5 For Your Consideration: PROGRESS Festival, 5th Edition

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon is Senior Editor on SesayArts Magazine where he is also a critic and contributor.

Cuckoo; photo by Wolf Silveri

What the PROGRESS Festival is:  A dynamic festival of enlightened – and enlightening – international performances that explore urgent contemporary subjects like class structure, economic collapse and climate crisis. Progress 2020 asks tough questions about these inherited issues, and uses innovative experiences to explore “how we might navigate what we have been handed.” Presented in partnership by SummerWorks Performance Festival and The Theatre Centre, the festival is curated and produced by diverse Toronto-based companies Broadleaf Theatre, DopoLavoro Teatrale, FADO Performance Art Centre, SummerWorks, RT Collective, The Theatre Centre, and Why Not Theatre.

Here – for your consideration – are 5 performances that have piqued our interest:

#1 – Cuckoo (Belgium): Feb 7 – 9, 2020
Conceived and performed by Jaha Koo
Curated and presented by The Theatre Centre

The youth focus and the talking rice cookers caught our eye here. Yes, that’s right – in Cuckoo, South Korean artist Jaha Koo uses conversations with talking rice cookers to recount 20 years of Korean – and personal – history. How a major economic crisis scalded young people through youth unemployment, socio-economic inequality and rising suicide rates. How a deep, crushing loneliness consumes so many youth . . . and the role technology plays in all of this.

#2Café Sarajevo (Canada / USA): Jan 30 – Feb 2, 2020 
Created and Performed by bluemouth inc.
Curated by SummerWorks         

This perfect-sounding blend of form and function just premiered in Singapore. bluemouth is one of the originators of interactive, site-specific theatre, and they continue to push the envelope. Through story, dance, games, music, 360-degree video – and by casting the audience as characters in the story – Cafe Sarajevo tells the personal story of Lucy Simic as she travels to her father’s birthplace of Bosnia. At the same time, the show promises a rapid-fire, intimate and meaningful exploration of nationalism, racial bias and war tourism.  Are these cool technological bells and whistles what we really need to engage younger audiences in theatre? We’re keen to find out. 

Cafe Sarajevo; photo by Harry Chan

#3Certified (Canada): Feb 13 – 15
Written and performed by Jan Derbyshire
Curated and presented by Why Not Theatre

We were hooked as soon as we learned that Jan Derbyshire makes the audience serve as a mental health review board to determine her state of sanity. Derbyshire has been certified insane a total of 8 times. Yes, 8 times. Her one-person show Certified explores her journey through the mental health system, and how it brought her to the stage. This topic could be deeply introspective and even disturbing, but it’s a comedy show. Its irreverent objective is to “crack open the stigma around mental health.”  Such a novel way to tackle this vital topic . . . we’re really curious about this one.   

#4Working Class Dinner Party (United Kingdom): February 11, 2020
With Scottee & Friends
Curated and presented by The Theatre Centre in partnership with the British Council

This one comes with a whiff of danger. The award-winning and controversial UK artist Scottee grew up in social housing, was kicked out of school at age 14, and stayed out. Since 2010, when he won the title of Time Out Performer of the Year, he has been creating provocative work for audiences across the UK, Europe, Australia, Japan and the US. He will present two works at PROGRESS: Class and Working Class Dinner Party. Both are solo shows and – no surprise – they unpack issues around class.  Working Class Dinner Party is part show, part discussion and part meal. Scottee invites the working class to join him at the dinner table  for “discussions we’re not meant to have” about the definitions of class identity: where we fit, where we don’t, and who decides. Sounds tasty to us! 

#5 – How I Learned to Serve Tea (Canada): Feb 13 – 15, 2020
Created and facilitated by Shaista Latif in association with Koffler Centre of the Arts and Why Not Theatre 

How I Learned to Serve Tea

Who can actually afford to be an artist? This question caught us off guard  . . .then made us really start to think. It is the focus of How I Learned to Serve Tea – a “participatory workshop on the politics of capacity and resource sharing” by Siminovitch prize mentee and queer Afghan Canadian artist Shaista Latiff. The topic is intensely personal: she can do this work only thanks to a salary provided this year by Why Not Theatre and the Koffler Centre. Want to explore class and power dynamics through acts of hospitality? Up for considering what else we might be making in a decolonized world? Sign up with us for How I Learned to Serve Tea.

So there you have it. For your consideration: 5 provocative, challenging and audience-engaging shows at PROGRESS Festival that SesayArts is looking forward to seeing.    

News You Can Use

What: Progress: an international festival of performance and ideas, 5th edition

When: January 30 – February 15, 2020

Info and Tickets: progressfestival.org

© Scott Sneddon, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019

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