Greg MacArthur on Turning Life Experience Into Art

For those fortunate enough to have spent some time living in Montreal, there is almost an indescribable quality that artists feel while living there. It’s almost as if a certain inspiration can be breathed in, and likeminded creatives loom on every corner. From cramped jam sessions in a plateau apartment, to an over-crowded gallery opening in the Mile End, there is something imaginative at play. Greg MacArthur creates an ode to Montreal titled in A City and hopes to eternalize his time spent living there through the play. A City, produced as a gallery installation, is an immersive piece of art that hopes to interact with its audience through a shared experience.

We had the opportunity to discuss A City with Greg and better understand the inspiration behind it.

Kimberley Drapack: What inspired you to write A City?

Greg MacArthur: In a word: Montreal. I had been living in that city — after moving there from T.O. — for a dozen or so years. It was a life-changing time for me. I fell in love with Montreal — my life, my friends, the physical space. When I knew my time was coming to an end, I wanted to immortalize the city somehow. The result is this play. 

K: A City is said to be presented as a gallery installation or tableau vivant. Has the play been adapted for this format, or is it specified within the script?

GM: I always intended this work to be presented outside of a traditional theatre space. My works of the last few years have been playing with the conflation of live performance, text, sculpture, and installation. I am interested in using alternative spaces and venues for my work to see how it affects the viewing experience.

K: What does this set-up offer an audience as opposed to a more traditionally staged play?

GM: I think ideally it will make an audience feel more immersed in the work. It will challenge their notions of what live theatre — narrative representational work — can be. By placing this work in a new or different context, hopefully the audience will relate to it in different, or surprising ways.

K: In what ways does verbatim theatre allow the script to come alive?

GM: There is a level of casualness, of authenticity, of failure in a verbatim text. People do not speak in well-constructed paragraphs or complete thoughts. We are a changeable, messy, conflicting species. A verbatim text allows for all the strangeness and absurdities of humanity to shine through, unpolished, unedited. That being said, most of this script has been written, re-written, reworked, invented. It is meant to replicate true speech, verbatim speech. It is not truly a verbatim piece of work.

K: You stated that A City is reflective of your time spent in Montréal. Why is that?

GM: Again, the city had a profound effect on me. The script is a mash-up of my experiences, friends, hang outs, dive bars, street corners, mythologies, walks, dinner parties, strip clubs, etc. It represents a very specific time in my life. It is reminiscent of a diary for me.

K: What does a type of theatre that strips away the fourth wall offer to its audience?

GM: A more authentic, present, inclusive experience. There is no attempt at illusion or representation. There are only live bodies in space. The performers, the audience all share in the experience, together, equally, being in the here and now. No walls, no fences, no barriers.

K: It was noted that this story is meant to “explore that time in your life when you’re young, bold, feeling like the world belongs to you and your future is guaranteed, and then it inevitably comes apart.” What does this mean to you?

GM: I think everyone has a place, a time, where everything felt, if even for a brief time, perfect. Your age, your friends, your space, everything. You couldn’t imagine ever leaving, or wanting to leave. But you do. You have to. Montreal was like that to me. A crazy lover, a mysterious stranger, an intoxicating late night random encounter.

K: When writing A City, you had a large amount of source material to work with. How did you decide on what you were going to use and what you were going to save for a rainy day?

GM: Anything goes…as long as it doesn’t give away where the bodies are buried. Or get anyone arrested.

K: What lessons can we learn from A City?

GM: I don’t think there’s any lessons. I hope, rather, it jars, for members of the audience, memories —  of people, of places, of times of joy and loss and love and youth.

K: A City is a piece within a trilogy of plays you have written. How do the other two stories relate to one another? Are there certain themes that crossover? What can we learn when comparing the three?

GM: All three pieces — A City, A Man Vanishes, and The Golden Suicides — are focused on the intersection of life and art, of truth and fiction, and of performance and installation. They all share a unique creative aesthetic: They are meant to be staged environmentally, as installations rather than traditional theatre pieces. The scripts are a conflation of verbatim/found text, fictional writings, and confessional musings. These works are a departure for me. They allow me to move away from a more traditional theatre aesthetic and to explore a more multi- (or inter-) disciplinary practice.

K: What can an audience member expect from A CITY?

GM: A genuine experience.  A picture. A memory. Dried chickpeas. And Vitamin Water.

Don’t miss out on seeing A City at Artscape Sandbox from March 14th to April 2nd. Bring a friend, bring your high school gym teacher, or bring your grandma, and don’t miss out on the fun. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Female Photographers You Should Probably be Following on Instagram

As social media grows, the art of the blemish-free curated life is perfected. Gaining followers and likes has been broken down to a science. Although we now have the power to represent ourselves in ways we want, more and more people opt for a social media feed that will give them a larger online presence. The aesthetics of popularity on Instagram follows the same values of mainstream media and conventional beauty. It’s made Instagram a pretty boring place, so we’ve put together a list of female photographers to follow to keep your feeds interesting.

Parker Day                   

Parker Day is a Los Angeles-based photographer who explores the tension between our real identities and the ones we create for ourselves. Through wild costumes, exaggerated expressions, makeup, and color, she creates a hyper-reality loaded with fantasy. She is particularly interested in how our constructed selves are tied to gender. Her images are the perfect place for the selfie generation to question who they really are.

Maisie Cousins         

Maisie Cousins has no interest in creating typically pretty pictures drowning in vapid conventional beauty. The photographer from London likes to create images that focus on the visceral and the grotesque. She uses pastels, nature, sticky substances, makeup, and other things you’d find lying around your home to highlight all the things society shames us for: female body hair, stretch marks, pimples, and other ‘imperfections.’ Her gross yet beautiful pictures give viewers easement with their own insecurities.

Shelby Sells                   

Shelby Sells is on a mission to end slut shaming and create an open and safe dialogue around sex. Her blog, Perv On The Go, is a platform she created to share her ideas, interviews, videos and photos which focus on love, sex, and relationships. She’s conducted interviews and photographed artists like Sita Abellán, Abra, Yunglita, Roman Future and Father. Due to the open discussion and safe space she has created with her blog, her subjects always come off as empowered although they are highly sexualized. The Los Angeles-based photographer is making the internet a more tolerant place.

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Meanwhile In New York: Volta NY’s Ten Ye​ars of Solo Focus Exhibition

In honour of VOLTA NY’s tenth anniversary, Ten Ye​ars of Solo Focus celebrates the diversity that has made it New York’s beloved boutique art fair. Curated by Amanda Coulson and presented by Galerie Youn at booth D21, the 96 international galleries showcase a stunning array of visions. Paired with VOLTA’s signature individual, intense studio visit experiences, this weekend is one not to be missed.
In Robert Otto Epstein’s collection ​Boolean presents our life in a Kim Kardashian, Instagram world, wherein one’s image overrides who the person is. A philosopher by trade, Epstein’s works act as a mirror, showing the audience that the illusion of LeBron James and Gigi Hadid, with their perfected smiles, positions, and accessories are a staged act unrelated to their personhood. These personas in our heads perpetuate the fantasy in our minds regarding what our lives should be. We strive for a reality that isn’t any bit real. Much like the grid of Instagram, Epstein’s work is drawn using the grid format. He uses dice with numbers that coincide with those of colours and paints accordingly. His works seek to empower the female gaze and shy away from the traditional male one.
Los Angeles-based Andrew Schoutlz, known for his public murals and graffiti works, uses a visual lexicon of symbols of power including cut up currency and, more recently, flags. He began using flags five years ago for his projects and found that when he was buying them, they were all manufactured in China. This sparked the new project that questions globalization and commodification of national identity as well as race and history in Trump-era America. The flags are dyed and stretched on panels then painted on with 24k gold leaves and acrylic.
Osheen Harruthoonyan’s fourteen piece series A Circle of BlueBirds​ was photographed in Italy during a residency in 2015. These photographs were taken looking out of a telescope. Harruthoonyan captures various stars, the surface of the Sun, Saturn, and different nebulas, on 35mm film. Using chemistry to lift the emulsion off the celluloid, he manipulated the negatives together with makeup remover pads and syringes. The artist printed this series on gelatin silver paper.
“When you’re photographing the cosmos, a lot of those stars, nebulas, and galaxies don’t exist anymore, so you are looking at history,” Harruthoonyan explained. A self-taught photographer with a background in biology, the artist said that these works are about the relationships between astronomy, biology, memory, and history. “Everything in our bodies also comes from stars. Everything is fused together from stars, whether it’s iron or oxygen or nitrogen — life on Earth is that way.”As charged solar particles hit the radioactive belts surrounding our earth, they get trapped and whirled about. This movement of energy, converted into sound, reveals itself as the familiar soundscape of birds chirping, which is where the title of the series, A Circle of BlueBirds​, comes from. Harruthoonyan chose bluebirds, which represent love, happiness, and eternity.
Ten Years of Solo Focus runs until March 5th, with select viewings, at Pier 90 in New York City. Visit voltashow.com for more information. #VOLTANY2017 #10YEARSOFSOLOFOCU
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SplitScreen: Peggy Baker’s Dance Showcase

David Norsworthy and Sarah Fregeau in Split Screen Stereophonic. Photo by Tim Nguyen

During a phone conversation, choreographer Peggy Baker compared her latest work SplitScreen to a couple of google-windows opened side by side on the display. Even if they talk about the same thing, the information on each them are different. Hence, one has to focus on one or the other window to get the information.

The audience had to make decisions of a similar nature while watching SplitScreen at The Theatre Centre this Tuesday evening, because each the four dances in the program has two synchronous, but distinct, lines of action.

Working with four of the best dancers in the Toronto dance scene — Ric Brown, Sarah Fregeau, Kate Holden, and David Norsworthy —, as well as Montreal-based lighting designer Marc Parent and Philadelphia-based guitarist Tim Motzer, the 64-year-old choreographer’s latest features some utterly fascinating moments of contemporary dance.

Holden, in a pale dress, illuminates the stage in the opening solo from Locus Plot (2015). With sharp moves and convulsive breaths she contradicts three shadows (Fregeau, Brown, and Norsworthy) who, staying in a far corner, stroke the air with their arms and legs as if they were singing a lullaby with their bodies.

The mood changes completely when two men, Norsworthy and Brown, simultaneously perform their energetic solos. The oldest choreography Yang (1998) is the most gymnastic and fast-paced. The audience’s glances shift from one dancer to the other as they jump, somersault and run in turns, impressing with their virtuous dance techniques.

Split Screen Stereophonic (2013) is an imperturbable observation of the intimate lives of two couples. Again, the attention shifts between two duets — Fregeau and Norsworthy, and Holden and Brown — who change their body languages in relation to their partners and echo each other throughout the whole dance. Fregeau and Norsworthy’s performance is especially passionate and intense.

Peggy Baker in Epilogue. Photo by Tim Nguyen

“People who come to see my work, see very highly-structured choreography that creates room for extremely spontaneous and physical interpretation by the dancers,” says Baker.

The dancers are not the only characters in the contemporary fairytales. The presence of light and music is irrefutable. It’s felt particularly in Epilogue when Baker appears on the stage along with Motzer. Her solo is a silent monologue accompanied by two chairs, the symbols of dismantled relationship. Baker replaces the chairs, saturating each move with drama. Because the dance has many pauses and focus on the story-line rather than extraordinary movements, sometimes Motzer’s melody We Were stands out in place of the performance.

Light helps the dancers deliver their complex moves and emotions. It gives the performers dramatic looks by illuminating only one side of their faces, or, together with Larry Hahn’s setting for the stereophonic, it divides the scene into two different apartments with large windows.

This harmonic textures of light, space, and sound intensifies the sense of three-dimensional space and gives plenty of room for imagination.

SplitScreeen is at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Feb. 21-26. Tickets: 416-538-0988 PURCHASE ONLINE

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Bands Spotted: Busty and the Bass

If you are not yet familiar with Busty and the Bass, you are sadly missing out. Soon to be a household name, this nine person collective will have you pulling out dance moves you didn’t know you had. The Montréal-based band is selling out shows across the country by providing a quality to their live performances that cannot be matched.

We sat down with trumpet players, Mike McCann and Scott Bevins, before their performance at the Horseshoe Tavern to discuss their beginning and what is next to come.

Photo Kelly Jacob

Kimberley: You met as students at McGill University. Can you tell me a little bit about the early years of the band?

Mike: Yeah, wow. At this point that was like 5 or 6 years ago. We were all in the same program at McGill. The first week of school, the guitar player, Louie, has us over for a party. He was like “bring your horns, bring your instruments, we’re gonna have a jam there.” We set up and played until three in the morning. That was like the core of the band right there. After that, we just kept doing things like that — very impromptu parties and informal settings, just for students. So, that’s sort of how we got together.

K: How would you describe your sound?

Scott: You could say it’s good vibes, party music. . .before you get into genre terms. Once you do, it’s a lot of different stuff. There’s funk and soul, hip hop, and jazz all rolled together.

M: I think what makes it so difficult sometimes is that we don’t ever sit down and try to hone in on one genre. It tends to be everyone bringing their ideas. We have a lot of overlap as well. It ends up being this combination of things sometimes. So, because of that, we’ve always had a difficult time of really putting a label on it.

K: You have a lot of amazing original songs but you also cover songs so masterfully by making them your own. What is this process like?

S: It’s always an ongoing conversation in the band of like, “oh this is a really cool song, it would be great if we did this.” There’s a running list of 5 or 10 songs that we are always thinking of. Once we decide that for the next show we’re going to learn a new cover song, we get together and strip the song down to its bare bones: the melody, the chords, and the lyrics, and sort of take it from the ground up and try to relearn it our own way.

M: When we’re learning a cover, we first learn it in parts from the original arrangement. It’s usually obvious from the beginning of whether or not we can see it to the end. Even in learning our last cover, we played a couple of other songs, and they were really great songs, but we got to one that really did work. Within the first twenty minutes or half hour, we were like, “yeah, that’s going to work, we can see this out.”

K: What is it about your live shows that is so different from other artists? There is something about your sound that is mesmerizing.

S: It’s one of those things that’s hard to put words on. We’ve noticed at our best shows, there’s always just a vibe in the room, a positive energy. There’s something about musicians creating music in real time for the people there and the people reacting and feeding off that energy. We really feel it more than we know how to describe it.

K: What is your favourite part about performing live? 

M: The crowd and playing for people. We play this music all the time together — when we’re rehearsing and working out the kinks and getting everything just right. Playing it for people and having them react to us is great. It’s a big party.

Photo by Kelly Jacob

K: What is your process in writing music?

M: It’s a huge spectrum. It runs everywhere from one person bringing an idea that is 95% fleshed out, to someone bringing in a hook.  A small idea that we then grow as a group.

S: It’s different for every song. We tend to get together in groups of 3 or 4 in the early stages and just sort of explore different ideas of where the song could go. We discover what the songs essence is and kind of take it from there.

K: What is the difference in arranging an original song versus a cover?

M: I think the biggest thing is the line in the process where the song is now written. We then move to arrangement and that can sometimes be a method. Whereas with a cover, someone else wrote the song, and now we’re just adapting it. Sometimes, if we try to bring in an idea too early, we might need to go back to a 3 to 4 person group and arrange it.

K: In October 2014, you won the “Rock Your Campus” competition sponsored by CBC Music and TD Bank. What was that experience like? Was this your “big break?” 

M: We have a lot of thoughts about this. It’s always tempting to take an event like that and say, “this was the moment.” The fact is that our band is this living, breathing organism, and that was just a blip in its history. It’s easy to go back and say that this was a big thing at the time, but there were a lot of factors at play. We’re super grateful that we had that opportunity. People came out and supported us, and it helped to win that money. At the time that was a huge help for us, but the momentum is a bigger thing.

K: Though this was a big mark for you, you have also performed at some impressive festivals like the Montréal Jazz Festival and Osheaga. What was that like? How does a performance at a festival differ from a smaller venue?

S: It has different performance challenges. When you are playing in a room, like Horseshoe for example, it’s great and there’s something having everybody crammed together. It contains all the energy that we’re really used to, because we’ve played so many smaller rooms. When we went out on stage for the Montreal Jazz Festival, my reaction was, “holy shit, that’s a lot of people.” Trying to connect and play with the people was a totally different experience.

K: Was it a lot of stage fright, or did it feel natural?  

M: It was a weird feeling for sure. I had never seen that many people before. I guess the only thing you tell yourself is: put on the show and don’t worry about it too much. We definitely don’t connect at the level that we do with some of our more intimate shows. The year, before the Montreal Jazz Festival, we played three midnight-to-3 AM shows and people were there for the full three hours. It was hot and sweaty, with people dancing their asses off. It’s the total opposite end of the spectrum where you feel like you know the person in the front row better by the end of the night because they’re just there, through all of it.

S: Osheaga was a really cool experience for me because I’d never been to a giant festival before. It was cool to go and experience the bands, the culture, and then go on stage and be a part of it.

K: Do you prefer performing at music festivals or in regular venues?

M: There’s a certain amount of thrill to both of them. I don’t think we’re ever going to stop playing the few hundred person room, but we’re definitely not going to say no because the crowd is too big. We’re exploring both sides.

K: Though you have toured all across Canada, the US, Europe, and the UK, you often include a homecoming show in your tour. What is this experience compared to other shows on your tour?

M: They know a lot of the lyrics. They’re very dedicated fans. They’re awesome.

K: What’s it like having Montreal as your base?

S: It’s great. I love Montreal. It’s got a really vibrant cultural scene, a lot of great music is going on and a lot of great art in general. Every time we go back to Montreal after touring we feel very energized by it all. That’s when we go into the studio and we all write and jam together.

K: In 2015, you released your first album, GLAM, with Indica Records. What was that process like in comparison to writing and releasing your EPS: Lift (2016) and Bustified

M: Bustified, we did totally on our own.  GLAM we did on our own, and the label picked it up afterwards. As far as the differences between GLAM and whatever we decide to name the album that’s about to come out, and Lift. . .well a full-length takes way longer and everything takes longer. It’s a lot.

K: You recently released your first single of 2017, titled Up Top. It went to the number 4 spot in the Viral 50 category in Canada on Spotify. How did you celebrate the news?

S: Yeah, we’re still celebrating right now.

M: The celebration never ends.

K: What’s next for Busty?

S: Right now we’re in the process of finishing the mixing of our next album. It’s kind of in its’ final stages. We are hoping to release it sometime this year. It’s hard to tell because it depends on a lot of people who aren’t us to put it out.

K: Do you have any funny tour stories?

M (to Scott): You’ve got a funny one. You had a really angry English guy.

S: Oh, right! On our first full tour of the UK we were travelling on this DIY kind of trip. We were finding our Airbnb in this tiny country town called Compton, England. We were already toasted from a whole day of sound checking, playing a show, and then driving for 2 hours to find our Airbnb, and then we got super lost in this backwoods town. There’s no proper road signs, there’s no way of finding it — Google maps has no idea. So, we were kind of poking around people’s back yards being like, “is this the Airbnb? We’re looking for a key.” Long story short, we were angrily threatened by some locals who shook sticks at us and were like, “we have photos, of you, get off of our property.” Eventually we found it, and it turns out that we angered another English country person for blocking in his car. He was banging down the door with a broomstick.

Check out Up Top, on Spotify and Apple music and don’t forget to keep an eye for their upcoming album releasing this year.

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