Dahlia Katz is the Artistic Director of Solar Stage, a director/dramaturg with a lifetime interest in puppets, and a photographer.
If I exclude those who get written up in reviews (the actors-musicians-directors etc) Dahlia Katz may have appeared in my blog more than anyone, her photos often serving as the best advertisement for operas & plays. If you’re a regular reader of blogs or reviews you have probably seen and admired her work.
Dahlia might be the best photographer I’ve ever encountered.
Yes there are other people who take perfect beautiful pictures, but what she appears to do better than anyone I know is capture the essence of a show.
Over and over I have used one of her images that epitomizes a piece (go see her website for more examples). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she understands her subjects from the inside because as a practitioner she’s not merely snapping pictures.
On social media she shares her excitement, humble enough to sometimes seem genuinely star-struck by the talent she encounters. Yet she is always helping the people she works with be better, the consummate team player.
Early this year, many months ago, I asked her about doing an interview, long before Solar Stage were nominated for ten Dora awards. However many of those nominations actually lead to awards, the attention changes very little. She will continue to be very busy on multiple fronts. I’m sure the recognition is appreciated, but Dahlia will keep working hard, will keep being humble.
I’m so glad she was able to find some time to answer a few questions.
Are you more like your father or your mother?
I’m entirely my mother’s daughter. She raised me and continues to raise and protect and challenge and care for me. Rachel Katz is well known amongst those who studied theatre at York University… she’s an administrator there, but a mother to all, a safe space and a caregiver and a tough-lover and a listener and a profoundly insightful influence. She will fight for what’s right, she’ll fight for you to get what you deserve, she fights for her own rights, she fights for women and young people and the frightened and the lost and the under-resourced. She doesn’t care where you came from, just how much you can dream and how hard you can work. She asks for little in return. She takes after her mother too (a refugee and survivor of World War II).
What is the best or worst thing about what you do?
Best thing is getting to be in all the rooms, and having the warm acquaintance of so many people in the theatre community. The worst thing is only getting to wear one hat at a time.
Who do you like to listen to or watch?
Other than theatre? TV. I don’t watch movies, they make me fall asleep. I prefer short/episodic storytelling, and these days I keep it optimistic or light-hearted. Right now I’m all about Letterkenny, The Good Doctor, Killing Eve, Star Trek: Discovery, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Grace and Frankie, Cheers. Always re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. No, not Deep Space Nine.
When I listen to music it’s typically just classical or jazz while I’m photo-editing. Except for when I feel like some show-tunes.
What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Drawing. And keeping plants alive.
When you’re just relaxing and not working, what is your favourite thing to do?
These days, to be honest, I am not doing much of this. I work all the time. I do cook really well, and like to get back to it when possible.
More questions about the busy Artistic Director of Solar Stage, a self-described “puppetry coach” moonlighting as one of the most in-demand photographers in the city.
Where & how does puppetry fit into your sensibility?
Puppetry showed me how to be a rigorous student of human physical behaviour, which, as you can imagine, has many applications in what I do. It’s the basis of my theatrical sensibility, and helps me direct body language in my photography subjects. I trained in the US with Sandglass Theater and in the Czech Republic with Miroslav Trejtnar as well as with Pete Balkwill of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop and Rob Faust of Faustworks. I almost completed an MA in Theatre Studies at York University, but I felt the study of directing for theatrical puppetry was something I didn’t want to just write a hundred-page paper about, I wanted it to be my life’s work. I teach puppet manipulation intensives once in a while and I hope to get back to it again soon. In a way, puppetry taught me everything I needed to know about acting, and how to make theatre a truly visual experience, a spectacle of human behaviour and universal gestures.
In a photography context, it helps me capture moments that truly translate through the still, and to anticipate moments even before they happen.
So you’ve studied the training and preparation of actors for theatrical puppetry. If money were no object, is there a project on the back burner that we might see one of these days?
Well, unrelated to puppetry, I always wanted to direct a production of Hair (the musical).
But I have always wanted to see puppets do something we’ve never seen them do before, like butoh or aerials or Mamet. Something that highlights the form but also challenges it to be done so realistically it almost becomes mundane. However I believe strongly that puppets should never be used to do something that an actor can do better; so in these modes they need to do something an actor could never do, like pop their own heads off or something. Or die. I love a good puppet death.
I love your photography. Your photos seem to genuinely channel the best moments of the shows you’re shooting. What’s your secret?
Thank you very much. I think the “secret” of any seasoned professional is just experience, but I definitely benefit from the overlaps and interactions of my various backgrounds. And some really good reflexes.
What is your mission at Solar Stage?
I’m the Artistic Director.
My husband is the Artistic Producer.
This is our joint artistic statement.
“We believe in exposing audiences to diverse theatrical works which instil a sense of wonder, arouse optimism and empathy, and celebrate playing and the spirit of play. We believe theatre available to young people should fortify community and family relationships across age groups through the shared experience of performed stories. We believe in works of diversity in style, tradition, ethnicity, ability, gender, and age. We work to distill the concept of the ‘all-ages’ experience with critical, discerning artistry. We stand for community engagement, artistic enrichment and professional development. We want Solar Stage to be a part of the village that raises a child.”
If we were to put you on a desert island with your partner, a theatre, plus another 3 wishes, what would you wish for?
It’s a funny question because being on a desert island means being away from audiences. One of the biggest wishes I have is for strong marketing for whatever I do. And the money to pay someone to do it for me. What I most want to do is work on great text with great talent. As a director, I prefer published plays to new works. As a dramaturg, I love new plays… These are separate parts of my brain.
Going by your gut feelings of pride & pleasure: what is the favourite thing you’ve done ?
There’s been a couple huge highlights this year, like directing Nora McLellan and my husband in Caryl Churchill’s ‘A Number’, shooting the new portraits for the Grand Theatre (London)’s artistic director Dennis Garnhum, getting featured in NOW magazine as a theatre photographer, and just today getting to shoot the promo images for Ronnie Burkett’s incredible new show “Forget Me Not”, but my favourite thing I’ve ever done was marry M. John Kennedy – my muse, my partner in crime, my lifeline, and my very favourite actor.
What part do you enjoy most?
To be frank, one of the things I have to admit enjoying most is being an artist and being financially stable at the same time. As a photographer I also work outside of theatre doing corporate gigs, weddings, events and other stuff, but I pay my bills being creative and that feels really really good. Making my own hours and being able to change and evolve as a professional according to my own design is also really valuable to me.
Is there a teacher or influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
Anatol Schlosser, a professor of non-European theatre and puppetry at York University… he was a huge father-figure-like influence on me, my husband, and many other friends, students who had the great honour of being in his classes before he passed away in 2002. He was – like my mother – parental in his teaching, he cared more about inspiring you than grading you. He made you feel seen as a human being. He wanted you to respect rigour and high discipline in art, but he wanted you to play and experiment, too. He made sure while I was passionate about theatre, that I got a “real education” so I would have something to say as an artist.
I wanted to also include a picture of Claudia Jean Apricot Katz-Kennedy, an important member of the family, and one of Dahlia’s favorite photographic subjects.
Well that was fun..!
And by the way, the Dora Mavor Moore Awards will be given Tuesday June 25th.