Monday, 10 July 2017

Party Dramaturgy: Stephen O'Connell @ Edfringe 2017

Audience members become party guests at immersive new show PARTYGAME

From the company who brought smash hit Dance Marathon in 2011 where audience members became dance contestants, PARTY GAME is part dance, part theatre, party immersive party experience as audience members who visit the Traverse help host a surprise party

Before they know it they're in the full swing of something that runs out of control. With live music, 'games', dancing and more a poignant story unfolds that looks at loves and losses. 

What was the inspiration for this performance? 

While touring Dance Marathon we were invited by William Galinsky then the artistic director of the Cork MidSummer Festival to visit an island in the southern most tip of Ireland called Cape Clear.   We were immediately struck by its isolation and haunting beauty and decided then and there to return.  A year later we began working on a sites specific piece on Cape Clear Island in collaboration with a young Cork based company called Hammergrin who’s work we had seen and adored the previous year.  

We brought back to Canada with us the seeds of the ideas we generated with Hammergrin during our Cape Clear trip and decided to continue working on the piece as part of a summer residency Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island. 

A sites specific iteration of the piece called, It Comes In Waves was commissioned and presented in conjunction with the Pan American Games in Toronto.   In that particular workshop the audience had to paddle across Lake Ontario in warrior canoes to arrive at the location of the site.

Because our work is devised and immersive we tend to prototype it over a number of years with regularly scheduled public showing to integrate feedback from the participants.

PARTY GAME in Edinburgh will be the premier of the work that has been several years in development.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely. Live performance has become even more resonate and necessary in the digital age.   To be even more specific, immersive live performance has become more resonate and imperative.   

Younger audiences have grown up in a nonlinear digital world.  They process and discard information and ideas at an accelerated rate.  Meaningful discussion happens when people take the time to share the same physical space.  The impact of that exchange is greater the closer you get to one another.  When you turn up the lights and acknowledge that we are all sharing the same space.

How did you go about gathering the team for it? 

The project was initially conceived and developed by the 4 core members of bluemouth (Ciara Adams, Stephen O’Connell, Lucy Simic and Richard Windeyer) and we had a our first public presentation of the
material as part of a workshop at the SummerWork Theatre Festival in Toronto.  

It was at that point we discovered that we have taken the piece as far as we could and that needed help moving the piece forward to completion.  

In the 20 year history of bleumouth inc. we had never invited someone from the outside to coming in and direct or write for the company.  Everything we had created up to that time had been collectively created.

But we recognized the needs of the piece and wanted to challenge ourselves by testing the collective model we had been developing over the years, 

It was at that point we approached Jennifer Tarver the artistic director of Necessary Angel to help direct and the Governor General Award winning playwright Jordan Tannahill to help us finish writing the script.  We had admired both of their work for years and felt their sensibility and vision was compatible to the group and the content of the piece. 

How did you become interested in making performance? 

As is often the case a number of us went to university together.  As college friends we wanted to create the kinds of experiences that we wanted to have, but were not see reflected in the theatre around us at the time.

At some point we all found ourselves living and making theatre for other people in Toronto.   A close friend of ours was running a curated fringe festival called SummerWorks and asked us if we knew any companies that made bilingual work.  We said we could do that and then created our first group show called CEASEFIRE in response to sectarian violence and nationalism in regions like Quebec, Ireland and Bosnia.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

Our shows are decidedly collectively created.  Which means we employ no hierarchy.  Everyone has equal say.  It doesn’t matter if ti is your first day in studio or if you have been working with the company for 10 years.  We truly believe that great ideas can come from anyone.   

It is our responsibility to listen and give equal consideration to everyone.  This can make for a significantly longer creative process, but facilitates as vision that is unequivocally greater than the sum of its part.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

All of our shows are different.  That is probably because the group is constantly changing.  Although the core members of the collective have generally remained the same, we are constantly inviting new associate artists into our creative process.  PARTY GAME for example is quite different from DANCE MARATHON.  

There are certainly some aesthetic and formal similarities.  Both show incorporate dance, music, text, video and engage directly with an ambulatory audience.  However PARTY GAME is certainly the most narrative piece of theatre we have created to date. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We are really hoping to discover a way more directly including the voice of the viewer in the fabric of the piece and hopefully in a meaningful and integrated manner.  We come to realize that if you are going to ask your audience a question during the performance you certainly better be prepared to allow the time and space for them to genuinely answer.  Otherwise it’s just bullshit or a theatrical trope.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience? 

PARTY GAME from bluemouth inc. on Vimeo.

We have found it very useful to give the audience a very specific and real task to perform.  For example asking them to complete as contestants in a dance competition or the help set up the decorations for a surprise party.  

Audiences, particularly Edinburgh audiences are quite sophisticated. They can immediately see through the façade of the illusion. They are certainly willing to suspend their disbelief, but their role as a spectator or participant must be fully considered and not superficial.

You are cordially invited to a surprise party. With the guidance of your host and help from the other guests, you get ready for the big surprise – but when it arrives, it’s clear no amount of planning can prepare you for what lies ahead. Accompanied by dance, theatre and music, no two audience experiences are the same in this heartrending exploration of loss and joyful celebration of life. By the creators of Dance Marathon, Party Game is an extraordinary immersive theatrical performance about embracing the unknown.

Company credits:
A co-production by Necessary Angel & bluemouth inc.
Originally conceived by bluemouth inc.
Written by Jordan Tannahill with bluemouth inc. and Jennifer Tarver

Directed by Jennifer Tarver

Featuring performances by
Susanna Hood
Stephen O’Connell
Lucy Simic
Dan Wild

Mariel Marshall

Sound Design by Richard Windeyer

Lighting Design by Patrick Lavender

Set & costume design by Andjelija Djuric

Stage manager Lisa Humber

Susanna Hood (Creator/Performer) is a compelling and virtuosic performer in dance and music and was the artistic director of her interdisciplinary performance company hum dansoundartfrom 2000 till 2013. She began her career as a member of the Toronto Dance Theatre from 1991 through 1995. Independently, she has performed the works of various Canadian choreographers, composers, and filmmakers (including Tedd Robinson, John Oswald, Nilan Perera, and Phillip Barker) and has performed widely as an improviser both in dance and music. For over a decade, she has been synthesizing voice and movement into a dynamic practice through which she creates intimate, raw and sensual performance work. Her choreography, compositions, and interdisciplinary collaborations have been presented locally, nationally, and internationally on stage and film since 1991. Based in Montreal since 2010.

Stephen O’Connell (Creator/Performer) has a BFA in modern dance from Rutgers University and an MFA in interdisciplinary art from Simon Fraser University. From 1990 to 1997 Stephen was co-Artistic Director of Radix Theatre in Vancouver, a site-specific interdisciplinary performance collective. His collaborations include experimental films, which have been screened at The Vancouver International Film Festival, The American Dance Festival, and the Moving Pictures Festival in Toronto. He is also the Co-Founder of FREE FALL, a biennial festival in Toronto, Canada of new and interdisciplinary performance and a core member of the Toronto/Brooklyn based performance collective bluemouth inc. Stephen is currently a part time lecturer in dance at the Mason Gross School of the Arts.

Lucy Simic (Creator/Performer) is a writer, dancer and theatre artist creating experimental performance pieces for over ten years. She is a founding member of bluemouth inc., working with the company both in Toronto and New York. She has also worked in Vancouver, as co-Artistic Director of Radix Theatre, in Montreal and London. She has taught movement for actors at Humber College, Pilates at Long Island University and teaches movement improvisation in the bluemouth workshops. She holds a degree in French, Dance and Mathematics from Simon Fraser University and an MFA in Playwriting from York University.

Dan Wild (Creator/Performer) is a dance artist who has been working professionally for over 25 years.  He was a member of Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers from 1992-2001 and was a member of Dancemakers from 1999-2007.  As an independent artist, Dan has had the pleasure of performing for some of Canada’s finest creators these include, Chartier Danse, Susie Burpee, Tedd Robinson, Susanna Hood, Claudia Moore and James Kudelka.  Dan is also a teacher of dance, and facilitates workshops in Presence and Performance for artists of all disciplines. As a facilitator and rehearsal director he has worked on projects by Nova Bhattacharya and Louis Laberge-Cote, and Ivanochko’s “The future memory heartbreak junction, diptych” and “Speak, Love”.

Richard Windeyer (Sound Design/Performer) is a composer, percussionist and digital media artist specializing in sound. His research focuses on the impact of digital technologies and generative systems on creative process, live performance, and experiential design. He is particularly interested in the complex nature of cross-disciplinary collaboration and participatory design. In 1996 he was a co-founder of the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology. As an educator, he has taught courses and workshops in music technology, electroacoustic music, sound recording and design at Wilfrid Laurier University. Richard is currently pursuing doctoral studies through a collaboration between the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies and the Knowledge Media Design Institute at the University of Toronto. He is also a Research Assistant at the Digital Dramaturgy Lab (University of Toronto) (

Jennifer Tarver (Director) is a Canadian director, artistic director of Necessary Angel Theatre and creator working internationally in both theatre and opera. She has directed for the major theatre companies of the region including the Tarragon, Canadian Stage Company, Nightwood Theatre, and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Over the past five seasons at Stratford her works have included Waiting for GodotThe HomecomingKrapp's Last TapeZastrozzi and King of Thieves. Her original works include Not Faust, History Play and the award-winning She's Gone Away, a collaboration with choreographer Susanna Hood.

Jordan Tannahill (Writer) is a Canadian playwright and filmmaker. His work has been presented in theatres, festivals, and galleries across Canada and internationally. His plays have been honoured with various prizes including the 2014 Governor Generals Award for Drama for his book Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays, the 2014 John Hirsch Prize for directing, and Dora Awards for ‘Outstanding New Play’ for rihannaboi95 in 2013 and Concord Floral in 2015. Concord Floral also received the 2015 Carol Bolt Award and was shortlisted for the 2016 Governor General's Award for Drama. In 2016 Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom won the Toronto Theatre Critics Award for 'Best New Play' and it's production at Canadian Stage received the Dora Award for ‘Outstanding Production’.

Patrick Lavender (Lighting Design) is honored to be working with such a talented ensemble, and he appreciates the opportunity to be part of Necessary Angel’s newest creative endeavor. Patrick works as a freelance production manager for Acting Up Stage Company, Volcano Theatre, Obsidian Theatre, and Soundstreams. Patrick also works as a lighting and set designer with small but dedicated Toronto theatre companies. His recent work includes; Birth of Frankenstein (Litmus Theatre), Late Company (Suburban Beast and surface/underground theatre), When the World Was Green (surface/underground theatre), Dying City (surface/underground theatre), and Matchbox Macbeth (Litmus Theatre).

bluemouth inc.
Creates original, immersive performance events in alternative spaces. Continually searching for innovative ways to engage its audience members, it challenges them to new levels of interaction with the performers, always asking the question, “What level of experience are you committed to having?”

Formed in 1998, bluemouth inc. comprises four core members skilled in various artistic disciplines, brought together by a common vision of sharing their diverse practices and inviting the audience to join in new forms of play. bluemouth inc. creates performances collectively, combining choreographed movement, text, dialogue, sound design, original live music, video and ­film, to create a multi-sensory theatrical journey.
bluemouth inc. has toured their Dance Marathon around the world since 2010.

Necessary Angel
Produces compelling live performances driven by the creative instincts of current Artistic Director, Jennifer Tarver. The company collaborates with artist innovators to explore urgent ideas through original work and existing texts creating entertaining and enlightening experiences for intrepid audiences.

PARTY GAME was commissioned by the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games arts and culture festival, PANAMANIA presented by CIBC under the original title, It Comes In Waves.

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