Umbrella Talk with Jacob Zimmer

We have an unusual Umbrella Talk this week. Jacob Zimmer works with collective creation so when he asked to participate we weren't sure how to deal with it. Jacob's about to open Dedicated to the Revolutions, which has been a multi-year project examining the impact of scientific revolutions (Gutenberg, Copernican, Newtonian, Industrial, Darwinian, Nuclear) in our lives. I have seen a couple of the revolutions and the unique mix of lecture, play, song, audience participation and theatre is something that I really want to support.

But how to reconcile this work within the Umbrella Talk format? When I mentioned the problem, Jacob said, "we are collaborative creation - it's open and everyone brings a lot, but I'm the one to get the blame if it goes wrong, and the one to try and answer for the show... so it's not quite collective." He wanted a go at the same questions and to explain his process through them. Let us know what you think.

A little more about Jacob Zimmer

Jacob Zimmer is a dramaturge, director, writer and performer and Artistic Director of Small Wooden Shoe. Jacob also works extensively in dance as the Resident Dramaturge and Animateur at Dancemakers in Toronto and in an on-going dramaturgical collaboration with choreographer Ame Henderson/ Public Recordings. His writing has been published in Canadian Theatre Review and C Magazine and various online places. Jacob received the 2008 Ken McDougall Award for emerging directors and studied at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts.

What do you drink on opening night?
Beer - just because it takes a while per unit. And given nerves and all it’s good to have a systems to slow down. For Dedicated though I’m going to have to wait until after since I’m actually in it.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I’ve always directed the work I make. I came back to “making plays” (“writing” isn’t quite the word) in university because I wanted to direct a version of Medea that didn’t exist.

And for the past 8 years or so, the plays are not literary documents, but performances created with the performers and other collaborators, so it’s impossible to separate the play from the production.

There is usually someone other than me on the outside too. It’s a nebulas but desperately important role for the work. We have yet to find an appropriate title for the role, and it’s still working out what it is, but I know that it is vital and I’d be lost without them.

For Dedicated I’ve been blessed to work with my two favorite performance directors - Brendan Healy in the development process and Ame Henderson in this final stages. They are both angels and have brought everything to the work.

What scares you? What can't you write about?

My work has never been directly personal - I tend to think about things in the social and historical fields, believing that there will be connections there. I don’t know if that’s a fear. Or maybe it’s a fear about self indulgence. Or having nothing that interesting to stay.

I’m also shy away from sexuality on stage. Curious about that.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
Maps. I’ve want to make a show about maps and cities for a long time. That might be next.

And radio - but that not an “about” - I just want to make a live-to-tape radio show that doesn’t sound like it’s live. But is. And is really good to watch live.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
Durational performance.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
Of course depends on from where it comes. Criticism usually seems valid. Except for the “That’s not theatre” variety which is just frustrating – we can have a better discussion than that. Of course it destroys me in tiny bits, but that destruction and rebuilding is one of way things are going to get better.

Praise just makes me awkward and I usually talk about the people I work with - since it’s true that they are very very good.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
I’d like to tour. I like the idea of shows having a longer life then the first run.
In Toronto, I love being at Buddies and Theatre Passe Muraille and Theatre Centre are both great to Small Wooden Shoe and the type of work we’re making.

In a geeky way I’d love to do something at the Berliner Ensemble.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
In terms of what goes on stage, it gets written in the room. A process improvisation followed by notes, and then sometimes I write a version of what gets said that then gets improvised on again. Some time after the show is closed (usually when required for a grant) I’ll transcribe the documentation video and call that the script.

In terms of other writing - I should leave my computer more often, since it’s turned into a giant procrastination machine. I like writing out of the house and with a black pen. And just need to keep reminding myself to do it.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
I’m trying to stop thinking of such things and be closer to the moment. But I will admit to wanting them to be writing about the work in 50 years.

That there was an engagement in the world and society that moved past style. That curiosity and a deep concern for the coming together of people were ongoing values. That the personal, social and political connections were visible.

What inspires you?
The people I work and live with. The world around me. The interest and excitement of others. Moments of kindness.