Deanne Taylor Memorial 01

It is with heartbroken pride that Video Cabaret presents Deanne Elizabeth Taylor, in her opening night performance dans le grand théâtre au ciel. This cabaret/play-with-music is a tale of cunning and daring, a thrilling romance, sexy-but-never-tawdry-well-maybe-just-a-little, a performance of courage, survival and endurance. Hers was a five-star life. The company admits to desiring more time with Deanne before the lights went up but she was ready, and so bravely went on, Tuesday, December 15th, 2020.

Michael, Cliff, Andrew and Mac

 




Deanne Taylor - Writer, Producer, Director, Playwright

Over the course of her forty-five-year career as a performer, playwright, producer and director, Deanne Taylor has been one of the most innovative and politically engaged theatre artists in the country.


In 1976, when she founded the VideoCabaret company with her partner playwright Michael Hollingsworth, she had already anticipated the powerful role that popular music and the mass media would come to play in our culture. Their stage shows combined live video with live music and cutting-edge social satire, creating electrifying performances, a live and sensual form of theatre that reflected back to the audience just how saturated with images our lives have become. With its high-tech, low-budget approach to spectacle, Taylor’s work with VideoCabaret has created a whole new—and highly entertaining— grammar of stage performance. What began in the small back room of the Cameron Hotel ended up playing to sold-audiences in New York, London, and at home on the Soulpepper stage and at the Stratford festival.

Taylor and TV intersected early in her life. Born in Berkeley, California and schooled in Toronto and Calgary, Taylor was an A+ student studying ballet when, at the age of nine, she was cast as Maggie Muggins in the popular CBC children’s show. As well as demystifying a life in front of the camera, her TV family also provided a second close community, something Taylor would recreate in her own theatre company. After graduation Taylor briefly attended university before heading for a seven-year sojourn in Europe, the Middle East and India, where she travelled widely, living for months in Morocco. Back in London, England, where rock concerts were beginning to take on multi-media, operatic dimensions, she studied film, took part in the local music scene and helped create the city’s first repertory film house, Electric Cinema.

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Deanne

Deanne
Michael Hollingsworth in 1973.


 

 


In 1971 Taylor relocated to Toronto, where she became a driving force with a group of ten women called Women & Film. In 1973, W&F organized the first international festival of films made by women, an ambitious ten-day event in Toronto that screened over 120 films (for free, with free daycare). A three-day version of the festival then toured to 17 Canadian cities and communities, from Leaf Rapids, Manitoba to Jonquière, Quebec and St. Johns, Nfld. W&F, funded by local and federal grants, engaged women across the country in these small, locally organized festivals. (This was when movies came on reels, which the organizers lugged from coast to coast in steamer trunks.)

Taylor then turned to theatre, joining forces with three other women to become The Hummer Sisters, a performance group with a comic mission to “put more art into politics, and more politics into art”. Taylor wrote all the scripts for their highly topical, satirical stage shows beginning in 1976 with The Patty Rehearst Show. This was the story of how a media baron’s daughter became caught in the modern crossfire of crime, revolution and TV. On a bare stage(sometimes in a bar, or an art gallery), singing and performing with a live band called The Government in front of a set comprised of 40 video monitors, The Hummer Sisters delivered a kinetic kind of “stand-up journalism” through the medium of Taylor’s brilliantly witty lyrics. The Canadian Theatre Review called the Hummers’ aesthetic “sophisticated satire in the best cabaret tradition, offering laughter and liberation from bullshit without trying to set up some new kind of counterbullshit in its place.”

The Patty Rehearst Show travelled to Vancouver, London England, L.A., and New York’s Kitchen Centre, earning praise along the way. More social-issue shows followed: Nympho Warrior, Hormone War Zone, and The Bible as Told to Karen Anne Quinland. Taylor also wrote a Dora Award-winning libretto for Verdi’s Rigoletto. In 19t/k, Theatre Passe Muraille presented a production of Taylor’s play, 2nd Nature, which presented the human reproductive cycle as a creatively-costumed comic epic. Taylor’s work played a key role in Toronto’s exploding Queen St. West artistic scene.

In 1982 Taylor and Hummer Sisters Jenny Dean and Janet Burke stepped offstage and into the political arena when they collectively ran for mayor of Toronto, against incumbent Art Eggleton. The campaign was called “ART vs. Art” and their prescient slogan was “This is No Job For Politicians.” Promising voters “24-hour mayor service”, the Hummers ended up coming in a respectable second, with 12,000 votes. Their campaign also pointed to a future in which show biz and politics have become indistinguishable.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s Taylor also wrote, produced and performed in a number of “Vox Pop” cabarets responding to municipal issues (City for Sale tackled developers) and federal elections, inviting their audiences to actively participate in the city’s political life. “Taylor is the closest thing the city has to a political theorist of the streets,” NOW magazine pronounced. In 1995 her show Canada or Can’t covered the Quebec Referendum. In 1997 she contributed satirical coverage of the federal election to the CBC National News. In 1999, Taylor co-wrote the Dora-nominated play The Life and Times of Brian Mulroney.
Taylor has pursued a democratic ideal at every level, from making interactive shows about our civic life to the developmental approach that she and Artistic Co-director Michael Hollingsworth take towards their VideoCabaret shows, where they involve all the production elements—costume designers, lighting director, music composer—in an unusually long six-week rehearsal process, working with the actors on stage: a collaborative process in which everyone involved “makes a play” from the ground up. (On opening nights in VideoCabaret’s first home, the back room of the Cameron Hotel, Taylor often greeted the audience with cushions for the seats.)

In addition to her stage work, for fifteen years Taylor also collaborated with Toronto and Trinidadian designers who create theatre in the Carnival and Caribana traditions – street theatre at its most inclusive.

As a producer and director, Taylor began her partnership with Michael Hollingsworth in 1976 with the first Hummer event, The Patty Rehearst Show. This version was performed alongside his play Strawberry Fields, famously shut down by the police when it first opened. Hollingsworth also began to use live music and video in his subsequent stage adaptations of
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Orwell’s 1984VideoCabaret’s distinctive style began with this incendiary mix of elements.

In 1982 Hollingsworth embarked on writing his epic 21-play cycle about Canadian history, called The History of The Village of The Small Huts. It began with the question “Why is this country the way it is”. One CBC reviewer described the whole enterprise as “hilarious and irresistible - a wildly theatrical company who have put the story back into history”.

This absurdly ambitious undertaking has been guided and shaped by his partner Deanne at every step of the way. Hollingsworth writes and directs while Taylor produced and co-directed. Together the two of them developed their innovative “black box” style of staging, in which 7 or 8 actors play scores of characters in a rapid-fire sequence of brief scenes that jump-cut from blackout to blackout, like the editing of a film. The costumes and props are hyperbolic and the plays are savagely comic. The History plays offer a dark, dream-like, aesthetically rich vision of how we came to be this singular country.

As a multitasking writer, producer and director, Deanne Taylor has overseen every detail of the theatre’s evolution, from the first matchbox stage in the back room of The Cameron to the 2013 Stratford presentation of The War of 1812, and in the same year, a sold-out Soulpepper production of Trudeau and the FLQ at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

For the past two years, Taylor has been involved in moving VideoCabaret’s headquarters and voluminous prop and costume department from the Cameron Hotel to a new, more spacious rehearsal and performance space at 10 Busy St. in Toronto’s east end, where her protege, Cliff Cardinal’s play, Too Good To Be True was recently performed.

Video Cabaret thanks Marnie Jackson