‘Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down’ promises triumphs, tears in competition series

'Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down' promises triumphs, tears in competition series
Brendan Tang, an assistant professor in visual arts at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, who is also a judge on the new CBC television show

A muddy and sometimes explosive reality show is coming to Canadian TV this week as 10 contestants vie to become the country’s top amateur potter.

Their creations are delicate, but the potters are tough, says Jennifer Robertson, host of “The Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down” premiering Thursday on CBC and streaming on CBC Gem.

“There aren’t a lot of art forms that if you have one slight misstep, your entire piece can just explode,” says the actor who is best known for her role as Jocelyn Schitt in the broadcaster’s award-winning comedy show “Schitt’s Creek.”

The potters are accustomed to navigating the emotional ups and downs of making ceramics, she says, but they still pray to the “kiln gods” to spare their work.

“There’s tears,” she says. “They put a lot of themselves into a lot of these pieces.”

The eight-episode series, shot on Vancouver’s Granville Island, follows potters from across the country as they transform mounds of clay into sculptural artworks and functional wares, making everything from table lamps to fountains to dinnerware for a nine-course tasting menu.

Viewers who aren’t familiar with ceramics will be drawn to watching the “raw creativity” of the potters in action, says Brendan Tang, one of two expert judges and an instructor at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.

Toronto-based ceramic artist and educator Natalie Waddell also joins as an expert judge, while another potter with roots in Vancouver makes an appearance.

Seth Rogen is a guest judge and executive producer for the show, which emulates the “Great Pottery Throw Down” that originated in the United Kingdom in 2015.

In the opening episode, Rogen shows the potters how to recreate the first piece he ever threw on the wheel — an ashtray — and asks them to put their own spin on the shape in a 30-minute challenge related to the actor’s other pot-related pastime.

While Tang was initially “star struck” meeting Rogen, he says they quickly became “two clay nerds” talking about the many facets of ceramics explored in the show.

That includes raku firing, a technique in which pieces are removed from the kiln glowing red hot, then placed in a fiery container of combustible materials to create a variety of colours and effects.

“I saw how dedicated he is,” Tang says of Rogen. “I really enjoyed that.”

Robertson jokes that any qualms about a “Hollywood guy” stealing the show were quickly dispelled as it became clear that Rogen takes pottery “very seriously.”

The Canadian Press asked CBC for an interview with Rogen, but he wasn’t available.

Robertson isn’t herself a potter, although she has built a collection over the years. It now proudly includes a wonky little pot that one of the judges helped her make while they were filming last summer, she says.

The “Ginny & Georgia” star says watching the potters and seeing the results of their skill and dedication has given her a new appreciation for the art form.

“Now, I can look at a piece and I know what’s gone into it, the energy and effort.”

Tang says his jaw “hit the ground” when he saw the quality of the “Throw Down” potters’ work and “how high they were shooting” with their creations.

“I thought I knew who was going to win from the get-go, and there are so many twists and turns in this show, it’s great,” Tang says.

The contestants complete two challenges each week, sometimes exploring shapes, materials and techniques they have never tried before. The judges select one person to be named potter of the week, while another is sent home — and not without tears from some of their fellow contestants as they say goodbye.

It’s a reality competition show, but Robertson says there are no “villains.”

“We have the kiln, that’s bad enough sometimes,” she adds.

Tang says he’s noticed a surge of people, like Rogen, catching the pottery bug in recent years. The pandemic further spurred the trend as many people sought new ways to reconnect with themselves, he says, and ceramics is the perfect fit.

“It almost becomes like a meditation in motion or a flow-state practice, and I think people really enjoy that, where the world just disappears,” Tang says.

“We’re talking about a medium that has a 32,000-year history with our species, so we’ve been playing with clay since, like, the beginning, almost,” he adds.

The show is a “throw down,” but Tang says it captures a studio filled with “camaraderie” as the potters cheer each other on to create deeply personal work.

“I think we see the tough parts of the human spirit every day on the news, and this is like the positive part of being human.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2024.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian PressBrenna Owen, The Canadian Press

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