Calling the Shows

still from LOT X

Image by Jeremy Mimnagh

Laura Cournoyea is a very busy arts and stage manager who has worked on a wide variety of performance projects, large and small. Cohort asked her a bunch of questions about her work, about using technology on site-specific dance projects like Jacqueries and adelheid’s LOT X, as well as what she likes to do for fun.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your professional practice? How do you choose the works that you do?

I am a stage manager by trade, though I fell into my current practice by accident. I began working in much more traditional settings, calling straight plays and musicals, but soon my work leaned further into site-specific, roaming performance, and contemporary dance. There was a complexity and scale to the work that excited me. Nowadays, I am fortunate to work on projects that I care about and with people I trust and admire. I have an immense amount of respect for dance artists and enjoy the challenge in deciphering its abstraction. And making sense of someone else’s language – the vocabulary that emerges from the process.

Q. What do you do for fun (aside from work)?

I have always had an affinity for a good immersive story. I jump into a lot of rich narrative novels, story-based video games, and genre films. Also, since March, I am knitting up a storm. It keeps my hands busy and my mind clear to take in whatever new story I am immersed in.

Q. Can you tell us about your history with adelheid and how you came to work on LOT X?
I had to delve into my archives to figure this one out. As a stage manager, especially within the dance field, I often work on 20+ projects per year, so time tends to blend together. My first time working with Heidi was through a tour with Kristen Carcone and David Norworthy’s TOES for DANCE. She had choreographed a solo and it was adapted for Ana Maria Lucaciu. Within a month of that project, Heidi reached out about what it’s like and the rest is history. I am forever grateful to the fates (Heidi) for bringing one of the richest artistic collaborations I have experienced professionally.

Q. Can you describe how Cohort was used on LOT X?

Yes and no. When it comes to immersive, traveling works, the stage manager ends up taking on the task of audience management way more than is usual. With LOT X, it felt as though Cohort was akin to an Assistant Stage Manager, doing the work of managing the patrons without direct interaction. I often have to remain invisible, in a sense. If I am seen, some of the magic is lost. And in a similar vein, if I was really aware of all the pieces that go into making that software run, the other elements of the show would likely not run as smoothly.

Q. But you’ve worked with Cohort over several productions. What are your thoughts on how it has evolved?

My first time using Cohort was in 2014 with Jacob Niedzwiecki’s Jacqueries in Miami, Florida. As the software has streamlined, I have watched its uses expand and its usability improve. I am also constantly impressed with how the AR aspects of Cohort have grown and simplified over the years. I am excited to see where we will be in a few years’ time.

My interaction with the software is that it has been incredibly easy to use. This is certainly thanks to the amount of back-end work done to make it user friendly when I am trying to do 10 other things. Over the course of a show, as the stage manager, my duties fall within every working department. Cohort is simply another layer of design and execution, adding to the richness of the narrative.

Q. What do you feel is the impact of these kinds of technologies on audiences?

It opens the walls (both metaphorical and literal) for how and why and when we can engage with our audiences. One of my favourite elements is being able to engage before and after the show, strengthening the connection and bond between audience and artistic work.

Q. What advice might you have for artists who are attracted to using new technologies and how do you manage the complexity these can bring to a project?

Trust your instincts. If you feel that there are ways to simplify the process, it is better to address those as early as possible. Make it work with you, work for you. Don’t be afraid to stretch the limits and boundaries of the four walls of the performance space.

Q. How do you think about safety in your job? Especially now in the COVID era when already established work rules only get you so far?

There is a lot of work to be done. My role hinges on facilitating a safe environment for all collaborators, patrons, staff, really anyone who interacts with the performance space. We have a lot to learn in regards to safe boundaries, consent, and accessibility when we are coming into vulnerable spaces where art can emerge. In order to address these concerns we need to get creative, be clear, and really listen to each other. It is hard work ahead, but it is very important work.

Q. What’s your fave piece of technology, on or off the job, and why?

This may be a boring answer, but my Bluetooth headphones. It has upped my multi-tasking game exponentially. And if you have never met a stage manager, their ability to multi-task is as important as their ability to breathe.

Headshot of Laura Cournoyea

Laura Cournoyea is a Toronto-based arts manager and administrator. She has recently worked with the adelheid, Tribal Crackling Wind, Fujiwara Dance Inventions, Dreamwalker Dance Company, Shannon Litzenberger, Toronto Dance Theatre, Dusk Dances, Ontario Dances, inDance, blue ceiling dance, and the CanAsian Dance Festival. Laura is the Arts Education Manager for tiger princess dance projects and the Company Manager and Community Activator for the dance:made in canada/fait au canada Festival. She was trained at York University’s Theatre Department, earning a Specialized B.F.A. in Theatre Design and Production.