Over the past decade, Ivan Coyote has delivered more than 200 live performances each year – a Da Vinci-level output of words, music, film and theatre that no doubt played a massive part in them being appointed Western University’s Alice Munro Chair in Creativity last year.
The biggest difference the award-winning Canadian writer and performer has found between storytelling as a professional and teaching a master class to the next generation? Face time. And that’s face time. Two words. Not FaceTime. Nor Zoom. Nor Skype.
Since their start at Western in June 2020, Coyote has taught the craft of writing, storytelling and performance to students without meeting any of their students in person. But that transition to online teaching and learning has not stalled the productivity. In fact, it’s accelerated in new and innovative ways.
“Since I’ve onboarded at Western, I’ve learned multiple digital platforms, I’ve developed two classes, taken them online and taught during a global pandemic. And, oh yeah, I wrote a book,” said Coyote. “It’s been intense.”
Coyote’s 13th book, Care Of, is a collection of letters and correspondence from readers and audience members the author had saved over years of life on the road and responded to during the first six months of the COVID-19 lockdown. It is set to be published June 8, 2021 by McClelland & Stewart.
Between now and the book’s release, Coyote is delivering a ground-breaking new course, titled Active Voice, at Western’s Faculty of Arts & Humanities.
A reading and performance series, Active Voice is also a highly interactive senior-level class. Coyote has handpicked some of their favourite artists to participate in the performance series element of the class. The guest artists will share songs, videos, scripts, links to previous performances, or articles for the students to read, watch or listen to in advance of their streamed performance, and then they will join the class afterwards for an active discussion about the material.
“I don’t want my students to just watch these performances as a passive act. I want them to know and understand the material and ask really knowledgeable questions,” said Coyote. “In keeping with the title of the series, Active Voice, I want them to truly engage with the artists.”
Several of the three-hour classes in the semester will also include a live, 45-minute virtual performance by guest artists, and the general public is invited to participate in a select schedule of free events, hosted and curated by Coyote and co-hosted by Words Festival.
“I have picked some of my favourite writers and performers. They are all true innovators and creators, who are learning to embrace this new medium of virtual performance and are still producing incredible work,” said Coyote.
The first public event is slated for Tuesday, January 26 at 7 p.m. and will feature Christine Fellows and John K. Samson.
Fellows is based in Winnipeg, Treaty One Territory, where she collaborates with artists from all disciplines to create and produce performance works and recordings. In 2018, she released her seventh solo album Roses on the Vine. In 2019-20, she created scores and sound design for theatre (Prairie Theatre Exchange), film (National Film Board of Canada; Diana Thorneycroft), dance (independent choreographers Lesandra Dodson and Jasmine Ellis), and spoken word (Jonathan Goldstein’s podcast, Heavyweight).
For the majority of his 25 years as a practicing songwriter, Samson fronted internationally beloved Winnipeg band The Weakerthans, for whom he wrote, recorded, and toured five full-length recordings. In 2010, he began writing and recording under his own name. John spent much of the last few years touring internationally in support of his second full-length solo record, Winter Wheat (Epitaph/Anti Records, 2016).
Future Active Voice guest artists and performers include writer and storyteller Richard Van Camp (February 9), musician and composer Veda Hille (March 2) and author Cherie Dimaline (March 30).
As part of the performance series, Coyote will deliver the Alice Munro Chair in Creativity lecture on Tuesday, March 16.
Active Voice public events are funded by the Hume Cronyn Fund, Western’s Department of English and Writing Studies, and the School for Advanced Studies in Faculty of the Arts and Humanities.
For the students, Active Voice will also include training sessions from Coyote on stagecraft, material selection and editing work for live performance, while a who’s who of industry gurus and top technical talent will guest lecture on the latest technological advancements in audio and video production.
“I’m drawing from my own experiences that I’ve managed to glean from being a live performer for more than 25 years and impart some level of shared knowledge,” said Coyote. “At the same time, I want to talk and teach about living and working during a global pandemic, and I want my friends and collaborators to join us, as we learn to embrace the technology that is required to deliver and engage with an audience effectively in this virtual performance space.”
Students will also be tasked with developing, producing and recording their own original performances by the end of semester.
Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. They are the author of 13 books, the creator of four films, six stage shows and three albums that combine storytelling with music. Coyote’s books have won the ReLit Award, been named a Stonewall Honour Book, been longlisted for Canada Reads and been shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Prize for non-fiction.
Their stories grapple with the complex and intensely personal topics of gender identity, family, class and queer liberation.