Critic in residence Hayley Malouin writes,

Let’s get one thing straight: we refuse to stop gushing about In The Soil.

As our criticism for the festival comes to a close (this year’s, at least!), and with it my engagement with Once, Nick and I wanted to have a post-festival chat with Twitches and Itches artistic director Colin Anthes. So, on Tuesday we met with Colin for coffee at Mahtay Café (Tanisha Minson showed up too – read Nick’s article here) to talk about his work leading up to Once as well as his plans for the future. As his work suggests, Colin favours an interesting blend of physical creation and text, which stems from his work at Humber College as well as his own desire to address an audience of contemporaries.

Once by Rebecca Rosenblum

Once by Rebecca Rosenblum

As we attempt to boost our microphone quality over the din of the café, Colin tells us he has been intrigued by the notion of adapting short stories into plays for quite some time. For the past four years he has been reading anthologies extensively, trying to find stories that fit his vision. He recalls, upon finding Rebecca Rosenblum’s Once, “When these stories popped up it was like a perfect storm.” Living in a university town like St. Catharines and wanting to create theatre for a student audience, Colin felt Rosenblum’s stories were an excellent fit – especially as part of In The Soil, which happens quickly after Brock’s winter semester. He says “As I was going through the content, I started realizing these were really great stories for emerging artists to engage in because they were about young people, and they were playful, and they had humour, and also moments of deep sincerity.” It seemed that these stories and this festival were a perfect match, and that “It was actually quite feasible to have the artistic and demographic elements come together.”

Having graduated from Humber’s conservatory program before studying at Brock, Colin’s creation process is rooted in the physical devising of Jerzy Grotowski, Eugenio Barba, and Jacques Lecoq. However, he has a unique interpretation of the training he received there. “My process is very much play-orientated. It’s about being able to jump in, that is the most important thing. It’s about not being careful, in a lot of ways.” With Once, as well as his previous shows, this process of play manifested itself as a balance between what Colin calls exploration and refinement. The ensemble jumps in, starting to create and explore, and then refines particular moments or ideas. The two elements feed off each other: more exploration means more to refine, and more refinement means finding new levels or modes of exploration. Colin says, “They are refined according to what our reflection on those moments is. And then that in turn acts as a springboard for more nuanced moments of exploration.”

Colin Anthes, Artistic Director of Twitches and Itches

Colin Anthes, Artistic Director of Twitches and Itches

Another tenet of Colin’s work is the feedback loop he seeks between actors and collaborators, and their engagement with his process. Colin admits a little sheepishly that he likes to throw a lot at his actors quite quickly, and that having time to reflect and dialog about concerns or discoveries is a necessity to him. “It’s very important for the actors to be able to communicate what their areas of need are to me” he says. Through this feedback loop, Colin hopes that his ensemble can traverse their work collectively, and engage more deeply with their process of exploration and refinement.

So what’s in store for Colin in the next year? Well, he claims to be taking a break. After a year of biting off more than he could chew – writing, directing, producing, grant writing, and acting, to name a few – Colin is paring back his projects, and heading off to New York City for a month of work with Siti Company, the highly esteemed theatre collective founded by Anne Bogart and Tadashi Suzuki. Part of a program organized through Theatre Ontario, Colin has been selected to study with Siti and bring back his knowledge and experience to the area.

This trip also ties in nicely to the new initiative he is starting up called The Laboratory. Colin defines this as a space to work intrinsically, without worrying about a deadline or a finished product. It’s his way of expanding Twitches and Itches Theatre Company, opening up to more artists in the area, and possibly creating shows with bigger casts. Taking the form of a weekly ‘jam session’, The Laboratory will engage artists in physical devised creation with no additional pressures; work created there can be taken further, or not. All that matters is jumping in. As Colin says, “We can be setting off sparks and worrying about the fires later.”

So, Colin will be taking his training with world renowned artists back to the Ontario theatre community, and he will be starting up a weekly session of creation with the hopes of expanding his own company. Oh, and he hopes to remount Once in 2015. Some break.

But Colin isn’t the type to stop the ball from rolling. He explains his desire to keep working after such a successful engagement with In The Soil, and to continue to create and work in St. Catharines. Having grown up in Niagara Falls, Colin’s loyalties are to the region, professing that Twitches and Itches prioritizes its St. Catharines audience. “I’m very devoted to this community, and I really do want to try and create work that serves it, and serves its artists, and serves its audiences” he says. “So this is an opportunity for me to do that – and to recharge my own artistic batteries – without…um. Dying.”

It seems to me that Colin’s work is exactly what St. Catharines needs: devised in nature, fiercely intelligent, and attuned to a local audience’s artistic needs. I have been truly fortunate to work with him on this project, and I’m excited to see what Colin’s experiments in The Lab bring to the table next.

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