Welcome back readers! I’m Tavia Christina. Today I’m writing to share a conversation with Callahan Connor. Callahan is a long-time Frog in Hand collaborator; he’s performing with the Summer Company in our upcoming Fringe show, Heart of Matter. Callahan is a spoken word poet, composer, musician and actor. Because he is so unique, we thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce him and his work.
Tavia: Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from?
Callahan: I'm a spoken word artist from Mississauga. I explore the momentum of thoughts and feelings through words and phrases that I arrange in rhythms and rhymes according to my pleasure. I went to Concordia University, though, and graduated with a BFA in Theatre Performance in 2012. I also rap and do poems under the name C-Command.
Tavia: Where did you go to school?
Callahan: Well, for high school, I attended Cawthra Park Secondary School as a drama major. That's actually where I met the Snell sisters (Colleen and Noelle).
Tavia: How did Indian music influence your spoken word rhythms?
Callahan: I was living in India from 2015 to 2018, and while I was there I had the very good fortune of studying Tabla and a kind of South Indian vocal percussion called Konnakol. This exposed me to a beautiful complexity and precision of rhythmic thinking, rhythm construction and rhythmic internalization. Learning rhythm in the Indian classical traditions involves internalizing grooves through combinations of spoken syllables set against framework of particular hand claps. I have found this ancient method very helpful at getting me to precisely understand what's happening and where things exist rhythmically in the context of the whole sound. All of that has helped me to think and feel rhythm more deeply than I could before, and really blew my mind. And I’ve always really loved rhythm and unusual time signatures. I’m a huge fan of progressive rock, Frank Zappa, and Dave Brubeck.
Tavia: Did you grow up playing music or any instruments?
Callahan: I grew up ‘befriending’ different instruments, you could say. In a wild and carefree sense, though, not really taking lessons per se. I’ve mostly composed music on piano and guitar.
Tavia: How many instruments can you play?
Callahan: Around 10 or 15 or so. Again, you know, not in an expert, blow your mind sort of way, but enough to make some of the sounds that I want to make. One of my favourite things is befriending an instrument and figuring out how its sound-making works, deepening my connection to it, getting it into a ‘jammable’ state, with just my ear and my heart to guide me. That tiny bond of joy between a person and the sound they are making is super precious to me, as an ideal, and for the longest time I was quite wary of formal music training, for fear that it could disrupt that fragile joy with all kinds of inner judgments and comparisons. I think that inner music-joy is a good thing to be protective of, but these days I have so much more respect for formal music theory and technique and am trying to study what I can.
Tavia: How did your relationship to Frog in Hand begin? How has it grown?
Callahan: It started in high school, in friendship with the Snell sisters. Watching them make art, being excited by the promises of creativity, and cheerleading each other’s growth was how it started for me. It’s so great to be able to work with your friends! Once Frog in Hand got going officially, I was lucky to be one of their earliest collaborators, in 2012, in a zany little piece called Boardwalk. Nautical-themed high-fashion catwalking street-theatre in Port Credit. Noelle made this giant hat that looked like an enormous ship with like three masts and paper sails, and I got to wear it and be this saucy Captain character and chortle at small children. It’s grown into such an adventure since then! I’ve been a part of so many cool projects with them, like live-action sword fighting/dance-battling inspired by chess, and Olympic musical chairs, and collaborative multidisciplinary arts jams, and a dragon story. I’ve felt so proud of my friends watching Frog in Hand build up its body of work, and so grateful to be a part of it.
Tavia: Is this your first Fringe Festival?
Callahan: In Vancouver 2015, I did my first solo show: The Living Shh, based on a lucid dream that turned me into a rapper. After that I moved to India and now I am back! First Toronto Fringe, baybee!
Tavia: What is your role in the piece? How has it changed since the original commission from Ryerson Springworks?
Callahan: This is my second time coming into the work. In the earlier version, I had recorded some of the musical score and poetry in my little home studio, making layers and textures and loops and whatnot. Colleen had written some nice text for the Ryerson creation process, and the Ryerson dancers were building some nice work on it, but she wanted the text to have more rhythm and surprise and surrealism. She figured that I might have some solutions, so she brought me on board. I tried to make the text evoke the free-associating flow of a nostalgic, memory-gripped mind. So I reinterpreted her text and took it in some new directions, pumped it full of rhymes and rhythms and images that I thought could serve as possible impulse-sources for choreography. I came into the dance studio a few times to test out the material and see how it was working, and once Colleen and I were happy, I recorded it and that was that. But this time around, I am involved a lot more; I’m physically on stage interacting with the dancers most of the time, as a full-on character/accompanist, performing live text and music. I’ve got my loop pedal and my vocal ideas and I do quite a lot of musical improvising in the show. I’ve written some new text too, and I helped the dancers create some of their own text. It’s been super cool watching the piece evolve!
Tavia: What do you find compelling about Heart Of Matter? Do you think people can universally connect with this work?
Callahan: We are definitely dealing with some universal human experiences. Reckoning with meaningfulness, and impermanence, and holding on, and all the human joys and sufferings that come from all that. Like the way the Buddha diagnosed all of our trouble: the wanting of things to continue that cannot, and our general attachment to rising and falling, transient phenomena. What to do about it? Meditate one’s way free? Distract oneself with the sense-gratification of the moment? Whole religions and philosophies might be based around this or that particular answer. I think that what is compelling about Heart of Matter is that its answer to these human problems are so positive and dignified:
yes we hold on, yes it’s painful sometimes, yes we are haunted by old stories, yes we can let go too, yes it’s scary or sad or funny or great, yes it’s alright, yes that’s what it’s all about, yes yes yes yes.
And I wouldn’t say that this ‘yes’ness is even explicit in the poems I wrote for it, but is explicit in that ultimate expressive form: the human dancer!
Tavia: What is your favourite word?
Callahan: In this moment…. "Somnambulance," sleepwalking. I think It’s an elegant, beautiful sounding word, and I am having an associated image now that I really enjoy - not just walking in your sleep but walking in your dream, or using dreams to walk, or the movement of dreams. I’ve been reading a lot of Carl Jung lately, I’m all about those dreams!
Tavia: Thanks Callahan for joining me this week. Thank you to our readers for coming along for the journey. Just as a reminder Frog In Hand will be performing THIS WEEK at the Toronto Fringe Festival! Tickets and more information are online here. Talk soon!