duo The Templeton Philharmonic) throw a garden party with surrealist twists. For Beautiful Man, Governor-General Award winning playwright Erin Shields reunites with director Andrea Donaldson to create a world in which gender roles are reversed and a female serial killer is stalking young hunks. And in Like There's No Tomorrow, interviews with people in the projected path of the Northern Gateway project have been turned by the company into an "unconventional environmental review panel."

 
IMAGE: monty martin

 

The Live Art Series

Generally, the shows in the Live Art Series are more participatory than the Theatre Series, with performers often playing themselves, and interacting with audience members. The performance art in this series takes many different forms; in The Unpacking, two cousins who've just finished a month long 700-km hike from Pennsylvania to Ontario will relate their experiences; in A Wake For Lost Time, a collective conducts a 24 hour long ceremony (audience members can come and go as they wish); and in Wildlife, the collective performs a different sort of ceremonial exploration, using an "Expanded Consciousness Technique".

The Music Series

Those hoping for a conventional concert from one of the many Toronto musicians involved may be a bit disappointed; the Music Series has now evolved into often one night only collaborations between the music acts and prominent theatre directors and companies. (For SummerWorks' 25th anniversary party on Saturday August 15, many past acts, such as Buck 65 and Maylee Todd, will be performing at the free outdoor street party.) Rising local ambient folk singer Anamai is collaborating with shadow puppet company Caterwaul Theatre and fellow band Germaphobes on Heat Shuts Off Overnight, and veteran electronic duo LAL are working with dancers and media artists for All You Can Hold. There's music in the Theatre Series, too; avante garde Ottawa pop band The PepTides are bringing their live show LOVE + HATE to SummerWorks, and Stupidhead! A Mocisal Cmodedy [sic], a comedy that tackled dyslexia - with songs.

 
IMAge: mel hattie

 

Special Presentations

Curated for the most part by Artistic Producer Michael Rubenfeld, this select series is weighted in favour of international and national artists visiting the city, or companies with ties outside of Toronto. DopoLavoro Teatrale's The Stranger, a hit at last year's festival, is back in an expanded format this year — though at press time, all of the shows, which are for one audience member at a time, were sold out. Also returning to the festival are Lemon Bucket Orkestra (they crashed the 2011 SummerWorks closing party with a courtyard performance); their play Counting Sheep is the festival's Production in Residence, and they'll play the 25th anniversary party (officially, this time). New this year, but from artists who've done great work at the festival in the past, Halifax-based director Christian Barry and creator/performer Stewart Legere will infuse local stories into their constantly evolving Let's Not Beat Each Other To Death, a "participatory" event that part dance party, part monologue meditation on homophobia.

Steve Fisher is a Toronto-based arts journalist and reviewer who writes regularly for Torontoist, and has contributed to The A.V. Club and CBC Music. Follow him on Twitter: @gracingthestage.

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