Luciano Iogna on his experience creating Shelf Life

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Q: About a year ago you had the opportunity to run workshops with Mixed Company, fostering a dialogue and encouraging an understanding between the senior community of Lambton House and the youth of Urban Arts that live in the Weston/Mount Dennis area. What were the three most important or most memorable aspects of the workshops that you wanted to make sure made it in to the final play creation phase?


A: I don’t know that I can prioritize the numerous issues and points that came up over almost two years of exploratory workshops and presentations, but the concerns of all communities came up when doing this kind of work: will our voices be heard and be truthfully represented?; that we – seniors and youth – have so many similar concerns (What’s in my future? Why can’t I get respect? Why can’t they see who I really am?); and whether the final play be fun.


Q: Over the summer, you created drafts of the piece currently titled Shelf Life (formerly “The Living Age”) that will be presented at the Tarragon Theatre Nov.30th-Dec.4th. Now that you’re in rehearsals – how has the piece grown from that initial draft to where it is now?


A: I love the fact that, in Theatre, the collaborative process never stops; from the community participants’ contributions during the research and development process to the opinions of the community actors in rehearsals. Then there’s the contribution of Simon’s vast experience as a director and the additional perspectives of designers (Sarah Friedlander, Victoria Ius, Jenny Jimenez, Marsha Coffey) which have not only allowed me to deepen the characters and clarify intentions of the scenes or scene-segues, but added a wider sensory experience when thinking about sound and light. All these contributions will expand a community’s/ audience’s experience when they come to see their play.


Q: Has anything happened in the process that you did not expect? Either in rehearsal, the writing of the piece, or the initial workshops with the community? What’s surprised you and how has that informed the work?


A: I was a bit surprised by the difficulties we had with trying to access the youth in the community. In the past, working with community youth organizations, there has never been a problem with finding youth participants. However, this time we and our community partner (Urban Arts) faced some challenges. Whether it was the targeted age group (12 to 24 years), the timing of our workshops that conflicted with other scholastic or community events, or that Theatre just didn’t resonate with the youth in the way that music or dance would. Somehow, we were in a constant struggle to attract youth participants from this community. We had to work harder than usual to arrange extra workshops in the surrounding schools to connect with youth.


Q: For our readers who don’t have much experience with Forum Theatre, can you speak a little about that section for this show. What is your vision for the Forum that will happen after the initial presentation, what do you want the audience to get out of it?


A: Forum Theatre is an interactive form of Theatre presenting oppressions that a specific community in our society faces when being marginalized (example: in our play it can be the stereotyping you face when applying for jobs). Once the issues are presented in the first part of the scene or play, the audience – facilitated by ‘The Joker’ (Boal’s term) – engages in simulations or role-play with characters of the play (called interventions) within the play’s reality to find options, positive alternatives and potential solutions to those problems. Based on reactions from previous MCT shows which dealt with aging and the difficulties of youth, I’m anticipating a great deal of emotional interactions and interventions. We can’t anticipate everything, of course, because Theatre is subjective and an audience member will project their own issues onto a play’s subject matter, but generally speaking, I’m looking forward to there being plenty of interventions that have a personal investment of experiences from audience members. You can always tell when the person intervening brings an idea that comes from their own experiences into the reality of the play; how the audience immediately understands the stakes of these kinds of interactions as opposed to someone intervening who tries to introduce an abstract or theoretical solution to the play’s issues.


Q: Are there writing techniques you use when writing a T.O play that would be different from what a regular playwright would have to think about?


Absolutely. On the first draft I will overwrite scenes to make sure that I have as many ‘oppressions’ and ‘blocks’ that our central character(s) or heroes will face. In reality, this doesn’t often happen that someone will be faced with a multitude of various obstacles – from a coy, little lie to deadly force. Then I choose which are the likeliest oppressions and manipulations used in that particular situation and focus on those within the later drafts. The intensity and strength of the oppressions should grow as the story of the play progresses – because that is the reality of oppression – that the hero ends the play in a worse position than when they first started. But I will always keep those initial unused oppressions and excuses from the first drafts and give them to the actors so that they can have their own options rehearse and improvise with so as to be prepared as oppressors and to use them in interventions. A sort of stockpile of potential barriers. Another distinct technique I use, which is unique to writing Forum Theatre plays for MCT, is that I always keep manipulations in mind when scripting scenes of oppression. The Wheel or Masks of Manipulations is a methodology particular only to MCT because Simon, very early on in his work with Theatre of the Oppressed was also working with Sweet Medicine Teachings, and discovered that oppressors often used manipulations that are named in Sweet Medicine to achieve their goals; that many of us who may ‘feel’ oppressed are actually only being manipulated into what we didn’t want. So, I write intervention scenes with specific manipulations in mind. And MCT’s style of performing and facilitating Forum Theatre clearly identifies and names for an audience when and what types manipulations are used in moments of oppression. Sometimes manipulations can be oppressions or oppressions can be manipulations. But, again, generally speaking, manipulations are how oppressions are manifested but are not oppressions in and of themselves. For example, I may feel oppressed by an overly-friendly neighbour who never stops
knocking on my door to chat but, in reality, I can always tell my neighbour to stop bothering me without it having repercussions on my safety, my income, my cultural values, etc. My neighbour’s behavior is a manipulation on my emotional state – not an oppression; we are equals and I can always say ‘No’. Whereas, my relationship with a landlord is very different because the power dynamics are in my landlord’s favour – a landlord can be a potential oppressor
as they could threaten my home security.


Q: Is there ever a fear that comes with Forum and the facilitation of it? How do you manage certain triggers that might occur in such an intimate, interactive, and performative space?


So, these are facilitation or Joking questions. As for the writing, you have faith that the contributions and recurrent feedback from the community (of the issues you’re working with) through the writing process has provided a truthful reality for the play. If the playwright(s) have captured that reality, then the reality of injustice will always be the trigger that provokes interventions. And, if you know the play is only going to be performed for the community living the MCT blog interview with Luciano Iogna: questions and answers issue, you will never face the dilemma of ‘How do I get them to intervene?’ Your concern will then be, ‘Will we have enough time for all the interventions? The only time an audience may require some ‘encouragement’ to intervene in a Forum Theatre scenario is when the majority of that audience is not a homogenous representation of the community which is dealing with that oppression; the audience does not empathize, associate or recognize the oppression. An audience of business executives is unlikely to jump into a Forum Theatre scenario to help an employee-character being laid off for the corporate bottom-line because that character’s reality is not theirs.
It’s then up to The Joker to find analogies for the audience so they can begin to associate with the characters in the play. As for the playwriting, it’s about knowing your community and your audience.


Q: What makes the concerns of Weston seniors and youth unique to the concerns of say, other intergenerational groups living in Toronto?


A: Well, I can’t say I’m completely familiar with Mount Dennis or Lawrence-Weston or any other community in Toronto, but I do know that the Lawrence-Weston region has certain qualities that stand out for me. Like some other communities, it is a blend of commercial, industrial and residential pockets. Similarly, because of recent economic stress, it is undergoing transitions; plenty of long-time, small businesses are closing down. And, unlike some other communities, there is no singular cultural identity like Spadina Avenue’s Chinatown or St Clair Avenue’s Little Italy; it is a heterogeneous blend of East and West African, Caribbean and Portuguese nationalities that is geographically caught between the railroad tracks and the Humber River parkland valley. If there is anything different, it could be that the majority of youth from the area are visible minorities. And though, in the school workshops with youth, we did ask if being Black made a difference, most of the issues of unfair judgments they claimed they faced were within their own families. But, back to whether there are any differences between Toronto regions, despite some dissimilarities, the issues and concerns of Lawrence-Weston youth and seniors from Lambton are practically identical to those we’ve witnessed from other groups in other communities (example: MCT’s 2011-12 Elder Abuse project in Hamilton-Wentworth – THE GOLDEN (C)AGE); abuse, exploitation, dismissiveness, ignorance, unknown futures, etc. It’s not the location but the issues that binds people into a community; that youth, regardless of where they live are constantly perceived as being lazy and ineffectual. And what Forum MCT blog interview with Luciano Iogna: questions and answers Theatre is doing is bringing these individuals from different areas into a community bound by the issues.


Q: What’s it like for you to be a part of a three year long creative project such as InterGEN. What have been some of the challenges; some of the rewards?


A: The luxury of having so much Time is that it allows you to gain familiarity and trust with the communities with whom you’re working; bridges of personal friendship are formed. And with this trust comes extra effort on both sides to create the best possible results. We have Time to make mistakes and make corrections; more opportunities for community feedback on the writing of the script and the rehearsal and performance process. And there’s the benefit of having community peers having the Time to learn to become community leaders and initiate their own projects within the community so that a production like MCT’s SHELF LIFE can become a practice and prototype for these peers to create something sustainable within the community on their own. As for challenges, three years is an exteremly long commitment for a young person because so much can change in that Time. We had to deal with issuefatigue for many participants; after so many workshops of self-examination over the issues, they just wanted to get on with performing the play and getting it done with. And there was the constant turn-over of youth participants, whose lives and commitments to the project changed dramatically from month to month, so that it was impossible for most of them to see it through (example: as interested as some participants were, priorities changed for them when they graduated high school and moved on to university). But, having Time to watch participants from a community learn and blossom as artists – becoming something they never thought they were able to acheive – is a feeling that cannot be described in words. And what is also tremendously satisfying for me is when I see community actors discovering that their performances in Forum Theatre lead to changing other people’s lives, as well as their own, a reward for which I am always most grateful


Shelf Life will run at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace from November 30th – December 4th, 2016.

Sherman and Tony of Mixed Messages discuss their experience

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Our #MixedMessages college tour just wrapped up and we had a chance to catch up with two of our cast members, Sherman Tsang and Tony Babcock about this summer’s show.


1)    Both of you have worked with Mixed Company Theatre in some capacity before; on our school tours. How has this round of Mixed Messages been different from previous rounds?


TB: The great thing about revisiting this show and any role is that it forces you to dig even deeper into the character and into the world. With a production that has such tough themes, it can be very hard to go deeper into the work but very rewarding for the audience. The biggest difference this time around for me was approaching the character from a slightly different angle.


2)    What was the most memorable moment of this tour so far?


ST: The most memorable moment was probably when we engaged in the forum part of the tour, and seeing youth have so much knowledge about the subject matter. It really gives me hope for the future generations who are not only wanting to learn but are willing to share that knowledge so that others may grow and continue in life respecting each other and keeping the line of communication open.


3)    Was there anything that happened in the facilitation this summer that you didn’t expect?


TB: I can’t stop thinking about a particular intervention that involved a student brilliantly using a tactic that I had never seen before. In order to stop the dating violence, he asked to borrow the oppressor’s one condom for himself. It definitely stopped me in my tracks.


4)    What was a fear you had going into this tour, did that fear get realized? If so how did you deal with it?


ST: I’ve never done forum theatre before, so of course when Simon asked me to take on the role of Teesha, I was excited but mostly scared. I was never great at improvising, so forum seemed even scarier. The fear eventually subsided as we kept doing forum in real time. I was able to listen more to what was being given and was able to think critically while the conversations were happening – “This would work, but what is harder?” It was just a combination of letting the fear go, knowing that my scene partners, Tony and Nicole had my back.


5)    If you could do anything to improve Mixed Messages going forward, what type of suggestions would you offer to next year’s cast/creative team?


ST: I would suggest to alter the script to fit more modern slang and conversations.


6)    What’s next for the three of you after the summer, are there any project you have coming up for the Fall?


TB: I currently have a series called “In Real Life” that is airing on Bell Fibe TV 1, other than working on that, I will also be shooting a new web series and teaching classes at my downtown studio.


ST: I just recently have been casted in Paradise Comics with the Filament Incubator. I’m very excited to start rehearsals.

 

 

MCT welcomes Heather Majaury, our new Outreach Coordinator

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Heather, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I live in Kitchener and am doing the commute to Toronto because I believe in Mixed Company Theatre’s work. I have spent most of my career and life to date, in one way or another, connected to theatre production that focuses on cultural intervention and social change.

I recently graduated with my Masters in Theatre from the University of Guelph where I focused my thesis on Legislative Theatre. During my Masters Program I reconnected with MCT’s AD Simon Malbogat, and interviewed him about the organization for my thesis.

Most recently I worked with Sheatre as a co-facilitator (Joker) on their Forum Theatre touring production of Be Our Ally. I am also currently an Artistic Associate of MT Space in Waterloo, where I focus my efforts on audience engagement and Indigenous programming. I have also worked as an actor in their Theatre for Social Change productions.  In 2015 I created a one woman show called This is My Drum which was produced by Kaleidoscope Collective, a company I founded with several other women in Waterloo, producing theatre by and for women of diverse backgrounds and experiences.

 

What first sparked an interest in working in the not-for-profit sector, specifically in Education & Outreach?

I strongly believe in the power of T.O (Theatre of the Oppressed) engaging communities in thoughtful discussion. I have personally experienced the intellectual and visceral power of experiential T.O techniques in my own transformations.  These are powerful tools for life-learning and within the wider spectrum of conscious and critical pedagogy. Schools, workplaces, and communities that engage with this kind of active learning I believe benefit immensely.

 

What has been the highlight of your career thus far, the thing you can’t help but think and smile about?

I have been lucky to have several highlights. It’s hard to narrow it down. I think actually creating and performing a one woman show; watching the audience get bigger each night was the coolest.

 

What about Mixed Company interests or excites you the most?

I am hoping we can become booked so solid that I will have to turn down schools and other organizations because we simply can’t fit anyone else in. I am looking forward to waiting lists – seriously. I am also looking forward to learning from the collective wisdom that exists in this company because of its long standing reputation as a Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed, not just in Canada but internationally as well.

 

Do you have any artistic hobbies? If not, what do you like to do in your spare time?

One of my favourite things to do is sing. I am part of a native women’s hand drumming group. I started writing songs when I was at home working on land claim negotiations. It was such a trying time in my life, I started writing songs to express my feelings about so many things. Having the gift of song and being able to express myself in this way is very joyful. It is also healing.

 

What was your favourite piece of theatre that you ever saw, and why.

That’s not an easy question. There are so many facets that make a piece of theatre great. I have to say that I was deeply impressed by MT Space’s Last 15 Seconds. I like issue based work that is collectively devised and well produced for intimate spaces that doesn’t tell us what to think but asks us to think for ourselves.

Some of my most powerful moments in the theatre have come from watching and being a part of Cops in the Head and Rainbow of Desires events as well. I have gained so much insight from these plays that emerged and unfolded in real time, inspired by the immediate issues of the people in the room. These insights have come precisely because they are so rooted in the collective experience, while at the same time being more than therapy. They are, at their heart, rooted in holistic/relational/political curiosity, which for a deeply curious person (such as myself) keeps my lifelong love affair with T.O going.

MCT’s Suzanna Derewicz Reflects on Lambert’s Workshop

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Last Wednesday and Thursday, MCT’s International Facilitation Intern Lambert Pounel hosted a workshop in our space. The class explored devising a piece collaboratively using personal talismans, and the narratives associated with them. The group was relatively experienced in theatre making so it was an opportunity to delve into our stories quickly – there were six of us taking the workshop so it didn’t take long to get acquainted. We discovered ways to foster confidence and a collective energy on the first day, then moved towards creation on the second.


What I found quite refreshing was that after sharing our source material with the group, it didn’t take too long for us to get on our feet and begin working. It is easy in a devising process to be bogged down by talking, to discuss the possibilities and philosophies behind what our talisman’s could represent without actually taking the time to interact with them, live in the space with them. It is easy to imprint our ideas onto them instead of letting them fuel us – instead of allowing ourselves to be the vessels for the stories.


I am happy that we took the route of improvisation – after a quick discussion of common themes and questions, we allowed ourselves to explore, play with the objects, songs, and texts that were brought in. Fairly soon, different characters arose that were inspired by the source material. Eventually we allowed these characters to foster relationships with one another, talk to each other, and respond without filtering their responses.


After the improvisation we discussed our findings, what we liked, and what we wanted to continue exploring. I did feel however that we moved too quickly into the actual concrete creation as so much more time could have been spent discovering and testing these characters on our feet. Unfortunately, the time constraint put pressure on the act of creating (we had about ½ hour to 45 minutes to make something in a group of six).


This lead us as a group to trick ourselves into entering a “finished product” mentality, arbitrarily situating the characters and their talismans in a time and place. While this is not a terrible opportunity to “see” how these characters would react – what resulted was a more complicated and convoluted improvisation that would have yielded better results if it in and of itself had more constraints to help with the short amount of time we had to make it in. For example, we could have been told that we weren’t allowed to speak – focussing our energy on communicating with our bodies. Alternatively, my personal favourite constraint includes gestural language, where you can only communicate through a paired down number of motions, words, or actions. I also would have liked a de-emphasis on narrative when at the early stages, narrative and story structure can afford to take a step back and be something we could plan to return to later.


My suggestion for Lambert should he decide to do the workshop again is to focus more on the 2nd day creation process and expand it. I think the workshop could be a week long, and actually include an invited presentation of the work should the group be comfortable with that. What’s great is the premise of bringing a diverse group of people together to explore deeply personal source material in a theatrical way. The next step would be to really delve deeply into the possibility of what our imaginations could make out of it.


Lambert is on his way back to France now to start another year of school. Best to him and we hope to see him teaching and training on our side of the pond again soon!

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