PuSh Blog

Preparing a century of song: An Interview with Ross Manson by Roxanne Duncan

January 28, 2016

The PuSh Festival has continued to develop it’s reputation and role as a broker of international partnerships, and as an incubator of brilliant new work from Canada. It’s no surprise then, that we would also share industry talent off stage. Enter, PuSh Festival’s Managing Director, Roxanne Duncan, who “cut her teeth” as a manager and producer at Toronto’s Volcano Theatre before landing in Vancouver in 2014. In the week before PuSh presents its second Volcano Theatre production, Century Song, with The Cultch who better to interview the company’s artistic director Ross Manson than Roxanne, herself?

Roxanne Duncan: Volcano Theatre has a history of developing new work over a long period–often over several years. How long has Century Song been in the making, and how has this germination time impacted the work?

Ross Manson: Neema applied for some seed money to explore an idea she had in 2010. She and Kate began working on this idea in 2011. Said Neema at the time: “I hope to create a show that examines this collision – or perhaps negotiated agreement (!) – between my own background, and Western classical music. To me, the key to such an experiment is an exploration of identity…”

Volcano came on board later that year. So it’s been in the works for about 5 years. The whole diary of creation is on this very cool website (designed by the show’s assistant director, Michela Sisti), under “The Process”.

Century Song, Volcano Theatre, 2016 PuSh Festival
Photo: John Lauener

It’s central to our creation philosophy to make things according to the timeline the thing itself needs. Some ideas come to fruition almost as soon as work begins. Some are more reluctant to sort themselves out, and can take years to get right. The idea is to craft every show with a lot of care, so that the show itself, once built, is ready to be seen. This is why we always have several projects on the go at the same time, all with open-ended time frames (whenever possible). This philosophy has allowed us to only open shows that are ready to open – and this, in turn, allows us to keep these shows alive through touring and remounts, because they’re in demand. It’s a rewarding way to work for all concerned.

RD: Over the years Volcano has developed a team of core collaborators. What do these long standing relationships bring to the creation process?

RM: Shortcuts. I no longer have to specify which group of lighting instruments needs to be dimmed by what percentage. Mostly now I don’t even have to give the note. It usually goes like this:

I say to Rebecca [Picherack] – “was that a little too bright?”– and she says, “Yeah. Already fixed it”. Or, I’ll ask Kate “Was that a good idea?” and she’ll say yes or no, and she’ll be right, because she has a good eye, and because we’ve done this together a lot, so she can see a little into the future as a result. The trust that evolves in collaborating with a team over many years is enormous. And because so much of what we do is experimental, and often quite fragile, trust helps us make the right decisions. A trusted co-worker can give a weird idea the boost it needs, or a shoot down an overblown and/or dumb idea – and this can happen without hurt feelings.

RD: This is your second time presented at PuSh (The Four Horseman Project, 2008). For a Canadian Indie Company, what does it mean to be part of PuSh?

RM: PuSh is my favourite festival in Canada. I feel like Norman got it all right. It’s an exciting place to be. The work is respected. The vibe is chill. As an artist at PuSh, you’re well taken care of. And it’s a festival that is known around the world for work that pushes the envelope. It’s exactly where I’ll want my own work to be!

RD: What will audiences be surprised by in Century Song?

RM: Um. Maybe everything? I don’t think anyone has ever seen a show quite like this. I haven’t! I think the particular mix of history, music, projection, dance and black identity is new. And of course there’s Neema. Her talent is unbelievable. You kind of have to pinch yourself at the end of the show, when she takes her bow and you realize it wasn’t a dream.


Don’t miss Volcano Theatre’s Century Song, February 2–6, 2016 presented with The Cultch. Book tickets on your PuSh Pass, Youth Passport or as single tickets online.