The Biography Project
This past month, Electric City Magazine editors Gabe Pollock and David Tough took part in a rather unique event: The Biography Project, organized as part of the Precarious ArtsWORK Festival. We invited local artists – particularly emerging local artists – to come out to the Theatre on King to be interviewed by us, so we could write their artist bio.
Through a diverse range of events, the Precarious Festival has examined all the challenges that artists face turning their artistic practice into a career, and encouraged young artists to think about that transition. Crafting an artist bio is an important step along that path of becoming a professional. Frequently, artists, lacking the resources to hire a writer, are forced to craft their own bios, which can be a strange and difficult exercise.
We spoke to over a dozen artists that night, including a wide range of practices, ages, and experience levels. It was a joy to meet so many new people and hear about such a diversity of talents, and we are glad to present their bios here.
LA Alfonso is best-known as a filmmaker and multi-media artist. He describes himself, however, as a placement artist, placing one word in front of another, or one image in front of another, whatever form he’s working in. Awakened to the power of moving images by Spielberg’s Jaws as a kid, LA was transformed by Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil when he saw it as a film student at York University, and now is influenced by EDM culture and music, preparing video installations for performances and festivals. A proponent of ukulele playing, LA hosts the UKE BOX on Trent Radio. His films Trying to Be Some Kind of Hero (2003), Twelve (2009), and This City Has Wings (2010), which explore questions of belonging, identity, and community, have won him numerous awards.
Sylvie Dasné is a dancer, trained for 17 years in ballet and contemporary dance, but now focused primarily on African-rooted dance forms from around the world. Inspired by Alvin Ailey, a pioneering dance studio that opened space for dancers of colour in the 1960s, she studies and performs dances of Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Haiti, as well as West and South African traditional dances. She still works in ballet and contemporary as well, decolonizing the formal techniques with undulations and body movements that consciously break the rules. Sylvie recently danced in when I think of her, choreographed by Victoria Mohr-Blakeney, which was performed as part of the Precarious ArtsWORK Festival.
Cora Flora is a musician with a message. “My primary interest is bridging Heaven and Earth,” she says. “Heaven isn’t so far and Earth isn’t so bad, and they’re in a harmonic dance.” She has released six albums, had music on CBC Radio, and played at festivals across North America and as far away as Finland and Hawaii. Through her raw, personal, yet universal songwriting, which has been compared to Ani DiFranco and India.Arie, she has entered into a community of spirituality and healing, and is continuing to search for new ways of getting her message out. With her latest album, 2017’s Illumination, Cora is experimenting with music videos and, most recently, dance, with a performance as part of 2017’s small dance for a small space festival.
You’re just as likely to see Ryan Kerr directing innovative theatrical works that he wrote himself, as you are to see him rigging lights or patching holes in the wall. He founded the Theatre on King five years ago, and it has become an essential spot in Peterborough for emerging theatre artists and experimental works. He received an early training in all aspects of theatre in high school, and when he arrived in Peterborough to attend Trent University, he dove into the arts scene through the Union Theatre. He continued grabbing theatre gigs wherever possible while running the alternative book distributor Marginal Distribution with Esther Vincent, and eventually founded the Theatre on King in 2012. “I have a belief we’re all in this together,” he says. “It’s really satisfying to pass on the information, and see the youth and enthusiasm pick it up.”
Eryn Lidster has seen first-hand what goes into creating a piece of theatre, doing tech and stage management for a number of shows at the Theatre on King, for Public Energy’s Alternating Currents festival, and for Wyatt Lamoureux’s Algonquin Highway, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival. As a cultural students student at Trent University, she has explored art through the lens of how community and culture function, and she has put that to work in experimental visual art and with Invisible, a play about the production of a play, which premiered at Precarious: Peterborough ArtsWORK Festival. She is fascinated by the process of discovery in art, and uses her own art to make that process visible.
Nicole Malbeuf is a physical theatre artist, an aerialist, and an acrobat. Coming from a background in competitive gymnastics and with a degree in fine arts and design from OCAD, she brings an artistic sensibility to her work that is often lacking in traditional circus arts, with a foundation in intentionality and technique. Her works are often structured around narratives and concepts, creating unusual works performed on fabric high above the ground. She has developed independent productions, including Capturing Water, a short work about water scarcity presented as part of Public Energy’s Alternating Currents festival, has taught aerial skills and dance, and has worked with Peterborough’s PyroFlys and Mississauga’s A2D2 Aerial Dance Company.
A poet and composer, Daphne Molson has been performing and publishing for many years in Peterborough. A pianist, she learned the rudiments of music from the nuns of St Joseph, and later studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she also played the clarinet in the Ada Lee Gospel Singers. Among her over 450 piano compositions is “Four Movements for Mario Lemieux,” which was performed at Artspace. A fan of Chopin and Satie as well as the Beatles and jazz, Daphne is also at work on a book about visual artists in Peterborough.
Janette Platana has worn many hats: a poet, a playwright, a comedian, an actor, an academic, a punk musician. “People in Peterborough have seen me perform Marlene Dietrich songs dressed in a gorilla suit,” she says. Her diverse career has taken her from the stages of Second City to a 15-year career as a psychotherapist. And yet, themes keep recurring throughout her work, in particular the story of Persephone, kidnapped to become Queen of the Dead, and brought back as the embodiment of fertility and growth. Her last book of short stories, 2015’s A Token of My Affliction, was nominated for a Trillium Book Award and Frank M O’Connor Award in comedy, and she is currently working on a book of poetry, Trauma Kit, about bearing witness to trauma.
Kate Story is an author and theatre artist. An avid dancer and reader as a child, Kate was positioned early in her acting career as uncastable and, uninspired by the female characters on offer, took to writing for the stage. Prose came later, when she enrolled in a workshop and was advised to write a novel. She did and, though it was bad, she revised it and it was published as Blasted (2009), winning Honourable Mention in the Adult Category of the 2009 Sunburst Awards. Wrecked Upon This Shore followed in 2011, and two new books are on the way. Kate, who was the principal organizer of the Precarious ArtsWORK Festival, won the KM Hunter Award in 2015, an honour particularly sweet as it rarely goes to anyone outside Toronto, and her latest book, This Unsubstantial Pageant, was listed as a top science fiction pick by the Toronto Star.
A writer and cultural historian of media, Sam Tweedle takes kitsch very seriously. He has been recording the stories of people who were on the forefront of history of media, and have now largely been forgotten, for a decade and a half, mostly online at popcultureaddict.com. Educated in history and cultural studies at Trent, he excels at research, following threads from, say, a Margie board game found serendipitously at Craftworks at the Barn in Fowler’s Corners, to the Margie TV show that ran a couple of seasons in the early 60s, to a phone call with Cynthia Pepper, the show’s star, all within a few days. His interview style, inspired by Elwy Yost (Magic Shadows, Saturday Night at the Movies) and Tom Snyder (Tomorrow), aims to move beyond simply extracting information and observations out of subjects towards a real human conversation.
Vagenda is perhaps the only musician in the world who started off as a fictional character in the multiplayer video game DC Universe Online. From her humble beginnings as a superhero, she has developed into a whole electronic persona, with a 26-chapter backstory published online, a voice courtesy of Japanese vocaloid program Hatsune Miku, a visual identity created by Taiwanese artist Monori Rogue, and even merchandise, including real-life versions of her short swords and top hat, as well as a music manager, Peterborough audio engineer Brian Dowding. She has served as a fascinating example of the possibilities of identity online. Her songs range from heavy metal to jazz to folk to opera. Her first album, the ambitious 26-track Nerado Black Sessions, was released in 2016, and a followup is coming soon.
An actor and theatre producer, Nikki Weatherdon’s love of the stage is newly rekindled. She did theatre in high school, and even minored in it in university, but had moved away from it as a young mother. When her daughter Samuelle began acting at six, she remembered how fun it was. Now a jack of all trades with Planet 12, a production company specializing in young people’s theatre, Nikki has also acted, starring in No Exit at the Theatre on King and My Narrator at the Theatre Guild, earning an Eastern Ontario Drama League Best Actor nomination for the latter. Upcoming projects include an anti-bullying Christmas play from Planet 12 that will tour local schools.
Samuelle Weatherdon has been performing since she was six years old, when she appeared in a school production of The Wizard of Oz, and she hasn’t stopped since. Early performances at the Arbor Theatre and the Peterborough Theatre Guild exposed her to a wide group of theatre professionals, and she grew to love the process of finding a character and building a performance along with a collective. In recent years she has become a regular fixture at plays at the Theatre on King and, for the past four years, has been performing in front of thousands at Millbrook’s 4th Line Theatre. Most recently, Samuelle has expanded into screen acting, with a role in the web series The Amazing Gayl Pile Show.