Artists Still Hard At Work In Laboratory After Stratford Festival Closest Longest Season On Record
The 2018 season ended on Sunday but work continues at the Stratford Festival with a number of exciting projects in the Laboratory, the Festival's research and development arm.
After a series of extensions, The Rocky Horror Show closed on December 2, the same day the Festival's production of Coriolanus finished its tour to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
There was no rest for members of the Rocky Horror team who were finishing up the longest-running show in Festival history, however, as many of them moved straight into a week-long Lab workshop of Romeo & Juliet: Remixed, an urban ballet conceived and choreographed by Robin Calvert (assistant choreographer for 2017's H.M.S. Pinafore) and Stephen Cota (the associate choreographer for The Music Man and The Rocky Horror Show, on which he was also assistant director). Cast members from The Rocky Horror Show and The Music Man are participating in the workshop, along with performers from beyond the Stratford company.
The Lab is also currently hosting Why Not Theatre's Ravi Jain and Nicolas Billon for a week-long residency to develop a project called CODE, which examines the idea of the evolution of computer code and technology as a modern-day Tower of Babel story.
Earlier this week, a workshop wrapped up for Mother's Daughter, the latest play in Kate Hennig's Queenmaker Trilogy. In addition to Hennig and Bob White, the Festival's Director of New Plays, the workshop included cast members for the 2019 production and director Alan Dilworth. It resulted in the production draft of the script, which will be taken into rehearsal in April.
Next week the Lab will be conducting a reading of the new translation by Linda Gaboriau of next season's highly anticipated Birds of a Kind by Wajdi Mouawad.
Before the year ends, the Lab will hold a workshop to experiment with large-scale, multi-person puppetry for The Neverending Story.
Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino began the Lab in 2013 as a space in which to explore and innovate. In the years since, he says, it has opened Stratford up to new ideas, new artists and new artistic approaches, with more than 100 guest artists of diverse backgrounds, abilities and artistic practices visiting the Festival to lead or take part in Lab activities. In 2018, a special arrangement with Canadian Actors' Equity allowed a company of ensemble members to take on a season-long program of artistic exploration, rather than performing in a second production. This really allowed the work of the Lab to flourish.
"The Lab has become a place of tremendous scope," said Cimolino. "Its experimental mandate, together with the fresh perspectives brought to it by visiting artists, is driving visible innovation on our stages, whether it's the physical language we developed for the story-telling in The Aeneid, the puppetry we created for The Breathing Hole, the Indigenous approach to Pawâkan Macbeth, which was presented in the Forum, or the digital integration we achieved in this past season's Coriolanus."
This season alone, the Lab welcomed Greek director Thomas Moschopoulos, Japanese-Canadian choreographer Denise Fujiwara, Mohawk dance-theatre creator Santee Smith, leaders from the Deaf Arts community, including Catherine Joell MacKinnon, Chris Dodd, Jack Volpe, Elizabeth Morris and Tamyka Bullen, and U.K. trans artist and activist Emma Frankland.
Frankland and Toronto-based two-spirit artist Gein Wong worked with Lab actors to explore gender fluidity in the performance of early modern plays. They were joined by two-spirit actor Cole Alvis and company members to explore the portrayal of gender in Elizabethan plays in a contemporary performance environment.
Colombian-Canadian director Bea Pizano returned to the Lab to continue work she had begun the previous season with Spanish Golden Age scholar Stephen Rupp on Life Is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca.
The 2018 Stratford Festival Forum included staged readings of Pawâkan Macbeth, set in Cree territory in 1870s Alberta. It was conceived and adapted by Reneltta Arluk and developed in the Lab.
This year also saw the Lab host a public conference. Called Critically Contemporary, it was a day-long gathering of about 65 theatre artists and scholars from across the country and the U.S., furthering conversations about best practices in representation, equity and working in mixed company. Sessions were held on Cultural Interpretation, Indigenous Perspectives and Challenging the Gender Binary.
Also as part of the Lab, the Festival has been a partner in The Cycle, a research initiative begun in 2014-15 by the National Arts Centre with the goal of changing the shape of Canadian theatre. Stratford hosted the summit for the 2016-17 Cycle on Deaf, disability, Mad arts and inclusion. "The partnership was formed because of a mutual interest in creating space within our organizations to challenge our perspectives and give platforms to artists who were under-represented," said Keira Loughran, Associate Producer for the Laboratory. In addition, the Festival participated in the first Cycle on Indigenous Body of Work, and will participate in the third Cycle on Climate Change.
Looking ahead to next season, the Lab will be geared to broadening the spectrum of stories told and the voices that tell them, with a focus on looking beyond the West to expand the canon of classical work the Festival takes on.
In 2020, Lab activities will be given a dedicated space in the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre. "The Lab's work so far has been significant," said Cimolino, "but once it has a home of its own, I believe it will really thrive, further deepening our connection with artists and audiences."