Do you want to follow along?

Last week we shared a personal story with the group which led to each of us creating a sequence of gestures to represent the story. 

On Monday I decided that I would choreograph, on the spot, a sequence that combined some of the gestures that were shown.  I then taught this new sequence to the group.  At first we learned the choreography using counts which is generally how I teach. This became a problem because we weren't using any music and I realized that in order for us all to stay together one of us would have to be counting out loud.   We then decided that it might be easier to go through the moves and establish, as a group, where the inhalations and exhalations occured.  So we went through the sequence one move at a time and decided how we were breathing and for how long.  Suddenly we could do the choreo all together without anyone counting aloud because our breath was synced.

As the leader of this particular exercise, I then asked the others (Sam, Genevieve, and Sarah) if they would do the sequence facing me in a tight formation.  I noticed that the first half of the sequence was much cleaner than the second, so I temporarily cut the second half and asked them to do the first half over and over again.  I wasn't happy with the three of them doing it together, so I asked Sarah to come and join me as the audience.  I then asked Sam and Genevieve to start at the opposite end of the room, and repeat the sequence side by side as they travelled across the room.  I asked them to never look at one another, and to use the word hunt as their point of concentration.  I also gave them permission to repeat any part of the choreo if they wanted to.  Here is what they did:

Since then I have continued to shape this piece by taking the moments that I liked from the improv and rehearsing them into a scene that could be performed (in the sense that the actors aren't improvising anymore).  

I thought it would be interesting for you, the reader, to see how this improvisation develops over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned for more.

- Jessica Hickman

L'histoire d'un geste

Il y a autant de manières de créer une histoire qu'il y a d'histoire. Ça fait beaucoup.

On peut partir d'un lieu, d'un thème, d'un personnage, d'une couleur, d'un évènement, d'une condition humaine etc... Viennent ensuite les différentes manière de développer cette histoire. Encore une fois il y a une multitude de manières de procéder. Je pense cependant qu'elles se divisent en deux larges catégories: soit on travaille intellectuellement, soit on travaille corporellement. Personnellement, je suis une partisante du travail corporel comme moteur de création.

 

Je m'explique.

Je trouve qu'en cherchant une histoire dans sa tête, on risque de l'intellectualiser et l'éloigner de la vérité. L'histoire devient ce qu'on pense qu'elle devrait être. Ce qui n'arrive jamais dans la vie. Plutôt que d'évoquer l'histoire, on la démontre, la souligne, la surligne, on l'essoufle, et on finit par la vider. Lorsqu'on part du corps, on part de notre instinct. Ce dernier est selon moi bien plus fiable et pûr que nos cerveaux saturés. En retournant à nos impulsions plutôt qu'à nos connaissances, on se rapproche de l'humanité. Ce qui me semble un bon point de départ lorsqu'on fait du théâtre.

Depuis le début du travail avec Open Pit, nos trouvailles les plus intéressantes ont été accidentelles. À chaque fois que nous avons intellectualiser le schéma narratif d'une improvisation plutôt que de se donner le temps de le découvrir à travers nos actions, le résultat était prévisible et futile. J'ai trouvé que le plus concluant pour nos explorations était de partir de gestes simples mais évocateurs, et de laisser ceux-ci nous porter vers un récit qui nous était encore inconnu. Il est intéressant de remarquer que les mêmes gestes sont porteurs de différents sens dépendemment de qui les fait, comment, et avec qui. Maintenant que nous avons un vocabulaire corporel commun, il nous est possible d'orchestrer ces différents mouvement pour générer du sens et des récits.

Chaque geste contient une histoire, il suffit de lui donner l'espace suffisant pour qu'elle grandisse. Un regard de côté, une tête baissée, un poing qui se ferme, un haussement d'épaule. Ce sont ces mouvements que nous connaissons tous tellement qu'on les oublie qui renferment les plus grands secrets d'amour, de défaite, et de trahison. Pas les idées pré-conçues qu'on s'en fait.

- Geneviève Doyon

when things make sense the first time

Dear recorded sounds (voices, stories, streetscapes, environments, instances, interviews; anything that once happened live captured in an audio recording);

There is something very beautiful about you.

Listening to someone tell a story captured in their real time when their real time has nothing to do with the time we’re in, that’s a beautiful thing. We feel it when we listen to old audio of whatever, speeches, commercials, interviews, broadcasts, there is something in audio recordings that captures a moment’s essence.

Last week each of us told the group a story of a time when we didn’t get what we expected. We recorded those stories in the moment. The audio was transcribed unedited (no punctuation and including all ahs, umms, ands, buts). The next day each of us read the directly transcribed version of our story to the group.

What happened was, frankly, awkward. Faced with the written transcriptions of our stories in black and white, we tripped and faltered over our own words and could hardly make sense of our original stories and intentions; the text was almost unintelligible in some places. There were some feelings of embarrassment, of ‘Oh God I didn’t really sound like that did I?’. And the reality is yes. We did. We speak how we speak and an audio recording doesn’t let us escape that. It holds us to how we expressed ourselves in a given time and place.

When we originally shared the stories, we understood each other perfectly well. But the written versions of our speech, when originally met, were stilted and confusing. It was only after a good revisit, punctuating, and editing that the stories started to make more sense. The words were meant for speaking, not writing. In order to make easier sense in written form they needed to be shuffled around, organized, lined up in little rows.

There’s something really magical and interesting about not being able to make immediate sense of an exact transcript of our own words.

That’s all I really have to say about that. I liked it a lot.

And I think there is a mirror of this experiment happening in our process as a whole; recurring ideas are being explored, pared down, distilled – losing some verbosity, gaining some clarity. Cutting away, away, away without losing the impulses and excitement of the original discoveries. It’s a process of taking things back up again and trying to make sense of them in and of themselves and in relation to one another.

Tackling a recurring theme or image is much like being faced with the transcribed versions of our stories; we knew what we meant at the time, but now we have to face the idea again, make sense of it, and see what life can be explored there.

- Sarah Moore

What defines a Yukon artist?

I don’t know. 

I currently live in the Yukon, and I consider myself an artist... so... am I therefore a Yukon artist?  What if I had just moved to the Yukon a month ago from another city, let’s say Calgary, where I was working as an artist, and I plan on making the Yukon my home.  Am I a Calgary artist?  Or am I now a Yukon artist because I plan to stay?  Do I need to contribute a certain amount to the artistic community before I am considered a local artist?  When does this shift occur?

This train of thought caused me to observe the theatre community here in Whitehorse and the local artists who comprise it.  It seems like I can assume that most of us consider ourselves to be Yukon artists, yet how many of us are from here?  I think it would be fair to say that most of us come from somewhere else.   Quite often when you ask a local if they are from here they will respond along these lines: “I’m not from here, but this is home,” or “I’m from Calgary originally but I’ve been here for 27 years,” or “I grew up here but I left for a long time and now I’m back.”

I turn to one of our local funding sources to see what they say, and I found an answer.  In order to apply for an Advanced Artist Award it states that you must have lived in the Yukon for one continuous year prior to the deadline in order to apply.  Is one year my answer?  Is that how long you should be contributing to the community before reaping the rewards of its funding?   

It seems fairly ridiculous to have a cut and dry answer to any of these questions because I don’t think the definition of a Yukon artist is something that we can't decide intellectually.  Does that mean it’s a feeling?  We can sense inside when that shift has happened?  This intrigues me because at some point a new place will become home... but it’s not a definite moment.  It’s almost like an accumulation of moments that add up to this new sensation.  It’s like becoming an adult.  When did that happen? 

We have been reading some of Robert Services words to spark our improvisations and also to connect us to our location of creation – the Yukon.   I find it interesting that Robert Service became one of the most famous Yukon writers and yet he was born in England and travelled to the north of his own accord.  He arrived in Whitehorse and began performing his words at church concerts and used his experiences in the north to fuel his most famous poems.   Is he a Yukon artist?  My first response is, “Of course he is!’ but when did that shift occur for him?  Was it when he got a job at the bank?  Or was it when he went to Vancouver to marry his wife and bring her back to the Yukon?  Or was it when he moved to Dawson City and became a full time author? 

I don’t know.

- Jessica Hickman

Questions à choix multiples

En bons humains que nous sommes, nous aspirons tous à des résultats. À un processus qui ne nous fait jamais reculer, toujours avancer. À un agenda qui nous mène à terme sans trop suer. Et surtout: à la certitude d'un produit fini concluant. Èvidemment, je ne vous apprends rien en disant que la vie n'est pas un constant crescendo accumulant les bons coups et les réussites. Surtout pas dans une création collective. 

C'est ainsi que pour la première fois depuis le début des séances, nous avons eu nos premiers doutes et nos premières réelles discussions à savoir: Qu'est-ce qu'on fait? Pour qui? Pour quoi? Comment? 

Insécurité? sûrement.

Légitime? tout à fait.

Nécessaire? sans aucun doute.

Lorsqu'on simplifie au maximum le mendat du Devised Yukon Project, il peut se voir en deux parties distinctes. La première étant de prendre du temps de studio exclusivement pour apprendre à travailler ensemble, expérimenter différentes approches ,et développer différentes méthodes de travail qui servent la création théâtrale. Ensuite, la deuxième étape consiste à créer un spectacle à partir de ces explorations. 

Ces deux étapes étant claires, c'est la transition dans laquelle nous sommes qui reste à découvrir et maîtriser. La première semaine de séances était consacrée au mouvement. Nous avons réussi à développer notre langage et notre vocabulaire non textuel dont je parlais la semaine passé. En cette deuxième semaine, nous avons introduit le "vrai" langage dans notre travail, celui qui se met sur papier. Ce fut très productif, Mercredi soir nous avions déjà plus d'une heure de matériel textuel de notre cru. Maintenant que nous avons beaucoup de matière à travailler. Il nous reste maintenant à forger l'entonnoir idéal dans lequel placer toutes nos trouvailles pour qu'en ressorte le spectacle qu'on veut vous offrir.

J'aime les remises en question dans un groupe. De se complaire dans le plaisir qu'on a à jouer et à se regarder ne dure qu'un temps. Ensemble, nous nous posons des questions pour trouver la route dans laquelle nos six chemins se rencontrent. Et ensemble, nous mèneront la route jusqu'à qui veut bien nous entendre. Et peut-être que ce sera votre tour de remettre en question. Qui sait?

- Geneviève Doyon

beginnings of a story lab

This week (yesterday) we started what we're calling a story lab.

The idea behind the story lab is to play with text and storytelling. To begin, Sam offered a theme of 'a time when you didn't get what you expected'. Yesterday we each told stories on the theme. The stories were recorded on snazzy smart phones and transcribed lovingly. Today, we'll bring in printed copies of each story and swap 'em. Then it's off to the races, playing, remixing, and mashing up text like nobody's business.

How does it feel to give your personal story over to someone else to read aloud, ahhhs ummmms likes ands and all? How does it feel to hear someone else take on your memory? How does it feel to hear your words interpreted by someone else?

I have a feeling it will be pretty disconcerting.

I really like playing with stories. In our collective's terminology, it jazzes me.

Why?

On a basic, personal level I like hearing people tell stories. I like being told stories, I really like audio of stories being told. Listening to the voice. Hearing the story in the air outside the teller's mouth, story made into soundwaves, story made external. Being part of someone remembering or creating and sharing something. Feeling like I am there, inside the story. And then I come to share it, and I can repeat it, creating new life and variations.

On a the theatre creation level, I'm interested in playing with story. Upsetting it. Seeing how telling and retelling and retelling makes us feel. In particular, I'm interested in the sharing of true stories by the people who experienced them (i.e. I tell a story of my first day of school) vs. mediated stories and memories told by people removed from the actual events (i.e. I tell a story of my first day at school, Sam records it, Jess transcribes it, Adele reads it, Shaun directs it, and Genevieve adds images to it).

In this vein, I've been thinking about these folks -

In February nervous system system (Vancouver) presented a show called close at hand. In the show, two female characters improvise monologues about their first experiences of death, swapping text and story lines and repeating stories over and over, talking over each other and slightly altering things just enough so that the audience is left wondering who actually did what and what actually happened to who. It was compelling and discombobulating to watch. I felt I was being toyed with. I was denied the satisfaction of tying one story to one person. My expectations were upset over and over. This story telling was not comforting or lulling, it was jarring. We were being lied to, but being lied to in such an evident, unforviging, and yet still disturbingly convincing way.

secret theatre (Halifax) is developing folkloremobile, a piece of work exploring folklore and the amateur stock car racing circuit in the maritimes. In the making of folkloremobile, audio recordings of stories are gathered, shaped, transcribed, and recorded by a cast of female actors. The final presentation will incorporate these recorded stories listened to on headphones wirelessly connected to FM transmitters in a space. In this case, story has been altered from its original source and filtered through a transcriber, the makers of the work, and an actor. As the stories are broadcast through various FM transmitters in the presentation space, each participant's experience of the 'folklore' will be shaped by their journey through the space and their interactions with others within that space.

So this week we'll find out where our own explorations of story will take us.

I'm jazzed.

- Sarah Moore

Physical Theatre and Dance

I was asked to briefly describe the difference between phyiscal theatre (see the workshops we are hosting) and dance. That is a tough question; I'm not entirely sure what the difference is, so I've hit the google pretty hard. Here's what I've come up with.

Dance:

  1. A series of movements that match the speed and rhythm of a piece of music 
  2. A particular sequence of steps and movements constituting a particular form of dancing
  3. an artistic form of nonverbal communication
  4. Dance (from French danser, perhaps from Frankish) is an art form that generally refers to movement of the body, usually rhythmic and to music, used as a form of expression, social interaction or presented in a spiritual or performance setting.

Physical Theatre:

is the craft of building theatre through physical actions, characterization and stage composition. Physical Theatre uses as its primary means of expression movement, dynamic immobility, gesture and a variety of acting techniques. ..

Physical theatre is used to describe any mode of performance that pursues storytelling or drama through primarily and secondarily physical and mental means. ...

First of all, there are a lot more definitions surrounding dance than there are physical theatre. These don't help to differetiate dance from physical theatre, but it is beginning to look like dance could be a part of physical theatre. Physical theatre is dance and text and gesture and a whole slew of other potential things. Physical Theatre is a blanket defition for theatre that uses the body as much as the voice to tell a story.

I ran across an article from the New York Times that seems to argue in the opposite direction (physical theatre is just a type of dance). The whole of the article, written by John Rockwell, is focused on British physical theatre, but the first and last paragraphs seem relevant:

ALL dance, even the most abstract, includes theatrical elements, and all theater involves physicality. What, then, does the term "physical theater" mean? Is there any difference between physical theater and plain, old-fashioned dance?

And in the final paragraph he answers his questions:

The barriers between the different performing arts are fluid: dance flows into theater, which flows into music and song and stage pictures. The emphasis among the various elements of performance shift, from piece to piece, from creator to creator, from decade to decade. In the end, all dance is physical theater, even the most sternly abstract, and no country has a monopoly on it. It's just that the British seem particularly good at it these days.

The whole article is worth a read in order to fully understand Rockwell's argument, but I can understand that physical theatre is dance with a shifted emphasis, or, conversely, dance is physical theatre with a different emphasis.

This probably doesn't make the answer any more clearer. Oh well, I did my best. Feel free to weigh in with a comment. Here are some other opinions:

Anna Efthymiou - Porto Physical Theatre

I have learnt that physical theatre can act on impulse, you can move when you feel the moment is right, this is another clear difference between the physical theatre and the timing needed in dance theatre.

Lloyd Newson - DV8 Physical Theatre

However when we made Strange Fish (1992), the risk was not so much about physical danger, but whether dance can deal with complex emotional narrative, and whether tragi-comic theatre can in fact be created through dance alone. You can take risks without always being physical.

Sam Bergman-Good

Flying the Coop

Behind every beautiful thing there s been some kind of pain, Bob Dylan

The Devised Yukon Project completed our first week of exploration in the Studio Space at the Yukon Arts Centre. We have been developing a vocabulary through various forms of improvisation and slowly tilling the earth to find our story that we need to tell. In doing so, we have been presenting ideas for experiments and working them without judgment, pushing each other for clarity and chaos.

With the first week compete and as we start to find our collective rhythm I would like to comment on my hope(s) for the next seven weeks of discovery.

Our point of concentration for the project is Outside, which is obviously a very broad theme, there are so many micro themes that can be extracted from the term itself. My hope is that this theme will push the collective to not only examine what it means to be outside, be it yourself, the outdoors, etc, but also to explore the opposite element of inside.

Through our improvisations and experiments I have noticed a collective discovery, the hint of an apex of interpretation of the under current theme of Outside, and that is of breaking free. Some of the physical images that have begun to recur with only four days of studio time under our belt are of escape and the force to which we escape from. Sometimes we are bound to floor and need to fight against the unseen force grasping our movements; sometimes en mass the collective will signal out one and the rest will move as a monstrous menace threatening any variable of safety, be it physical, or mental or emotional. To truly examine this idea of breaking free or escape we must now delve into the ugliness that we must break away from, to find freedom we must know why or what was/is keeping us bound; how vicious is it? Where does it come from? What does this prison look like and who or what is controlling the entrapment that we must free ourselves from? And ultimately what is the call to adventure that inspires the great escape?

I hope that as our explorations continue that we can really mine what in our story is the force of "inside" and how much we can cage our hearts before we find the beauty of losing the pain.

Shaun McComb

Re-Visiting Gems

Thursday was our last day of our first work week, and we compiled a list of gems that we would like to re-visit.  A “gem” is literally defined as:

A precious or semiprecious stone that may be used as a jewel when cut and polished. 

Our definition:

A precious or semiprecious moment (or series of moments) that may be used again when cut and polished (or explored further).

The use of this word was introduced to me during my participation in the One Yellow Rabbit Summer Lab Intensive.  My memory may have altered the original description but I remember Dennis Clarke stating, “When you look at a photograph, there is always one thing that catches your eye, whether it is a young child’s undone shoelace, or an open window in the background.  This detail that moved you, and made you feel something, is the gem of the photograph.   Here is our list of gems from week one:

1. Shapeshifting Against Wall

2. Sniffy Creature

3. Female being bounced around

4. Tunneling

5. Hangs Mimicking Feet

6. Conquering Chicken

7. Animal Sequence: snake and birds

8. Death Ritual

Now what?  We have eight gems that we would like to explore further, but how do we do this?  This is uncharted territory for the group.  Up until now, we have been exploring what I like to call the “barfing phase” (feel free to steal and incorporate into other collective projects) where we improvise freely to gather usable material.   Re-visiting a gem was new.  We went around the circle each stating which gem we would like to re-visit first and Shapeshifting Against Wall won.  This gem consisted of bodies stuck to the wall with a mastermind-ish person moving them as puppets and shaping them.   Shaun suggested that we start the improv at the other side of the room and explore the journey to our gem so that we reach that moment having been informed by an experience vs just launching into the gem cold.  Sam also placed a limitation on the improv by suggesting that we can only move when assisted by another (either physically or subconsciously). 

Thus we began!  

After each improv we always try to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and what we would like to re-visit.  One person writes these observances down into our Master Notebook for future reference.  This post is already getting long so I won’t go into detail about what happened but I will share what we learned:

  • When re-visiting we must always have one person who is an outside eye.  We need to establish together what role this person plays.  Director? Feedbacker? Documentor? Scribe?
  • That our initial gem might not work again, but may lead us to other discoveries (see new list below)
  • That it is equally important to state what didn’t work in the inprov as what worked so that we can get closer to finding our group aesthetic.  
  • To not be concerned about offending someone by stating, “That didn’t  work”.  There is no need to navigate the politics of the group.  Be honest. 

New gem list:

1. Shapeshifting Against Wall

2. Sniffy Creature

3. Female being bounced around

4. Tunneling

5. Hangs Mimicking Feet

6. Conquering Chicken

7. Animal Sequence: snake and birds

8. Death Ritual

9. Journey Home: Sleeping Giant

Jessica Hickman

un nouveau voyage, un autre langage

(Je tiens a m'excuser d'emblee pour l'absence d'accents dans mon texte, clavier inconnu oblige. Il n'en sera pas de meme pour mes prochaines entrees sur le site!) 

D'arriver dans un nouveau projet artistique me donne toujours l'impression de mettre les pieds dans un pays inconnu, avec tout l'enthousiasme et l'inconfort que cela peut amener. De nouveaux visages, differentes manieres de faire, et un nouveau langage.

Depuis quelques jours, les six membres de Open Pit se decouvrent et s'aprivoisent. J'aprecie beaucoup le temps que l'on prend pour etablir un langage commun. Je trouve que trop souvent en theatre on utilise des termes valises (emotion, triste, heureux, realiste, symbolique ...etc) que l'on agremente d'adjectifs sperflus plutot que d'etablir un vocabulaire precis et simple comme denominateur commun. Venant de differents horizons artistiques, ayant de differents bagages academiques et experiences professionnelles, nous unissons nos connaissances et nos aspirations pour pouvoir communiquer de maniere saine, simple et precise avant, pendant et apres nos explorations. En tant que francophone, j'aprecie particulierement ce desir commun de tous s'accorder au meme diapason sur ce que nous voulons faire, et comment nous voulons le faire. 

 Puisque le projet s'interesse au theatre physique, il s'impose donc aussi pour Open Pit de trouver un vocabulaire gestuel sur lequel nous pouvons nous baser pour nos huit semaines de travail a venir. Je trouve que de l'exploration physique peut vite se perdre en brouhaha corporel denue de sens. Avec le Devised Yukon Project, nous joignons nos efforts pour developper des techniques physiques precises, et des themes porteurs de sens. Ce vocabulaire corporel nous permet ainsi d'orienter nos improvisations et de garder une communication riche sur scene, malgre l'absence de paroles pour le moment.

Dans une creation collective, ou il n'y a par definition ni metteur en scene, ni texte, nous sommes entierement libres et livres a nous-memes. Bien que cette liberte soit merveilleuse et precieuse, elle peut facilement devenir l'ennemi d'un projet comme celui-ci. C'est pour quoi je suis heureuse de travailler avec des gens qui, comme moi, croient en la contrainte creatrice. C'est en travaillant avec rigueur et dans la meme direction que l'on aboutit a la reelle liberte, celle de creer un seul et meme langage theatral pour parler tous ensemble du monde dans lequel on vit. 

Geneviève Doyon

my new friend, contact improv

What I want to talk about is my new friend, contact improvisation.

In case you're new to the concept like me, my basic explanation would be:

In contact improv, bodies come into contact and improvise movement.

There are many, many, oh-so-many people who can explain and show this evolved and complex practice far better than me. Like how about these folks at Edam in Vancouver:

Until yesterday I was familiar with contact improv in the academic sense, but not in the carnal sense. Truth be told, I have always been afraid of it. From what I understood, it involved a lot of touching people, making up complicated/difficult movement on the spot, and being lifted a lot. These elements might be okay in isolation, but taken together they're a whole other beast.

Cut to today - In the past 48 hours my contact improv cherry was popped. And I'm feeling pretty good about it.

Jessica is leading us through a gradual evolution to more involved contact work. She's helping us down that road by offering some common physical vocabulary. For example, today we learned how to 'body surf' - basically rolling over someone as they roll on the floor. Building our physical vocabulary is creating a tool box for us to scrounge around in when we're practicing.

We started with a circle of trust exercise yesterday (you know it, you did it at camp - one person stands in the middle of a tight circle and is moves around, supported by the hands of the people in the circle) and moved into our first 'contact improv jam' today. We began sitting back to back with a partner, and when Jessica turned on the music we just started moving.

In retrospect, I'm not really sure how I did it. All I can say is that it felt natural. At one point, Genevièvelifted me up onto her back and held me there. She took all of my weight, and I felt it, a complete release. She held me for a long moment before I realized we were the only people moving and everyone else was watching our progress. This is one of the really valuable end results of this practice, especially for our purposes; the images, moods, and relationships created between people moving in space. Everything we are creating and exploring is fodder for future exploration and use. 

I think contact improv is my new friend.

Sarah Moore