A Dora-award winning multidisciplinary artist of Pakistani descent, Zorana Sadiq creates work that is wide ranging and spans different types of performance, including theatre, television, chamber music, contemporary music, and opera. Zorana is currently a Creator in Residence at Crow’s Theatre working on her solo show, MixTape.
If you’ve ever made a mix-tape that title pushes your buttons. Déjà vu! I remember the tape I made when I was just getting to know my wife. At one time a mix tape could be like a bouquet of flowers or a love-letter, to introduce yourself romantically, intimately to someone you wanted to know: romantically, intimately.
Sadiq has performed extensively in Canada and the United States alongside many of classical music’s leading conductors including Bramwell Tovey, Robert Spano, and Alex Pauk, and has appeared with Music Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Vancouver Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Musica Viva, and New York’s Da Capo Chamber Players.
I’m intrigued that a serious theatre and musical artist like Zorana delves into her own deeper musical self with MixTape.
Are you more like your father or your mother?
Both and neither. And I’d say mostly neither. I have a child of my own now, and see and recognize in myself the tendency to want to point-out personality inheritance, but really, they are their own thing. I think if you grow up in a turbulent house, which I did, you spend a lot of time trying to create yourself in relief to your parental influences, if that makes sense. And of course, that is only so successful, but you do it anyway.
What is the best or worst thing about what you do?
I consider myself very lucky to be able to express myself through a number of mediums. In a sense, they are all fueled by an essential need to communicate and share ideas and beauty- but they require different “muscles”. Singing, acting, teaching and writing are great joys for me, and a life spent jockeying between them keeps me feeling well-played. I never feel like I’m static or in a rut.
The promotion for MixTape says “Can you think of the first song you played over and over again? The first song that you would take the time to rewind on the cassette tape, because it was worth it.” My first song was either Mamas & the Papas’ “This is dedicated to the one I love” or maybe “Strawberry Fields” by the Beatles . Let me ask you Zorana ”what was the first song you listened to over and over?”
I discovered the joys of lifting music when I was in grade seven and so I played a recording of Fauré’s Pavane over and over so that I could learn the notes on my flute. The cassette-which was that light beige color, was an EMI classical compilation of some kind. It’s funny that I can remember the “gist” of the cassette itself, but that haunting, dotted melody of the piece is still fresh in my mind.
I would say a close second to the Fauré was Michael Jackson’s I Just Can’t Stop Loving You. I had a whooooole thing going on around that song.
What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I wish I was fearless. I admire people who do the thing first, and consider the possible disasters afterwards.
When you’re just relaxing and not working, what is your favourite thing to do?
Cook. Bake, specifically. This pandemic forced us all to make special occasions within our houses, and food was a natural way for us to do that.
I also love to read, and find that when I’m working on something- memorizing a score, learning lines- I lose my absorptive powers. So when I can really dive into a book- it’s delicious for me.
More questions about Zorana Sadiq’s new show MixTape that will be presented by Crow’s Theatre beginning November 9th.
Talk about your relationship with tapes and taping. When did you first make a tape and what was on it?
I got my own double cassette recorder in my early teens, and was hooked. I remember the sound seemed so full and expansive, even though it was just a regular boom box. Maybe because it fillllled up my room in a way that made me feel the space was really mine. Mix tapes became a huge thing for me, and something about waiting for songs to come on so you could grab them from the radio made it more magical. Like fate was involved in waiting for A-HA’s ” Take on Me” to come on.
Tapes have all kinds of obvious disadvantages. The sound quality isn’t great, they are slow to work with, they wear out. But they also were very democratic. Nothing was hidden away that you had to be an expert to manage. I always like how very close the music was to me with cassettes.
My mix tapes were very eclectic. I wanted ebb and flow and variety. It’s not that dissimilar from programming recitals, actually. And I think you can introduce new things to listeners in the way that you chose the sequence of your songs by building momentum, or by surrounding a new piece in the familiar.
It’s one of our first curatorial tasks as young people.
Does a mixtape reflect the person who makes it?
I say in the show that making a mixtape is like decorating your locker. It can be used to express who you are. It can also be a love letter, or a shared joy between friends. It’s hard to give a friend music anymore these days, with everything being digital. Sharing a playlist isn’t as personal, I think.
I always listened to a pretty big range of music, my ear was restless like that.
Crow’s Theatre announced your “Creation Residency” earlier this year, as part of “a new slate of original theatre, podcast, screen-based and multi-platform projects-in-development.” Talk for a moment about your experience with Crow’s and Artistic Director Chris Abraham, who directs your show.
Seven years ago I did a concert of my first loves, Prince and Kate Bush- arranged for classical soprano and a small chamber ensemble. (Peter Tiefenbach, Joe Macerollo and Tim Francom were my partners in crime on that show.) It was an itch that I had had for a while. As a young soprano, I had always admired Cathy Berberian and Teresa Stratas. I loved how they negotiated surprising repertoire with their beautiful classical voices.
Interacting with those early musical loves within the paradigm of a classical soprano gave me pause. I didn’t speak at all, in that concert, which is rare for me- I like to chat between sets in a regular recital to draw the audience into the music. But in that case, it was just the music. But, it left me restless. Once all those things were out on the table, my voice, the training, the pop songs, my feelings about the artists themselves- I could feel tug to make some more meaning of all of these parts of my musical self.
I also had an early push of encouragement from my dear friend, Factory AD Nina Lee Aquino, who said after that concert: “You know there’s a show in there, right?” Factory also gave me the very first writing grant I got for this piece, and Matt McGeachy at Factory was my first introduction to the blessed role of a dramaturge.
So, I wrote on and off for three years. Hashing it all out as best I could.
Chris Abraham heard about my script and asked me to read it to him last summer. I had been writing for so long that it was a relief to have the words outside of myself, in the air. Shortly after that, I was invited to do the residency and that’s when our work began.
Our first dramaturgy sessions were a lot about activating my unconscious to write, to color-in the person in between all of the music- which I had previously been sheepish about. We would talk and talk and he would point out things in my story that activated my thoughts and theories about sound. One of Chris’ many strengths is his ability to see larger patterns in a story. I feel very lucky that he was my dramaturge for this play. He has a special kind of curiosity that disarms the storyteller.
I also did early workshops experimenting with sound and music and how it might function to continue the narrative of the writing itself.
Thomas Ryder Payne, the sound designer for this show, also has very hungry ears.
In our work we have run the gamut of how much and what kind of musical information aids and abets us in this play. We do want the audience to feel a sense of their own instrumentality.
Could you give us some idea of what sort of work to expect with Mixtape? Is it a musical, or a play or something else?
MixTape is a play. A travelogue of sorts through a life lived through my ears, trying to figure out how best to be heard. I hope that the audience will relate to this journey we all take, to be known to ourselves, so that we radiate that outward in our lives.
I tell the story with my voice.
Is this a good time to be growing up with the media we have available? Is it harder or easier in our digital – social media era than it might have been working with cassettes?
I think this was covered above. I also don’t want to stray into judgement about digital music- it does feel limiting to me, but that is my personal experience. It has also made music more available for the curious listener. I can say that an algorithm choosing songs for a playlist frightens me a bit. The streamlining of tastes by a corporate hand also worries me.
But I do have faith, particularly in young people, that in the end, if music matters to them, they will be guided by their own tastes.
The promo for this show says the following:
For writer, performer, and musician Zorana Sadiq (Towards Youth, Crow’s Theatre), sound is our first, last, and most influential sense. In the world premiere of her new solo show MixTape, directed by Crow’s Theatre Artistic Director Chris Abraham, Sadiq invites her audience into a life experienced through sounds and an obsession with making them.
Please tell us more about your philosophy and what you would hope to achieve in your art and your life.
I think we all come out of the box as instruments. Human instruments. And for a time, we all make the sounds just as we feel them. The sounds that babies make are astonishing in their eloquence. Eventually most of us learn to speak, and thus begins the cultivating of our instruments. For singers, we take this a step further, training our voices to sound different ways, to have a bigger set of knobs and dials.
I think the answer to WHY we seek to do this, and what we think we will achieve is one of the central investigations of the play.
Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
I have been so very fortunate in my life to have great teachers and incredible mentors. To start, my high school music teacher, Leon Racine planted an early seed around the purpose of music, and encouraged us to improvise and activate our generative, creative selves.
I was very lucky to have studied with Susanne Mentzer at the Aspen Festival. She gave me the real goods on the cost of holding back when you are singing.
I got to work with Dawn Upshaw when I was a fellow at Tanglewood and she really epitomizes for me the singing actor. Communication burned through all of the beautiful notes she sang and it really left its mark on me.
As an actor, one of my first theatre gigs was in Tout Comme Elle- which Luminato produced, with a cast of 50 intergeneration woman. I don’t know how I got cast, but it was like school for me. The cast was stacked with the best actors in the country. That was my syllabus: Kristen Thompson, Akosua Amo Adem, Liisa Repo Martel, Tanja Jacobs, Lili Francks, Anusree Roy. I was very grateful to get to work in that forest of fabulousness.
MixTape opens November 9th at the Guloien Theatre 345 Carlaw Avenue. For further information click here.
In addition, I’ve heard that MixTape will be the first show of the season to be filmed and then edited for digital broadcast following the live run. The streaming dates are December 2 – 19. For more information click here.