Liam Karry is a director, producer and dramaturge, as well as the founding and current artistic director of The Single Thread Theatre Company, which specializes in site specific, immersive theatrical work. He also co-founded the Kick & Push Festival, a month long celebration of innovative theatrical staging in Kingston, Ontario. Somewhere in between his hectic rehearsal/performance schedule and burning the midnight oil putting together this massive undertaking, we caught up with Liam to gain insight into what makes the Kick & Push Festival an undeniable gem for Kingston and its thriving threatre scene.
1. Where are you from, what brought you to Kingston, and why did you remain? Tell us about yourself and your background with respect to theatre and the performing arts.
I grew up in Grand Bend, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Huron. I first came to Kingston to attend Queen’s University, and remained because I fell in love with the city. It was here that my passion for innovative staging and cultural entrepreneurship blossomed.
2. As one of the four co-founders of the Kick and Push Festival, you had a big hand in getting this project off the ground in 2015, as well as ensuring its return for summer 2016. What challenges did you encounter along the way? What inspires you to be a part of this extensive and impressive festival?
The Kingston theatrical community has always been passionate and prolific. Thus our primary challenge in establishing the Kick & Push Festival was to create a community controlled platform capable of harnessing and ultimately enhancing the raw enthusiasm and talent for theatre which has been constantly bubbling over in Kingston for the last 80 years.
My co-founders and I are among those who are working to establish Kingston as place in which innovative artistic practice is encouraged and valued, and we believe the best way to do so is to support and provide opportunities for artists who dwell in the limestone city. If I may, it seems to be working.
3. For this year’s Kick and Push Festival, you’ll be directing a a production centred around the true story of Ambrose Small, a theatre tycoon slash millionaire who vanished overnight in the early 1900s. What sparked your interest in telling this unique tale? Why do you think the mystery of Ambrose’s disappearance continues to intrigue audiences and inspire performers?
My interest in Ambrose Small, the man and the mystery, was first piqued when I read “The Skin of A Lion” by Michael Ondaatje. The second was when Brett Christopher, Artistic producer of Theatre Kingston and co-founder of the Kick & Push festival, shared with me his own fascination with the story. The opportunity to explore the choices that led to his vanishing is what continues to inspire me. The possible “what, who, where and when” are interesting, but with this production, specifically this year, I am working with a community of artists to mine the possibilities of the why.
4. Ambrose is a site-specific performance, which gets audience members out of their seats, and takes them on a journey through the backstage of the Grand Theatre. What unique characteristics does this historic venue have, which support the immersive experience?
The techniques used to create experiential flow within this form are numerous, but all of them require absolute faith in the possibilities which lay within human intellect, compassion, and imagination. I believe this faith must form the bedrock of any “world building” process, within theatre or otherwise. The Grand Theatre is the perfect space partner for site specific work, not only because of the rich history and layout of the building, but also because of the community of welcoming, generous and skilled professionals who have chosen the Grand as their professional home. When you create in a space, one must partner with the space shareholders to be successful. The Grand Theatre Staff, as well as the City of Kingston’s Department of Cultural Services, continue to make working in the Grand Theatre, an incredible experience.
5. As a part of The Kick & Push Festival’s inaugural Storefront Festival, FAKE NERD GIRL, a show you helped create, is also being performed. Tell us a bit more about what FAKE NERD GIRL is all about. What do you hope audiences members will take away from this show in particular?
FAKE NERD GIRL is a one woman show which explores how one female teenager confronts the sexism which lurks in the dark corners of nerd culture. The title character follows her passion to explore Star Trek, first person shooters, Dungeons and Dragons, comic books, and cosplay, but when she encounters misogynistic trolls she finds she has little choice but to become the super hero she was always meant to be. I co-created FAKE NERD GIRL with the its star, Toronto-based performer Chloe Payne, a graduate of world-renowned clown school École Philippe Gaulier. Her ability to meld comedy, drama and social commentary into a compelling, holistic experience is nothing short of incredible. It is darkly funny, based on real-life experiences of real nerd girls, and is to quote from the press release, “for nerds, nerd lovers, and anyone who’s ever been curious about this unique subculture.”
6. The 2016 Kick & Push Festival continues to fill a void in Kingston’s summer event programming, and it otherwise caters to a wide variety of audience members. What sort of feedback have you received regarding the importance of the festival to local tourism and as an entertainment option.
Short, sincere statements of shocked amazement and enthusiasm have formed the overwhelming bulk of the feedback. Typically, “A whole month of original theatre? In Kingston? Every day of the week? Fantastic!”
One of our goals in this second year is to formalize and expand our process to gather quantitative and qualitative feedback. We are fortunate enough to have many supportive organizational shareholders, including the Great Waterway and the Kingston Accommodation Partners, who have been very generous sharing their expertise.