Slackline Creative Arts Series at Burdock Brewery
Evan Hoskins is the founder of the Slackline Creative Arts Series, which takes place monthly at Burdock Brewery. Slackline is an event that crosses genres and supports emerging artists.
Jason Freure: The Slackline Creative Arts Series seems to be a kind of heir to the Emerging Writers series. How did that come about?
Evan Hoskins: It was a big combination of things. A fun and easy answer would be that Jess Taylor (EW Creator/Director/Host) jokingly announced at the last EW show that someone should start a replacement series since hers was kaput, and bored old me said to myself, sure, I could do that, why not. In reality I did say that, but I didn’t say it to myself, I said it jokingly to the stranger sitting next to me.
But a truer backstory—maybe call it the roots—is that I was thinking of doing something in Toronto for a year or so. The goal was to increase community and accessibility for new people wanting to join the lit scene, something that I found very difficult as an emerging artist myself. When we realized how large a job it would be to start the hub-style website, we ditched that idea for the lesser workload of a reading series. And how wrong we were about that! It is a wildly busy undertaking, but a monster of fun.
But things started rolling and here we are, not even six months in and feeling like we’ve already made a pretty deep and successful mark. We started as a small, three-volunteer team, and we have turned into a team of eight. We do a show every month and we’re showcasing four amazing emerging artists every time. Soon, we’ll have a workshop series and a podcast!
JF: EW was funded (I believe by the Toronto Arts Council). Is Slackline? Was there ever a discussion about passing that foundation along?
EH: Strange question. Nope, that conversation about passing along funding didn’t happen. Our first goal was just to get the series rolling, funding we could deal with later. Now we are rolling, and now we have a team of people working on funding. Hopefully we’ll have some soon.
JF Slackline has been happening in the stage space at Burdock. What is it that you like about the space? How do you think a venue affects a reading series?
EH: We could compliment the Burdock team and space endlessly. They are a huge reason that we’ve been such a success so quickly. The space is visually and acoustically unmatched, they offer it to us on the cheap, and we add variety to their monthly line-up. Plus, we bring in a room-filling audience of drinking young folk to the brewery on an off night of the week. It’s the cliché of a win-win.
The venue affects the series in a few really good ways. Its layout has helped keep our shows very social. It’s an odd thing to say, but truth is we’ve always thought hard on how we can keep the event social and inviting—mainly because we’ve seen so many events fail at it. We’ve always wanted our events to be a place where everyone feels comfortable gathering, and a place where even the shyest people (which is most of us) feel like we can chat at least to the person next to us. The layout and people at Burdock have really helped us achieve this. Inevitably, people at Slackline events are always chatting and mingling.
Burdock is also an accessible venue in multiple ways. The event room is wheelchair accessible and we have an accessible washroom next door. We find Burdock’s staff and environment, including the neighbourhood, to be a comfortable location for all varieties of people. When we held our first Slackline show at a different venue in Toronto, we found that it did not fit the inclusivity values at our series’ core, so we quickly moved to Burdock and have been very satisfied. We hope to increase our accessibility more in 2017 by adding access for those who identify as hearing impaired.
The goal was to increase community and accessibility for new people wanting to join the lit scene, something that I found very difficult as an emerging artist myself.
And lastly, the combination of professionalism and aesthetics that Burdock provides aligns perfectly with the professionalism we want to provide our performers and audience. If you are an emerging artist working your ass off, you deserve to read at an event that is well run and looks good. You deserve to be showcased, not just given stage time. If you see what these artists can do, you see that a professional showcase is the least that they deserve.
JF: Do writers apply to read or do you ever go out and find them? What are the qualities you look for when you book someone?
EH: I must stress here that Slackline is not just a reading series, but an arts series. I always thought it was strange how the other arts communities in Toronto were so separate from the lit scene, so from the very beginning, right in our name Slackline Creative Arts Series, we wanted to work to amend that division. We want to present artists of all kinds, and while we focus on word-oriented arts, we are always open and on the lookout for artists who want to showcase themselves in a new way or in a different community.
We want more people from outside the writing community to reach out to us. So far, on top of authors, we’ve had submissions from singers, rappers, slammers, comedians, storytellers, and painters. We are really hoping this variety and interest from outside the literary realm grows.
Our curation system has evolved into a combination of submissions and soliciting. To read at Slackline, you have to apply to be showcased, but anyone can apply, as long as you are an emerging artist of some kind; for authors that means pre-book deal, for all other artists we judge accordingly. We do however have our eye out for youth (13-29) and people who identify as historically marginalized. We also all do our part to attend a variety of arts and reading events throughout the GTA. If we see something we like, someone who rocks an open-mic, we say “hi” and let them know about how to apply. The whole point is to grow community.
But what do we look for? I can only speak for me, and I’m only one of eight amazing and diverse artistic minds. I’m looking for professionalism and stickiness. In fact, professionalism is something that I think all of our curators look for, plus our website’s submissions page pronounces it: we want serious artists, people who are as dedicated as we all are, people who obviously love their art, people who are in it because their brain has given them no other choice. But the stickiness is my thing. It’s got to be a submission that I can’t get off of me, that I tell people about, that bothers me. And I think that’s an easy answer to what good writing is. What’s stuck in my mind right now is Nicole Brewer’s story from our January show: her character had to remove the bones from her forearm to use as drumsticks!
JF: It always amazes me how much people “dread” poetry readings, but keep coming out to them, even if only to see friends and strengthen connections. In your view, what can a great reading series offer an audience that will keep them coming back for the performances?
EH: Oh man, poetry readings can suck. My partner and I often try to see other readings and are usually just bored to death. In fact, that was one of the criteria that made us shape Slackline as we did: make a series that is actually exciting. But how do you do that? For us, it was about variety, and about showcasing emerging artists. A reading series has to be conscious of the voices they are presenting. While lit events are totally about meeting people and giving people respected stage time, it is still a performance, still a show.
If you are an emerging artist working your ass off, you deserve to read at an event that is well run and looks good.
Even if it’s PWYC, I’m still paying for a good entertaining evening, so as a series you owe it to your audience to curate and organize a professional evening. So many series just fail at that. I don’t want to hear four middle-aged white folk read their third book of poetry. I don’t want the 7:00 p.m. show to start at 8:30 p.m.; I’ve got shit to do. Pay attention to the way your evening looks, the people who are coming together, both performers and the audience. I’m going to events to be titillated and to leave on time. I think both audiences and performers have been so happy with Slackline events because we are conscious of that. We make a point of turning every show into an event, a presentation of four artists who are totally different from one another. We do this so that our audience is never bored, but also so artists can see different styles and talk to people who are thinking in different ways.
The other side of a good show is emerging artists. Emerging artists just don’t seem to have that redundant tone or content. We’ve all heard that poet, that same cadence of line delivery, and that’s cool for them, but four of them in a row at a poetry reading is like a torture—my body actually hurts. The people we find through Slackline are always way more exciting. I’m thinking of Brolin Devine’s comedy skit about throat swabs, Karen Lee’s poem with her chest-thumping fist, Cian Cruise’s reading where he stuffed his mouth with Haribo candy. These are serious emerging artists, and, because of that criteria, we keep having shows with tons of variation in genre, delivery, and content, and these performers are selling themselves as professionals while they do it. I can honestly say that I’ve never been bored at a Slackline event, and I honestly think that emerging artists themselves are one of the big reasons for that.
The next Slackline Creative Arts Series takes place on February 12th at Burdock Brewery at 6 p.m., featuring Taylor Najjar, Iris J, Laboni Islam, Adam Zachary, and Jess Crawford.