An interview with Meagan O’Shea, artistic director of Standup Dance

Photo by Omar Yuksecker
Photo by Omar Yuksecker

Creator and performer of “based on actual unrelated events”

A DanceWorks CoWorks Series presentation

October 20-25 and 27-30, 2009 at Hub 14

By Lucy Rupert

I first met Meagan O’Shea at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. We were in, I believe, the only two dance shows at that festival…1996, was it? My distinct memory of Meagan in this foggy week of too many late-night performances and too many post-shows at the beer tent was that she was featured naked on the cover of the local entertainment newspaper.

I also remember meeting her in the treacherous beer tent and being slightly intimidated by a young woman willing to lay it all out there. Her show that year was a fusion of poetry and motion that was far more delicate – in the most punchy way possible – than her bare photo in the newspaper might have led you to expect.

Since then it seems that Meagan’s art has been peeling back layers of her own story, entwining it with the stories of others’ and laying bare some raw and funny moments of human existence. (I know I will never forget one particular performance at Lula Lounge wherein she licked her own nipple.)

But quirks and comedy aside, after a serious injury and a long and complex recovery, Meagan has a new work ready for audiences, and a new way of channeling words and motion through her body. Here’s a bit of word-channeling…

What’s at the heart of this piece?

Oh my god! The heart of the project is an exploration of very different ideas and seeking out the connections between them. Everything is connected; and I think we know this in lots of ways. It stems from things as upheld and essential to the way our world works as the stock market, that crash as a result of something as unpredictable as people’s moods. The world buys in, but that same world doesn’t necessarily buy in to ideas of how you feel affects your body in many complex and subtle ways. Or that collective subconscious can affect the world.

So in following these ideas I think that it’s possible that global warming could be altered by how much we choose to love. That’s kind of a leap, but if you trace each of those ideas back and forth they intersect somewhere. I’m not saying that I’ve got it all figured out, but the piece is an exploration of ideas like this.

Photo by Omar Yuksecker
Photo by Omar Yuksecker

Meagan is not the first artist I’ve encountered recently with the idea that love can alter seemingly unconnected situations, perhaps fix a few problems. Is this a new wave in a kind of social philosophy? Can connectivity banish cynicism, at least for a little while?

What has your process been like so far?

The process so far is great and crazy and challenging and hilarious. There are days when I just think it’s all a glorious disaster, and then I’m reminded of the idea that out of chaos comes play which leads to form. So I’m right where I’m supposed to be in it!

A while ago (before I busted my knee) I made one section that stood on it’s own as a 20 minute piece, knowing that it would be part of the larger solo. Then over the course of the injury I chipped away at making another 15-minute section. Now, recovered I’ve put those two sections together and added some to each of them and am madly creating the final section.

Susie Burpee is working with me on it. And if it wasn’t for her, I think I’d lie down in a puddle of sweat and confusion and have a hard time finishing it. Because I began by making two distinct sections and then merged them, I was finding it harder to motivate the last section. That coupled with being totally lost on the inside of the piece and feeling rather blind about it all. However, in the last couple of days we’ve made some real headway and I am again in love with and excited by the work.

What makes you want to create, in general?

Oh boy. I don’t know anything else in a way. I have an idea, I get so excited by my idea, I can see it happen, I am exhilarated by the challenge of bringing the idea to life. I love performing, I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they get what I am doing in my work. I love moving.

Photo by Omar Yuksecker
Photo by Omar Yuksecker

What is Hub 14 and what does Hub 14 mean to you?

Hub 14 started off as a space for us to make work in. (the founders – Amy Henderson, Jen Johnson, Jacob Zimmer and Sally Morgan). It was an anchor in this city for me and allowed me to make dance works and run workshops and teach classes and be a part of creating something bigger in the community.

It has evolved for me over the 5 years I’ve been there and we are moving forward with a view to establish Hub 14 in the Queen West community, and to create a fuller series of Hub 14 activities that serve the dance and performing community.

This project is exciting because generally in the past we have made work in Hub 14 and then taken it elsewhere to perform it. The solo has been created in the space it will be performed in. That’s really special and important to me.

I am curious about this difference: creating and performing a work in the same space. We encounter this with “site-specific” or outdoor works, some people are lucky enough to create on formal stages where their works are later performed. But what Meagan has set up for herself is different. The energy of the hard work and the mental or physical struggles of creating will not disperse as quickly as they will outside or in a large theatre. At Hub 14 Meagan will have a dichotomous energy to play with as a performer and to immerse her audiences in….

I know it’s October but the summer seems like it just ended and the dance season is just getting started so…..How did you spend your summer?

Well, I “finished” recovering from my knee surgery. And I began working like mad on the big projects of the fall. I have just finished ‘dance like no one is watching’ at Nuit Blanche, which was 4 teams of dancer (30 in all) dancing in 30 minute sets in relay across Toronto for 12 hours. The night of there were 50 of us involved in driving the vans the dancers kept warm in between sets, “bodyguards”, music carriers, runners, and co-ordinators. It was a huge endeavour, that I’m pleased to say was spectacular and totally successful.  Most of my summer was spend on that project: fundraising, organizing, developing and rehearsing improv scores. I also worked on this solo a lot, and did some teaching.

I got to go camping for a few days with my boyfriend and some other friends. That was really needed. And I hung out with my mom in Ottawa for a few days.  This summer, following a fallow year rehabbing my knee, was full of work. While I wanted to have a holiday I can’t complain because I’d just spent so long recovering….

DanceWorks co-presents ‘based on actual unrelated events’ at Hub 14, 14 Markham Street, Toronto. Shows run Oct 20-25 and Oct 27-30 at 8pm. Tickets: $25 Adults, $20 Students/Seniors/CADA. Reservations strongly recommended. Tel: 416 204 1082 or Email:, Web:, Facebook Group: DanceWorks.

Photo by Omar Yuksecker
Photo by Omar Yuksecker

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