York theatre professors in the spotlight this month

The creative work of York theatre professors is showcased in professional productions on three Toronto stages this month. Stepping into the limelight are playwright and performer Erika Batdorf, choreographer and director Michael Greyeyes, and designers Shawn Kerwin and Teresa Przybylski.

Greyeyes is the choreographer and stage director of the first ever Cree opera, The Journey (Pimooteewin), which receives its world premiere on Feb. 15. The Journey boasts a libretto in Cree and English by renowned Canadian aboriginal playwright Tomson Highway, with music by Melissa Hui. The production stars soprano Xin Wang, tenor Bud Roach and narrator Cara Gee, with the Elmer Iseler Singers and a chamber orchestra.

Left: Michael Greyeyes

The opera is based on a Cree legend in which Weesageechak (The Trickster) and Migisoo (the Eagle), try to bring back the spirits of the dead to the land of the living. They journey to the magic island where the spirits of the dead dance every night by the light of the moon.

Greyeyes, who teaches movement for actors at York, is a Plains Cree actor and dancer. He has worked with the National Ballet of Canada and New York choregrapher Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech company. His acting credits include the award-winning films Dance Me Outside, Sunshine State and Smoke Signals.

Greyeyes’ faculty colleagues, Przybylski  and Kerwin, are creative collaborators on The Journey, with Kerwin designing the costumes and Przybylski, the sets for the production.

Both Kerwin, who is Chair of York’s Theatre Department, and Przybylski are award-winning stage designers whose work has been seen in major theatres across the country. Kerwin’s credits include the National Arts Centre, Stratford Festival, Mirvish Productions, CanStage, Soulpepper and the Blyth Festival, where she is an associate artist. She is a two-time Dora Award-winner and a seven-time nominee. Przybylski, a five-time Dora winner, has designed for opera, theatre, dance and film, including the Canadian Opera Company, Shaw and Straford Festivals, Native Earth and Tarragon Theatre.

Right: Shawn Kerwin

The Journey plays two nights only, Friday and Saturday, Feb.  15 & 16, at 8pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre, 27 Front St. East. For tickets call 416-736-7723 or visit the Jane Mallett Theatre Web site.

Przybylski’s set and costume designs are also featured in Erika Batdorf’s critically acclaimed solo show, Poetic License, opening tonight at Factory Studio Theatre.

Left: Teresa Przybylski

In Poetic License, Batdorf plays an uptight creative writing professor who is having a mid-life crisis. She creates a funny, magical world, where poetry is edible, ruffian angels describe paradise and the audience is fed an unexpected meal. Directed by York theatre alumnus Todd Hammond (BFA ‘80, MFA ’96), the show includes poetry by a host of literary luminaries, including Yeats, Kerouac, Blake, the Iranian poet Tahirh, Oliver, Ginsberg, Wilde and Artaud.

Batdorf is reprising her hit play after presenting it at the seventh Women Playwrights International (WPI) conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, last year. Poetic License won rave reviews in its first Toronto incarnation in 2005. NOW Magazine gave the show four stars, calling it "hilarious and thoughtful…emotionally compelling, visually elegant…", and eye Weekly said: "Wonderful…one of the most humorous, note-perfect performances I’ve seen all year."

Poetic License runs Feb. 15 to March 2 at Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street (at Adelaide). Tickets are available by calling 416-504-9971.

It has been a busy month for Batdorf. In addition to performing Poetic License, she is premiering her new dance theatre piece 1848 Experiment #1, running Feb. 20 to 24, as part of the 29th annual Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

In 1848 Experiment #1, a work about self-expression, an actor played by York alumnus Adam Seybold (MFA ’05) and a dancer played by Canadian actress Kate Digby struggle to cross the mind/body divide. Batdorf created the work in collaboration with the two performers. The play was inspired in part by Batdorf’s trip to the WPI conference in Jakarta, where many young women asked how she found her own voice. It was also inspired by two pivotal events that took place almost simultaneously in the early years of the women’s rights movement in 1848 – the Seneca Convention in the United States and an Iranian woman publicly unveiling herself.

Right: Erika Batdorf

Tickets for 1848 Experiment #1 can be obtained by calling 416-975-8555 or through the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Web site.

A performer, choreographer, playwright and director, Batdorf has created numerous pieces for actor/dancer ensembles as well as presenting her own solo performances at venues such as the Boston Center for the Arts, New York International Fringe Festival, La Rotonde, Centre de Danse Contemporain de Quebec, Toronto’s Fringe Festival and the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts. The winner of the 2007 SummerWorks theatre festival prize, she is a professor of movement in York’s theatre department and is an associate playwright at Toronto’s CanStage.