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Volume 17 Issue 4 - December 2011

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NEW MUSIC FOR AN OLD TALE/ / D A V I D P E R L M A Nike an Old Tale: An East Scarborough Retelling of The Winter’sTale by William Shakespeare, (to give it its full title) is the latestchapter in Jumblies Theatre’s decade-long journey “to expandwhere art happens and who gets to be part of it.” Under the artisticdirection of Ruth Howard, Jumblies undertakes multi-year residenciesin a community, uncovering its stories and creating opportunities forthe people of the community in question to turn those stories into art.“Every Jumblies community residency culminates with a large-scaleproduction, one that melds original music, visual arts, dance, puppetryand projections into a vast theatrical realm.”For Jumblies, unlike for some, “it’s not just a peripheral educationalor community outreach programme,” says Howard. “One needs to bewholehearted and integrative about it. It takes time, forming alliancesand partnerships in the community and across sectors, listening andlearning, making mistakes, looking foolish, creating something gloriousthat awakens a shared desire for more, bringing in the best and mostinteresting artists available.”Enter Juliet Palmer.“I’ve known and admired Ruth Howard’s work with Jumblies for from Wellington, New Zealand, where she is engaged in a one year the country of her birth since 2002. “From her side, Ruth has longbeen wanting me to compose the music for a project. This time round,the stars aligned, the timing was right and I said yes. The conversationabout this project started at the beginning of 2010 and I startedto work with Jumblies in January of this year. We had a workshop ofkey scenes in June at the Cedar Ridge Creative Centre in Scarboroughbefore I headed to New Zealand.”Looking at Palmer’s musical credits and interests, it’s not hard tosee why Howard would have hoped for “the stars to align” in this way.And Palmer’s description of why the project pushes her artistic buttonsmakes it easy to understand why it has been, and continues to be forher, a project worth incurring jet-lag for.“My work is often anchored in different vocal expressions–opera,choral, soundscape” Palmer says. “Here I am creating a world whichmakes room for different cultural traditions, including Carnatic, FirstNations and opera, and which allows for improvisation within a clearstructure. Some moments are more installation-like, while others areclearly operatic and driven by the vocal line. There is also the powerfulrealm of the spoken word, performed by both professional actors andcommunity members. When we stumbled through the outline of thepiece back in the summer, I was struckby the compelling voices of young childrenand seniors speaking passages fromShakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, the textwhich is the bedrock of the show.”“Bedrock” is not an exaggeration.Howard’s commitment to the core text isstriking. “Yes, it’s an adaptation” she says,“but the words are all Shakespeare’s. From my perspective, there’s nopoint doing Shakespeare without using the words.”It took almost two years of Jumblies work on the ground in thecommunity before Palmer came into the picture. “It was a process ofreducing the text,” says Howard, “keeping my favourite passages andthose that related to our thematic focus, then working with these samepassages and themes in the community over a couple of years. ThenI gave the reduced text to Juliet and she had freedom to pick and playwithin it, and then we worked back and forth with it, being quite preciseabout which words were cut or kept, as she composed the music. Theoverall script for Like An Old Tale also includes some text generatedin the community —and this is, on a couple of occasions, spoken intoor over Juliet’s music. These sections were conceived of by me andgenerated and edited collaboratively by me, our core artists and manycommunity members.”“One of the biggest challenges for me,” says Palmer “was composingmusic for amateurs. How do I create something which still feels likemy own music, but can be sung by people who can’t necessarily readconventional notation? Also, how does the way music is passed alongshape the result?”Having solved that, the other half of the challenge was turning itinto a score for double bass, assorted clarinets, violin, mrdangamand percussion, as well as opera singers Neema Bickersteth and DougMacNaughton, while integrating traditional Tamil singing (Sharada K.Eswar) and First Nations elements (Rosary Spence, who has createdher own original traditional-style songs) into the show’s soundscape. They are both fantastic singers and have the perfect temperament towork on a large scale, multi-community performance,” says Palmer.The connection with soprano Neema Bickersteth is an interestingone. It goes back to Stitch, Palmer and librettist Anna Chatterton’sthree woman chamber opera for urbanvessel that was one of highlightsof the 2008 season.“A rogue brace of creative spirits cuts through the couture and sweeps8 thewholenote.comDecember 1 – February 7, 2012

PHOTOS BY SN BIANCAus straight into a sewing sweatshop in Stitch” wrote John Terauds forthe Toronto Star. “Billed as ‘an a cappella opera for three women andthree sewing machines,’ it crosses so many genres as to be in a categoryof its own … Imagine an opera presented outside a theatre, without astage or orchestra. It doesn’t seem like opera at all — until you realisehow much a librettist, composer and three vocalists can accomplishwith the simplest of means. That’s an art.”As for Douglas MacNaughton, fresh off a leading role in last month’sToronto Masque Theatre remount of the John Beckwith/James Reaneymusical Crazy to Kill at Harbourfront’s EnWave Theatre, he’s ready tofor puppets. This is great.” (He’s not kidding, either. As more than oneopera singer has found, being free to throw one’s disembodied voiceinto a space can be tremendously liberating.)So at this point, is Palmer’s work as composer winding down? “Mostresponse to Penny“I THINK THE BEST WAY TO INVOLVEYOUNG PEOPLE IN THE ARTS is to workin an intergenerational context”Couchie’s choreographyand VarrickGrimes’ staging.”Add to the mixthe steadying handof Erna van Daele as music director, (a Jumblies regular, and RuthHoward fan, who in her other life also keeps the University of WaterlooSymphony Orchestra on the rails), and the show is in good hands.“UWSO is a volunteer student orchestra,” she told me, “so let’s saythere are some parallels.”But if the bulk of the heavy liftingpush, so characteristic of Jumblies projects, was just beginning as ofthe second last week of November. That was when they moved intothe decidedly unconventional venue for the show’s December 8 to 18run, the former TVO studios at Pharmacy and Eglinton. Part of thethe show will happen, is a massive soundstage, being used for the veryWith the orchestra tucked back in a corner next to the curved cyclorama(which provided a surprisingly springy soundboard), the spacearyshape of the show unfolding. It consists of many circles of chairswith backdrops inspired by each of the prominent East Scarboroughsites where Jumblies has been making art with community participantsfor the past four years.“In our version of the world of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale,” explainsJumblies managing director Keith McNair, “there are many realms, allruled over by the not-so-good King Leontes.” While the larger tale playsitself out in opera, dance, puppetry and visual imagery, within eachindividual realm, a story teller will be there for whomever joins thatcircle. Each will tell the story of the jealous overlord Leontes from theperspective of that realm, and with all the variation one might expectfrom eight or ten distinct realms each with its own customs.McNair takes me to a table at the far end of the soundstage, coveredwith little groups of miniatures, each group made of different materials— wool, wood, paper, clay … “These are the individual storytellers’props,” he says, “corresponding to the different community centreswe worked in during the four years of the project. So each individualcommunity storyteller will have the puppet and doll miniatures of theshow’s characters, created during the four year Jumblies residency inthat particular community centre.” And they are indeed all unique, allas different as the micro-environments of this most diverse of all communitiesin the GTA that we like to dismiss as “Scarberia.”Although the project and show grew out of a Scarborough residency,they also include, by extension, cultural contingents from allacross Toronto, as well from Nipissing First Nation (near North Bay)and from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The show is a fusion ofmultiple cultural forms (Tamil, First Nations, contemporary Westernnew music and dance) and celebrates a broad spectrum of ability andexperience (from novice to virtuosic) in a professionally produced production.“Within our vast cultural pool of participants,” the Jumbliespress release proclaims, “our involved community members speakDecember 1 – February 7, 2012 9

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