Liz Peterson and Express Yourself at Hub 14: 2011 SummerWorks Dance Interviews


Liz Peterson speaks about Express Yourself, a play about finding truth and connection in performing, playing at Hub 14 as part of this year’s SummerWorks Festival. I interviewed Liz about how this play came to fruition and its development along the way.

LR: What was the creative process like for Express Yourself — can you describe a bit how this work came to be?

LP: Well, it began really as an exploration of the process itself.  Sean O’Neill (my collaborator and director of the show) approached me with this idea to create a show that was about “gestures of communication”.

We decided to develop a play without a script that was about performance.  So we started with a couple of ideas, some shared influences, such as Pina Bausch, Marina Abramovic and we began to rehearse, without knowing what it was going to be.

Although there were a couple of elements that Sean knew had to be in the show, specific songs or stories or images, we didn’t have a structure.  We worked like that for about 6 months, and then we decided that we had something that we were ready to show, but first we invited a couple of people to rehearsals, Ame Henderson being one of them.

Ame eventually came to collaborate with us on Express Yourself, even though we had originally asked her to look at it from a choreographer’s perspective, her input became crucial to the whole concept of the show.

We mounted a workshop of Express Yourself last December with an invited audience. And now we’ve been rehearsing casually again for a few weeks in preparation for SummerWorks.

LR: How is the choreography by Aurora Stewart de Pena integrated into the play itself?

LP: We asked Aurora to choreograph one particular part of the show where there is a shift in the performance and I enact a musical number.  We’re constantly playing with shifting modes of performance throughout the play and we wanted to have a moment in the show where the aesthetic was a more heightened performative state; something tightly choreographed and a little tongue in cheek.

Both Sean and myself have performed in shows by Birdtown & Swanville (a company run by Aurora and Nika Mistruzzi) and we were both super excited to be able to include Aurora’s particular approach to choreography.

LR: Your venue is the wonderful and quirky hub 14 –how are you working with the space?

LP: Express Yourself really came to life in hub 14, and we’ve discovered that so many qualities of the show are in part due to the nature of the space.

We’ll be taking Express Yourself next spring to a theatre in St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery in New York, and we’re already trying to think about how to deal with being in a large black box with proper theatre lights and tiered seating and all the associations [with that theatrical setting].

Because the show is constantly questioning itself as a performance, we want people to be aware of the room: that it’s a studio, more of a rehearsal space than a stage, and because the audience is so close to the performer, it’s a very intimate show.

Having said that, we’re also working with Kim Purtell to find some interesting ways to light the space and that is proving to be a pretty exiting new aspect to the show.

LR: For those who may not know very much about you, could you give me a quick and dirty run down of your artistic pursuits, quests, peaks?

LP: Well, I’ve been creating shows for several years now.  I used to run a company called Ammo Factory which was a group of theatre artists that I went to school with at the University of Toronto.

We did a couple of shows at Interaccess Electronic Media Gallery and a piece in the Images Festival.  I’ve been interested in experimental performance since I was in a show written and directed by Alex Wolfson.

It was called The String Row Game and we rehearsed it for something like six months, a couple of times a week. Alex was really exploring a new aesthetic, and it was so exiting to finally mount it.  We put it up at the Music Gallery in 2002.  It was very rigorous, poetic and super challenging for the audience.

In 2008 I went to New York to intern with a theatre director called Richard Foreman who’s work was very much an inspiration for The String Row Game, as well as this group that I went to school with.

Richard’s rehearsal process was intensive and super idiosyncratic.  It was weird to immerse myself in the world of this artist whom I had idealized for so long and to find him at the end of his career, a little tired of the whole circus of putting up a show and getting people out to see it.

He’s an amazing artist, and I’m so glad I did it, but it was also very eye opening.  It made me realize I didn’t need to be in New York to create the work that I wanted to create.  Toronto has a lot of interesting artists and a lot of potential.  A quest of mine is to be a part of that potential.

LR: What do you value most as a performer and creator?

LP: Time.  But that’s a practical thing.  Boring.   I think being able to question the work is important, especially when you’re collaborating with people.  If you have a group of people in the room it’s important that questions be properly addressed, you know, like, why are we doing this?

Express Yourself

an Events in Time Production

at SummerWorks Festival

at Hub 14

Remaining shows:

Aug 9 at 7pm

Aug 10 at 9pm

Aug 11 at 7pm

Aug 12 at 9pm

Aug 13 at 5 pm

Aug 14 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 of Liz Peterson by Laurie Kang