Montreal artist sells out shows abroad, but rarely performs at home

Josh “Socalled” Dolgin has lived in Montreal for the last 20 years. His new show premiered Thursday in Hamburg, but no one in Canada will ever see it.

Josh "Socalled" Dolgin finds more success in Europe than in his own city

Montreal creator Josh “Socalled” Dolgin with two puppet characters he built for his show, called The Season. (Amanda Klang/CBC)

Josh "Socalled" Dolgin is a Juno-nominated pianist, accordionist, rapper, producer and puppet maker who's lived in Montreal for the last 20 years.

His remix of the theme for CBC's "As It Happens" plays three times a day across Canada

A prolific composer of songs, with six albums under his belt, Dolgin has also created several musical and theatrical stage shows. His newest one is a musical comedy with puppets. He wrote and rehearsed it right here with a cast of mostly Montreal performers.

The show premiered Thursday in Hamburg, Germany, at the country's biggest independent production venue for the performing arts. And it tours in the Netherlands and Switzerland after that.

But nobody in Montreal, or Canada, will see it.

"When I go to Hamburg, I'm this cool guy from Montreal that brings this thing. In Montreal, I don't get much work," he said.

An absurdist puppet musical theatre show

Dolgin's new show is called The Season, Part 3. A puppet-heavy indie musical, it features forest creatures, an evil monster named Zog, and one human performer, who all tell a love story through song.

Like parts one and two of The Season, which Dolgin premiered in 2011 and 2017 respectively, part three addresses social issues, including environmental destruction, gentrification and addiction.

Oh, and the characters also go to space.

Dolgin's puppet musicals each have one human star on stage. And the artists he invites into the projects come from very different genres of music.

This year it is Kiran Ahluwalia, a two-time, Juno-winning Indian-Canadian performer who mixes traditional Indian classical singing with contemporary musical styles.

Part one had its first and only performance in Montreal in 2011 at POP Montreal. Once the show debuted in Germany, the theatre commissioned him to write a sequel.

For Dolgin, the eclecticism of the 20-strong cast of creators and performers in the third installment of his series is part of what makes it quintessentially Montreal.

Different appetites for art

So why isn't Dolgin's work playing here at home?

He says that Canadian arts funders and broadcasters are too narrow in their vision. By contrast, he feels European audiences and institutions have an appetite for art that is challenging and doesn't fit neatly into categories.

"I'm a little too Quebec for Toronto, I'm a little too Jewish for Quebec. I'm kind of weird in a weird place, and to be perfectly frank, Canada and Canadian culture can err on the side of [being] middle of the road," he said.

Dolgin and Zog, the evil monster puppet created for The Season Part 3. (Amanda Klang/CBC)

He also argues that local artists in Montreal and Canada need more support.

Dolgin acknowledges that he gets support from the CBC and has a local fan base in Montreal, but it's nothing compared to the positive reception he gets abroad.

"I really feel like if I go and create art in France and Germany, where I've made it, and I have a name, and I've put out a million records, and I tour festivals, then maybe Canada will someday accept me or something."

About the Author

Amanda Klang


Amanda Klang is a producer at CBC Montreal.


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