Jordan Tannahill | WORK IN PROCESS


L.C. Why do you make the work that you do, what compels you to make it as personal as it is? Is there anything that would stop you from making work in this manner?

J.T. Once an idea punctures me, I seek to repair the hole. I can become obsessed with seeing the idea through, quite regardless of the personal cost of doing so. I don't really see a distinction between drawing from my own life and from the world at large. I have lived in a very public way for several years now, especially with Videofag -- the art space I ran out of my home in Toronto's Kensington Market -- so I feel like the personal and private are all fair game.






Could you share an example of an “obsession,” and the process you took to make it into something shareable with the public? Do you do so at any cost to yourself and your well-being?

For me the clearest example of this was my novel Liminal. For months I didn't even really know what I was writing but I felt absolutely compelled to do so. I followed my curiosities and put aside concern for any kind of final product. This resulted in some deeply personal material about my relationship with mortality, my body, my mother, and queerness. It was written privately, passionately, and without any kind of self-censure. By the time it began to resemble a book, that personal material was already deeply and inextricably imbedded with in it. There wasn't any question of removing it. But because it was so synthesized with fiction, it felt transformed by a kind of alchemy into something that no longer belonged to me, or even to the other people who might catch glimpses of themselves within it. Thankfully I haven't experienced any adverse fallout from making this material public, though I did once receive a threatening email – not quite a death threat but certainly a very menacing message – in the days leading up to the premiere of my play Sunday in Sodom at Canadian Stage in 2016. But that had more to do with this anonymous troll being put-out by a feminist and queer reimagining of a Biblical story.

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How much of yourself do you put into your work? How do you set boundaries, if any, between your personal experiences and what you choose to share with the public in your work?

I see every piece I write as a form of self-portraiture. I actually think this is probably true of every artist, whether they would characterize it this way or not. Even a work totally removed from my everyday like Botticelli in the Fire, set in 15th century Florence – I see myself reflected in the two male leads, in the play's politics, in its humour and turns-of-phrase, etc. Close friends and family will often watch a play of mine, approach me afterwards, and mention the anecdotes or jokes I stole from our lives, and I honestly won't even have remembered consciously appropriating them. They will have just made their way into the piece through a kind of unconscious osmosis. I suppose the only boundary I have set is not around my own personal experience but around the personal experiences of my loved ones. I would never want a piece of art I made to damage those I loved.

 
Do you make work with a particular audience in mind, and if so, who do you imagine they are? Does your audience interact with and respond to your work in ways that have affected the way you see yourself and your artistic practice?

When I'm writing for the stage, I am definitely writing with an audience in mind. The audience in my mind is smart. They have a good sense of humour. They have progressive politics. And they won't be satisfied with the familiar or the formulaic. They're friends and peers, they're seasoned theatre-goers, but some of them are also people who have never been to the theatre before. When I write plays I'm writing something that has to move through time and space in front of people; it's not happening on-screen, or on a page. It is unfolding in real time in front of people. And if I cannot imagine that happening in my mind's eye, if I can't hear their laughter and silence in my head, than something is wrong with the writing.

I think since I started sharing stories for a public I listen differently. I listen to how people say things as much as I listen to what they say. I listen for the silences and for what is unsaid. Every conversation teaches me how people are in the world and, conversely, how they might be onstage.

 






Can you share a bit about your process – where and how you get your best work done, how do you get yourself in the mindset to work, rituals, routines, your favourite parts of the creative process etc?

I'm living for the next while in Budapest while my partner works on his PhD. There's this beautiful room in our apartment that overlooks the city's central market hall. In the mornings I take my coffee into this room, sit down at my desk, and get to work. As I work I can hear the rattle of the old Communist-era streetcars passing by and the bustle from the market below. I break for lunch and usually go somewhere in the city to read. At the moment I'm reading Claudio Magris's Danube, which feels fitting as I can see the river from my balcony. I usually try to write a few more hours before making dinner. Sometimes working from home gets stale. I get into ruts where all I do is check Facebook, masturbate, and raid the fridge. When I get into those ruts I need to start writing in cafes for a while. I need a place with lots of white noise. I'm easily distracted by overhead conversation. But, when I'm in a good headspace and feeling productive, home is still my preferred spot to write.


How has your life changed since you started making personal work and sharing it with the public?

When you open yourself up to others with candour, people often respond in kind. So I would say the biggest change I have noticed is the willingness for strangers to write to me about their own experiences out of the blue. And thankfully I'm well up for it. I'm always honoured when someone makes the effort to connect with me about my work and to share the ways in which it has affected them.
 

L.C. Why do you make the work that you do, what compels you to make it as personal as it is? Is there anything that would stop you from making work in this manner?

J.T. Once an idea punctures me, I seek to repair the hole. I can become obsessed with seeing the idea through, quite regardless of the personal cost of doing so. I don't really see a distinction between drawing from my own life and from the world at large. I have lived in a very public way for several years now, especially with Videofag -- the art space I ran out of my home in Toronto's Kensington Market -- so I feel like the personal and private are all fair game.

Could you share an example of an “obsession,” and the process you took to make it into something shareable with the public? Do you do so at any cost to yourself and your well-being?

For me the clearest example of this was my novel Liminal. For months I didn't even really know what I was writing but I felt absolutely compelled to do so. I followed my curiosities and put aside concern for any kind of final product. This resulted in some deeply personal material about my relationship with mortality, my body, my mother, and queerness. It was written privately, passionately, and without any kind of self-censure. By the time it began to resemble a book, that personal material was already deeply and inextricably imbedded with in it. There wasn't any question of removing it. But because it was so synthesized with fiction, it felt transformed by a kind of alchemy into something that no longer belonged to me, or even to the other people who might catch glimpses of themselves within it. Thankfully I haven't experienced any adverse fallout from making this material public, though I did once receive a threatening email – not quite a death threat but certainly a very menacing message – in the days leading up to the premiere of my play Sunday in Sodom at Canadian Stage in 2016. But that had more to do with this anonymous troll being put-out by a feminist and queer reimagining of a Biblical story.
Image
How much of yourself do you put into your work? How do you set boundaries, if any, between your personal experiences and what you choose to share with the public in your work?

I see every piece I write as a form of self-portraiture. I actually think this is probably true of every artist, whether they would characterize it this way or not. Even a work totally removed from my everyday like Botticelli in the Fire, set in 15th century Florence – I see myself reflected in the two male leads, in the play's politics, in its humour and turns-of-phrase, etc. Close friends and family will often watch a play of mine, approach me afterwards, and mention the anecdotes or jokes I stole from our lives, and I honestly won't even have remembered consciously appropriating them. They will have just made their way into the piece through a kind of unconscious osmosis. I suppose the only boundary I have set is not around my own personal experience but around the personal experiences of my loved ones. I would never want a piece of art I made to damage those I loved.

Do you make work with a particular audience in mind, and if so, who do you imagine they are? Does your audience interact with and respond to your work in ways that have affected the way you see yourself and your artistic practice?

When I'm writing for the stage, I am definitely writing with an audience in mind. The audience in my mind is smart. They have a good sense of humour. They have progressive politics. And they won't be satisfied with the familiar or the formulaic. They're friends and peers, they're seasoned theatre-goers, but some of them are also people who have never been to the theatre before. When I write plays I'm writing something that has to move through time and space in front of people; it's not happening on-screen, or on a page. It is unfolding in real time in front of people. And if I cannot imagine that happening in my mind's eye, if I can't hear their laughter and silence in my head, than something is wrong with the writing.

I think since I started sharing stories for a public I listen differently. I listen to how people say things as much as I listen to what they say. I listen for the silences and for what is unsaid. Every conversation teaches me how people are in the world and, conversely, how they might be onstage.

Can you share a bit about your process – where and how you get your best work done, how do you get yourself in the mindset to work, rituals, routines, your favourite parts of the creative process etc?

I'm living for the next while in Budapest while my partner works on his PhD. There's this beautiful room in our apartment that overlooks the city's central market hall. In the mornings I take my coffee into this room, sit down at my desk, and get to work. As I work I can hear the rattle of the old Communist-era streetcars passing by and the bustle from the market below. I break for lunch and usually go somewhere in the city to read. At the moment I'm reading Claudio Magris's Danube, which feels fitting as I can see the river from my balcony. I usually try to write a few more hours before making dinner. Sometimes working from home gets stale. I get into ruts where all I do is check Facebook, masturbate, and raid the fridge. When I get into those ruts I need to start writing in cafes for a while. I need a place with lots of white noise. I'm easily distracted by overhead conversation. But, when I'm in a good headspace and feeling productive, home is still my preferred spot to write.

How has your life changed since you started making personal work and sharing it with the public?

When you open yourself up to others with candour, people often respond in kind. So I would say the biggest change I have noticed is the willingness for strangers to write to me about their own experiences out of the blue. And thankfully I'm well up for it. I'm always honoured when someone makes the effort to connect with me about my work and to share the ways in which it has affected them.




JORDAN TANNAHILL | Jordan is a Canadian writer and artist working across multiple disciplines. His work has been presented in theatres, festivals, and galleries across Canada and internationally. In 2016, he was described by The Toronto Star as being "widely celebrated as one of Canada’s most accomplished young playwrights, filmmakers and all-round multidisciplinary artists", and by the Montreal Gazette as "the hottest name in Canadian theatre." His plays have been translated into multiple languages and widely honoured in Canada and abroad. He is a three-time Governor General's Award finalist in English Drama, and won the prize in 2014 for Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays. His plays, performance texts, and productions have been presented across the world at venues including at The Young Vic Theatre (London), Woolly Mammoth Theatre (Washington DC), The Kitchen (NYC), Volkstheater (Vienna), Canadian Stage (Toronto), The National Arts Centre of Canada (Ottawa), Sadler's Wells (London), The Lincoln Centre (NYC), The Edinburgh International Festival, and on London's West End. His books include the autofiction novel Liminal (House of Anansi, 2018), and Theatre of the Unimpressed: In Search of Vital Drama (Coach House Press, 2015). From 2008 - 2016, Jordan wrote and directed plays through his theatre company Suburban Beast. The company’s work was staged in theatres, art galleries, and found spaces, and often with non-traditional collaborators like night-shift workers, frat boys, preteens, and employees of Toronto's famed Honest Ed's discount emporium. From 2012 - 2016, in collaboration with William Ellis, Jordan ran the alternative art space Videofag out of their home in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood. Over the four years of its operation, Videofag became an influential hub for queer and avant-garde work in Canada. As a filmmaker, Jordan's work has been presented in festivals and galleries the world over. His virtual reality performance Draw Me Close, produced by the National Theatre (UK) and the National Film Board of Canada, was presented at both the Tribeca Film Festival and Venice Biennale in 2017. The piece will run at London's Young Vic Theatre in January 2019. Jordan has also worked in dance, choreographing and performing with Christopher House in Marienbad for the Toronto Dance Theatre in 2016 and writing the text for Akram Khan's celebrated final solo Xenos, currently touring internationally. | jordantannahill.com

ILLUSTRATIONS | Wenting Li
JORDAN TANNAHILL | Jordan is a Canadian writer and artist working across multiple disciplines. His work has been presented in theatres, festivals, and galleries across Canada and internationally. In 2016, he was described by The Toronto Star as being "widely celebrated as one of Canada’s most accomplished young playwrights, filmmakers and all-round multidisciplinary artists", and by the Montreal Gazette as "the hottest name in Canadian theatre." His plays have been translated into multiple languages and widely honoured in Canada and abroad. He is a three-time Governor General's Award finalist in English Drama, and won the prize in 2014 for Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays. His plays, performance texts, and productions have been presented across the world at venues including at The Young Vic Theatre (London), Woolly Mammoth Theatre (Washington DC), The Kitchen (NYC), Volkstheater (Vienna), Canadian Stage (Toronto), The National Arts Centre of Canada (Ottawa), Sadler's Wells (London), The Lincoln Centre (NYC), The Edinburgh International Festival, and on London's West End. His books include the autofiction novel Liminal (House of Anansi, 2018), and Theatre of the Unimpressed: In Search of Vital Drama (Coach House Press, 2015). From 2008 - 2016, Jordan wrote and directed plays through his theatre company Suburban Beast. The company’s work was staged in theatres, art galleries, and found spaces, and often with non-traditional collaborators like night-shift workers, frat boys, preteens, and employees of Toronto's famed Honest Ed's discount emporium. From 2012 - 2016, in collaboration with William Ellis, Jordan ran the alternative art space Videofag out of their home in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood. Over the four years of its operation, Videofag became an influential hub for queer and avant-garde work in Canada. As a filmmaker, Jordan's work has been presented in festivals and galleries the world over. His virtual reality performance Draw Me Close, produced by the National Theatre (UK) and the National Film Board of Canada, was presented at both the Tribeca Film Festival and Venice Biennale in 2017. The piece will run at London's Young Vic Theatre in January 2019. Jordan has also worked in dance, choreographing and performing with Christopher House in Marienbad for the Toronto Dance Theatre in 2016 and writing the text for Akram Khan's celebrated final solo Xenos, currently touring internationally. | jordantannahill.com

ILLUSTRATIONS | Wenting Li
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