Claire Calnan and Adam Lazarus are Talking to Chris Dupuis

The Exchange Rate Collective's Show Appetite was one of my favourite pieces at Summerworks two years ago, so I was happy to see the company was remounting the show this week. I got in touch with creator/performers Claire Calnan and Adam Lazarus to talk about the show.

Appetite plays April 16 through April 26, 2009 at Theatre Passe Muraille

Created by The Exchange Rate Collective and presented by Volcano and Theatre Passe Muraille.

Box Office 416-504-7529
Tickets PWYC - $35 :: Students/Seniors/Arts Workers $20
Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto

Directed by Sarah Sanford, starring Claire Calnan, Adam Lazarus, Linnea Swan. Associate Director: Kate Alton. Designers: Gillian Gallow, Rebecca Picherack, Robert Perrault. SM: Sherry Roher.

Appetite explores human desire as it pertains to food and sex. If you had to choose between the two which one would you pick and why?

CC - Sex seems like the obvious choice, right? But food is really compelling because our relationship to it can contain so many other human desires and emotions (repressed or otherwise). The way we treat it often says a lot about our state: we eat for comfort, substitute chocolate for sex, exercise control by restricting what we consume (fasting, dieting, vegetarian-ing...this is not a word...), we have cravings, stuff ourselves, try to be healthy, treat ourselves, obsess, we are sensitive about our cooking, take joy in feeding our lovers and loved ones, eat to battle depression or anxiety, don't eat because we are depressed or anxious, we find people's eating habits repulsive, we are insatiable...and occasionally we are satisfied. We (in this time and place) have an embarrassing overabundance of food. But most of us don't know where it comes from or how it got here. And there is still hunger. Also, of course, we depend on it to live. So, I guess I would have to say food.

AL - This question is three days in the answering. I just can't pick one and not the other, so I thought I'd share with you some of the thoughts that entered my head over the past days. I kept thinking about this question in terms of my future - where I will be in 30 years. So, at first I picked food. I said to myself that by the time I'm 70 my equipment won't work so good. Therefore, I'll naturally enjoy food more. I'll eat out a lot at delicious restaurants and reminisce about the days my tools filled their sheaths and stood at attention. Yes, I thought. It shall be food!

The next day I saw someone give a lecture on ageism and realized my ideas pertaining to sex and seniors are completely self-fashioned, unfounded and totally ageist.

So then I switched to sex. I thought to myself that I will have great sex all the time and food won't be as important. The more I went down this road, the more I thought about my aging body, disease, allergies, the loss of bone density. I mused that the only food I would be able to consume at 70 would be porridge, prune juice and creamed spinach. My anxiety will have increased the size of my ulcers, ruining my ability to digest solids. I'll become allergic to everything wheat, dairy, and sesame. What's more, my teeth will be gone and my artist wages will not allow me a good pair of dentures.

Oh dear. Ageist again.

I learnt a lot the past three days: I learnt that I can't separate food and sex. I also learnt that ageism is the 3rd most predominant ism after racism and sexism.

How do you see the desire for food and sex being connected?

CC - In the best of times, they can co-exist delightfully. They both can sustain and delight us. They both involve 'ingesting' to a degree. We desire to consume food, people. And if the 'appetite' for one or the other grows too big, each of them has the power to act as a destructive force in our lives.

AL - On any given night, for stallions such as myself, one leads to the other to the other and back to the other. Seriously, each has a quality of the other. The desire for sex is a hunger - I salivate, my body tightens, I swell, I shrink, I get moody, I propel forward to attain. The desire to eat is the same. Both fulfill a basic human need. We tangibly and audibly connect with both. On a good night you look at the aforementioned desire, be it a piece of lamb or a piece of person, and before you touch it you ask "How shall I consume you this evening my little one?" After your desire answers, the dialogue should continue: "How shall we proceed? Good, bad, ugly, funny, surprising, dangerous, necessarily so or necessarily no?" I love this dialogue.

Both of you have worked in several collective/collaborative processes. It seems like more and more of the interesting work being produced these days is coming out of this model. Why do you think that is?

CC - I think it is interesting that you use the word 'interesting'. I often find that I use this word when I feel conflicted about something. But maybe that is just me... Personally, I'm not exclusive about theatre. I like all kinds as long as it has the power to move or inspire or delight me. One of my favourite shows this past year was A Raisin in the Sun, a scripted piece written 50 years ago. There we go. And my experience in what one might call "conventional" theatre continues to teach me a great deal about my creation work. The different processes "feed" each other, one might say (especially if the one was in a play called Appetite...). For some reason, I felt the need for this preface. Of course, I do believe that there is incredibly vibrant and relevant work being produced through collaborative models. There are also a million ways to work within these forms.

So let me talk about a particular show or two that I have worked on. And when I talk about these I will say that perhaps one of the influences on their success or relevancy has something to do with the immediacy of our access to arts, news, information and "entertainment" in the current day. In certain devised processes, when one is lucky, the work is able to address something that lies in the subconscious of the collective. Something that the group is struggling with that has not yet quite risen to the surface, has not yet been fully deconstructed or intellectualized. It can make the work very immediate. I find that exciting.

My experience working in Columbia this past fall helped to illuminate this approach to collaborative work and allowed me to articulate it in a way I had not previously been able to do. The director, Patricia Ariza, who is an influential force in that country and in the international community, has tremendous faith in an improvisational process that encourages work from the guts, churning up ideas that are still being processed, uncovering what the group wants to talk about before they are sure what it is they want to talk about. I did not have the language for this when we began working on Appetite but in retrospect, it is clear to me that this piece, too, was able to access some of that goodness. I think the work is tremendously pertinent given the current state of things. And also very funny. However these two things came to be, I am happy for them.

AL - I love the artist as creator. Three people I have worked with in my life have hardwired this thinking into my creative vernacular - Stephen Johnson, Paul Thompson and Philippe Gaulier are all interested in the artist and how they see the world.

When we put different minds/creators into one room together, what's going to happen? This is where we find new stories, hear new voices and really uncover something exciting. In a collective environment the artist's creativity/creation really gets to be the focus. Under good direction, as with Sarah Sanford, the artists are allowed to offer every part of themselves - mover, singer, tragic actor, comic actor. Not every one of these sides makes it into the final product, but the results will have an energy and ownership unparalleled because every word, gesture, direction and design has been built by one particular group of artists at one particular time in their collective lives.

How do you define the difference between physical theatre, dance, and clown?

CC - I don't. Not because I am not interested or because I have not thought a great deal about these things. But because there are people who know so much more than me who could provide you with incredibly elegant definitions where I would offer you possibly offensively over-simplified statements that tomorrow I might disagree with. I approach the work I do from an instinctual place as a creator, actor, storyteller, mover, human being. I have some training in different forms. And I'm sure that this must come onto the stage with me. I'm sure it can't be helped. Most times I wish I had more training (like when Kate Alton gives me a note five times to change the position of my feet and they-my feet-refuse to listen to her). I am hoping to keep training in all kinds of things until I am so full of it.

AL - These terms are all comprehension and marketing tools. When I started doing
clown work in the city I never actually wore the nose yet everyone said I was a clown. I asked why and they said "You're just so clonwy!" I guess you gotta give the people what they want. So I started calling my work Clown with a capital 'C' and only clowns came to see me work. I thought something fishy was up, so I changed the title of my work to Physical Theatre. Suddenly, far more people were interested in working with me and studying with me. Now I'm in a Dance/Physical Theatre/Clown piece and Robert Lepage is knocking at my door. Just kidding of course. But don't box me in, you know? I'm an artist who works to make interesting pieces of art. Example - Appetite is one really interesting piece of art - one painting that draws from a few different disciplines. Artist first, clown, physical theatre practitioner, dancer later. Save the words for the adverts.

Speaking of clown, there's a huge clown scene in Toronto. What's up with that? Why are you drawn to this form of performance?

CC - When there is so much content out there, so much stimulation that we can find in our own home and often for free we might start to think "Why theatre?" And we might look to the audience, because they are with us in this question and this struggle. They have to be or we don't exist. And we might want to connect with them in this place that we are together. I think that clowns can do this very well. We see their eyes and they know we are there. They acknowledge us. We, the audience, know we are essential. It's good to know that I think. It feels nice. If I watch CSI or don't watch CSI, David Caruso will still churn out the most delightfully terrible one-liners. He will still accent his lines with the placement of his sunglasses on his face. But in clown, my being there might change the tone, might make the show funnier or sadder or, just, well...different. There is something powerful about that in a city where we keep getting closer and closer to each other in a literal sense, but seem to have a harder time actually connecting. Anyhow, I am just an outside observer mostly. I like the clowns. I hang out with them. I like to think I am their kin... like, a distant cousin who they enjoy chatting with at family weddings and funerals. Adam could probably tell you more about the "scene". Adam?

AL - My guess is that clown is so big in Toronto because we have quite a developed tradition of great teachers that have studied it, were affected by it, and then had a desire to pass it on to students. Dean Gilmour, Leah Cherniak, Mike Kennard, John Turner, Karen Hines, Sue Morrison, Ian Wallace and the late Richard Pochinko are some of the masters who worked a lot in the city. These folks introduced a slew of Torontonians to the form and I think that if a student taps into clown, they really tap in. The energy of the good clown is too beautiful for words and we have some beauty in this city for sure.

I'm drawn to clown because I love an audience. I respect their presence in the room with me. I love making them laugh, having them make me laugh, surprising, being surprised, failing and getting back up. With or without nose, the clown's energy to play and discover is such a good tool for a creator to have. Even if you never wear the nose again after your training, you will herein decree the words: "Bad clowns give clown a bad name. Good clowns are alive and connected and beautiful - a miracle!"
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