STU drama prof pushes for more meaningful theatre

After studying physical theatre and touring across Oregon and California for two shows, Lisa Anne Ross moved to Toronto to take a clown course, and started Clown Hall with three other performers.

She is a small woman who never sat still. She smiled easily, spoke with her hands and walked like a ballerina about to do a graceful pirouette.

“Theatre company isn’t the right word. It was an underground, guerrilla theatre space slash laboratory for lunacy,” said Ross.

They rented a warehouse space, and put on cabarets and clown shows, and taught workshops.

“It was like we were living the dream. The dirty warehouse space with the pigeons coming in and pooping on the floor, and just beg borrowing and stealing everything.”

Ross now teaches three drama courses at St. Thomas University, and recently directed a Theatre St. Thomas production of the Greek tragedy The Bacchae. She studied theatre as a tool for social change, and believes a performance must always make a point, and have meaning. To her the continual challenge in theatre, and what she is teaching her students, is to attempt to tell challenging stories without alienating the audience and doing something boring.

She said her experience in Toronto is where her love for theatre comes from. The work they did was not groundbreaking, but they did the work, and they explored issues.

“(Theatre) doesn’t have to be radical, but without a message the play has no legs,” said Ross.

To her, the key to creating a unique and thoughtful work of theatre is being creative, and that’s what she attempts to foster in her students.

“I feel my strengths are to help students to unlock the creator within them… and to offer them a larger palette from which to create, which includes physical theatre.”

She is also the creative producer of Solo Chicken Productions, a physical theatre company. She performed a solo show called Engorged in the Black Box Theatre last June. She uses it to illustrate Solo Chicken Productions’ philosophy of creating a performance that is both challenging and delightful.

“I wear a giant vagina costume, and I talk about motherhood,” she said. “In my way I push boundaries, but it’s fun and you laugh and you can’t help but enjoy it, because it’s funny.”

Ross’s goal in theatre is the same as her goals when teaching her students: to expand horizons.

“I want them to see that there are so many ways to approach something, and to be open to all of those possibilities.”

She says university is the best space for people to gain a more open-minded perspective.

“(At university) you’re being encouraged to think for yourself… and hopefully when you get to university the construction that’s holding your world in can crack open,” she said. “I hope in my small way, with my three little classes, that I’m in some way contributing to expanded horizons.”