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Curatorial Statement - 2024 SummerWorks Performance Festival

What is Survival Mode?

We’ve all been wrestling with a lot right now. 

As we consider this question, we must acknowledge that for so many people around the world, and in our closest neighborhoods and communities, there is no entry or exit from any kind of mode – survival is just life itself.

At this moment, there is a lot happening in the world. There are numerous armed conflicts; the ongoing genocide and erasure of identity and culture; authoritarian and dictatorial powers enacting legislation that limits individual and group rights, autonomy, and agency; the continued destruction of our natural environment; and ongoing systems of oppression, discrimination, and exploitation. 

Add to this, all of our own personal entanglements with family and friends, in social contexts and in work settings, and the ongoing pandemic effects on our individual and collective mental health and physical well-being.

All of this impacts us – in innumerable, diverse, and complex ways – both subtle and blunt. 

And what is survival?

I suspect that the answer is as diverse as there are people in the world. Survival feels, looks, sounds – and is different for everyone. Survival is protest, it’s rest, it’s lots of action and energy, and sometimes, it’s just taking a pause for reflection, and breathing for a minute. It’s part of a never-ending cycle and an ever-teetering balance. 

This past year, we received and reviewed 355 proposals through our Festival Call for Submissions, and engaged in one-to-one meetings with over 200 independent artists from across Canada. Through these processes, two distinct realities became starkly clear: there is an overwhelming abundance of creative and passionate energy pouring into the development of artistic work, and, so many artists are just trying to survive right now.

Survival, as a theme, resonated strongly in quite a few submissions, and appeared in nuanced ways throughout many more artistic proposals – it was a significant thread weaving through so many of our creative communities.

As a Festival, we seek to propose the act of gathering together, in conversation and in community, to witness thoughtful, rigorous, surprising, provoking, and inspiring live performance, as one pathway forward towards understanding, reconciliation, and joy – to address this notion of survival.

We have often been told that the source of genius rests with the individual, that “I alone can conquer all and achieve greatness”. Well, perhaps our real genius and our magic lies in the alchemy of our relations, and inside our collective minds, bodies, and souls. 

This year’s Festival holds space for a diversity of perspectives and lived experiences, featuring artists from across Canada, and also from Morocco, Kenya, Taiwan, and South Korea. 

We encourage you to dive into our curated Festival program to uncover all of the curious links between each unique presentation. Whether it’s theatrical commentaries on capitalism, overconsumption, and body politics; choreographies that speak to the preservation of language and its relationship to borders; works in public space that highlight the deconstructed realities of housing precarity and income inequality; community-engaged works deeply rooted in authentic stories; performances that highlight all of the slimy creatures that live with us, and below us; new works that honor queer identities through deeply personal narratives; or digital works that interrogate our relationship to live performance; each creative project within the Festival engages, responds, or addresses the idea of survival in its own distinct way.

To be frank, we do not think that this Festival theme is all that creative; we are merely responding to the current zeitgeist and leaning into what has always been true about SummerWorks – we deeply listen to our artists and audiences and respond accordingly with innovative, risky, and boundary-pushing Festival programming.

So, what is Survival Mode?

We welcome you to the 34th SummerWorks Performance Festival, and perhaps we can answer this question together, or at least get a bit closer to figuring it all out.

— Michael Caldwell, Artistic Director, SummerWorks