Illuminating Thoughts: Susanna Fournier & Alison Wong on Four Sisters

Four Sisters is the culmination of Susanna Fournier's dystopian The Empire trilogy. Producer Alison Wong and writer & director Fournier share their illuminating thoughts on the creative process and meaning behind the work. 

Apr 23, 2019 | BY: Susanna Fournier & Alison Wong

Tell us about the journey from your original concept of Four Sisters to what will be performed at Luminato in June.   

Susanna Fournier: The transformation from the original incarnation of Four Sisters to its world premiere is emblematic of a larger, integral transformation I’ve gone through as a theatre-maker. The piece began as a very traditional text based narrative - yet had these “strange” interruptions, like the disintegration of linear time and the rupturing between narrative world and performative world.

The more I worked on the piece the more I saw that these “strange” interruptions were actually the life blood of the piece’s politic - a deconstruction of ideas around linear time and thus linear narrative; the primacy of the body in performance.

I don’t experience my life in linear form. Sure there is a version you can lay out chronologically and say “this happened then” - but it’s not how I feel inside my life, it’s not how my heart experiences time or being. It’s not how I dream and it’s not how I hope. I never imagined when I wrote the piece I’d come to approach it as a choreographic score or that I’d be the one to direct it. Four Sisters has been a teacher, a chance to lean into how my heart leads me towards the artist and person I can become if I am brave enough to follow it. 

Can you tell us how long has Four Sisters been in development?

SF: The first draft was written 9 years ago now. I wrote it as winter gave way to spring back in 2010/11.  That yearning towards rebirth that happens as the seasons change continues to influence how I see the work.   

What can viewers expect when they go see Four Sisters? Who do you think will be the most interested in this work?   

SF: Audiences can expect to see an incredible ensemble of women playing, loving, fighting, daring, breathing, and moving together. They can expect a theatrical story with characters and circumstances but also an experimental team of artists articulating their subjectivity as storytellers.

Audiences can expect to laugh, be surprised, witness grief, as well as wonder about the nature of how we tell stories, why we do it, and what it costs us to do it (financially, politically, physically). I think Four Sisters is for:

- anyone who craves more stories about women’s experiences in the world

- for anyone who’s fought with their family

- for anyone who likes to watch experiments and deconstruct performance 

- for anyone curious about how the heart resists

- for anyone yearning towards a new world.

If you had to summarize the story of Four Sisters in 5 words, what would they be?   

SF: How will our heart’s meet? 

How does Four Sisters speak to contemporary society? 

Alison Wong: Four Sisters calls us out - to witness how our systems are broken. And Four Sisters calls us in - to hold space for a new world beginning. 

What are some of the biggest challenges or setbacks you're facing while creating Four Sisters?  

AW: Our biggest challenge with Four Sisters is probably our ambition. We are experimenting with a lot of firsts in this production, for example working at a larger scale that is not necessarily “indie” anymore but at the same time still being very much indie and responding to artistic impulses borne out of the spirit of indie theatre-making which inherently requires agility and adaptability.

We’re working with a larger established partner, Luminato, but are also remaining steadfast to the creative questions in the story of Four Sisters and the unfamiliar paths they are leading us down to find the answers.

This means unconventional production schedules, uncomfortable timelines, and taking risks in the artistic process. And at the core of this work is an incredible team who are excited to meet these challenges with ingenuity and rigour. 

Do you have a favourite line or section from the piece? 

AW: There are actually so many. But if I have to choose one that hits me every time I hear or read it, it would be the moment in Act 3 when Beah says “NO I’M NOT DOING SILENCE AGAIN”.

It comes unexpectedly but at the same time it reverberates as the exact appropriate feeling I have in that moment. And then Abby responds, “If you want different things no amount of talking really fixes that”.

Which other Luminato 2019 shows are you excited to see?  

SF: Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools, Obeah Opera, The Full Light of Day, BIZIINDAN! 

Why did you want to present your work and be a part of the festival?   

SF: At Luminato I am constantly invited to step into the strange and the wonderous. When I go to shows at Luminato I am invited to step into worlds and works of great scale and delicate intimacy that artists both near and far to me have dreamed into being.

The festival curates a lush and wild landscape - often of work I otherwise wouldn’t get to see. The scope of Luminato is intentionally daring - which invites me to be more daring in my witnessing, as an audience member and as a maker, in my projects.

I want to make work that continues to question how we experience aliveness, a value I see reflected in Luminato programming. I am very proud to be one of the local artists presenting work at Luminato and participating in the vital, complex, surprising conversations and experiences the festival cultivates. 

Experience Four Sisters from June 11 - 15 at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, Canada during Luminato 2019. 

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