Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 206: Strange Joy — with Erika Latta

Speakers: Samantha Walters, Am Johal, Erika Latta

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Samantha Walters  0:03 
Hello listeners! I’m Sam with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. On this episode of Below the Radar, our host Am Johal is joined by Erika Latta, Assistant Professor in Theatre Performance at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, and the Artistic co-director and co-founder of WaxFactory in New York. In this episode, Erika explores her appreciation for boundary-pushing in the arts, her visions for SFU’s theatre program, and her journey as a theatre-maker, including some memorable experiences she’s had while touring across Europe. We hope you enjoy the episode!

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Am Johal  0:45 
Hello, welcome to Below the Radar. delighted that you could join us again. This week we have a special guest, Erika Latta is here with us. Welcome, Erika.

Erika Latta  0:55 
Thank you. It's nice to be here.

Am Johal  0:57 
Yeah, Erika, wonder if we can begin with you introducing yourself a little bit?

Erika Latta  1:02 
Well, currently, I'm an assistant professor in theatre performance at Simon Fraser University at the School for Contemporary Arts. I also have a devised theatre company called WaxFactory that began in New York. And I also work with a site-specific company called Begat Theatre in France, and among other companies.

Am Johal  1:24 
Erika, you've been on faculty for a year or two now? 

Erika Latta  1:29 
Almost three. 

Am Johal  1:39 
Almost three. Okay. Well, there was a pandemic in the middle. So it's hard to keep track of time. Wondering if you can just share how you first of all got involved in theatre. Like, were you like four and playing charades and you just kept going? Where did it all begin?

Erika Latta  1:45
Huh, that's an interesting question. Both my parents are visual artists, and they came out of CalArts, which was called Chouinard’s back in the day. And I think, at an early, early, age, I was mixing and combining forms. I think the first moment, I knew I wanted to do live performance – my parents had many friends at that time. And there was a couple of artists, Navajo and Hopi artists that they were hanging out with at that time. So we went to see Kiva dance when I was five years old, which we were invited to, which was rare. And we went and I saw the Kachina dancers coming out of the Kivas. And there was a sort of rhythm and footwork. And I thought, ‘wow, what is that? That's something spiritual. Something I didn't understand or know.’ And I thought, ‘oh, I want to be involved in that visceral feeling.’ I think there was that first impulse that came at me. And then I remember, my parents lived in the woods in Oregon, in a geodesic dome and a log cabin with no running water, and nothing – we took a bath in a 50 gallon drum. And there were these, you know, crazy artists living out in the woods, off the grid, in Sunriver, Oregon, and I… we didn't have electricity, but we would drive - we had an old pickup truck, and my dad would open up the car and turn on the radio and leave the engine on. And we'd listen to music. And I remember listening to Odetta, and Billie Holiday, and Stevie Wonder. And they would often talk about Alan Lomax, the recordings, early recordings. And there was… I wanted to be a singer at first. It was just a visceral, powerful energy that were behind the words that just drew me in and I thought, ‘oh, I want to be a performer. That's what I want to do.’ But I didn't know when that was coming. And in the meantime, my parents were teaching me about the fundamentals of art, they would correct my doodles at five years old. I'd sit with them for long hours in the field. My dad's, you know, a painter, and he would talk about light and shadow and where you place a figure in the frame. And I sort of translated that later, with my body, where I put my body in the space. So I think it came from a little bit of my parent's observations of the world and those early influences of music, dance and the Kiva. That experience at the Kivas.

Am Johal  4:38
When you were doing your BFA – I know a number of students will likely be listening to this episode, but can you describe that period when you were doing theatre as an undergraduate?

Erika Latta  4:49
So first, I'll just back up a little bit. I studied dance before I went and was at the University of Washington. And I got in on a volleyball scholarship. Because I didn't come from a lot of money and that was my way in to get into the University of Washington. And, but then I quickly learned I didn't want to do that, I wanted to go over to the art department. So I started taking sculpture, installation art, and I was doing dance. And then I heard about the acting program. And they were doing Suzuki method of acting. And I auditioned for that. And I think I did an Arthur Miller piece as a monologue. But I played the male character as a, as a woman, I can't remember which text, forgive me. And I got into that. And so then I was mixing and combining all these forms. And also my installation professor said, 'You know what, you need to go over to performance,' because I was doing these weird—I don’t know—hybrid pieces, and he didn't know what to do with me. I was making pieces in the pool, and using musicians, and doing installation, and combining kind of, performance. And he sent me over to the theatre department, because I don't think he knew what I was up to. At that point, they weren't kind of doing that. And so, yeah, I went to University of Washington, and I spent a lot of time with the Suzuki method of acting with Robyn Hunt and Steve Pearson. And that led me to Japan. And while I was in Japan, I met Anne Bogart, who is sort of, she does the Viewpoints method. And which was taken from Mary Overlie, who was a contemporary dancer. And I met her and I thought, 'Oh, that's interesting, what she's doing.' And it has the history of dance in it. And I was like, 'oh, I want to do that.' And so that led me to graduate school at Columbia University.

Am Johal  6:39
Now, in terms of having an interest in a background with these different artistic disciplines – what did that bring into the acting world for you? And I’m wondering if you could share for our audience members who don't know the Suzuki method, or the other one that you mentioned, if you could talk about them briefly, as well.

Erika Latta  6:58
I think, you know, coming from that background, I was always interested in not having art be compartmentalised. I learned from an early age that it was all a part of it. And the more you knew from this sort of bespoke lens into the work, the more you could articulate the world that you are creating, and also not define it. So it could shape shift. It doesn't have to be in a theatre, or it could be in a building. And that interest was always there when I was younger. But when I got to the University of Washington, I was sort of making my own School for Contemporary Art, I was combining these forms and running across the large campus, and trying to figure out how all of these sorts of artistic forms work together. So when I came to the Viewpoints, which is very much about improvisation, looking at tempo, duration, kinesthetic response, repetition. I was like, ‘Oh, this speaks the language of music, of dance, of visual art.’ Also, I was interested in archaeology at that moment. And I always feel like I'm a bit of a detective trying to figure out how do these kinds of forms move together and work together. So that's very much in that sort of spirit of Viewpoints. And looking at the basic components of composition. And then you have the Suzuki method of acting, which is training your centre and having that 360-degree awareness on stage. And also tapping into something that's visceral, ancestral and about rigour, and the discipline that it takes to be onstage. And it's interesting because it comes from the stomping in the Kachina dances, there's something that I found similar, and a relation. When I went to Japan, Tadashi Suzuki's company, he started this method because he wanted his actors to be a little bit more stronger on stage. And so he devised this set of movements that are— you can be in the best shape and you still are sucking when you're doing them. To get this— to be able to speak from your centre, and have this 360-degree awareness, and to also sort of change time and space. And both the Viewpoints and Suzuki method of acting are kind of looking at that. How do you change time and space within a live performance? Among many other things.

Am Johal  9:27
Now when you went to grad school, so you were over at the east coast at Columbia. What did you find interesting about grad school because I imagine, by the time you went, you'd already been out working and performing in various contexts. But kind of your road into grad school.

Erika Latta  9:46
After meeting Anne Bogart, yeah, I went to New York and auditioned. And grad school was a continuation of an investigation I was already well under. But I also bumped into the Wooster Group there in the summers, and also worked with Robert Wilson in the summers as well. And I just started to see different ways of constructing live performance. And that opened my eyes, but it also confirmed some things that I had within me, and that was really great to be like, ‘Okay, I'm not crazy.’ I am, I was always the sort of the crazy one in my cohort. And often being like, ‘Erika, is that acting, you're using a light, and you're using some strange text, and you're using some installation, or you're removing the performer,’ or what have you. And I felt sort of validated at the same time, and I was working with Robert Woodruff, who was there. Andrei Serban was there, Anne Bogart and many other different sorts of faculty who came in and out. And even there, I was also a little bit on the outside. I was a little bit wild. And I met, luckily I met two other people that were like-minded. And we started to form a company together called WaxFactory when we graduated. I don’t know if that answers your question…

Am Johal  11:11
Yeah it totally does, I was gonna actually ask about WaxFactory next. I'm wondering if you can sort of speak to its formation and what you're trying to do. Because it's a prolific body of work you've all done together.

Erika Latta  11:23
Thank you. Well, I think first it was Ivan Talijančić who was in the company, and also a graduate student in directing – was at Columbia. And Doris Mirescu, and then Dion Doulis, was coming out of NYU film school. And we all came from different backgrounds into live performance. So I think the impetus to form the company was, we didn’t want… we wanted to be shapeshifters. We put ourselves under the roof of theatre, even though… because it was the only place that we could combine all of those forms and keep questioning what we wanted to do, or where we wanted to place that work. And so I think it was out of that love and that combination of people, we started to form the company. And I think we were in New Jersey once, we were coming up with a bunch of names for our company, and they were really awful. And they were really pretentious. And then we saw this old Windsor Wax building. And it said, Windsor Wax at the top. And at the bottom, it said ‘factory,’ and I went out there, and I was looking at it. And I was like ‘Wax Factory, Wax Factory.’ And then we're like, ‘oh, yeah, it's malleable. Wax is malleable, it shapeshifts. It's not just one thing.’ And so we named our company that. And it was also the first lights on the stage were candles. And so we started that. And then we started to learn how to write grants, and be administrators, and we didn't know anything, what we were doing. I have a lot of wild stories about that.

Am Johal  13:00
Yeah. So during that period, what are some of the more interesting places that you've performed through your work at the WaxFactory?

Erika Latta  13:08
Well, that same time, I also started to know Begat Theater, so that also took me to Europe. And Ivan is from the former Yugoslavia. So we went often to Sarajevo. And then we started to meet artists from Slovenia and Ljubljana. And there was a tour we did of Heiner Müller’s “Quartet,” which we were in this sort of plastic box, and we had all the lights underneath it. And we created this sort of enclosed stage. And we had like tubes coming from our- from our backs and video cameras on the outside. And we were doing sort of this sort of self surveillance of Merteuil and Valmont. And we toured this piece to Split, and then we went to Dubrovnik in Croatia. And I guess that adventure was crazy. We were in the Diocletian Palace, and we were performing that piece and there was the floods that year. And there was also a lot of fires because there were still bombs planted in the, in the terrain, and they were going off because of the heat. So it was just this tumultuous sort of year of floods and fires. And we were performing in the Diocletian Palace and the rains came and, and we were performing the opening night, and the water starts gushing through the Diocletian Palace. And we were in full makeup and were ready to go on stage. And all the lights are underneath the stage. So everybody's like – our eyes just like got bug eyed and we were like running towards the electricity to shut the electricity off. And we couldn't perform. And next day we spent, like, cleaning out all of the electrical sockets and everything. And the next day we performed, and there was this weird, like, fog around the set. And it was beautiful. And we performed Heiner Müller’s “Quartet” and then we got the reviews – ‘Eerie.’ ‘Breathtaking.’ Blah, blah. And we were like yeah, we know. There was like— and I don't know what was in that muck— But all our costumes were, like, destroyed. And then also, on the way, I think and another piece, when we performed in Dubrovnik, we were performing Lulu. Based on Frank Wedekind's “Lulu” – or inspired by. And we had to go through the fires to get there, and perform in Dubrovnik in an old sort of hall there, that was a stunning place. But yeah, and then also performing in Sarajevo, which many artists during the war performed in. Susan Sontag, etc. And experiencing, you know, performing in Sarajevo and seeing a lot of bombed out buildings, and also in Dubrovnik, we performed there – and we were in an old hotel that had been bombed. Which has a lot of history, and a lot of weight, and coming in, you know, just sort of into to the environment and being very respectful of what had gone on before. And performing a very dark, deep piece about love, and the sort of apocalypse, in Heiner Müller’s “Quartet.” So yeah, I think… I don’t know, there's many. Also, we've performed a lot with Begat Theater where, like, we're in some field and a bunch of mud, pushing platforms around. 

And so Begat Theater only does work outside or site-specifically. And I started working with them through Dion Doulis, who had worked with them for several years. And they asked me to direct with Dion, a piece by Janet Frame. Which was a novel called Scented Gardens for the Blind. And so it was my first time to work in France. And I didn't speak French. And I just went over there. And we adapted the novel. And we worked with ten French actors. And I don't know for how many months we were in this field, moving these large platforms around. So when we were in France, yeah, I had nine actors who all spoke French and I didn't, and so I had to learn French really fast. And luckily, Karin Holmström, who is the director of Begat Theatre is from Portland, Oregon. And so is Dion, but they were both living in France, spoke French, and helped me through the process. But then I learned French and started to work with them on that piece, and then we started to do more site specific works and sound walks. And I started to design sound for their pieces. And we toured for several years, the Le Jardin Aveugle, The Blind Garden.  and then we moved to Hidden Stories, a soundwalk that's kind of inspired by Sophie Calle. And then we worked on another piece called La Disparition and then this new piece that we worked with in Portland called Home/Land, another sort of installation site-specific audio walk with actors.

Am Johal 18:15
In terms of the different disciplinary interests you have and walking into theatre, there seems to be a through line that the conventional forms of theatre is something you resist in the way that you work. And I'm wondering, in terms of what does site-specificity bring to the table? Like, how does it make you think differently in terms of approaching a work being outside of theatre context? I've been to Kashmir where they do Bhand Pather theatre, where I saw part of an adaptation that they were rehearsing about King Lear, and it was really about India, and Kashmir, and property. And of course, the actors were male, not women, in the context there. And so I've seen various kinds of places, and the places I’ve travelled, and the Balkans is such a beautiful, amazing place as well, like in terms of where you've been. But wondering, if you could talk to these types of experimental practices and breaking theatre outside of the stage. Kind of, what you find intellectually and artistically compelling about that.

Erika Latta  19:21
I don’t think about… Actually, when we're working, if I'm working with my company, WaxFactory, when we start to dive into the work, we don't know where it's going to live yet. And I think we keep that question open. Sometimes it will be in a proscenium theatre. But other times, I just feel like we're looking at that ecosystem of collaborators. And we're looking at the material. And we're playing this role of the detective again, and saying, 'Okay, what, what is this? How is it speaking to us? And how is it speaking to us now in this timeframe?' And we sort of listen to the materials as much as we can. And then there's also budget and time, and where you can put it and what grants you can do, and what dance you're being asked to dance, funding wise. And then we listen to that. And then we see where does that material want to live? I want to say that first and foremost, from my company's side. 

And then with Begat, they always want to work outside site-specifically. They don't want the walls of the theatre determining the work. So that has been great awareness, as far as, how do you work with community? How do you engage with the site that you're working with? How could you take a text or novel and translate that to the street? You have to Beckett everything down, I would say, because there's more to look at, the frame is larger. And then how can you create a close up. In site-specific work you're oftentimes very close to the person or there's a one-on-one, that there's the intimacy of it. And then there's the wide frame of the city. Which you're constantly negotiating, as well. You can, you know, indoors as well. But I think the site has taught me a lot about editing down material, because you can't put a long text in the street or in headphones, because people will lose it. Or there's a car going by. So there's a different kind of listening. And there's also this beautiful thing that we've discovered is sort of this live cinema outside. Where the whole, whole city becomes the possible stage and the possible players. And by this sort of putting a certain kind of POV on it. You can enhance the world, or point out something, or give empathy by just the sort of positioning where you are within the street. And I've learned that I think it's really important, like as if you're an actor, you learn, you also direct, you can learn better how to be a better actor. If you're acting, you understand how to be a better director. And also, when you do site-specific work, you open up different points of view, different observations in your craft. And you sort of can use one or the other, whether you're working inside or not. Or if you're doing sort of an immersive piece in a building, how is it different? And I think what you really think about in site-specific work is the audience's journey and mapping that out. You're very strict about how that is, because you have to take care of them; there's a car going by, and you have headphones. And how do you do that? If you're doing that kind of work. Or the audience's path becomes integral into forming the work and the site with which you're working off of. And that sort of, not doing just a one off into a space, but that you have a dialogue with the area that you're working with, or the community that you're working with. That has been very fruitful and eye opening. And also, you have to slow down a bit. When you're working site-specifically.

Am Johal  23:20
We just had a performance on Sunday with Karen Jamison Dance who… She 's been running a project called the Carnegie Dance Troupe who are from their mid 20's to mid 80s residents of the Downtown Eastside. And they've rehearsed out of the Carnegie Center and out of the World Art Centre at SFU. And more recently, they've been doing the performance at SFU. But when they started them several years back, they would actually go from Main and Hastings down the street, snaking through with, you know, whatever dance work that they were doing. And of course, there were no permits, there was nothing, and these cop cars would go by and kind of like, look at what's going on. You didn't know if it was gonna get shut down or not. But the cops didn't know how to read it. But people were from the neighbourhood. So people kind of recognized them from around. So it didn't cause any major disturbance, mostly people followed it, and were really supportive. But you kind of, you know, when you're dealing with site, you kind of don't know what's gonna happen. And that's part of the stakes of the work in some sense, as well.

I’m wondering, you know, in the different ways that you've worked, and in collaboration around interdisciplinarity, and being at a school that also is kind of focused on interdisciplinarity, particularly in the grad program. I’m wondering how you look at it. You, of course, studied these different things. But in terms of making a work, and these opportunities to collaborate with people in different disciplines, and contexts. As well, how you approach that process. In the way that you spoke about when you're working with your colleagues, you actually don't know where the work is going to go in the process it's very – Liz Lerman was here about seven, eight years ago. And she has a professional dance practice, and a more community social practice based one, and a student asked her that question, and she answered it very similar to you. It's like, she doesn't know where the work is gonna go. And sometimes it's more kind of a community project in a way, and she talked about working with former veterans who had lost limbs and people assumed it was going to be kind of a social practice piece done in community theatre. But she had people, like, eight hours a day, rehearsal, it's going to be on the stage, with lighting, because that's where the work needed to go. So that was not the answer people were expecting. But it was super interesting, she did have this sense of developing and proceeding with the work in a particular way, and giving it a certain aesthetic or social quality in the process of the making of the work.

Erika Latta  25:39
Well, I think, you know, you have hunches, and you have visions, when you start out. But I don't always know because every time you go into the room, you're like, ‘oh, god, how am I going to be able to do this?’ And I've been doing it for a long time, but I still stare right at the unknown. And I just have my questions. And I have some weird image in my head, maybe. Or I always get my ideas in the shower. And you know, I just start thinking, ‘Okay, this piece might go next to this piece.’ And I start rearranging, like a kid, those objects and ideas, and try to trust my first hunches. And listen to my collective, because they have beautiful— probably far more beautiful ideas than I do. And I just sort of tried to make those things happen in the room. And also I encourage those first hunches definitely in my students, or not to second guess themselves. So like, ‘why do I have this weird idea? And why is it coming off of this particular material? After I read this, I have this idea.’ And I think that you just have to get all those first hunches in the room and sort of play with them, and then start to edit them later. And then in the middle of that process, you will doubt yourself, you will think ‘why am I doing this? I hate it. This is painful.’ And also it's joyful at the same time. So there's a strange mixture. But I do feel it's… Yeah it’s like a strange collage. And some things that you've been ruminating for a long time will come back into the room. And it doesn't fit in one piece, but it fits in this maze. So there's always this kind of past and the present mixing in there. But interdisciplinary… yeah. I don't know, do we like that word?

Am Johal  27:42
Yeah, exactly.

Erika Latta  27:44
Do we like that word? I think it's… I would just call it intense listening to the elements of what you dragged into the room. You know? And how do you keep listening? When you actually, when, you know, when you've been doing it for a while, it's a little bit harder. When you're younger, you have your ribs open a little bit, and you're not so much in judging yourself, I hope. But, yeah.

Am Johal  28:18
I was gonna ask you about this, adjusting to teaching, becoming a professor. You've taught before, but coming into like a job-job type job. And how do you maintain artistic practice while being a professor? This is the age-old question, of course. And, you know, how do you manage that? Because you're, you're an artist at heart, who happens to teach, but you have those artistic impulses and kind of, I guess it's part of the future of this school in particular, where people do have an active practice, how you manage all of those things— or not managed them for that matter. 

Erika Latta  28:55
I wonder what I can say off the record. I'll first say, I don't know how I manage as a single mother. And I don't think it's set up for single mothers at all. So I'll say that— I don't know how I manage anything, sometimes. But yeah, I'm a practising artist first, I would say. And I'm learning what academia is. And I'm also trying to open the cracks of academia. I'm still balancing that out. I definitely think that that's an interesting ride. And I also know very well that when I come into the room with my students, I think of them as all emerging performers, and creators, and creative thinkers. And I have to think sometimes, ‘okay, yes, I am guiding this, but I feel like we're in the room in this dialogue, together.’ And with maybe not the same experience, but experience nonetheless. And we're learning off of one another. And I'm just sharing my experience and saying, ‘take it, take everything you want from it.’ And bind your own book, and find your own process and artistic voice, and that. So academia sometimes can be restricting, it takes a long time to approve something in a meeting. It drives me crazy. I don't know, I'm sure Elspeth will— Elspeth Pratt will get on my case for saying that, but—

Am Johal  30:31
She probably agrees with you.

Erika Latta  30:31
I think she probably agrees! She agrees. So I'm learning the role, I'm learning the environment of academia, and how to push inside of there. And also learn from my colleagues and balance my professional life with my personal life, and encouraging these incredible, amazing young artists of the future. And I'm learning actually, I'm learning a lot from them. I hope they'll learn a little bit from me.

Am Johal  31:06
In terms of the theatre program itself, I know that you have some new colleagues, etc. But if there's anything you'd like to share about your vision of the program, because in a way, it's kind of being developed, and new things are being thought about. For students who might be, or prospective students who might be thinking about coming to SFU to study, what is the kind of specificity of the program here at SFU?

Erika Latta  31:33
Well, Ryan Tacata and I, and Steven Hill sat down and thought about, you know, where do we want to take the program? And we also thought about, well, what is contemporary? And we came up with these sort of streams that we thought were… today. What we thought was important about live performance. And we talked about social, we talked about digital and new media. We talked about live acts, and we talked about environment, which is site-specific work or immersive work, or looking at new environments, and performance and environment— environmental situation. And we just got excited, we just sat around and like, you know, Steven sort of talked about what SFU and the School for Contemporary Arts was before. And Ryan and I were new, and also naive, which might have helped.

And we thought, OK, how do you survive? In now. You have to know many different elements, many different fields. You have to be a shapeshifter. You have to be a creative thinker. And so we thought about, how can you become a creative thinker? Well, it's not just about acting, it's not just about directing, it's not just about lights and sound. It's about all of those things, and all of those combinations. And we also wanted to have practising artists in the room. First and foremost. And I think that's the mission of the School for Contemporary Arts in general is having well-rounded versatile makers. And so we just pulled back and looked at that. And risk takers. And for students to be able to be rigorous, to be able to define their process, to be able to articulate it, and document their work. And be excited about that and step out of the School for Contemporary Arts not waiting for anybody. But to make their own work, and to maybe form companies of their own. Of course, we all know that you're gonna have to do side jobs. We all did them. And I did them. Oh, man, I've been looking for quarters in my pocket, I don't know for how long. And I still do, I have that survivor technique. You know, I'm always ‘well, if this doesn't go well, I'm, you know, gonna start collecting cans on the side still.’

Am Johal  34:04
What are the odd jobs that you've had to do on the side while you were in your more experimental phases, where the money wasn't coming in?

Erika Latta  34:13
Oh, my God. I've done everything. A lot of catering. A lot of waitressing. I've done… Oh my god, I used to do these things where you pack gifts for Christmas, you know, and you're in this weird room in New York. And you're making these weird gifts. Or, I’ve, you know, always keep your books, and keep the labels on your clothes, because you can resell them. I've been in Strand many times— Strand bookstores selling art books. And asking other people ‘you have any art books you don't want? or doubles?’ Or I've been a personal assistant many times, worked in galleries, worked in production offices. I've also, oddly enough, you know, when I was in Sleep No More —I started to know the team there—And they asked me to lend my mind to a project. With, I don't know if I'm allowed to say… Samsung. To do something that was commercial at the same time, but innovative, like immersive theatre. And that was interesting to me is that you can take your creative mind, and I often—one time I got interviewed for an ad agency—I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’ But I was like, ‘Oh yeah, actually this would be interesting. I could do some commercials.’ I have a whole book of possible commercials, just in case I need that. I think also, you know, when I got this job, I've never had that sort of, you know, I thought in other places, but the stability of that. Well, you're never really… you're always up for review. But that stability never existed. And you have to be okay with being spoon-fed the unknown. And that's your makeup also as an artist. You don't know when you're coming into the room, what it's going to be. If you have if you're okay with that unknown, and wearing that jacket of the unknown, you're gonna be alright. And one thing is, that even in my position now, I don't take it for granted at all. And I'm also like, ‘well, I better buy this now because I might not have it later.’ I'm like, ‘okay, I get this couch, at least I'll have a couch, or I can sleep in my car.’ Which is also because I came up very poor. You know, I stood in a lot of lines for government cheese. And I'm always ready, just in case I might have to do that.

Am Johal  36:35
There's a lot of off-grid experimental communities around here. This is BC after all. 

Erika Latta  36:39
Exactly, yeah.

Am Johal  36:41
So we just happen to have a recent graduate of the theatre program right here. And let's see if she has a question. Sam? 

Erika Latta 36:50
Oh boy

Samantha Walters  36:53
Putting me on the spot here. Hi, I'll just quickly introduce myself. I'm Samantha Walters. I work here in the community engagement office, and I'm also a freelance performance maker in Vancouver. Yeah, I guess I've been very entrenched in the program for the past four years as well. And I've had these conversations with you and others, similarly, but I guess I'm curious of your insight of, like why training performers matters now. Because I think that's a question I get a lot of being a performance maker is why right now, when there's so much going on?

Erika Latta  37:27
That's a good question. I question that all the time in this sort of piece that I'm making now with the students next spring called Strange Joy. In every work piece that I do I question— here we are, we're going into the sort of lower depths of spaces where we collaborate, and we make work, and the outside world is raging and in turmoil. But I think that, that what we do matters, that it brings us together. That we are privileged to practise collaboration every single day, which is amazing. But it's also… Thank god we do that because we bring that back out into the world. We understand how we can have a dialogue and how to collaborate, even in this office and beyond. And I think that empathy, that you have to have to be a artist, and that truth, or at least to understand that there's many perspectives to the truth, and what is the truth, expands into all that we do, and all that we encounter, inside of the walls of academia and outside. And that voice matters. In the minute exchanges that we have at a dinner party, or the minute exchanges on the bus, or in a rehearsal room, changes our ability to listen to one another. And I think that at the heart of what we do is listening. If it's not listening to the elements with which creates a live performance, it's listening to one another. And I think that it is vital and important. And art can change and bring us together. And it can bring politics into the room, and change it with one piece of work. I think, I hope.

Am Johal  39:28
I was going to ask you about your upcoming projects, if you could share a little bit about what you're working on now.

Erika Latta  39:33
Well, I will just talk really quickly about the project I'm working on with the students. It's called Strange Joy. And it's inspired by a film crew making a film off of Francois Truffaut's Day for Night, and sort of the behind-the-scenes, you know, about creating. So I'm kind of really fascinated about looking at those meta-layers between theatre and film, and that vocabulary. And also the landscape of one's mind. What that looks like on stage while creating. It's quite mad, but it also has that film vocabulary of cutting between the close-up, the wide, and the medium-long shot. And using that vocabulary in the theatre. So I'm working on that with the students next spring at the mainstage. And we have three months to make it— crazy. So there's gonna be a lot of live-feed, pre-recorded material, and we're looking at behind the scenes. And in this case, there's no off-stage. So it's all on. And so what does that mean, once they come off a scene and there's a documentary crew right at them? That's a piece that I've been working on for a while with professional actors and have been writing it, but now how to adapt it with students and to have them come in and also write with me and make the work. 

And then I’m working on… I just worked on a piece called Home/Land, which was a collaboration with Begat Theater and Hand2Mouth theatre company from Portland. And we took two years to write and work over Zoom, which I thought it was just gonna… ehh. That was hard, and four different writers on it. So that was developed, and was a site-specific piece, questions about home, displacement, and land. And we did the first version in Portland, Oregon, recently in September. So I'll be going to France to work on it there next spring. Again, a site-specific piece, and audiences have headphones and walk into a temporary shelter, and listen to the voice and the land where that shelter is. It's very tricky work and to define what home is and land is, it brings up many sad things that have existed over time, and where are we at now. And obviously, with displacement being a primary theme to the work as we see, with the climate change and war, those stories coming to the forefront. And you can’t edit all those stories down—it's really hard to edit stories down to one or two, to define that. And I'm working on another piece that’s called Traces that Ivan Talijančić, my co-artistic director of WaxFactory. Based on Sophie Calle’s work. Also a site-specific piece, where you follow Sophie Calle through the streets. What else? Oh, and I'm working on a… I’m writing on a script. But I'm not gonna say what it is… yet.

Am Johal  42:47
Erika, I know that you brought something to read as well. I'm wondering if you'd be willing to share?

Erika Latta  42:52
Yeah, so I— you know, I brought this poem. This was at the Akademie Schloss of Solitude, which I highly recommend for young artists. I think you have to be 35 and under unfortunately, so I no longer count. But you get a residency in Stuttgart of all places, to think about your work, and you get to develop your work there and you don't have to produce anything. It's just the development phase. And at one point they had asked us, you know, what is a word that's in your language that is an unwieldy word that you can't define. So, I thought of the word ‘ache’. And I think this sort of looks at what you're asking me actually. About how does the outside world influence your work, the environment, and what is the creative process as well. It's both—oddly, this, this new piece I'm working on, it's also strange. And it's also joyful. But it's also, you are faced with all the questions of your time. And so this piece is an old one. So I'm a little nervous to read it, but it maybe kind of sums up my interests as an artist. Sort of this, what's in the landscape of one's mind. And how do you show that on stage too? So okay, it's called ACHE.

White birds dipped in ink.
Open fields of thought.
A train waiting to go home.
The last sentence searching for the next.
Everything I am not.
The forest burns in order to see it clear again.
White birds dipped in ink.
Oil spill of the mind.
Holding, shifting versions of an architect’s madness left behind.
Black out into day.

Violence keep your hum down.
Destroying what you cannot see.
At best an idea will come round.
Stretch your soul before me.
You are looking pretty good.
Ration the rational and everything is fine and understood.
Oh shifter, pace maker, double incision, pull the stitches out and stop pretending.
You don’t know any more than I.
It is all ridiculous and insane.
We are spinning round and round, star gazing, mind twisters of an unknown hurricane.

The saviour is running and even the soil you will lie in is polluted.
The grave digger already dug his own.
You’re standing naked.
History was written.
Start again fool.
It’s all working fine.
We’re moving in time.
Then drop your body in.

But that will come later.
What will you do with me now,
Now that youth has visited?
Stroll in the park?
Turn out the light when the memories go dark?
What will you do once you begin?
Unplug the machine when the pain is too great.
Does I love you mean I end with you?
The last chapter in the book.
The last shot with no sound.

Turn the pages gracefully then and settle in.
My darling do you want another Gin?
Call it what you want but isn’t clear.
Keep the ribcage for a souvenir.
The mind spins in reverse.
Hold the fragments joy rider, with your trembling left hand.
Now, go forward if you can, make an outline in perfect order.
Remind me of who I am again?
Ache drop your body in.

Am Johal  46:52
Erika, thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar.

Erika Latta  46:57
Thank you for having me.

Samantha Walters  47:01
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Thanks for listening to this episode with Erika Latta. To learn more about Erika’s multidisciplinary performance group the WaxFactory, or her other theatrical works and endeavours, check the show notes below. Make sure to follow us on Instagram at sfu_voce to stay up to date on our newest podcast releases. Thanks again for tuning in, and we’ll see you next time on Below the Radar.


Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
March 21, 2023

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