Wednesday, March 6, 2013

In a Word... Jennifer Tarver, new Artistic Director of Necessary Angel in Toronto

The Wordless Angel
by Christian Baines

After 14 years as one of Canada’s most successful freelance directors, Jennifer Tarver takes the reigns at Toronto’s Necessary Angel Theatre Company. She talks with CharPo about freelancing, the changing nature of authorship, and the musicality of Beckett.

CHARPO:  First of all, for those who aren’t aware, how does Necessary Angel differ from other theatre companies in Canada? How would you describe its niche?

TARVER: I would describe the niche, maybe by saying what attracted me to the company, because I think that’s closely related to what its niche is. It’s always been a director driven company. I’m only the third artistic director in the history of the company. The two previous artistic directors were Richard Rose, the founder, and Daniel Brooks. They were both directors with very unique and specific visions as directors, and also directors who were very much involved in the creation of original works. Both of them had very close ties with specific playwrights and were very involved in the development of new work.

Because Necessary Angel is not a large company, it runs in more of an independent fashion than a lot of institutions. It’s not an ‘institutional’ kind of company, which is one of the things that attracted me. For example, we don’t have a venue. There’s no venue to manage or rent out. We also historically have not followed set seasons of plays. So the activities and productions of Necessary Angel are more dictated by development cycles and the time that it organically takes to create new work. Another thing that attracted me was the flexibility and the freedom of the company. Those aspects of it are geared to creation of original work and the requirements of what artists need in order to do that in terms of space and collaboration and resources and not being rigidly tied to structures of seasons. 

the projects I’m looking to develop and produce, a lot of them are driven or co-driven by musicians or choreographers

CHARPO: So it’s that sort of free form style that ties into your own aesthetic and style as director?

TARVER:  My own history... I’ve been working in the freelance world for a good 14 years, which means I’ve been running around a lot and travelling a lot, working for different companies in different cities. I haven’t had the stillness or the time to revisit my own creative instincts as someone who’s interested in the development and creation of original work. It’s something that I haven’t done seriously in about 12 years. So for me, I see it as an opportunity to come back to that aspect of my work and have a place of focus and consistency and support where I’m able to pull back somewhat from the rat-race of the freelance world. Having said that, one of the great things about the company is that I don’t have to pull out entirely as a freelance director. The companies that I love to work for and have been working with for several seasons like Stratford, Canadian Stage, Tarragon and some companies in the States, I can still work for those companies and take the jobs that are of true interest to me, and not take the jobs that would have been bread and butter type jobs previously. It gives me a certain amount of freedom as well.

CHARPO: With that kind of creative direction in mind, what direction do you see Necessary Angel taking in the immediate to mid-term future?

TARVER: That’s something that’s still very much in development for me. Because it’s an artist driven company and a director driven company, the trajectory of the company will be based on the work and the philosophy behind the work and the vision behind the work. For myself personally, I’m someone who has created and directed in many different forms and collaborated with many different types of performance artists and theatre creators. 

I work a lot with choreographers. I’ve worked a lot with contemporary and classical musicians, and in the world of opera. So the projects I’m looking to develop and produce, a lot of them are driven or co-driven by musicians or choreographers, along with myself and are projects that are interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary. The idea of continuing the notion of expanding authorship to reach beyond a more traditional playwright driven notion of authorship and theatrical text, to look at new ways of recalibrating text in the theatre is something that is of interest to me. My work just speaks to that naturally. In terms of the company’s direction and the way that it aligns with my own interests as an artist, that’s certainly a direction that I’m interested in taking.

I think Beckett is one of our best examples of a playwright who de-emphasizes the word.

CHARPO:  You mentioned your own freelancing, and particularly Stratford, before. You’ll be taking over Waiting for Godot with them a little later in the year. That’s quite a departure from what you’re describing. Can you tell us a bit about your take on that play and what kind of direction you’re looking at for it?

TARVER: Well, it’s interesting you mention ‘a departure,’ because that’s probably a larger conversation as to why you’d think it was that. But for me, Beckett is definitely one of my favourite playwrights, and it’s because I believe he writes theatre rather than plays. Obviously he does write plays, but I feel that his plays are written with a full three dimensional theatrical texture in mind. You know, I think he’s one of our best examples of a playwright who de-emphasizes the word. His writing, indications of lighting and physicality and his own perceptions of space and choreography in space are so much a part of his writing, I actually feel that he’s one of my greatest inspirations in terms of this notion of expanding theatrical text or the notion of authorship in the theatre. In that an author’s voice is not necessarily based on literature or traditional narrative. Beckett is a playwright that emphasizes that. So for me, working on any Beckett play, whether it’s Godot or any of his other works, is really an exercise in that philosophy and that take on theatre.

CHARPO: Godot in particular, because the narrative involves waiting for a character who never appears. What kind of opportunities does that open up for you to create a multi-disciplinary style of storytelling?

TARVER:  One example, the musicality and the idea of working off a true score in the theatre is inherent in that text. Beckett’s use of rhythm and structure and repetition and overall musicality in the text itself is, in a way, already a myriad of disciplines, in how he has conceived that text. So it’s not like I’m bringing, in this particular production, other disciplines to it, but enhancing the sensibilities that are already there, that Beckett’s already embedded in that text, in terms of music and choreography.

CHARPO:  What about a bit further down the track? Any particular projects that you’ve perhaps been eyeing for a while?

TARVER: These are things hopefully in the middle of a big grant, and trying to figure out how they fit into the company. Hopefully, most of them will. That remains to be seen on a technical and producing level. 

One of the projects I’ve had in development for well over a year now is a piece... I call it a piece of collage theatre based on the songs of Charles Aznavour. It’s a music theatre piece with four singing actors and a band of instrumentalists that I’ve been working on with a musical arranger and a choreographer for about a year and a half now. That’s a piece that I would love... Stratford has actually been contributing to the development of it, and we’re in negotiations to find a way to move forward as a co-production between the two companies to continue its development and produce it in some way in tandem.  Because I’m new, it’s a piece that I myself have been working on so far with Stratford.

Necessary Angel website

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