Artistic Statement – Jennifer Brewin
I aspire to create performances that live — as Jonathon Lynn writes — “on the thin line between order and chaos.” I direct primarily new work and facilitate collectively created scripts. Many are large productions performed in unusual places.
The social and physical landscape of the working environment informs my work in terms of theme and aesthetic. When the creative process begins, I head for the territory where human dilemmas ferment — borrowing from the dramaturgy of chaos, doubt and desire, traveling from disorder to balance and back again.
I want to create the circumstances that bring people together to bravely investigate how we behave as a society. I want to create a form and a forum where high art and comedy can fuel important and relevant discussions about our lives. I want to create with stories of both successes and failure, that reveal how hard it is to be a good neighbour.
I am honoured to have worked with many of Canada’s most adventurous theatre artists and crafts persons. I am driven to show off this country’s unbelievable theatrical talent to the public. I want to present the best of what we are as a community.
I recognize the necessity of art. I have witnessed first-hand its profound impact on a community – from the music halls of a South African township, to cultural centres in the refugee camps of the Palestinian West Bank, to the Place des Vosges with its crowds rapt by the sound of two dozen busking violinists on an ordinary Monday afternoon, to a spontaneous outdoor theatre performance in Salmon Arm, B.C., by a cast forced from its theatre by encroaching forest fires. Art can keep fear on the other side of the door for just a moment, or fortify our resolve to carry on, or create commonality, even solidarity, among we who are watching. And, when it works, we who are performing experience transcendence through communion with the audience.”
My travels with Common Boots Theatre
Over 25 years ago I was hired to be this company’s first general manager. I was lucky to be part of the artistic explosion that was the company’s founding spirit. I was hooked by this theatre that melded the traditions of European clown with Canadian kitchen-sink collective creation. I left the company to produce and direct independently in Toronto, and then made my way to B.C.’s Caravan Farm Theatre. The Caravan’s bold aim, a product of the radical 60s, was to present invigorating, populist theatre to a large and diverse audience. The rigours of creating theatre in an underfunded, weather driven environment taught me a great deal about leading and creating in chaos.
It also taught me about my own artistic and managerial capacities. When Estelle Shook and I were hired as Co-Artistic Directors and Managers, the Caravan’s audience had dwindled, its deficit equaled 50 per cent of its operating budget, and the Arts Councils had given notice.
Estelle and my efforts at revival focused on the productions: we commissioned experienced writers who knew the Caravan, and we matched them with actors, musicians and designers – senior and emerging – with a penchant for the epic and a capacity for the sublime. That artistic renewal informed the organizational restructuring, and the lessons learned continue to guide me.
Eight years later I was offered the position of associate artist at the National Arts Centre English Theatre. After years of semi-obscurity as part of the indie theatre scene or in the hinterlands of the Okanagan Valley, I was inspired by Artistic Director Peter Hinton’s driving ambition to bring alternative theatre into national view.
And then I returned to Toronto. I remain inspired by the collective, as both a creative process and as subject matter. My early work with this company set me on my journey; the social and physical landscape of the Caravan shaped my art and informed my leadership; the ambition and scope of the National Arts Centre’s mandate encouraged me to seek a wider playing field for independent work.
I chose to continue my artistic practice with Common Boots because working collaboratively is mandated and there is an expectation that the work be disciplined, funny and filled with heart.