Short video, edited by Callie Mathieson - student of Stage and Screen - of work created over a couple of weekends.
We were invited by Clarke Mackey ** as visiting artists to Queens University Kingston Ontario, to create a special workshop for 20 students in 3rd and 4th year Stage and Screen studies. This was levered into their already busy schedules over 3 consecutive weekends, to conclude [after just 24 hours contact time] with RUNGS on the LADDER - a public presentation of work in progress, plus a final day of de-brief and consolidation. The students were remarkable in their commitment and tenaciousness. In an immersive and intense process, they rose to the challenge, were inspired and took considerable artistic risks.
The entire process was filmed by Clarke and will become a half hour documentary in 2015. It will cover practical making tasks, discussions and seminars, slide shows, Q and A, building and rigging, all preparation and the public event.
* Clarke Mackey - Random Acts of Culture - reclaiming vernacular art & community for the 21st century.
Using the old trilogy of ‘head, hands and heart’, working fast - ready or not - we built a shared language from the 1st hour, noticing individual stories that emerged, working from the image to create individual mythic stories, islands in wheelbarrows, newspaper costumes, shadow theatre, short silent movies made on a phone or laptop and projected. Personal content informed the songs that were written, the films, the stories and images. We used journey as both metaphor and as the physical shape of the presentation, holding in mind the question ‘when/how does our audience become a congregation?’
Set in the astonishing new Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts - “The Isabel” –with uninterrupted infinity views of Lake Ontario, the sky and Wolfe Island with its wind farm on the horizon, this elemental made it a great setting for site specific work.
SPOKEN WORD CHORUS & BROOMSTICK ICONS
Our cast of characters performed behind a fence with NO ACCESS sign NO ACCESS TO THIS LAND
After a wheelbarrow ballet and an installation of broomstick icons, we followed a primitive band along the lake shore to encounter a twisted black willow tree enclosing a procession of small clay pilgrims embedded with electronic detritus.
Our endeavours to light a fire by the lakeshore or to design and build ,with discarded pallets and plastic signs from a recent election, an entrance to ‘Cinema Last’ – the last cinema in the universe, or to offer simple refreshments to our guests afterwards in the foyer, collided with Kafka-esque levels of bureaucracy from the building’s new managers. Dead Good Guides had unwittingly become guinea pigs [or maybe provocateurs? in the commissioning of a swanky new building.
One unforeseen legacy of our visit is that it strengthens the arms of the creative lecturers who will now revisit, with those appointed to manage this Centre for the Performing Arts, their behind the scenes protocols, rules and systems which stifle creativity in the devising and presenting of the Performing Arts. “Twas ever thus!!” It has to be admitted that some of our lateral solutions ended up being stronger and more provocative than our first thoughts. Excellent technical support from Lib Spry and superb troubleshooting and facilitation from Clarke Mackey.
With reflection, RUNGS on the LADDER was a validation and endorsement of Dead Good Guides’ workshop devising practice which has been honed over the years. It turned upside down the traditional working methods in their Drama Studies: take a script off the shelf, set up a hierarchy from director to wardrobe assistant, audition, rehearse for 8 weeks.
A trust had been built up, through values of non-competition, collaboration, and playful co-operation and we felt all the students fully embraced our workshop, although some were more critical than others, and some hungered for more.
During our 3 and a half weeks visit to Canada, we also:
Gave a public talk in Kingston which was recorded for a half hour radio programme.
Visited an MA class studying Risky Stories with Julie Salverson for a seminar on WSI’s Raising the Titanic.
Drove to Vermont USA to visit Bread and Puppet founders Peter and Elka Schumann. who are asking questions about ageing and their theatrical futures.
Spent 3 days on Ward’s Island off Toronto’s Harbour front for a joyous feast and re-union with artists who got involved 33 years ago with WSI’s Tempest on Snake Island, making an impromptu Memory Walk film as we traced out the route of the processional performance. ‘I am on old lady now but I will never forget being the right leg of that giant spider’. Hosted throughout by Ruth Howard, artistic director of Jumblies theatre, we visited The Ground Floor, their community arts project and met the team, before giving a public talk to an illustrious gathering ‘Celebratory Art for the Next Generation’.
In our lovely heritage cottage in Kingston we hosted Joan Oliver, widow of Peter Oliver, who together ran Oval House in London, a radical arts centre. At 85 she had travelled from Nova Scotia to visit us, and John facilitated a 2 hour interview for Unfinished Histories, the archive being compiled by Prof Susan Croft in UK of Alternative Theatre in the 60’s and 70’s. The interview was filmed and will be added to this archive.
Much warmth, generosity and reconnecting with friends and colleagues from our previous work in Canada, and new acquaintances already emailing about when they plan to turn up on the doorstep at the Beach House.