SIX STAGES FESTIVAL,six cutting-edge shows and ancillary events from Canada and around the world. Opens today (Thursday, February 1) and runs to February 11 at various venues. $16, except Alien Creature ($14-$28, Sunday pwyc), $6 student rush (not Alien Creature). For details, see listings, this page. 416-504-7529. i dial sherrie johnson in van-couver. It's 6:30 am her time, but I'm not waking her up. She's been on the phone for half an hour, making conference calls to Europe to set up tours.Johnson is a producer and by extension a promoter. She and co-producer Menno Plukker are presenting to Toronto audiences half a dozen ripe delicacies for the Six Stages Festival, an event that draws on works by local companies (Theatre Passe Muraille, DNA Theatre) and groups from Vancouver, Australia, Great Britain and the Netherlands.
Johnson and Plukker -- who also works with Robert Lepage's company -- have been organizing the current Six Stages Festival since the first festival in 1995. It's taken that long to figure out creative ways to produce even such a small international festival.
One of the ways involves partnerships within Canada. Foreign groups are more inclined to travel from across the ocean if they have several gigs, so when Johnson stitched together a touring association with companies in Quebec City, Montreal and Calgary -- that last with One Yellow Rabbit -- everything began to fall into place.
The international shows include Blood Links, Australian performer/ photographer William Yang's slide show and narrative about his family connections, and the outrageous comic monologue History Of Comedy, Part One: Ventriloquism by the British storyteller Ken Campbell.
The last festival piece to fall into place was Voices, by the Dutch group Zuidelijk Toneel Hollandia. Performed by Jeroen Willems, Voices uses a text drawn from the writings of renegade Italian artist Pier Paolo Pasolini and Cor Herkstroter, former chairman of Shell International. Willems plays five characters at a no-holds-barred dinner party who debate social responsibilities and moral dilemmas.
"In each case," says Johnson, in Vancouver producing da da kamera's premiere of Daniel MacIvor's In On It, "when Menno and I saw one of these pieces from outside Toronto, we'd turn to each other and say we had to bring them to town."
That includes Vancouver's I Am Your Spy, written and performed by Camyar Chai, a multimedia show based on the story of Israeli nuclear technician and accused spy Mordechai Vanunu.
Rounding off the six mainstage shows are a remount of Alien Creature, Linda Griffiths' award-winning one-woman show about poet Gwendolyn MacEwen (Johnson is Griffiths' agent), and a premiere from Hillar Liitoja's DNA Theatre, Paula And Karl, featuring James Thomson and the too rarely seen Veronika Hurnik.
Johnson's especially proud of the DNA piece, a co-pro with Six Stages.
"Hillar hasn't been in the public eye for a while. I want to spotlight him and support his artistic vision."
Liitoja's always been one of Toronto's most demanding theatre creators, carving out unusual pieces that alternately disturb and frustrate. Among his works are a nine-hour Hamlet, a loving, intimate tribute to dying actor/director Ken McDougall, regimental and ritualistic movement works and a massive Artaud cycle. In one Artaud segment, Liitoja ejected viewers individually from the theatre.
In Paula And Karl -- transfer the final vowel from one name to the other and you get a whiff of his inspiration -- the writer/director uses a real-time, environmental setting to investigate the nature of human evil and the manipulation within a relationship.
"It's the perfect show to open Six Stages," says Johnson. "We're not only showing this and the other productions to Toronto audiences but also bringing in presenters from around the world to see them. International exchange like this affects how you create work. Collaboration is the way of the future." firstname.lastname@example.org