In this issue of CS Grid, Topdog/Underdog Dramaturge Jordan Laffrenier touches on the relationship between brothers Booth and Lincoln and how their stories echo the realities of many. Jordan also offers insight on acclaimed playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and what she has said about plays’ ability to rewrite history while navigating between theatre and real life.
When you think of a laboratory, what comes to mind? Experiments? Ground-breaking innovations? Maybe an explosion or two? These are all true of BMO Lab, the country’s only theatre workshop solely devoted to explorations in emergent technologies.
Think of Sébastien Heins and Ryan Cunningham as the latest “scientists” to explore, experiment, and break new ground in their crafts.
They are the two innovative artists that Canadian Stage has invited to join the Lab for this singular opportunity and to share their results at our Festival of Ideas and Creation next spring.
If there has ever been a time to experiment with the boundaries and possibilities of live theatre, this is it.
At University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, Sébastien and Ryan, amongst others, will engage in an educational, transdisciplinary space unlike anywhere else in Canada. Here, they will spend months immersed in creative research surrounding the arts, performance, emerging technologies, and AI.
Canadian Stage’s Associate Artistic Director, Mel Hague, says, “Our partnership with the BMO Lab is an incredible opportunity for Canadian Stage to support professional artists’ presence at the forefront of emergent technology research in the country.”
“With this program, and these incredible artists involved, Canadian Stage hopes that the exciting discoveries within academic communities, in the melding of live performance and computer science and technology, will be brought back to the live arts performance communities in deep and innovative ways.”
Jamaican-Canadian actor, writer, producer, and dancer Sébastien Heins is no stranger to experiments, as his rousing, decades-spanning musical, Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera, ably demonstrates.
Throughout his career, his stage presence has veered from classics (see his 2018 turn as Ferdinand in Stratford’s production of The Tempest) to the decidedly modern roles of his own creation.
But his objective remains the same: “It’s an interest in subverting expectations. ‘What are people expecting?’ and then, ‘How can we challenge their expectations?’”
Dabbling in the prospects that technology has on the stage isn’t new for Heins. In 2016, he began exploring and experimenting with the potential virtual reality has in bringing the theatrical experiences to people wherever they are.
He says, “Theatre has the potential to be digitally shared with the world, opening up new opportunities to inspire, engage, and transform. Consider how, before 1877, nobody could listen to music unless they were in the same place as the musicians.”
Little did he know how relevant his 2016 experiments would become in 2020.
But with the BMO Lab, he is ready to push it even further. He says, “My goal is to show artists new ways that tech can accentuate and uplift their artistry. In a time of isolation and uncertainty, if artists can learn from my experiences, gain confidence, and build something beautiful themselves, then we’ll have achieved something meaningful.”
Edmonton-born-and-raised Ryan Cunningham has graced the stage in everything from King Lear at the National Arts Centre to our own staging of Sarah Berthiaume’s Yukonstyle in 2013.
He has also held roles dear to his heart, as Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts and co-founder of Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts and, most recently, Cunning Concepts & Creations.
The Nehiyawak/Cree actor, producer, and curator has spent his career filling a glaring absence on stages across Canada: telling the stories of our Indigenous communities.
He says, “If more Canadians understood the contributions and sacrifices that Indigenous people have given to this nation state called Canada, I believe it would shift the racism and prejudice that Indigenous people experience every day.”
He is excited to explore his craft at the BMO Lab and share what he’s learned with his community. “In a time when our entire industry has been completely disrupted, this is an absolute gift, in this microclimate where all our communication now happens through machines.”
At Canadian Stage, we have instilled in our mission and values to invest in, support, and foster exploration in new forms of theatre-making/live performance.
Hague proudly adds, “Ryan and Sébastien are two deeply versatile, fiercely intelligent, and forward-thinking artists. Both have a deep tool kit to draw upon and an incredible generosity of spirit to share with the students in the BMO Lab. We couldn’t be more pleased that they will be working with us this year.”
To follow what Sébastien and Ryan are up to, please check out Associate Director of the BMO Lab David Rokeby’s blog.