PGC Member at Work: Talia Pura

RS: Tell us about your artistic involvement in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and why you chose to become involved in this major event.

TP: The Olympics. Six short months ago, I would never have dreamed that I would be involved in this, or any other major sporting event. However, CODE (Cultural Olympics Digital Edition) put out a call for short movies with the theme, 'Human Body in Motion". I saw this invitation in a local e-newsletter from 'On Screen Manitoba', an organization that promotes filmmaking in Manitoba.

I decided that what I do in the air, on silks, was a perfect example of the human body in motion. I rig two lengths of fabric 25 to 30 feet up from the stage floor, to a single point. Then, I climb, twist, turn, fall and have a great time in my aerial playground. I have been practicing this dance form for about five years, and have had some amazing performance opportunities. I've been on-stage at our Centennial Concert Hall, performing with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, as well as various other venues around the city. I've also included silks into my stage work as an actor, in everything from playing Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Shakespeare in the Ruins, to using them metaphorically in two fringe festival plays that I also wrote and produced.

In addition to that, I have made several short movies in the past few years, as part of ACTRA's 'MIP'- Member Initiated Program. This seemed to be a perfect opportunity to combine several of my passions. The jury at CODE agreed, and I was funded to create this piece. It is being screened at all of the Celebration sites at the Olympics, as well as on Air Canada flights, Bell Mobility and on giant outdoor screens in the UK, in preparation for their own games in 2012.

RS: How do your talents as a filmmaker and aerial dancer inspire your writing?

TP: Filmmaking and aerial dance have both inspired my writing. When one practices more than one art form it seems very natural to have them flow together at times. While I still enjoy writing stage plays, such as my most recent work, Mata Hari, based on the life of the famous dancer of the early 20th century, I have found that lately I have been very drawn to filmmaking as another way to tell a story.

When I first started writing screenplays, they were much closer to stage plays. While I let go of explaining how characters entered and exited a scene, they were still too loaded with dialogue. I wasn't allowing the camera to tell the story. Recently, I made a short without any dialogue, forcing me to allow the images to do all of the work. While my plays have always been very strong on visual images, I think that this experience in film will push me further in that direction. It also helps me get rid of extraneous dialogue, which really isn't any more necessary on stage than it is in film.

Talia in performance.

Aerial dance has, as I mentioned, been part of several stage plays that I have done. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck descended on silks for all entrances, usually tumbling out of the sky. It was just a lot of fun. In the plays that I have written to include silks, I used them in various ways. In Metamorphosis, I developed four characters based on the life cycle of a butterfly. The first was the egg - a little girl in 1962, staying in her basement 'bomb shelter' -  a child's play tent made from my silks, during the Cuban 'mess-up crisis'. The caterpillar was a dominatrix, always hungry, but not for food. She climbed the silks to tie up a client and changed into the cocoon, an aging movie star sitting in the sling of the silks. The metaphoric butterfly 'flew' on the silks.

The other play that included silks, Demons of the Mind, used them to represent a character's tangled state of mind as she sank deeper into her mental illness. This play recently won second place at Bottle Tree Productions' annual playwriting contest.

While both of these plays could be presented without silks, they did add a significant element to those productions.

RS: In addition to your multiple artistic talents you are also an educator. Why is it important to you to educate others in the arts?

TP: I am also an educator. In addition to creating art, I have  been a teacher my entire adult life. I can't help myself, even when I want to be selfish and just enjoy what I do. My aerial dance is a perfect example; students found me and I am now teaching that as well.

Teaching is sharing. Without it, how would any art form grow and evolve? I have taught drama at the high school level in the past, and have now been at the University of Winnipeg for the past nine years.

In 2002, I put my drama teaching ideas into a book, Stages, Creative Ideas for Teaching Drama, which is selling very well. It seems to be answering a need that others have to encourage creative expression in their students.

I also coordinate a mentorship program for youth in the arts. While we cover various disciplines, this year I am very pleased to be leading a group of young playwrights through the Uth Ink program, in partnership with [murmur] and the Playwrights Guild. I will be hosting this program in Manitoba with ACI - Arts and Cultural Industries Association of Manitoba. Uth Ink is a very exciting  program, allowing youth to write their own plays set in specific locations in their communities. Once they are written, we will record  them. A physical sign will be placed in the location they set their  plays, so passers-by can dial a number on their cell phones and hear  the plays. The youth have begun the writing and are very enthusiastic  about the process.

RS: What are you currently working on now?

TP: This winter my jobs as an educator and arts administrator, along with responsibilities as the council president of ACTRA, Manitoba branch and of the board of Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers have keep me fairly busy. Aside from finishing one short movie and writing some short fiction, I haven't had a lot of time for creation, but that will change as of this summer.

RS: What exciting artistic endeavours do you have planned for the near future?

I recently was awarded a spot in the Canadian Forces Artists Program (formerly the Canadian War Artists Program). I applied as a playwright. I will be interviewing soldiers before, during and after
deployment, as well as speaking with some of their families. As part of this research for my next play, I will be traveling to Afghanistan, likely in June of this year. I am looking forward to this experience on many levels. First as an artist, but also as a mother. Both of my daughters chose to enter the military. One is a helicopter pilot who will be deployed before too long. I tell her that I am going there to make sure it is safe enough for her, which makes her laugh.