“A Day in the Life” with Toronto creative Melissa Joakim

Melissa Joakim is a lighting and projection designer, scenographer and stage manager in Toronto. She has been nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award in Outstanding Lighting Design, and the Pauline McGibbon Award.

I first met Melissa over ten years ago when we were both undergrads at York University living in the fine arts residence, Winters. Making automatic drawings in her dorm room to the sound of her shredded cassette tapes, I found my creative happy place. As she angled and tinted lamps, and bent the sounds of radio dialogue or recorded music into low whooshing thrums of exhilarating tape noise, we bonded over absurdist theatre, existentialist philosophy, and the subtle ways that light affects mood.

Light has an incredible power to affect the way we feel, often without our noticing. You’re sitting on a café patio having a conversation and slowly, imperceptibly, the mood shifts. You notice that things have changed. What it something you said? Or did the sun go behind a cloud?

The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty once observed that we don’t see light, we see according to light.

Melissa’s work shapes the way we see. Using light, projection, sound, space and objects she creates immersive environments that distill of the emotional truth of a story into a palpable experience.

Sometimes this means going out on a limb, not only climbing up on very tall ladders and safely managing high voltages of electricity, but continuously learning new things, whether it be a new computer program, how to make an ambitious prop, or a whole new artistic medium. I’m often in awe of her courage.

Always this requires paying attention to some of the subtlest parts of human experience— the intricate overtones inside the harsh drone of a florescent light that’s a little out of whack, the rainbows inside your water glass. Melissa is deeply alive to the sensory and emotional world.

Since those early days, Melissa has built an impressive career designing powerful and evocative theatre for The Theatre Centre, Soulpepper, Native Earth Performing Arts and independent companies including Paper Canoe Projects, Ahuri Theatre, The Storefront Theatre and Bad New Days. She has toured with productions across Canada, and as far away as India and Australia.

Those early tape experiments were the first rumblings of deep and ongoing exploration of sound. She now plays bass and synthesizer in post-punk band Processor, ambient group No Colour Blue, and performs solo compositions under the name Saturn City.

Art is an important way of knowing. Yet, like the subtle qualities of light and sound, it’s all too easily overlooked in our world. Melissa’s art reminds us to look carefully, listen deeply, and tune in to the quiet hum of life. To see the rainbows in the static.

-Bio by long time friend and artistic collaborator Jeannette Hicks.

Melissa Joakim
This is me in the Mohave Desert. Jani and I went to Landers, California to visit Giant Rock and shoot footage for the show. It was an amazing opportunity to see Giant Rock in person and to document the trip. We went to the Rock everyday at dawn to get the best light. (Photo credit M. Joakim)
Melissa Joakim
This is also from the trip to California. This is on a hike in Joshua Tree National Park. (Photo credit M. Joakim)
Melissa Joakim
One version of Prophecy Fog showed at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Whitehorse, Yukon. This is from a drive Jani, Franco and I took between Whitehorse and Skagway. (Photo credit M. Joakim)
Melissa Joakim
This is the start of a rug I weaved for the show. I’ve never woven anything before but it was really fun to try it! (Photo credit M. Joakim)
Melissa Joakim
In my natural habitat, the lighting booth.(Photo credit M. Joakim)
Melissa Joakim
I play in a band called Processor with my partner Lorenz Peter. This picture is from the Mutek festval in Montreal. Mutek described our music as riding “an unruly line between chaos, composition and punk beauty.” We have 6 releases to date including two full length vinyl albums, the most recent is Sea Side which came out this past summer. (Photo credit Solvent)
Melissa Joakim
I also play music solo under the name Saturn City. This is my synth! (Photo credit M. Joakim)
Melissa Joakim
Saturn City pic. (Photo credit Lorenz Peter)

What ‘hood are you in?

I live near High Park, which is a great location- close to the Junction, Roncesvalles Village and the Park!

What do you do?

I’m a designer for theatre and dance productions. I feel really lucky that I get to work with Theatre Centre because they hold space for artists to create art and tell stories on their own terms. I’ve been working on different productions with Theatre Centre since 2014. Jani and I first collaborated on her show A Side of Dreams which played at NEPA and toured nationally. We’ve since worked together on other projects including Alien Creature at Theatre Passe Muraille and in long-term development for Prophecy Fog.

What are you currently working on?

Prophecy Fog at The Theatre Centre. I’m covering all aspects of design as an Environmental Designer for this piece.

Where can we find your work?

My website is https://mjoakimto.wixsite.com/mjoakim

Music Projects:

Processor: https://processor.bandcamp.com/

No Colour Blue: https://nocolourblue.bandcamp.com/releases

Saturn City: https://saturncity.bandcamp.com/

Processor installation and concert: This is from a concert and projection mapping piece we created for Nuit Blanche North.

Illustrations by Lorenz Peter, Animation by M. Joakim, Music by Processor




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Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography