JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Olivia Shortt

February 21, 2024 by Sonja Johnston

Olivia Shortt is a Tkarón:to-based storyteller and performing artist. They are a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, noisemaker, improviser, composer, sound designer, video artist, drag artist, curator, administrator, and producer. Their fellowship research project is titled iskwe-ay’ii: at the end of it. Olivia is our 2023-24 Artist in Residence.

What project are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it?

I’m currently focused on a site-specific immersive opera whose story focuses on the rematriation/repatriation of cultural objects and ancestors as well as the conversation between institutions and Indigenous communities. My work is often influenced by my love of camp, drag, gender expression and its relation to Indigeneity. My other works look at the absence of straight-ahead storytelling and operate in the world of fragmentation. My work and research sit in theatre, music and video/media arts.

How has your JHI Fellowship experience been so far?

I have loved learning about and listening to scholars on topics that I’m unfamiliar with. Even though as an artist, I do hear about a lot of different subjects, being a fellow has allowed me to make connections with researchers I might not have met otherwise.

Can you share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by?

I recently saw Heather Christian’s ‘Terce: A Practical Breviary” in NYC at the Prototype Festival and I fell in love with the work. It was something suggested to me by a dear friend. Upon entering, you were immersed in the semi-religious and ceremonial space, and throughout the work, you were surrounded by performers who were making their way in and out of the aisles and in between audience members. Sung by a community choir of 30-plus caregivers and makers, it’s inspired by ideas taken from Julian of Norwich, Hildegard von Bingen, and Robin Wall Kimmerer in a non-narrative song cycle. The whole experience reminded me of working in churches (I’m not religious but I was a church organist in high school) and how an aging community comes together post-service in the forms of community care through meals and meetings. It also reminded me of a community dinner I went to in Copenhagen with some friends last summer where we were eating inside a previously used church converted into a community space that supported many queer events in the city. Heather Christian’s show was a musical force about coming together.

What is a fun fact about you?

I have a few fun facts: I was a radio host during my undergrad at CIUT 89.5FM at the University of Toronto. I was a tour leader for school groups, mostly from Ontario, and managed their school trips to Montreal, Quebec City, Nashville, Memphis and NYC. Also, I love cats.