Susanna Hood, creator of Shudder and artistic director of hum dansoundart, speaks about remounting a work, replacing herself and finding her voice.
LR: Susanna, you are dealing with an injury — how have you adapted the rehearsal process for Shudder to accommodate this?
SH: The main adjustment has been to replace myself with a performer who I really trust. Linnea Swan has performed the role once before, and I’m happy to have the chance to deepen my work with her in this piece.
I am actually looking forward to re-approaching the piece from the outside, where, in fact, I spent a good percentage of the time over its three-year creation process. I have some new perspective on the work as a whole, and liberating myself of the role of performer may allow me make more impactful changes to the piece.
I’ve also done something I’ve never done before, which is to give the performers two full days just to recover the material without me in the room. I did this to ensure that I wouldn’t get sucked in to engaging physically beyond my current means (it’s so easy to want to jump in and demonstrate).
I also chose to do this to practice giving over some responsibility to my collaborators. It’s the kind of act of trust that is worth practicing as I contemplate new relationships to my own work as an aging performer. The piece is bigger than me, it belongs to [the collaborators] as well.
LR: How have you used Francis Bacon’s paintings as fuel for this work?
SH: My first response to seeing an exhibit of his work live in 2007 was completely visceral. His work – its colour, its mystery, its distortion, its movement as violence enacted on flesh – shook my cells.
In some ways, it had a strange feeling of “home” to me. So I brought some of those images into the studio and we responded to them improvisationally. Some of my choices were highly influenced, or at least coaxed along, by reading an amazing book of collected interviews of Bacon by long-time contemporary and critic David Sylvester.
Francis Bacon was incredibly articulate in elucidating his creative process, many aspects of which inspired me. I have, in fact, returned to some of his view points to refortify the piece as we work on this remount.
His interest in what he called the appearance of a person – what lies under the surface – as well as the effect of violence enacted on flesh have been strong anchors for me.
LR: Can you tell me a bit more about the creative process?
SH: My creative process, in creation, is a bit unwieldy. It tends to be long and in layers. I go in with a pretty open field and some inklings and my collaborators, and then I go through a very circuitous process of building, tearing apart, seeing what remains relevant, and rebuilding.
This cycle happens numerous times, and what I’m generally trying to do throughout that is learn how to recognize and listen to the needs of the thing that is coming into being. This leaves lots of time and room for doubt and what feels like groping around in the dark.
But eventually I begin to learn how to communicate with it, and at certain point my job and my choices become crystal clear.
Remounting allows me to question what I’ve already taken as givens. I’m a little less precious about the piece, and I can consider things from a more distanced vantage point. In the few times I’ve done it, it has felt extremely satisfying.
LR: I suppose you’ve been asked many times, but I personally don’t know the answer so I must ask: how did you discover your personal vocal capacity and what made you want to explore it?
SH: I have always loved singing. I sang tons as a kid and I was in choirs and musicals all through school, along with playing several instruments. I’ve had a secret yearning to go into musical theatre for almost as long as I can remember.
At a pivotal point, I chose dance above everything else in terms of the time I had for training. When I moved to Toronto, I had the fortune of being pointed in the direction of a very forward thinking singing teacher – the first of several that I studied with. She’s the one that first really encouraged me to explore integrating my voice into my movement work.
At first I was resistant. I thought it was too weird, and some of the doors it opened up scared me. I’ve had and still have some great mentors, and I continue to learn so much from working with my voice. That’s probably at least part of why I’ve never looked back.
LR: what made you want to participate in the SummerWorks festival?
SH: Michael Rubenfeld was so enthusiastic when he saw the original run of “Shudder” last year, so we began a discussion then about the possibility of giving it another Toronto presentation at SummerWorks.
The fact that SummerWorks comes from a theatre sensibility seemed particularly suited to “Shudder” in particular and to an aspect of my work in general. I’ve had a hard time fitting what I do into the disciplinary categories sometimes required by various presenters, so I’ve learned to move in the direction of individuals who are excited by and want to support what I’m doing.
Presented by hum dansoundart
Conceived and Choreographed by Susanna Hood
Directed by Ruth Maddoc-Jones
Lower Ossington Theatre
Aug 6 at 2pm
Aug 7 at 7pm
Aug 8 at 4:30pm
Aug 10 at 7pm
Aug 11 at 4:30pm
Aug 12 at 4:30pm
Aug 14 at 7pm
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.