Here's our picks for 10 sensational must-see shows at the upcoming 2017 festival
The Summerworks Performance Festival is no stranger to the idea of inclusive, accessible shows. This year brings with it an even greater resolve among festival staff to expand the existing outreach towards would-be audience members with disabilities or conditions that might otherwise limit their participation.
“I wanted to go deeper than surface level accessibility,” said Laura Nanni, the festival’s artistic and managing director. She added that the efforts towards increased accessibility at this year’s festival are in part the result of community feedback.
Summerworks has previously featured several shows with relaxed performances, meant to accommodate those with autism or other disabilities that can make traditional theatregoing at best a difficult experience. (Relaxed performances use adjusted lighting and sound, a more generous attitude towards audience movement and noise, pre-show audience engagement, and other techniques to make an audience feel more comfortable, as described here).
This year, the festival has partnered with the StopGap Foundation to ensure that all their venues have accessible entrances and washrooms, be it at theatres, off-site shows, workshops, or festival parties.
The opening and closing ceremonies, curated by DJ Syrus Marcus Ware, will feature ASL interpretation for patrons. Much of the festival’s non-theatre content, from its workshops to a community meal gathering, are designed to provide both accommodation at hand for participants, and to make that accommodation a central focus of the event’s discussions.
The idea isn’t just to broaden the festival’s own methods of offering accessible performances, but to help promote the idea of accessibility throughout the creative arts community.
“This is an opportunity to be part of a cultural shift around accessibility,” said Nanni, pointing to workshops like this year’s The Creative Case for Relaxed Performance. She stated that her hope is to encourage artists to consider accessibility from the beginning of the creative process. Nanni considers this sort of emphasis to be a perfect match for Summerworks’ spirit of experimentation and innovation.”
“Disability identified work asks intriguing and important questions,” she said.
Summerworks begins August 3 and wraps up on the 13th. The Festival will feature 52 performance projects, along with creative workshops and the experimental shows of the Summerworks Lab.
Here’s a look at some of the upcoming shows:
A live art showing mounted to rave reviews in the U.K. and Ireland, the piece is the work of Shannon Yee, one half of Northern Ireland’s first gay civil partnership. The performance explores the impact of a rare brain infection on Shannon’s life, along with the struggles of re-acclimating to the world with a hidden disability. The audience are intended to be something of active participants in that experience, through the use of headphones and hospital beds. The show is made possible by support from Culture Ireland.
Standing out from the Summerworks Lab, Boys in Chairs looks to be a promising exploration in progress of the intersection between disability, sex, and the queer perspective. As one of the shows with ASL interpretation, Boys in Chairs should combine staging and subject matter to exemplify the festival’s vision towards inclusiveness and accessibility. That the cost of admission is donate what you can helps the show be financially accessible besides.
Core Dialogue: Arts, Access, and Aesthetics
The workshops are a longer haul than individual plays or performances, but it’s hard to argue with a price of free. It’s harder to argue with a chance to be part of group discussion and exploration of cultural arts involvement for people with disabilities. With one in seven Canadians reportedly living with a disability, the chances are good you know someone facing those challenges (or perhaps you are that someone). There’s a vibrant opportunity here for sharing and fostering ideas as a creative, inclusive community.
The Smile Off Your Face
Summerworks can be counted on to find some way to provide a custom tailored entertainment experience each year. The idea of an eight-person, one-audience-member show is intriguing for wondering just what can ensue with that sort of focused attention from the performers. Taking sightless, sensory exploration well beyond the level of a haunted house organ bowl stands a pretty good chance at being mind blowing.
For the past several years, Summerworks has partnered with the AMY Project to give a chance to young women and non-binary youths to put together a performance on a stage and before an audience they wouldn’t normally have access to. The results have ranged from entertaining to deeply moving. The show is a chance to support and encourage young artists while enjoying a deeper glimpse of their potential. Almeida’s notion of exploring identity doesn’t lack for relevance in the struggles of 2017.
An effort to document the struggles of Canada’s Indigenous populations against the often looming tragic impact of Canada’s energy infrastructure on their lands and water. Unfortunately, given Canada’s colonial history and ongoing failures in achieving reconciliation with its native population, this sort of show is always timely. However, you need only look to the current clash over mining rights between the Moose Cree First Nation and Niobay Metals Inc. in northern Ontario, or the controversies around the narratives of Canada 150 to understand the importance of a show such as this right now.
Only in recent years has there been significant pushback against the whitewashing of history, the removal and de-emphasis of people of colour and LGBTQ orientation from important movements and moments of record (and yet movies like Stonewall still happen anyway—but I digress). Erased tackles this subject full-on through a blend of music and storytelling from the Queer Songbook Orchestra. The show’s particular focus is on the lives of Billy Strayhorn and Bayard Rustin, pivotal figures behind the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Civil Rights Movement, respectively.
Divine features an all-woman cast staging a post-apocalyptic exploration of a world without water. Far from just a diverting wild west themed narrative, Divine is an attempt to point audiences to issues of increasing freshwater scarcity already seriously impacting the planet today. Underscoring the mission behind the performance is an intent towards post show discussions that include guests from organizations like the World Wildlife Fund.
A solo performance by dancer-choreographer Gerard Reyes promises a more adult and intimate affair than most of the shows at hand this year. Reyes makes use of voguing and striptease to explore sensuality and liberty of expression. Anyone looking for a celebratory experience on the more risque side of things could probably do a lot worse than what looks to be a one-man burlesque set to the music of Janet Jackson (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty).
Summerworks late night is a series of free performances on the festival back patio, a nightly party showcasing local artists. Body Brake 8.5 features Witch Prophet, a.k.a. Ayo Leilani, an Ethiopian/Eritrean singer/songwriter who blends operatic soul with hip hop beats. Leilani’s presence reflects one of the positive results of folding the festival’s former music series into the overall whole.