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Residency: Public Welcome

It’s been almost 2 years since I was in a theatre due to COVID19 shutdown. This walked back into The Grand theatre’s rehearsal space for my creative residency titled PUBLIC WELCOME. It hit me like a semi-truck honking its horn as it passes you, barely missing you by two inches — I am in a theatre. With people! This return to the theatre made my heart take flight, my eyes open and well with feelings, and my feet firmly ground. How incredible to feel the power of this magical space we call a theatre and to recognize its impact on people when they come together to experience the live art that occurs here.

Since I walked into my first performance of “Pinnochio” presented by the now-closed Stage Polaris in Edmonton circa 1989, I have seen the stories of humanity played out on stage. Often times this meant me sitting with a large crowd in a dark space. While the actors were lit and the story progressed without any participation from me other than as a spectator. Using the full resources of stage lighting, sound, flying in set pieces, and watching as costumed performers use the crafted props on stage to tell a linear story filled with themes that each audience member can relate to, thus initiating catharsis.

This is my first residency post-COVID-19. I wanted to sit in the question of How might live performance reveal the complex truths of humanity while engaging every person in the room in the truth-telling? In the past 10 years of doing community-based art projects, I have constantly reassessed my power as an artist in relationship to my collaborators and attending audience. In 2015, I developed a show called “Insert [Show] Here” where I began to explore this notion of relinquishing the power of the performer and giving control of the show's lighting/sound cues and driving narratives to the audience. This initial experiment lead to a lot of laughing and joyous moments on stage by the actors and audience, but it didn’t reveal any deep truths. Fast forward to 2021, and I have been on a personal artistic journey of how live performance can support the experiential understanding of the personal and collective lived experience. I have brought to together my research and work with applied performance - Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed”, Jonathan Fox’s “Playback Theatre” and Anna & Daria Halprin’s “Tamalpa Life/Art Process”. These three streams of applied performance have informed who I am today as an artist. They also immensely informed my residency this past week at The Grand.

I put out a call for participation through my email list and posting to different online arts classifieds. I received responses from eight individuals. Throughout the week I invited these individuals to come jam with me in the studio as we explored these different techniques of authentic somatic movement, applied theatre and community storytelling. We did this through a variety of exercises: in warming up we would dance for 20 minutes exploring different somatic elements such as “moving forward/up; moving down/back”, asking the body what it wanted to speak, vocal and physical harmonizing, collective and solo voice. Once warmed up we used elements of Playback Theatre to get our flow going; fluid sculpture and pairs work. And finally, we would initiate long-form improvisations of stories we told each other. Each time, we would examine how each of the Actors/Player’s contributions layered into the story’s metaphor.