Complete COmpany History
Ross Manson began Volcano in late 1994 with The Third Land at the Factory Studio Theatre in Toronto - a play exploring the phenomenon of migration. The Third Land was the world premiere of a new play by German writer Susanne Fritz. It starred Waneta Storms and Nigel Shawn Williams, with cameos by James O’Reilly and Christine Brubaker. Set design was by Czech designer Jan Komarek, with lighting by Bonnie Beecher, animation by Bruce Alcock and choreography by Laura Taler. Dramaturgy was by Birgit Witteman and Laura MacDonald.
Ross had worked with Susanne during his apprenticeship as a director at the Stadttheater Freiburg in Germany, and he translated the play from German. Susanne made the trip to see the premiere. The press raved:
“never less than brilliant…” The Toronto Star
“exquisite work…beautifully choreographed” The Globe & Mail
“beautiful…[a] rarefied experience…” NOW Magazine
“If The Third Land is any indication, Toronto is on the verge of a creative explosion… reminiscent of work by Robert LePage or Robert Wilson…” eye weekly
Volcano found success as an experimental company in the 90s in Toronto - often combining disciplines onstage, and often exploring major socio-political territories. Some milestones:
In 1998 we commissioned and premiered Cherry Docs - a two-hander by David Gow about a neo-Nazi skinhead on trail for murder who cynically requests a Jewish public defender. The trial eviscerates them both. It starred RH Thomson and Ross Manson. Direction was by Richard Rose.
From 1998 to 2000 we built Building Jerusalem from the ground-up with a group of dancers and actors and a book of Victorian Parlour Games. The play was timed to open just after the dreaded Y2K Millenium (in January 2000), and it used a group of now-obscure historical figures to examine how the future is built - for good and for bad – from what we imagine it can be. There were line-ups around the block at the Factory Theatre.
In 2001, on a tip from fellow director Daniel Brooks, we asked the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh if they would be interested in Lambton Kent, by André Alexis - a one-woman show for Yanna McIntosh (a lecture given by an African academic on Deepest Darkest Southern Ontario). They were. This began a years-long association with the Traverse, who, under AD Philip Howard, invited 6 of our shows to Edinburgh. We managed to get 4 there - with the last one - Goodness, by Michael Redhill - winning a Fringe First and the Best of Edinburgh prize, out of a field of almost 2,000 shows. Goodness went on to play New York, Helsinki, Toronto (a couple of times) and to tour Canada and Rwanda. An award-winning documentary film was made about the latter excursion: Goodness in Rwanda.
Between 2001 and 2012 - thanks mostly to the amplifying effect of Edinburgh - our international reputation grew. We have now toured to destinations across Canada, and to the USA, Europe and Rwanda. We have participated in conferences, congresses, festivals and gatherings of artists and arts workers in Asia, South America, East Africa, the Middle East, the USA, Europe and across Canada. We’ve done everything from a village tour in the UK (with Weather, by Rebecca Hope Terry) to hone and premiere what is likely the biggest theatrical hit from Iran in recent history: White Rabbit Red Rabbit, by Nassim Soleimanpour. We’ve taken a Baroque opera, rewritten all the words, and staged it in a working hotel (A Synonym for Love). We’ve toured a sound poetry/animation/dance performance mash-up rooted in radical literary theory from the 1970s (The Four Horsemen Project) to gob-smacked audiences in Ireland, Germany and across Canada. It’s been fun.
Our largest international effort premiered in 2010 at the Luminato Festival in Toronto. The Africa Trilogy was an artistic collaboration spanning 6 countries and 3 continents: Africa, Europe and North America. Three writer/director teams were charged with examining the question: what is the relationship between Africa and the West? The question was inspired by the skewed reporting of the time. This was during the second Bush Administration’s war in Iraq, and there were daily US casualty figures in the press (with tens or, sometimes, hundreds of deaths being reported). At the same time, the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the African subcontinent was at its height, and was absent from the headlines. Those casualty figures were in the thousands (an average of 5,000 people per day were dying). In terms of sheer loss of life, that was the biggest story on earth. Why its absence from Western news? Why the disparity in coverage? And this, in turn, led to the question: What other stories concerning this relationship were also absent? What did we know about each other? Did we care? Could we care? The trilogy was the collective response of a group of artists gathered by Volcano. Liesl Tommy (SA/USA) directed a show by Roland Schimmelpfennig (GER) called Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God. Josette Bushell-Mingo (UK/Sweden) directed a play by Christina Anderson (USA) called GLO. Ross Manson (CAN) directed a play by Binyavanga Wainaina (KEN) called Shine Your Eye. Eleven actors and many support staff and designers and technicians brought it all together.
We celebrated our 20th anniversary in 2014/15 with the world premieres of two new works - Infinity by Hannah Moscovitch at the Tarragon Theatre (winner of the 2015 Outstanding New Play in the Dora Awards’ General Theatre Division, 2015 Top Ten list in Theatre, NOW magazine) and Century Song, at the NAC’s Ontario Scene Festival, featuring soprano, Neema Bickersteth (so far, this show has now gone on to tour both Canada and Europe). We also revisited one of our most successful works to date with a major remount and tour of The Four Horsemen Project (winner of the 2015 Outstanding Sound Design at the Dora Awards, adding to its previous total of 4 other Dora awards for Play, Production, Direction and Design). Infinity smashes together theoretical physics, music and family dynamics in order to ponder what is real, and what isn’t. Century Song revisions identity itself through one hundred years’ worth of song, dance and animated visual art. Both shows are seeing Toronto remounts and tours.
We continue to make things, because as we make them, we keep discovering more and more of what’s not yet made, yet seems worth making. We continue to examine how others make things through our educational programs, so that we, too, can learn. We keep trying and making and learning.
There’s a lot to do.