Q&A with the creators of Concord Floral
January 25, 2017
We talked to Erin Brubacher, Cara Spooner and Jordan Tannahill, the creators of Concord Floral, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Governor General’s Award and won the 2015 Dora Award for Outstanding New Play.
Tannahill wrote the script over three iterations, while Brubacher and Spooner directed the process and the casts of young performers who have brought the piece into being in cities across Canada. They give us some insight into their process and what audiences can expect from this critically-acclaimed show.
When and why did you create Concord Floral?
Jordan: Back in 2010 I went to a party thrown at the real Concord Floral, an abandoned greenhouse in Vaughan, a suburb north of Toronto. I was 22 at the time and the greenhouse reminded me so much of the spaces I’d hung-out in while a teenager in suburban Ottawa. It made me think about how adolescents reclaim disused spaces in their suburbs as sites of refuge, ritual and coming-of-age.
Around that time, I stumbled upon Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, a 14th century allegory about a group of ten teenagers who flee plague-ridden Florence and shelter in an abandoned villa—it’s one of the first Western literary works that deals with adolescence as an age distinct from childhood and adulthood. Finding that text was a light-bulb moment which re-framed the teenage impulse to escape as something of a timeless myth. I had a series of stage images and text fragments floating around in my head that I approached Erin and Cara with. The three of us first staged a thirty minute version of the piece at Canadian Stage’s Festival of Ideas and Creation in the spring of 2012.
Erin: At the time I was directing a performance training program for teenagers at Tarragon Theatre and thought it was a good opportunity to give them something they could sink their teeth into. I brought Cara on as another guest artist in that program so that we could develop a shared vocabulary with the youth collaborators. I was also excited about the chance to establish an ensemble with a group of people from diverse and geographically wide spread neighbourhoods across the city and adjacent suburbs.
Jordan: After that first iteration I went away and wrote a new script, centered around a teenage assassin named Donkey Girl, which we workshopped at Theatre Passe Muraille in the fall of 2012.
Erin: The plague was much more literal in that version! Afterwards we talked a lot about what sort of story we really wanted to tell and what was at the heart of the thing.
Jordan: I wrote a brand new script, with a focus on choral language and bodies in space; that later became the Concord Floral that premiered at the Theatre Centre in 2014 and has toured since.
What interests you about youth?
Erin: In the fall of 2016, Cara and I were directing a cast in Toronto comprised mainly of young performers with whom we had already mounted the show, either in 2014 or more recently in Ottawa. A big part of our practice in the rehearsal hall is listening, both in and out of the piece. It has been incredible to hear the evolution of the stories of the teenage co-conspirators with whom we have worked over time. Even the mundane things: In grade 11 the trials and tribulations of taking public transit and communicating with parents were ever-present but, after grade 12, the observation of the day-to-day turned to laundry and preparing meals and negotiating different responsibilities for and with other people. It is a privilege to witness and learn from this transitional time in life. For me, making art is an opportunity to embody a world we might hope for and a chance to perform behavior, philosophies, politics and attitudes that are hard to live. I’m interested in creating these spaces with young artists and modelling a way of working that privileges forms of collaboration.
Jordan: At the time I began writing Concord Floral, I was just writing what I knew. I was writing a piece for, and about, my peers. As I’ve moved further into my twenties, and my perspective has become more retrospective, the thing that interests me about adolescence is what a tectonic moment it is in our lives. It feels like one’s whole life can shift and be reformed from one day to the next. I’m also incredibly inspired by the casts of young people we have worked with over the years; particularly their wisdom, rigour and care for one another.
What can audiences expect from a performance?
Erin: An unwavering performance from an ensemble of ten teenagers who offer a story on their own terms.
Jordan: A story about your neighborhood, or a neighborhood you probably know. And a thrilling sound design by Christopher Willes and lighting design by Kimberly Purtell.
What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming presentations in Vancouver?
Jordan: Erin and Cara have worked with casts of young people from each city of Concord Floral’s presentation, so the productions have been like mirrors held up to each city. I’m really looking forward to seeing Vancouver reflected in this show. Also, Erin and the cast will be in residence in Burnaby as she directs this production, which will then tour to Vancouver and Surrey—remarkably these Burnaby and Surrey performances will be the first time the show has been presented outside of a downtown core.
How does PuSh figure into the Concord Floral project for you?
Erin: The aesthetics of Concord Floral are very much in conversation with the work PuSh has programmed over the years.
Jordan: This feels like the perfect platform to share this piece with Vancouver.
Erin: We’ve had the chance to establish a network of young artists across the country with this project. Vancouver is an important part of this.
What other theatre or performing arts are you excited about right now?
Jordan: Well just to plug Club PuSh, which I’ve helped curate this year: I’m excited for the off-kilter brilliance of performance artist Bridget Moser, the wild personas of Dynasty Handbag, and the guns-a-blazing musical stylings of Lido Pimienta. Hong Kong Exile and AnimalParts are also not to be missed.
Erin: I’m particularly excited that a UK artist, Nic Green, whose practices have had a huge influence on the way that I approach the Concord Floral project, will be performing at PuSh this year with the company Quarantine. Can’t wait to see her in that.
Concord Floral runs January 25 to 29, 2017 at Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. It will then go onto Surrey, playing February 3 and 4 at the Surrey Arts Centre.
Presented with The Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Surrey Civic Theatres and Touchstone Theatre.