This is Why We Live is inspired by the poetry of Nobel-prize winning writer Wisława Szymborska. What is it about Szymborska's work that lends itself so well to the medium of theatre?
COLEEN: I feel Szymborska’s poetry defies all cliché surrounding what poetry is and what poetry can do. Szymborska writes in a way that is truly unique. Her work is conversational and accessible; it opens our eyes to the world around us in an entirely new way, in a universal way - often pointing out the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary. She must have been someone who overheard our conversations and then wrote it down in a poem. Her work made me want to perform them, speak them and dance them. Her constant questioning of the world and her sense of wonder when facing it was something as a company of performers we were interested in exploring and communicating to audiences. She has a poem called “Conversation With a Stone” which is a poem we perform in French - where the poet herself dramatises the voice of the stone. She writes from a place of delicate observation, and this was something we find incredibly exciting. Not to mention countless other poems about objects, plants, love and death which are often written in dialogue form and incredibly funny.
What sparked the show’s inception?
COLEEN: I had a dream of working with two very talented theatre makers: Elodie Monteau and Alaine Hutton on a play that connected to an emotion I felt we had lost having ‘grown up’ - a childlike curiosity about the world. I then travelled to Krakow in March 2014 and having read a few of Szymborska’s poems already I arrived to a very magical city - a city imbued with a very special energy and a palpably intense history - I began to fall in love with a city that was very much part of Szymborska. There were two exhibits on the poet herself and of her collage work in Krakow at that time, so I was able to learn about her through these experiences. I felt she was the right poet for us to explore. I then decided to do an experiment and invite the company to Toronto to research performing poems in a theatrical way, a movement-based approach and looking at the work without always asking ‘what is the story?’ but rather what is the image? and what is the feeling? Where is the humour? It’s a show that asks an audience to let go and let the words, music and movement transport you. The cello was something that arrived to us later in the process but is a vital element in the piece and has provided the strong nuanced emotional score of the play -first developed by Tatiana Judycka and further developed and performed by the very talented Dobrochna Zubek.
How did the international collaboration between Open Heart Surgery, Tara Arts, and Theatre de L’Enfumeraie start? Could you tell us a little bit about the creative team/cast?
COLEEN: After studying at the Lecoq school in Paris, where international collaboration is at the very heart of this physical theatre school - Alaine Hutton, Elodie Monteau & myself decided to come together to make a show. So this meant, we were going to be bridging Canada, France and the UK with our first collaboration, as I was working in the UK quite a lot and wanted to build the company in London and Toronto, making inter-cultural work made a lot of sense.
OHS began working on This Is Why We Live in 2014 in Toronto & then in the Summer of 2015 we went to Allonnes, France (near Le Mans) and worked at Théâtre de L’Enfumeraie — it was here where we worked on Szymborska’s poetry and explored the translations & began to develop a unique way of working through improvisation to find the play. With Théâtre de L’Enfumeraie we had two weeks of residency supported by Pascal Larue, which was integral to the development of this work. We were able to develop a language of exploring Szymborska’s poetry through movement and experimented with collage and the English and French translations. After this residency we connected with cellist Tatiana Judycka who created original musical score for the piece in London and we had a residency at Old Vic New Voices in the UK. We showcased the work in Paris at Plateau 31 and we will be working with Tara Arts in the Spring of 2017 which we are immensely excited about! In Toronto with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts we have been able to finish the work and bring in cellist Dobrochna Zubek who has further developed original musical score for the work and brought her own emotional language into the play. I really feel that the cello is the centre-piece of the world we are creating, the unifying human voice. We work through improvisation and collaboration, so this work has very much grown from everyone’s voice and input. In addition in Toronto we worked with installation artist Helen Yung who designed the set and costumes and Rebecca Picherak who designed the lights for the show and Sallie Lyons assisted in the movement work. 9 women have come together on this project, which is a truly exciting thing!
What was the process for creating and rehearsing this devised theatre piece?
COLEEN: We begin by improvising the text, experimenting with ways of exploring the poems in movement, through character and play. We were always asking ourselves - is this entertaining, interesting and moving for an audience? We then teamed up with cellist Tatiana Judycka in London, UK, where we worked through improvisation with the music as well, working on timing, rhythm and developing an original musical score. Since the play is not a linear-narrative, but rather moves through feelings and insights - where you glimpse into 19 Szymborska poems, we would spend a lot of time thinking of how we can link poems and how poems could be in dialogue with each other or provide contrast. Since Szymborska also used to make her own collage work, where she would spend every November gluing and pasting postcards for her friends, we felt it was a great way of creating our play. The play is very much a collage. We were interested in the surreal, the irony, humour and existential questioning in Szymborska’s work so we worked towards finding a way to bring these all together in one theatre piece. Dobrochna Zubek joined us for this final phase and has brought in specific Polish music and her own interpretation of the poetry through a musical lens. It has been truly collaborative with myself guiding the process.
This is Why We Live has been performed in Paris and at The Theatre Centre in Toronto before coming to Hamilton. What has the audience response been so far in each of these places? How does it resonate with people cross-culturally?
COLEEN: In Paris, the audiences loved her words as it translates very well into French, and the audiences also especially loved the surreal, movement-based exploration of the poetry. Toronto audiences have been delighted by the incredible presence and play of actors Alaine Hutton and Elodie Monteau - the physicality and movement have been something people have never thought of when thinking of poetry on stage. In Toronto, we have been able to work with designers Helen Yung (set and costume) and Rebecca Picherak (lighting) — having these incredibly talented women on our team has lifted the world Szymborska paints through words even further.
In Toronto: “It made me laugh, delight in onions, think about first loves, and about stones and death and the horror of war and being a woman inside a world that isn't hers. I delighted from beginning to end on the playful relationship between all performers.” (Martha Ross, Theatre Maker, Toronto)
What has been the best thing about creating and performing This is Why We Live? Is there a particularly memorable moment that stands out to your creative team?
COLEEN: * Working with a team of women who truly bring a sense of generosity into the rehearsal room has been such a gift.
* Juggling onions at the Polish Festival on Roncesvalles in the rain
* Working in France where we had children, patients from a mental health centre, artists and directors all come for our showing in August 2015.
* Performing in Paris in April 2016 and then performing then developing it further to share with English speaking audiences in Toronto in October 2016.
Performing This Is Why We Live is so rewarding because each audience member takes and receives something different from this experience. It has been a joy to hear what people see, what they feel when they leave the theatre after seeing this show.
Why did you decide to bring this show to Hamilton and the Conservatory for the Arts? Why should Hamilton audiences see it?
COLEEN Hamilton has a growing arts community that is interested in diverse work, so we felt this would be a great place to bring this show. In addition there is large Polish and French community in Hamilton that we felt would be perfect audiences for our play which is performed in three languages! We are eager to bring the work to as many people as well can so Hamilton is the next place we thought we’d like to go! We look forward to connecting to Hamiltonians.
October 15, 8:00pm (ONE NIGHT ONLY)
The Hamilton Conservatory of the Arts, 126 James St S
$25 Regular, $15 Arts Workers/Students
Tickets: Available at door, by calling 905-528-4020, or online: http://thisiswhywelive.brownpapertickets.com.