Denise Clarke’s favourite question is “Who are you now?”
Throughout her more than 40-year career in Canadian theatre, the Calgary native has worn many hats, from stage performer to choreographer to director. A Member of the Order of Canada, she is also the recentlypublished author of The Big Secret Book: An Intense Guide to Creating Performance Theatre.
Now, as Associate Artist with her hometown’s One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre and director of its Summer Lab Intensive, she enjoys mentoring young artists while continuing to develop her craft.
On her evolution as an artist
I realized fairly early on that I wanted to cover a lot of bases in order to make my living joyfully. And that meant I couldn’t just be a writer or an actor or a dancer or a choreographer, I had to be all of them. So that’s what I do now — I do them all. I’m 62 years old and I feel very youthful. I’m certainly not putting in an eight-hour dance day, but at risk of sounding like I have a huge ego, I still got it. I move really well and I choreograph in-depth work, and I’m enjoying mentoring and feeling the wisdom of the craft that I’ve acquired, which is one of the huge bonuses if you stick at it this long.
On how geography inspires her work
Calgary is a truly glorious place to live. When my colleagues and I were young punks in the 1980s, the bottom had dropped out of the oil and gas industry. We found it perfect because we could afford our lifestyle, but most of all we loved the landscape. We loved having the Rockies hugging us on one side and the wide open Prairies on the other; it felt like we could do whatever we wanted. Even now, we’re less inspired by our own neuroses than we are by our relationship to place. We like to give the audience the predicament of a character in situ, whether it’s here in Calgary, or in the forest, or travelling abroad.
On her advice to young artists
The biggest thing I try to impart to young artists is how to live well and sustain themselves. You can’t aim to live a monetized life as an artist; you have to understand that it’s a devotional kind of lifestyle. It’s hard, and there’s a lot of room to give up, but if you can get to a point where you’re self-sustaining and just enjoying the work itself, that’s your payoff — that you’re living the way you want to live.
On asking “Who are you now?”
Before you embark on any project, you should probably do a very rigorous inventory of what’s going on in your own skin. If you don’t have a sense of yourself, it’s hard to stay in touch with your values, your beliefs and your aesthetics. I would say that applies to anybody who does any kind of exploration, be it on the face of the Earth or within the realm of the mind and the soul. You need to know how you want to go and you need to believe in your own path.