Illuminating Luminato: Eating, encamping and avant garde

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Adam Gopnik (left) and Calvin Trillin (right) on-stage during Luminato 2012.

Luminato is a multidisciplinary arts festival held in Toronto in June. This annual festival features artists from a wide range of disciplines, including music, dance, film, visual arts, theatre and literature. You can see their entire roster of programming here. Luminato's curator of literary programming, Devyani Saltzman, will be giving CBC Books the inside scoop on this year's programming. You can read her first post here.

devyani-saltzman.jpgFive days into the festival and so much has already happened. One of the highlights of our opening weekend was a hilarious conversation between Adam Gopnik and Calvin Trillin on Canadian cuisine. The conversation, which took place in Toronto's Young Centre, saw 300 foodies gather at 11 a.m. on a Sunday to hear Gopnik and Trillin discuss everything from Montreal vs. New York bagels to smoked meat (which they ate on stage). When we sit down to program the festival, there's always an emphasis on curating a conversation that crosses multiple genres. In this case, Gopnik and Trillin's talk led into the festival's food program, in which more than 100 local chefs created specialty meals for the public.

After 10 months of planning, I find that my favourite space in the festival is in the wings, listening to conversations, readings and audience reactions from that quiet, semi-dark space. One of my favourite images from that vantage point was Hilton Als, staff writer and theatre critic for The New Yorker, in conversation with Young Jean Lee, David Adjmi, Richard Maxwell and Mark Russell on "The Future of the Avant Garde." It's incredibly satisfying to listen to a deep conversation in a very relaxed fashion. Comfortable in air-conditioned Theatre 3 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Hilton sat on stage in a seersucker suite and flip-flops. At one point the sandals came off and he was barefoot, while chatting about where stories came from for these practitioners and curators and how they found their way into the fringe theatre scene.

In terms of festival programming that combines genres, "The Future of the Avant Garde" was a complementary event to the North American premiere of Einstein on the Beach, which has just wrapped at Luminato. We programmed it in the hopes that audiences who attended our staging of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's seminal 1976 opera would then walk a few blocks to hear Hilton speak with the next wave of writers and directors who are pushing the boundaries of theatre.

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The crossover between genres at the festival also involves literature and visual art. On June 13, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor joined Steve Paikin, host of TVO's The Agenda, to talk about his latest book The Civil War of 1812. Within our visual arts program, Toronto-based artists Thom Sokoloski and Jenny-Anne McCowan have created an installation entitled The Encampment, which consists of 200 tents that form a visually stunning sculpture along the lawns of Toronto's Fort York. Each tent is individually curated by local artists with stories from the War of 1812.

When we sit down each fall to go through the next season's program, we look for natural linkages between the disciplines. In this case, as soon as I heard about The Encampment, I started researching texts on the history of the war. Alan Taylor's was one of the most highly recommended books on the human impact of 1812 and how it changed North America. In early conversations with Thom and Jenny, I found out that they had used Taylor's text as one of their main sources of research. When Alan Taylor agreed to join the program we felt the linkages between events just continued to become stronger, and we hope audiences feel the same way.