September 6, 2015
Less than a week away from the opening of The Builders! The past month has brought many exciting changes and improvements to the show. We switched our venue from a standard black box theatre into the visual arts studio in the basement of Woodwards; a rougher, rawer space that gave us the ability to work and transform the space in an expansive, long-term way. Once we were given the go-ahead that we could perform in the Vis Arts Studio, the creative process changed dramatically. With basically a blank canvas in front of us, the final month of rehearsals became a game. The rules were simple – you had to claim your space by altering or transforming it with your materials, you could claim as much space as you wanted through these alterations, and you could work at any time and could expand in any direction, and the person who claimed the most space would win a substantial prize (the winner has yet to be named – I’ll wait until after the run). And since those new rules were laid out, the Visual Arts Studio has been completely transformed…
Along with this shift of turning the process into a game, the structure of the piece also got a major re-draft. The builders as a collective group were killed (though their scenes did make an appearance during our Vines Festival performance) in favour of returning the focus to the individual ensemble members and their respective creative endeavours that they had been developing since the beginning of this process. More attention was given to each person’s efforts of transforming their territory, allowing these various processes to take up more space within the performance. Yet, I did not want to lose the narratives that each ensemble member had crafted alongside their spatial transformations. These narrative moments were worked into a continuous structure of building, so that amid this work, the audience receives brief revelations into the builders’ worlds – their dreams, desires, and personal mythologies.
In our new space, the audience is able to move around and experience the environments as they are worked on by the four builders, observing them from different vantage points, both up close and at a distance.
The Builders has also gotten some great press in the past few days! This morning we were featured on North by Northwest, in a 15-minute interview with Robert and I. You can listen to it on the podcast from Sunday, Sept 5 (we’re at the 27 minute mark).
Want to buy tickets for the show? (You probably should, cause our audience capacity is small and the shows are on the verge of selling out.) Click here: bit.ly/1PJhokz
July 31, 2015
I spent four weeks on PEI from mid-June to mid-July, a slight summer vacation in semi-warm weather. I only made it to the beach twice (in layers the first time) but I did take a couple day-long road trips up West, in search of Island art environments, continuing my research for The Builders. I don’t remember the last time I drove to places like Alberton, Tignish and North Cape, and I’d never done the coastal drives on that end of the Island either (at least not since I’ve been driving on my own). But, I had vague memories of visiting the Bottle Houses in Cap-Egmont as a kid, and the site had lodged itself into my consciousness when I first began to research art environments as a larger phenomenon in 2011. I’d also heard about Kerras Jeffrey’s Backroad Folk Art in Alma, since he had done design work for Young Folk and Row 142 a couple years ago. So with a car, a camera, lots of snacks and two days of clear skies, I set out on a PEI road trip with my mom, in search of art environments.
June 17, 2015
So I’m sitting in the Toronto airport, awaiting a connection back to Charlottetown. Magic hour has just ended and I had a seat at the bar to watch its final moments. It was a good time to land at the terminal, everything glowing amber and sending sunbeams of assurance that summertime has arrived here too.
We ended our 30th devising session for The Builders last night, concluding part one of our creation process. We’re taking a one-month break, and I’m confident in the place where we’ve arrived. We have a slew of material and a few different dramaturgical arcs that are starting to materialize. Members of the production team are now appearing at the sessions, including set designer Amanda Larder, musician David Cowling, and Dan O’Shea, who is our dramaturg. It’s exciting having these people in the room and witnessing their contributions to the process. Having live music accompany our improvisations and group compositions has really helped to fill in the sound world of this piece, adding an additional layer to all the elements at play within the work. Just last night, David started to learn Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”, in connection to research Keely is doing on Loy Allen Bowlin, the ‘Original Rhinestone Cowboy’, an outsider artist from Mississippi. Hearing those lyrics drift down the hallway as he practiced and we worked on solo etudes was thrilling.
There have been some great developments with regard to the installation/spatial intervention projects that I assigned everyone to do somewhere in the Woodwards building or in the neighbourhood. We started quite small and local, with Robert doing a mini intervention with string and pushpins on a 4th floor bulletin board, and me hanging pinecones from the interior of a Woodwards architectural crawlspace on the 4th floor.
A few weeks later, Eveleen blew us all out of the water with a banner she installed at 4am underneath some scaffolding around the construction site beside Woodwards.
A week after its installation, I’m amazed to report that the banner is mostly still intact. These photos below are from this Monday. The photo at the top of this post is from the day of installation.
And I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the wonderful serendipity that resulted in Amanda and I finding the exact set design material we had been hunting for, coming to us via a treasure chest in Ladner, BC. On Monday of last week, I’d mentioned that I’m interested in working with netting as a material with which to create an immersive set design in Studio T. Neither of us had much idea of where to acquire such a material, but I left her to the task. By Thursday, she had found a craigslist free ad listing a trunk full of green garden netting. The next morning we were driving to Ladner in her station wagon, nervous and full of anticipation. We arrived at the home of a fellow named Russ, who was getting rid of the netting and the chest. Apparently it was given to him years ago, and he didn’t even want it, and it collected dust in his garage until he decided to get rid of it. The ad had been up for six weeks! We loaded the beautiful tin and wood chest into the trunk of the car, marveling at the score we’d landed. Later, Amanda unraveled it at the Douglas College scene shop where she works, and discovered that there was 500 feet in length of the stuff, and it was about 17 feet in width! We had found a significant amount of the exact thing we needed, for free! So far, my plan to use mostly recycled and found materials to create this set is working. The amazing circumstances that led to us finding exactly what we wanted reminded me so much of last year’s hunt for a red rotary dial phone, which led me to Dave Hunter and the PEI Telephone Museum. I love when this kind of thing happens.
So by now, I’m on the plane to Charlottetown, where I’ll spend three and a half weeks writing draft one of my defense statement, playing the fun game of writing the show, going to the beach (fingers crossed for warm weather), and starting the planning phase for The River Clyde Pageant, my next theatre project which comes to life next summer. More on that later.
May 4, 2015
Oh the excitement of discovering a kooky little art environment right in East Van! Keely, who is a part of the ensemble for my MFA project, discovered this house on a walk, and brought us photos of it today for our creation/devising session. I hopped on my bike after the session to go find it, and here are the photos! Nobody was outside while I was there, nor when Keely was there. But I’m so curious to know who is behind this work!
More photos are being added to our little tumblr of research and inspiration, check it, here:
April 10, 2015
Devising sessions have begun with the ensemble for my grad project. I’m calling it The Builders as a temporary working title (but maybe it will stick). We’ve been gathering a lot of research on individuals who build environments in their homes and gardens, and on public and private property, sometimes taking over an entire village (see Ayano Tsukimi). All our builders research is being posted on this tumblr, so if you care to follow us along, check it out. http://environmentbuilders.tumblr.com/
April 6, 2015
This past semester, I was the assistant director for the Winter Mainstage show at SCA, The Unnatural and Accidental Women, written by Marie Clements and directed by Steven Hill.
The Unnatural and Accidental Women was staged following a lengthy process that included a semester of devising with the students of the Playmaking class in the fall, followed by two months of delving into the politics of actually staging the play…in the Woodwards building, with a non-Aboriginal cast of students, grappling with a painful history of violence against Aboriginal women that has occurred (and continues to occur) right outside the doors of this school in the Downtown East Side.
Throughout the process, we asked a lot of questions of how we could stage the play respectfully, yet provocatively too – presenting our audiences with the stories of these missing and murdered women, asking them to consider their implication, and to become more aware of the contexts in which this violence occurs, so close to us. The performance was presented as ‘an encounter’ with Clements’ text, acknowledging that this was our attempt to grapple with the traumatic history and current situation of our city, and with the experiences of the women represented in the play. We by no means completely understand these issues, but we are in relation to them, and this was a way to share those relationships which we’ve been building since the fall.
There’s so much I could say about this process, but I’ll try to keep it brief. The experience is still percolating in my mind, and still seems to be generating dialogue amongst people I meet. I’ve never been involved in a show that has elicited so much conversation and reaction. The show and post-show discussions encouraged audiences to engage with what they were seeing, and untangle it and talk about it, whether they liked it or not.
The process got me to confront the politics of theatre, which I sometimes shy away from in my own theatre making. Digging into ideas of community, representation, empathy and power with this play unearthed the many operations at work when social issues and histories are addressed through theatre. Watching rehearsals, attempting to stage and re-stage scenes, throwing ideas at the wall and making countless drafts of the show…we were constantly considering reactions, interpretations, what we could and couldn’t do. Maybe the work felt tentative because of that, but the material weighed heavy on us, there was a responsibility attached to it, and it wasn’t just for us anyways. We were making this for the community, to acknowledge our connections, and try to build up those relationships, reaching out from the stuffy fortress that is sometimes the Woodwards building. And I think something was started…another process began through which more ideas and relations and changes will occur. Hopefully. After the show ended, in March, I read this article in the New York Times about Afghan-American artist Mariam Ghani and this quote really stuck with me:
“I don’t think works of art produce concrete change. If anything, they are thin ends of a wedge where they just create a small opening in someone’s mind where something more direct and more concrete can enter in.”
Production photos by Paula Viitanen.
February 26, 2015
2nd year MFA student Megan Stewart is seeking theatre makers/artists of all kinds to join a small ensemble for a devised theatre project. The creation process will begin mid-March 2015 and the work will be shown September 2015.
Seeking 3-4 ENSEMBLE MEMBERS to join a 5-6 person ensemble.
Also seeking a MUSICIAN/SOUND DESIGNER to be involved in the process
The devising process will focus upon a body of research on folk art environment builders: people who construct elaborate, imaginative realms within their homes or yards, or on public and private property. These builders often create in seclusion, using found materials and junk to construct their environments over a lifetime. This research material will inform the creation of an original theatre work. The process will be highly collaborative and multi-disciplinary…enthusiastic makers are wanted!
Intrigued? Come to the group auditions on Friday, March 6th, room 4270, SFU Woodwards.
There are two audition times: 1-2:30pm and 3:30-5pm
To confirm an audition time and for more info, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re a musician interested in the project, email me!
Rehearsals will begin mid-March, 2-3x/week and will run until early June.
Rehearsals will resume in July, 3-4x/week through until September 9.
Performance dates are September 10, 11, 12 at SFU Woodwards.
Please come prepared with the following ready to present to the group:
1. A piece of original prepared material of your own making that is a combination of either:
a) Text and movement/action
b) Song/music and movement
Text should not be from a published play script – rather, it should be something you wrote, or from a poem, novel or another written source. If you are using music, it should be live (no recorded playback). Length: no more than 3 minutes.
2. A proposal for a fun game to play with the group.
September 24, 2014
Took a little while, but I’ve finally posted some photos of my whirlwind Wisconsin road trip, visiting art environments all around the state. Click here to see what I found.
This research is forming the basis of my MFA Grad Project, a devised theatre production to be presented in September 2015. Stay tuned for more…
September 3, 2014
I’ve had over a week to digest Art in the Open, and I’m about to start posting more photos on the projects page. The piece was a success. The ringing red rotary dial phone was very well received by the public (I just can’t let go of that pun!) and I had so much fun (as did Adam and a slew of other occasional ringer operators) playing with passersby; pressing the single-button remote control to make the phone ring and surprising them and watching their interactions with it…picking it up, listening, hanging up, repeat. I was impressed at how long people stayed with the piece, taking time to listen to the 4 minute track and sharing the experience with others. There were frequent lineups as people waited their turn to hear the voice on the end of the line!
The installation and performance component also intrigued audiences, though perhaps the connection between the two elements could have been strengthened. Closer phone placement to the installation may have tied these two worlds together more solidly. Phone placement ended up where it was for the sake of nighttime lighting, but it was at a slight distance from the installation. I doubt that everyone realized the connection between the two elements, though people were keen to interact with them both. The connections were not made explicit…it required some imaginative and contemplative work on the part of the viewer/listener, which was always a part of the project’s overall design.
I had excellent performers who occupied this strange little space I created amongst a few trees. They added to this sinister yet magical world by building more hanging garlands, reading from the library of encyclopedias, watching people from the trees, resting, being. I have to say, they all looked pretty killer too, wearing the shifty black bandit masks along with coveralls procured from the basement of Corney’s shoe store (a gold mine for odd costume needs).
Near the end of the night, I was approached on the plaza by Craig Mackie, who declared the piece to be his favourite of all of Art in the Open, which was an enormous compliment, and so appreciated. This photo is his. I’m thankful for it, and for the kind words.
Andrew Hoffman took the photo below of Sam performing in the installation.
I must recognize the amazing technical help I had to realize this project. It could not have happened without the tinkering and sound-engineer expertise of Adam Gallant, who built the remote/ringer system, wired the phone’s insides to play audio from an iPod, and recorded the voice of Jan Rudd, who so softly and strangely whispered into the ear of anyone curious enough to pick up the receiver.
Pat Brunet and Patrick Callbeck helped with other logistical bits of the installation, figuring out lighting and materials with me. Matthew and I spent a lovely afternoon in my backyard dip-dying garlands. And one night Jenny, Sam and Andrew’s friend Sam all helped me make garlands, while drinking gin.
Already I’m thinking of ways to build on this for an AITO in the near future.
August 22, 2014
It’s late and I’m getting a bit cavalier with the x-acto knife, but things are fairly prepped for Ears Pricked, Eyes Peeled at Art in the Open tomorrow.
Spent a productive day making masks, finding uniforms, dip-dying egg carton garlands and hanging them on the clothesline. Once I saw them all in a line I realized that yes, I’d probably made enough.
And in hanging them to dry, I discovered the easiest method of hanging was right in front of me: clothespins!
Later on I worked out lighting with a team of Patricks. Pat Brunet and Patrick Callbeck and I jerry-rigged spotlight with a clamp light and foil, just like sketchy-biz lo-tech lighting professionals.
Tomorrow we set up on the plaza at noon! And then it all begins at 4pm!
July 31, 2014
A red rotary dial telephone holds the main role in my upcoming Art in the Open project, Ears Pricked, Eyes Peeled.
A red rotary dial telephone is not an easy item to source…at least not locally. I anticipated hours of calling and visiting every antique store on PEI, and then resorting to eBay where models sell for $60 or more…and maybe even then resorting to using another colour. However, by wonderful happenstance, the magic of Island connections and big Island hearts, I was able to acquire a bright red rotary dial phone this weekend.
It’s a good story, so I’ll explain. Locating this phone began with a tip from a lone Bell Aliant employee at the warehouse on Belvedere avenue. Her daughter had done a Heritage Fair project on the telecom industry in PEI, and they had visited the “Telephone Museum of PEI” to do research. She found the email and website for the museum owner, Dave, and encouraged me to make an appointment, telling me excitedly about the hundreds of different old phones he had on display. It was my strongest lead yet.
I got in touch with Dave, explaining what I was looking for and also my interest in seeing his collection. A couple days later I took a Sunday drive out to Orwell Cove, to a little house off a seaside road I’d never been on before. Dave greeted me on his porch and the next thing he said to me was, “I found what you were looking for.”
Really?! It was that easy?
We walked into the little barn beside his house, marked with a hand-painted sign…
The entryway was filled with at least four different teletype machines, with a shelf of little Morse code telegraph machines overlooking them all.
And then, walking into the main room, this is what I see…
Phones of every imaginable make and model, from floor to ceiling. Switchboards, rotary phones, boxy wooden phones from the early 1900s, business phones and novelty phones. Colourful phone cords hanging along the walls, wires running everywhere, as most of the phones work! Every phone has an info card detailing its dates, model, use, provenance – all of it thoughtfully and lovingly displayed. Dave was quick to point out what he had found me: atop a table of multicoloured rotary phones was one red model, with Island Tel stamped into the centre of the dial. It was absolutely perfect, and it worked!
I was given a detailed tour of the museum. I learned all about how switchboards worked, party line tricks for nosy eavesdropping neighbours (hint: gossip loudly about fake pregnancies), the early days of payphones, and Dave’s favourite models (the explosion-proof “Russian Princess” used in mines was a highlight). He even had a few of the early cellphone models, enormous clunkers the size of my foot. Never have I been more immersed in the world of telephones.
Dave got his phone hobby started as a teenager. He grew up near a phone factory in Brockville, ON and has been collecting phones ever since. He’s got a friend in Ontario who sends him shipments of antique phones and parts. His collection is ever growing, overflowing into other rooms of the little house and creeping up the stairs.
Dave wouldn’t accept money for the red phone. He told me, “I’m just happy you’re excited about this stuff!” I told him a bit more about the project, and how we’re working on trying to make it ring and play audio…and of course, he knew exactly how to make this happen, and gave me a spare part and instructions on how to make a ring generator.
I left the PEI Phone Museum with so much more than I expected. A phone, instructions, waaay more excitement about the project, spare parts and even some antique glass resistors (they are so pretty!). Thinking about the execution of this piece had been stressful up until this moment. But having found Dave, the museum, and the main puzzle piece of the project spurred me on…I’m on the right track, and it’s gonna be just fine. What a little gem of an Island museum.
May 31, 2014
After a lot of time thinking and sort-of-but-not-really planning, I made the trip I’ve wanted to take for the past two years real. And I booked a ticket. To Wisconsin.
You read it right.
I’m going to this lost sock of a state to visit folk art environments – homes and properties and spaces that people turn into incredibly imaginative realms through sculptures, structures, murals, and bricolage works that they build, often out of found materials. I first got turned on to this kind of art making a couple years back, in Ashfield, when a tiny voice in my heard started reminding me, ‘You should look into Maud Lewis…remember her?’ and I did and then I fell into a whole world of this kind of art/environment making. I researched it all through my time at Double Edge, especially during my advanced internship, and eventually I thought, couldn’t this type of research fuel some MFA level work? And that was one of the reasons that pushed me into grad school.
So here I am, finally taking this trip. Most people I’ve told think I’m a bit nuts, but I’m really quite excited.
Here’s the basic itinerary:
Arrive in Milwaukee on June 9. The next day, sneak over to Mary Nohl’s house in the suburb of Fox Point, which is currently inaccessible due to disputes with the neighbours and plans for its eventual move to Sheboygan, where it will one day be open to the public as a museum.
After Milwaukee, I’ll head to Sheboygan, WI to visit two places that have preserved and supported these kinds of environments over the decades: the Kohler Foundation and the John Michael Kohler Arts Centre. I’ve made some connections with the staff here, and hopefully I will get to glimpse into their storage and collections to see works by Nohl, along with Stella Waitzkin, Madeline Buol and other artists.
Nearby is the James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden. I’ll visit here while in Sheboygan.
A couple days later, I’ll drive four hours north to Phillips, WI to see one of most expansive environments around, Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park.
The next stop is the Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden in Cochrane, WI.
I’m especially excited about this next one. The Forevertron, created by Tom Every in North Freedom, WI. It’s apparently the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world, according to Wikipedia. There’s a bit of a performance element to this one, as Every also created a character/persona, “Dr. Evermore”, to go with this environment. Dr. Evermore is a Victorian era scientist, inventor and visionary. The Forevertron is designed to catapult you into the heavens via magnetic lightening force. Yes please.
My last stop, before returning to Milwaukee to fly on to Montreal, will be Nick Engelbert’s Grandview.
Flying solo on an eccentric, roadside America road trip. Wisconsin, it will be good to meet you, see your arts and also eat your cheeses.
May 29, 2014
Walk to school in the rain, in improper attire.
Retrieve plinth and dolly from woodshop.
Take plinth for a walk in the rain, with help from dolly.
Think about being both ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the rain and this task.
Set up plinth and rotary dial telephone. Balance umbrella on top of head. Snap a couple photos.
Think about not thinking about the connotations of the gallery plinth.
Think about taking more gallery clichés for walks.
April 22, 2014
…is when someone recognizes your strengths as an artist and issues the challenge to work against them.
Thankful to have found at least two people here who can do that for me.
February 9, 2014
We did just over three hours of pitches this morning for Show One. Thirty eight pitches, 19 made it to the final cut. Jamie attended, as did our lighting designer, SM and ASM from the production class. Pitch day ran quite smoothly, though it was a hell of a marathon. For the most part, I was impressed and pleasantly surprised with a lot of the work. Just about everyone had one or two surprise pitches, and these pieces were quite strong. The work had presence; everyone was closely connected and committed to their material.
There were definitely flops and duds in the mix – bits and pieces that people had just pulled off the board and presented as is, without additional work or thought – but I think this had to do with it being the first pitch day, and perhaps people were not entirely clear on what constitutes a pitch and what doesn’t. The Show 1 ADs deliberated on the pitches for two hours before presenting their selections and first draft of an order. There seems to be a good mix of work. There’s a lot of text stuff, all coming from pretty varied sources, so it will be a big challenge for the ADs to bring it all together and find some cohesion. There is a loose theme that has been outlined; it is “the frailty of an individual existence” which seems appropriate. Watching the pitches, I had written almost those exact words in my notebook: the fragility of nature and humanity. The pitches are varied in terms of the number of performers in each, but the solo and the individual and the monologue are the recurring performance tropes. The show is now in the hands of B and R, while my co-AD and I do our best to also keep hold of the threads for Show 2 and 4 during the next two weeks.
And now back to Thursday and Friday, which were the days when D and I led rehearsal. We approached the group with our pitch for Show 4, but did so with the advice of Jamie, who told us to give them the idea gently, not mentioning the source material immediately but starting with the structural and thematic choices we were thinking of, connecting them to work that has already been created by the group. This was good counsel…we announced our idea and then moved right into an open discussion. The ensemble hit most of the points we had in our own visioning work, and they were really excited about our design idea to make a huge blanket fort in the Studio T (which will have no audience seating). They were anxious to have something thematic to ground it – a word, a source – and we vaguely mentioned having material, which we would bring in once it was confirmed. There is a desire within the group to give it a one-word theme. Arg, the one word theme! It is so dangerous and so vague! I really want to try and avoid it, because it generalizes the material so much, limiting its potential depths of meaning because all it needs to hit is this one word theme. We definitely need to outline the themes we want to explore, and provide everyone with the source material (which I hope to do this week) but I don’t want the show to be easily encapsulated into one word.
On Thursday, I realized that I need another strategy for getting the ensemble to a place of real togetherness. The schedule just does not allow for consistent time to be spent on training/improvisation/physical exploration in the way I’m used to it. With these two-week timelines, the emphasis really turns to building products, rather than finding products through a continuous process …or, at least not long-term process. In the next week, we’ll be allotted a few hours here and there to work the other shows, and with this kind of schedule, an hour-long session is viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity. D is of the opinion that we need to work with what we’ve got rather than bring more stuff in or find more moments through training or viewpoints work, whereas I see it differently. I think that to get the work to grow and to get the ensemble to really come together, we need this kind of work. But there just isn’t time. So, I need a new tactic, and more quick exercises/games/proposals that allow the ensemble to build connections as well as beginnings of work. The “What does the space need?’ game is one version of this. They need to be activities that are short, that you can easily enter into and exit from.
I’m planning to spend more time developing and directing group pitches from the material we have already created. I’ve started to do this with a couple moments, and the material is evolving and the ensemble is able to expand it further. I just wish there was more time to play and explore, without having to nail down every single thing into a product.
On Friday, we invited Barbara in to work on a song she had written from one of the “Defining Moment” verbatim texts, and this was a huge success. Where Thursday saw me frustrated at not having ways into work as an ensemble, on Friday I discovered that singing is at least one. The “Sleep Song” is brilliant, and Barbara created four different parts with simple harmonies and varying rhythms. None of us have prodigious musical talent but we can all sing pretty well, and this song brings our voices together in a way that is unique and fun. Everyone loved learning the song. It’s a definite piece of material for Show 4, and we will learn it as both a solo and a group number. She’s going to do another song for us from different verbatim material. Her style fits really nicely with what we’re imagining for show 4. I think that having her as a guest collaborator and an outside eye will bring the work up a notch…musically and otherwise. I’m especially enjoying the opportunity to collaborate with a fellow MFA-er in the context of this class.
This week we move into intensive rehearsals for Show 1. Thirteen days straight with no dark days until after the run of Show 1 and Show 2 pitch day. Here. we. go.