On this blog we like to feature independent performance happening around Saskatoon. This week I'm excited to tell you about a show that was part of the Short Cut Festival 2016 on it's journey to this full length production. Alex Hartshorn and Christina Persson interview each other about working on this theatre/dance/music piece. They call it a "live art installation".
Original script and score concept by Alex Hartshorn
Choreography and performance by Alex Hartshorn and Christina Persson
Original sound score composed by Jon Neher.
"She&Her is the story of two women experiencing similar life routines of repetition of rigour. When their two worlds unexpectedly collide, their paths are altered. Through movement of the body, this live art installation explores concepts of human connection and the undeniable depth that can exist even in what seems to be the most trivial of interactions."
Please come join us and the folks at the Public Library in Saskatoon who are hosting this event as part of their Community Programming...that means its totally FREE and accessible to everyone. Also big thanks to the Saskatchewan Arts Board for making that possible.
This project has been in the works for a few years and has taken a few different forms: She & Her was first presented as part of Hardly Art's Short Cuts short play festival in April 2016, and as part of Live Five's season launch cabaret in September of 2016. This time, the piece takes on the form of a 40 minute 'live art installation' performance set in a gallery, with a focus on providing an all-encompassing sensory experience with an expanded original music score and dynamic digital projection and videography.
Please visit the Public Library website at http://www.saskatoonlibrary.ca/event/sheher1 for more information to register for this event.
*Registration not necessary for attendance*
Call 306.975.7580 to book a spot, if you wish.
I hope to see you out for this neat experiential event.
Tuesday January 17th 8pm
Wednesday January 18th 2pm
Thursday January 19th 8pm
Friday January 20th 2pm
Saturday January 21st 5pm
Frances Morrison Central Library Art Gallery, 2nd floor.
311 23rd St East
1. What was the inspiration for this piece?
Alex: It started after I did One Yellow Rabbit [Devised Theatre Intensive in Calgary], and we had to do our own 10 minute performances. And there were no rules— and I remember being really scared. We did all these explorations in the workshop portions; so much experimentation and working with movement vocabularies. The cyclical and routine aspect of She&Her came from concepts introduced to me by Denise Clark. But because we had no parameters or guidelines, that freaked me out! I feel I need guidelines. But I made a thing, and I performed it, and it went over really well, and I didn’t know what it was going to be—but it worked. So it was really inspiring to see that I could just create something, and add a few elements and, boom—it’s an engaging, captivating performance. So that’s where it started. After that summer of 2014, that’s when I started writing this score. I really had a focus on trying to mesh traditional pieces with a lot of text and dialogue, with movement. Because I had seen both types, really dialogue-rich things that were really moving or poignant, and then movement pieces which were highly interpretive but also very moving and poignant. My idea with She&Her was to try to bridge that gap between a movement piece and a traditional piece of theatre with dialogue. So my initial thought was, if I can match up these textual phrases with a movement, and that’s our vocabulary for the piece, and then eventually the text can fall away and we are just left with movement—that way the audience has a bit of subtext for what they are watching, and it’s not all visual or interpretive, and they're able to follow a storyline that I map out. And storyline is really important to me. So yeah, that was the original inspiration.
2. What has been involved in the journey of getting She&Her to the place it is now?
Alex: So from there, I applied the script to Hardly Art’s Short Cuts short play festival. I was in Regina at the time, working at Globe Theatre assistant directing the musical All Shook Up—and working on that was a big inspiration, too. I was working on this musical, and it’s way different from the work I usually do. I’m not usually a musical theatre person, but I think a big reason why the director and I got along so well was because she was director and choreographer, so she had a lot of things to watch and organize, and so I was like her story person. When I’d give her notes of my observations, I’d be like, “Uh, so, this looks really cool, but I’m not sure it helps tell the story we want to tell.” Working on that, and seeing people in a musical setting also made me think about the idea that we get music scores, and directors or choreographers can interpret that any way they want, but it’s never the other way around. It’s hardly ever that somebody gives you a movement score and then you have to interpret what the music is going to be. So that’s a bit of what I did with this piece; I gave us a score, and then I just told Jon [Neher], create some music that will go with this. We basically created the opposite of music theatre, which is kind of interesting.
So while working on the musical in Regina, I would go home and work on this script. And I used the Short Cuts deadline as inspiration to finish the script and get it out there. This was end of August 2015. And then it got chosen, so that was the beginning of the spiral. As soon as that happened, I was like, “Okay, here we go. We’re running with this.”
Christina: Cool. So then you decided to produce it on your own, and you had to reassess where you wanted to take it. And you also weren’t a part of the original Short Cuts version, right?
Alex: The first sort of experiment was to organize some people. In September, I found out I got a grant from the Arts Board, so I was like, “Cool, let’s get some people in a studio, and we’ll pay them for it, and that will be really awesome.” So the first thing I did was make a timeline. The timeline is based on this version of the show. This was sort of the end point of the whole plan, to get it to here. So, I got 6 of us in a studio for about 3 hours. We took the script, started playing around with it, talking to people about what the script meant to them, matching some movements to the words, and what people felt when they first read it. So, that was really cool to hear other people’s opinions, and to see people moving in the space. The workshop got me really excited—as soon as I saw people moving, it wasn't just on the page anymore and I could really see the potential for it. So that was January last year. And Short Cuts was in April. Danielle Spilchen and Jenna Berenbaum were the actors in that. So I worked with them for 5-6 rehearsals in the span of a few weeks, and then they performed. And early 2016, I commissioned Jon Neher to do the sound score. At that point it was only 10 minutes, so he sent me some tracks, and that was the beginning of Jon getting involved.
Then I was contacted to have the piece be a part of the Live Five Season Launch Cabaret in September. I was touring the fringe circuit at the time, and Jenna wasn’t available, either. Danielle Spilchen was in between contracts, so she agreed, and then I contacted Christina. I always had Christina in mind to do this last instalment of the project with me. From the get-go, it was always like, “Christina and I have to do this together.” I thought it would be a great chance for her to get re-acquainted with the piece. We changed a few things from the Short Cuts version, too. As a director, I was able to see what worked and what didn't work from the first version, so I was really glad to have an outside perspective at that point. So then, after the Live Five Cabaret, Christina and I started rehearsals once again. I contacted art galleries to perform in, as I had then decided on having it as a sort of “art installation”, and because performance space is such a tough thing in this city. For example, I’m so glad that Paved Arts [event space] is now an option for indie producers, thanks to Lauren Holfeuer who originally scoped out that space for Our Four Walls [in February of 2015], which Christina and I also performed in together. I think that was the first time that that event space was used as a performance venue, so thankfully more people are using that, which is so awesome, but there’s still such a shortage of affordable space here in Saskatoon. Art galleries have so much space, and all we need is space to move, to do our stuff, and I thought the aesthetic of having visuals in the space would be so fitting for this piece. I contacted quite a few places in Saskatoon and Regina, and I heard back from a couple of places in Saskatoon, and we decided to go with the library since they said they’d host us as part of their free community programming, which keeps it free for everyone. And because of the grant, we are able to do that. Thanks Sask Arts Board! So, the library is super pumped to have us. They’re so excited. It’s nice to know we have that support from them.
3. What was the biggest obstacle in getting it to this point?
Alex: I think the biggest obstacle this far has been the independent production. I was really scared and terrified to do something like this on my own. When I contacted spaces, I put off sending the emails for so long because I thought they were going to think that the idea was stupid. So, in my mind I was immediately going to fail. But, I got over that and I sent the emails—I didn't care if they said no, I just needed to go for it. There was two spaces in particular that were both really into the idea, and I ended up having to choose between these two amazing galleries who were really excited to have something like this in their space.
So as soon as I got over that obstacle, I thought, “Okay, I need to get over these fears of not having what it takes to do something like this.” The last thing I wanted this project to be was this really stressful thing, because I can get really anxious and stressed as a person, that’s something that happens to me. So other people can be really good at having their lists and accomolishing a ton of stuff and forging ahead, but I find it’s so hard to do that with the unknown. I’m sure I’m not alone in that, either. So I thought, “I might not think of some things, some things might get overlooked. And I just have to be okay with that.” I can also be a bit of a perfectionist at times, so I needed to let go of things that weren’t in my control, or weren’t healthy to be in my control. So, I wanted it to be casual, no stress, let’s do a performance, people can come if they want, no big. However, as cool and calm and casual as this is going to be, that doesn't negate how much work it has actually been to do something like this. So, big thanks to the library as they’ve been helping us out with marketing by doing up posters and promoting their programming. But it’s been SO much work. Thats’s the biggest obstacle for me— is waking up everyday and thinking, “Okay. What’s my list, what do I need to accomplish today?” And it’s literally every day. Along with my regular life with working my joe-job and things like that…if I have to work a 9-hour shift that day, to wake up and think, “Oh man, I have these 5 things on my list I need to do,”—It’s a lot. And it’s a bunch of little stuff; I had to hire someone to revamp my website. That in itself involves multiple emails a week, that one little tiny facet of producing this. A lot of back and forth. What else? Being in contact with the library, and now, all this last minute stuff. Like, I have to find curtains. I don’t know where to find curtains, but that’s something I need to do today. And I have to find out how to hang them. But if the light’s not blocked out, the projections wont work. So it’s all this tiny stuff, but it’s important stuff. It needs to get done. And I think the amount of work that goes into producing something independently—and I have know this because I’ve been on a producing team before, but this is the first time I’m spearheading it—is astronomical. It’s just me, there’s nobody to go to to and say, “what now?” ‘cause it’s me. So, you know, it’s a little piece, just 30-35 minutes long, but the amount of behind the scenes stuff that goes into this…it’s crazy. I need a break from this right afterwards! And then I get to just de-stress, and I don’t have to wake up with a to-do list already rolling through my brain, I can just…let it all go. So, I think it’s important for people to know that even when it’s a small little thing, so much goes into it. So much. Just a lot. So…you don’t have to like it, just…appreciate it. Haha.
4. When did Christina become involved in the process, and what was it like to come into it at that point?
Christina: I officially got involved in the process when we did the workshop in Saskatoon a year ago to feel it out, and get an idea for what the project was. So I was part of the inspiration process for the Short Cuts festival. It was cool to get into a space and play with the text and movement and start to create a movement dialogue. I didn’t get to see the Short Cuts version of it, but then I was in the Live Five Season Launch with Danielle [In September], so that was exciting and terrifying, because I had to learn basically what Jenna had done, so it was kind of taking someone’s place and recreating what they had done. After that, [Alex and I] started having intensive rehearsals where we kind of stripped it back down to its bare bones and talked about what we we wanted our version of it to be. and go back to the script that Alex had originally created. So that was really nice to create our own dialogues, and figure out what we wanted the piece to say, and how we wanted to tell the story of She&Her.
Alex: And part of it is that you had to come into it and learn Jenna’s path, yet it was important that you could create your own moves. Like, what Jenna created is what works for Jenna’s body, so you had to create what works for your body. So when you and I went back to strip it down, it was important that we created a whole new vocabulary that works for us personally, because we’re different people. There’s no way we could have done the same choreography, so that’s a really good point.
Christina: Yeah, so all the versions have been really different. Whether it’s learning someone else’s movements, but it’s different because its my body, or you and I making it something quite different using the same script, but our movements are our own, it changes what it looks like.
Alex: Did you feel when you came into the Live Five version, that you were like, “Ahhhh!”?
Christina: Yeah, a bit, because we just had two 2-hour rehearsals because that’s when I was able to be in Saskatoon. And the next time I was there was for the actual Launch and I remember being in the park outside beforehand, going over it and stressing. Haha. But I soon realized it would all be fine, and I was stressing for no reason. Even during the performance, things change and you just deal with them. But with that little amount time, and to rehearse with the other person not there, and then do it, it’s a little bit nerve wracking. But that was a good test for me to do that, but then also know that eventually you and I would get to create it into what we want the vision to be.
Alex: Yeah, kind of nerve wracking, but also kind of nice to know, “This is fine.” It’s kind of nice to release some of those pressures of performing something exactly the way you think it should be or the way you're expected to.
Christina: Yeah, it’s something you only put on yourself. Like, I put myself through way more stress than I need to, haha.
Alex: Haha, I think you and I are pretty similar in that way.
Chrstina: Yeah! But you do it, and you're like, “Oh, that went fine.” But there’s all that stressful thinking that doesn't actually need to be there. And then it all works out.
5. How did you and Alex come to work together on this piece, and how did you begin to collaborate together?
Christina: We met in the Conservatory at Globe Theatre in 2012
Alex: Holy, that was so long ago already!
Christina: I know, almost 5 years now. So we met there, and got to know each other in this intensive process. And since then, it’s just the way we’ve been cast in things. We tend to live like-minded lives, but it’s also with ideas. So we did Pride and Prejudice [at Globe Theatre], and then we did Our Four Walls [MuD Collective] which Lauren Holfeuer directed, and I think we just aways keep each other in mind for projects because we know that we get each other. It’s also cool that we have a different set of background skills, too. Like, you’ve been dancing since you were four, and you're very movement aware, whereas I am not so much. I don’t know how to move in technical ways. So it’s interesting to see these movements and how they're different because of our backgrounds. We did a bit of improv in the Conservatory, and I do a bit of comedy improv now. So tying that into it, it’s neat to see what happens when you focus more on following your impulses.
Alex: Oh, thats interesting. Because you're pretty involved in improv in Regina, aren't you?
Christina: Yeah, so you have a movement background, and I have the improv background, and then we both have a common acting education. So I think that’s an interesting aspect of how we work together. I think we just have a good chemistry in life, and on stage, and we kind of have this underlying connection and understanding that works really well.
A: Yeah! It’s true.
C: At least thats how I feel. Not sure if you feel the same way, haha.
A: Haha! I do! I feel exactly the same way! And people who have seen us perform together are like, “Whoa.” Like, there’s some magic there, there’s some sparks flying. Haha.
C: There’s something undefinable.
A: Yeah, which is actually kind of interesting, because it plays a little bit into the theme of this piece. This is part of why I had you involved right from the beginning. Not only because we work so well together, but because that’s She&Her. There’s a connection where you can’t really explain or define how it is that you affect each other, but you just do.
C: Somehow it works, it just clicks. I also think it cool that you're from Saskatoon, and I’m from Regina, and slowly the two cities have been collaborating. With doing these shows in both cities, I think thats a good thing to have happen.
6. As an artist, what has been rewarding or challenging about doing a piece like this?
Christina: I’ll start with rewarding. I think both of those have been in my thoughts this whole process. I think definitely rewarding has been the chance to get to do a movement-based piece. So many times you see something, or you're a part of something, and it’s so dialogue-heavy, so people forget that they can project so much emotion with their movement. I also find it fascinating to watch people being people. Both of our movement sequences are like dialogue, created from pedestrian movements that you see everyday. So being given the freedom to create a dialogue that works for me and body, and knowing that it doesn't have to be technically perfect is really freeing for me; I know that I can do whatever I want and I can move how my body wants to. Because I’m not a dancer or an acrobat, but knowing that I can create something interesting and be in charge of my half of the script, has been really nice. Just to create something that we want to create— like trying to not stress about it, but just taking a step back and looking at it, and saying “Ok, we’re going to create something, and it will be what it will be.” And I think it will be something that people haven't seen before. And we can make it whatever we want. So thats been really good for me creatively.
Alex: And it’s also nice that we can create something that means something to us, and really dig deep into the creation of it, partly because we know we’re going to get paid a little bit, so that makes it a bit easier. You know? It sounds very rudimentary, like, “Well, of course you should be getting paid for all this work you're doing,” but as an artist that doesn't always happen when you’re creating stuff. So the grant is a huge part of that. It almost helps to fuel the creativity, knowing that you're not doing it for nothing. And a lot of the times you do it for nothing. And by nothing, I mean nothing monetarily. Yeah, you have all the rewards of getting to share your work and having people be affected by what you do, but to know that you get a bit of monetary pay-off for all your work, that helps in the process, too.
C: Something challenging would be that in the beginning, I was overthinking the movement a lot. I overthink things way too much, and If I think things in my mind, it’s not going to look that way. So I needed to figure out what my body wanted to do, and how to emote that way. It was a bit of a challenge to give myself permission to fail; to try things, to hate things, just create things, and if I didn't like them, I could change them. For the first little while, I thought everything I created needed to be interesting. That point in time, I was procrastinating too much, and then finally it was like, “Ok I just need to do this, I can change it, and I can alter it.” And out of that came a movement sequence that I like and enjoy doing.
A: Yeah, I think it’s neat that with our rehearsals being so spread out, you know, whenever we could make the trip to the other’s city, there was something in that, too, because we didn't remember some things, so we had to change it. And there’s something about not remembering something. It makes you think, “Oh, why don't I remember this? Does it actually fit in my body?” And you re-evaluate. So in my routine now, there’s parts of the script where I just took them out. I was like, “Uh, actually I don't want to do that, that doesn't feel good.” So they’re just gone. Haha. I think it’s important that we like the movements that we do.
C: Yeah, ‘cause if you like it, and it feels good in your body, you're going to remember it better. And if you forget them, maybe that’s a hint that something else would work better.
A: Yeah, it is kind of challenging, isn't it? To work with the routines. Because once we have ones that we like, we work with those routines in different ways. So I remember when we did big movements, and then we went small, very pedestrian-like, and it was hard to remember the moves, when they became small. So yeah, thankfully for some of this piece we have improvised parts as well, when the digital projection is happening over top of the movements, that’s like free flow—we move off of impulses that we get from the other person, and from what’s being projected onto the walls from the projector. At some points, I’m following the projection because of whats happening on the screen. So it’s nice that there’s parts where we can release ourselves from the choreography and structure of it, and then there’s parts where it is very structured and choreographed. So getting it in the muscle memory can be challenging sometimes.
C: I’m really excited that this is happening.
A: Me too! I’m excited and scared. There’s still a lot left to do this week, but mostly I’m like, “Heck ya!” It’s happening.
C: We’re gonna do this.
A: We’re gonna do it. We’re gonna do a thing.