If you’ve ever wanted to get to know Veda Hille better, now’s your chance. Little Volcano, the solo show that she’ll officially premiere at this year’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, is essentially a self-portrait, she tells the Straight in a telephone interview from her Commercial Drive home. Part frank, part funny, part political, and part poignant, it’s as close to the confessional as this alternately worldly and otherworldly woman is likely to get.
“It’s basically me finding a way to introduce the funny little corners of my mind to people in a more considered way than just letting them spill out, the way they usually do at shows,” she explains, laughing.
Shining a light into those corners and speeding the narrative flow are Theatre Replacement’s Maiko Yamamoto and James Long, recent winners of the 2019 Siminovitch Prize for theatre direction. Hille’s worked with them for more than a decade, crafting scores for several Theatre Replacement productions, including YU-FO, Sexual Practices of the Japanese, and Dress Me Up in Your Love.
“We wrote the script together, and we started by me trying to write it out traditionally, alone on a piece of paper,” Hille says. “And that came up with a bunch of very stiff, very ornate sentences that didn’t work at all on the stage. So we ended up with them asking me questions, and me answering in the air, with speech, and them writing it down. And once we found that format, I started waking up in the middle of the night and just writing things down the way they were coming to me. I found a different way of writing, basically, which I never would have found without them.
“And then they’re just keeping an eye on it from the outside all the time,” she continues. “They’re working mostly on the way I deliver this text, and the transitions between the text and the music—stuff that I would have just let happen. And then I keep trying to write more jokes, and they keep saying, ‘No, we have enough jokes.’”
We won’t spoil any punch lines, but will comment on some of the more serious moments in Little Volcano. As Hille describes it, the work incorporates her thoughts on the strong women in her family, surviving a potentially fatal illness, the relationship between art and science, and the life of St. Mungo, the sixth-century founder and patron saint of Glasgow.
Among the factors that led to Mungo’s canonization, Hille explains, were a series of enigmatic miracles involving a bird, a fish, a bell, and a tree. These she’s worked into a lyric for a prelude by her lifelong musical inspiration, Johann Sebastian Bach, neatly combining her faith in the restorative power of art, nature, and devotion to craft.
“Sometimes I think that’s all I can do,” Hille says. “I try to do political good works and the right things in the world, but sometimes it feels that the best use of me is just toiling away in my funny little garret writing these songs about plants and what have you. And that consistency is a faith, in itself, in continuation.”
The PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Music on Main, and Theatre Replacement present Little Volcano, at the Orpheum Annex from Tuesday to next Thursday (January 21 to 23).