Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Preview: SummerWorks 2017

SummerWorks Performance Festival

August 3-13, 2016

Pushing further with its initiatives around accessibility and cross-discipline pollination, the SummerWorks Festival is less than ever a place to go and just sit down to passively watch a performance. There are indeed, some shows where an audience just watches something on a stage, but much of the festival seems to be seeking to upend that model, to mix/remix/recombine concepts in new ways.

For music fans, that means digging deeper than one used to have to — gone are the days where the Music Series presented night after night of innovatively-staged spectacles by rising local musicians. Instead, musical content is more scattered and mixed among the other productions — so this preview's goal is to dig through some of the diverse landing points for the Festival's music offerings, and then offer some suggestions for a few further avenues that curious ears might go exploring down. [Listen! tags mean you can check out a live recording of that artist from the MFS archive.]

  • Are We Not Horses – The Sci-Fi Summer Musical This re-visioning is a celebration of the tenth anniversary of Rock Plaza Central's breakthrough album — one of those epochal moments where the folkies and weirdo improvisers in the Tranzac's front room teamed up to craft an artifact that made not insignificant inroads into the broader culture. A concept album about mechanical horses in the midst of an epic battle between good and evil, there's plenty of narrative grist to exploit in a stage version — and there's also some pretty cool, memorable songs. It'll be interesting to see if all of that can be brought together into a coherent vision, but whether it's a disciplined gallop or rearing back as it spits the bit, this should be fascinating to behold.
  • Erased: Billy & Bayard The Queer Songbook Orchestra has been workshopping its tribute to Billy Strayhon (Duke Ellington's long-time writing partner) for a little while now, and those efforts are emerging in this show that not only attempts to re-insert him into his rightful place in the musical firmament, but to connect his cultural "erasure" as a gay black man with Bayard Rustin, the pioneering civil rights activist whose efforts were similarly marginalized. Known for its mixture of storytelling/reclaiming narratives and lush musical excellence, the QSO's shows are always emotionally stirring, and this promises to extend that even further.
    Listen! The Queer Songbook Orchestra Geordie Gordon - Don't You Pay Them No Mind
  • Crush On Humans Closest in spirit to the sort of shows that used to be the Music Series' calling card (and including some guest turns by former performers in it), this multi-episode extravaganza promises to reveal the origin story of Toronto's Alphabot — oh, and an "attempt to save humanity from its tyrannical robot oppressors". Should be a fun romp and don't get too hung up on narrative continuity — individual performances during the run should stand on their own just fine.
    Listen! Alphabot! - Rabbit Ears
  • BODIES OF WATER Just another evening of Iranian afrofunk folk-rock from the Zuze ensemble... except with live synchronized swimming and video streams. [n.b.: Please note this event has been cancelled.]
  • Who Runs the World?/Out a Road/Body Brake 8.5 One innovation this year's festival is offering is free late-night programming at the SummerWorks Back Patio at Pia Bouman Studio, just over from Queen and Dufferin. There are some nights with cool DJ's (including John Caffery, Regina Gently, and New Chance) plus some "themed" nights with some excellent live entertainment. Who Runs the World? is programmed by Girls Rock Camp Toronto and will include performances by some of the always-awesome camper bands, Out a Road offers a chance to catch a preview of some of Bonjay's long-awaited new material, and Body Brake 8.5 mixes live dance performance with a set from Witch Prophet.
    Listen! Denim Roses - We Hate Cake
    Listen! Bonjay - Creepin
    Listen! Witch Prophet - Funeral For a Killer

Meanwhile, the festival's workshop series contains a couple entries that may be of interest to folks organizing in the music community, on Anti-Oppression and Anti-Racism organizational strategies and integrating indigeneity and decolonizing performance practice. And there's a lot more interesting stuff in the festival, as well: I'm interested in Pearle Harbour's Chautauqua, DIVINE, August, Augusta, and Explosions for the 21st Century. SummerWorks is always a well-curated festival, so if you've got time and a curious mind, it doesn't hurt just to dive into something that fits into your schedule.

The fine print: single-performance tickets are from $15, and there are various pass options available. You can find all the ticket information here.

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