New performance festival grows out of SummerWorks: Michael Rubenfeld discusses Progress

Michael Rubenfeld headshot

Michael Rubenfeld is the kind of guy who easily turns his energy into action. “If I find myself complaining about something that I think is missing, that’s when I realize that somebody just has to do it,” the artistic producer of SummerWorks tells me over coffee at the Theatre Centre on Saturday.

That’s the energy that drove Rubenfeld to create the Music Series at SummerWorks three years ago, pairing musicians and theatre artists for innovative hybrid performances throughout the festival, and now it’s pushing him and his collaborators to start Progress, a brand new multi-arts festival of performance and ideas launching February 4-15.

Progress aims to put high-level international and local performances together on the same stage. Whereas SummerWorks is a juried festival that mainly supports Canadian experimental projects and works in development, Progress takes a curatorial approach, featuring 8-10 hand-picked pieces from around the world that explore progressive ideas of what performance can be.

Rubenfeld saw a lack of international performance festivals in Toronto, such as PuSH in Vancouver or Festival Transameriques in Montreal, so he gathered a group of leading performance thinkers in the city to work on the problem. “I said, ‘I think we need something… what do you think we need? And I got nine different answers,” he says with a laugh.

But they all agreed that something was needed, so they decided to create a platform where they could keep that diversity at the forefront. Each member of the curatorial teamincluding Shannon Cochrane (FADO), Ravi Jain (Why Not Theatre), Jordan Tannahill and William Ellis (Videofag), Mel Hague and Brendan Healy (Buddies in Bad Times), and Franco Boni (The Theatre Centre)—brings one or two works to the festival.

“No one can reject anyone else’s curating,” explains Rubenfeld, who points out that there are many different performance ecologies and systems in Toronto. “The great goal is to find out how we can all work together. We need to co-exist, even if we don’t agree.”

Jain will stage Sahar Ullah‘s Hijabi Monologues in Regent Park, and Tannahill is inviting Winnipeg artist Michael Dudeck to perform his durational piece The Messiah Complex at Videofag. For his part, Rubenfeld is bringing Aharona Israel’s Marathon.

“I’m interested in existential work, and I’m also really interested in Israel,” Rubenfeld explains. His decision to bring Marathon “is a response to all the conversations that are happening around Israel from the diaspora. I want to hear how an Israeli would respond to what it means to be an Israeli right now.”

Rubenfeld is also bringing a small participatory performance piece from Poland. “I’m interested in how participatory forms can activate humanity,” he says. “I feel like I became activated because of experiencing performance and deciding that I want to do it.”

Rubenfeld will contribute his passion for discussion to Progress as well. “I spend a lot of time thinking about how to raise the level of conversation and to put a real value on conversation around performance,” he explains. The festival will feature many different workshops and opportunities for Toronto artists to engage with each other and with audiences.

Just like SummerWorks, which has evolved from a lottery festival to a juried festival, and from a theatre festival to a performance festival, Rubenfeld expects Progress to shift and transform over time. The curators will change, and for Rubenfeld, that evolution and eclecticism is the essence of the festival.

“We can see each other and be together in one context,” he says. “It parallels what Toronto is. This is a Toronto festival. That’s the goal.”


  • Progress, an international multi-arts festival of performance and ideas, launches February 4-15, 2015.
  • The full festival line-up will be announced November 4.
  • The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) will act as the festival hub.


3 thoughts on “New performance festival grows out of SummerWorks: Michael Rubenfeld discusses Progress”

  1. From FB page:

    Philip Akin asks-

    Did you ask why it is scheduled for right on top of the Rhubarb Festival?

    MoT response – That wasn’t addressed specifically during the interview, however, at the announcement of the new festival it was mentioned that they would be looking for opportunities to collaborate between the two festivals. I’m not sure of the details though.

    Megan’s random comment, not on FB, just here – That sort of sounds like “oh shit, we didn’t realise there was something else going on at that time, but now people have pointed it out to us, we’d better make sure to plug into that” But I could be way off on that, I’m basing it solely on this FB thread, and, apparently a cynical mind.

    Philip’s FB response to the MoT statment was “Kind of like when someone crashes your party and looks for opportunities to share your booze” (Leaving me [Megan] to think I might not be the only cynical-minded person in this thread)

  2. From FB:

    Jason Maghanoy says –

    My initial questions are:

    Where does this Festival live within the context of other Festivals/Companies that bring international work to Toronto, namely World Stage? What about Canadian Stage? Is Progress looking to work with these other organizations? What other cultural partnerships are in the pipeline?

    What kind of scale of international work will this Festival bring in? Does SummerWorks have the capacity to bring in larger scale international work?

    How is this paid for? Does it rely on the Festival model in that producing companies must pay for everything themselves? Or is it more along the lines of the curators really like something from abroad and their company produces it within the context of the Festival, locally?

    Why is the entire curating team local? In-terms of next steps, will Progress be building relationships with Festivals/performance hubs in other cities to help bring that international work into Toronto? This could open the door to a true exchange that could bring Toronto work to their international stages.

    Love this ambition though. For Toronto to become a world class city of Culture it needs to engage with what’s happening around the world. This looks like a great step in that direction!

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