Kevin Michael Shea and Hero and Leander: 2011 SummerWorks Dance Interviews


It’s Lucy again (Blue Ceiling dance director, dancer, choreographer, multi-disciplinary performer and person very curious about how artists make their work) with some interviews involving members of SummerWorks Festival productions with a dance or physical focus. Hope you enjoy them!

First up: an interview with Director Kevin Michael Shea of Common Descent’s production Hero and Leander.

LR: What inspired you to work on the Hero and Leander story?

KMS: It’s a really gorgeous story, but it hasn’t been interpreted too much throughout history, which means we can kind of make it whatever we want without having to worry about most people’s expectations of it.

The actual myth, revolving around Hero and Leander, is really only about half of the play – the other half concerns a second relationship, inspired by the myth but with different characters, which means that even if people do know the myth, there will be a bunch of surprises in our version of it.

The story also just ends up being such a good way of looking at love, sex, and commitment – the contemporary connections just kept jumping out at me when I was working on it, and it’s lent itself particularly well to the songwriting Wade and Scott have done.

LR: How did you find or assemble your team?

KMS: Friends, and friends of friends. There are a few people I worked with a bunch before. Our set and costume designer, Anna Treusch, has designed most of my stuff at this point, and she brought a few members to our team, as did people Scott knew from musical directing various shows around the city.

LR: How have you made Hero and Leader? What has been the creative process (i.e. collaborative, improvisational, script-driven, spontaneously together, separate elements then integrated, etc.)?

KMS: The idea to do something with the myth came up a long time ago, and I tried working on it from a few different angles. Initially it was going to be a very physical one-man show co-created with Wade Bogert-O’Brien (who ended up being the show’s lyricist), and then it was going to just be a play, and then, maybe inevitably, I asked Wade to write a song to help along a scene I was working on. I thought the song he came up with was hilarious when he half-sung it to me in my kitchen, and realized that a musical was the only way I could tell this story.

For the next few months we continued in this fashion. I would write a scene and then ask him to write a song, which I would then incorporate. Then, a little while later, I met Scott Christian, who was looking for projects to work on. Once he came on board we raced through the rest. I would send Wade a scene, he would write lyrics and send them off to Scott, who would in turn write the music. And then we would all argue about it.

LR: How would you describe the dance/physical aspect of the show?

KMS: It’s a real mix of things. We have a little bit of real musical theatre choreography, though we’ve really tried to tailor it to the characters, which has resulted in a kind of skewed version of the type of dance people are probably used to in musical comedies.

We also work a bit with suggestive movement for some of the more fantastical moments. Mostly, though, the physicality is working in tandem with the design to build images from scene to scene. Our inspirations range from Renaissance paintings of classical subjects to the ways I see couples I know behaving in life.

LR: What drew you to the SummerWorks Festival?

KMS: There are very few places in Canada where you can debut new pieces of theatre in an affordable way. Especially musical theatre that is aimed at an urban audience. So SummerWorks is absolutely vital in this sense.

The other nice thing about it is that you end up being in such good company. Many of my favourite writers and directors and performers have had shows at SummerWorks recently, this year included, and the chance to test our work alongside these people is very exciting and satisfying from an artistic perspective.


Hero and Leander

A Common Descent Production

SummerWorks Festival 2011

Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst St.

Aug 4 at 5pm

Aug 6 at 7:30pm

Aug 7 at 10pm

Aug 10 at 7:30pm

Aug 12 at 2:30pm

Aug 13 at 5pm

All SummerWorks tickets are $15 each at the door. Tickets can also be purchased online, in person at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave, or by phone at 416-504-7529. Advance tickets are $15 plus HST and a $1 service fee. Several money-saving passes are also available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.


Photo by Danielle Donn