Laura Nanni couldn't escape the clutches of Toronto's theatre and performance scene for long.
After moving to Alberta last summer for what she expected to be a long stay, the well-regarded curator and producer is coming back to her hometown in May to take over as artistic and general manager of the SummerWorks Performance Festival.
"You're going in one direction and then something else presents itself," says Nanni, who had sold her belongings and put artwork in storage in her parent's basement in Brampton. "This position only comes along, if you're lucky, every five to 10 years…It was an opportunity I felt I couldn't ignore."
Nanni was the unanimous choice of the search committee to replace SummerWorks' outgoing head honcho, Michael Rubenfeld, according to Vanessa Grant, chair of the festival's board of directors – and that's no surprise.
Before departing to Alberta where she had been working with the Banff Centre and Calgary's High Performance Rodeo, the 36-year-old Nanni amassed over a decade of experience in the indie theatre and performance scene in Toronto.
She ran the experimental Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times from 2011 to 2014, a particularly notable period during which time it birthed works from Sook-Yin Lee's first theatrical creation to an avant-garde Lady Gaga musical. She also spent two seasons curating Harbourfront Centre's HATCH program – and has had gigs with Nuit Blanche and Luminato.
Nanni, who was born in North York and has lived all over Toronto, has a history with SummerWorks as well. In 2005, she was the stage manager on one of its most storied productions: A one-act play that was a response to David Mamet's Oleanna called Essay. Essay's then-novice writer, Hannah Moscovitch, went on to become one of the country's top playwrights, while its director, Michael Rubenfeld, went on to take over SummerWorks and transform it into one of the country's most talked-about theatre and performance festivals.
Rubenfeld took SummerWorks from a festival primarily dedicated to theatre to one that embraced performance genres from indie music to live art and mixed and matched artists from different realms.
As lead curator of the festival, Nanni intends to take that spirit of cross-disciplinary collaboration even further – for instance, putting together performance artists with urban planners, dancers with game designers, and playwrights with biologists.
"Artists are increasingly being invited into other realms – and I want to be part of leading that conversation," she says.
Nanni also wants to beef up the professional development aspect of the festival – while also allow the public behind-the-scenes sneak peaks of works early in development at late-night cabarets.
But Nanni is most of all interested in making sure the SummerWorks Festival remains flexible in format and structure – so it can continue to nurture the conditions for risk and innovation. "I feel like when you're leading a new works/experimental festival and you're telling artists they should try new things that you should follow suit in the curation of it," she says.
This year's edition of the SummerWorks Festival runs from August 4 to 14.
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