My name is Brooke and I am the artist-in-residence! I am a devised performance creator and director!
Since coming to this beautiful island, many people have asked me about my art form. I find this question tricky as it doesn’t seem to fit neatly into one accessible category. I create and direct devised performance. My personal definition of devised theatre is performance created without a script or set beginning plan of what to create. Its building performance from scratch: just bodies and a concept.
Every process is different, just as every group is different. Generally the process starts with a concept. I love big, meaty and meaningful topics: boundaries, death, birth, and for this project – my personal body. Yet these big topics just stay intellectual ideas without rooting them in the body. So I work with performers to get concepts into their bodies. It’s taking an idea and making visceral. Sometimes it’s very direct: replaying a funeral, a visualization exercise reliving the facts of death. I can also be something completely abstract—building a patterned web of string as a set/installation in a piece about birth. The red string became a mixed metaphor for bloodlines, the womb and family constellation work.
Cementing ideas in the body is the most original and yet most difficult. I find it best to use the strengths in the room, but make sure to not have performers get into the heads. Once a performer stops an exercise to think about it, you’ve lost them. The best way to get performance in the body is to lead them through an exercise. A nice one is “tell me a story using your body about x”.
Sometimes you can be very mathematical: 3 actors in as many combinations as possible, each combination with it’s own story line, exploring different aspects of the huge concept. This gives structure to something to ground the organic process.
From there, you add the text. It can be written and brought into rehearsal or completely improvisational and in the moment. Both have their advantages.
Now from here, you do what needs to happen to make the work it’s best—sequencing, placing it into a space, sound, film.
The joy about devised theatre is the organic-ness and the potential for large rule-breaking creativity. At times it blurs the lines of performance art, theatre, music and contemporary dance. It makes it hard to tell people what I create! Warning: it may not have what you’re used to when you think of theatre.
Here I am back at home and work, almost one week after the residency. I have wonderful memories of my new friend and fellow artist in residence, Shirley Serviss, and our explorations on Gabriola Island, getting to know each other and our collaborative artwork. I found the environment at The Haven and on Gabriola incredibly encouraging and supportive. I have never experienced anything so positive before.
On Sunday, September 30th I presented an all day workshop for eight women on ‘Honouring their Divine Goddess’. The workshop unfolded with a relaxed sharing and discussion by everyone as to what exactly the term Goddess meant and how one becomes conscious and honouring of femininity. As the discussion took place I photographed each person with the objects and symbols they had brought and also created portraits that they felt conveyed their individual expression of femininity. After lunch we proceeded to make a variety of art, which communicated each person’s ideas and expression of femininity. Everyone really enjoyed playing with an assortment of materials and viewpoints. All the while I was photographing the process of art making and the works created. This was an amazingly fun and imaginative group of women who were really open to communicating both verbally and artistically. I have made an individual photo journal of the workshop for each participant and mailed it to them, as well as emailing them all their individual photographs. I hope they enjoyed the day as much as I did … it was a delightful experience.
I would like to send a thank you to everyone who made my stay at The Haven so special. Hugs to Rachel Davey and Mary Holdgrafer who helped make everything run so smoothly.
Last week in the Phoenix Auditorium I presented an artist talk about my work to a very supportive and interested Gabriola audience. The talk lasted about forty-five minutes as I worked my way through the ninety-five slides in my powerpoint presentation, explaining the thread of continuity through my work over the last twenty years. My new friend and fellow artist in residence, Shirley Serviss, read a poem she had written in response to one of my paintings titled ‘Goddess Listening to her Ovaries’. I am giving this painting to the Haven in appreciation of the amazing opportunity to be an artist in residence.
The Goddess Listening To Her Ovaries
Nice girls paint flowers not
goddesses with bright pink vulvas,
with large drooping breasts, with
flabby underarms and sizeable asses.
Nice girls don’t. Don’t know the names
of body parts between our waists and knees,
keep our legs crossed, not splayed open wide.
We hide our vulvas and vaginas, our
breasts, our bra straps, slips and garter
belts, the tops of our nylon stockings.
We try to please, bat our lashes, and smile
politely, keep our opinions, our rage,
caged inside. Nice older women play the same
game once our ovaries stop dropping eggs
every twenty-eight days like clockwork,
once our wombs stop nurturing life.
Or do we celebrate our aging bodies, silver
hair, our well-earned wrinkles, proudly
bare our arms and wear our rounded bellies
without worry, draw attention to our selves.
I live surrounded by sound. This time of year the students are celebrating being back at school with all-the-beer-you-can-drink parties at the fraternity houses next door, down the street, and across the back alley. STARS helicopters hover overhead landing on the hospital roof a block away. Sirens from ambulances, fire trucks and police cars add to the cacophony of the busy streets and avenues nearby. I hear the comings and goings of condo neighbours: voices in the courtyard, doors closing, a child crying, a dog barking.
Here, at The Haven, there is silence. The occasional bellow of a ferry’s horn, drone of a boat or an airplane overhead. I can almost hear Sande’s brushstrokes, her fingers on her computer keys, it is so quiet.
I had forgotten the absence of sound — the sound of silence, as Simon and Garfunkel put it — the strain it puts on your ears as you listen, listen, listen, listen harder, trying to tune into the frequency of something. How, at first, you feel as though you are in a dead zone, before you start to pick up the smaller sounds of nature.
All I can hear are my thoughts, the words in my head. Exactly what a writer needs to hear.
By Shirley Serviss. Shirley and Sande Waters are The Haven’s 2012 artists-in-residence.
Monday, September 9
I’ll be at The Haven a week from today and I’m in panic mode. I’m frantically marking the first assignments for the course I am teaching for Grant MacEwan University-all 49 of them. I still have to finish preparing my lectures for this week. It’s a course I’ve never taught before so I can’t just reuse materials or wing it. I teach again the day after I get home so hope to have that session prepared before I go as well.
Besides teaching three days this week, I spend two days at my part-time job as a literary Artist on the Wards for the Friends of University Hospitals. I will be giving a talk about our program while I’m at the Haven. I’ll also be facilitating a workshop on memoir. The materials I need to bring for that workshop are either in one of the piles of papers on the chairs in my office or maybe, if I’m lucky, in my filing cabinet.
I’m the president of an organization that is planning to build a facility in downtown Edmonton that will house arts organizations and also contain studios and live/work spaces for artists of all ages, family configurations, income levels and artistic disciplines. We have been working with a consultant and an architectural firm on the first phase of the feasibility study which we will be presenting to the City by the end of the month. I have to proofread the document one more time and meet with our consultant to revise the concluding summary.
I say all this not to bore you with my To Do list, but to illustrate the benefit of artist residencies and retreats. They allow artists to put aside all the day-to-day claims on their time and focus on their art. Perhaps some artists are better able to carve out such spaces in their regular lives. Perhaps they are able to limit their volunteer commitments and social interactions. Perhaps they don’t have to earn an income to support themselves. I’m not one of those artists. Having a dedicated period of time away from the distractions of my home allows me to immerse myself in my writing.
The residency at The Haven will give me the opportunity to forget about my students, the housing project, and the hospital and focus on a manuscript that has been sitting in draft form in a box for far too long. Being on the island will give me the distance I need to give me perspective on a prairie pilgrimage. Being in a new and unfamiliar place will give me a chance to reflect on my life when I’m not totally immersed in it.
By Sande Waters. Sande and Shirley Serviss are The Haven’s 2012 artists in residence.
I’ve spent many hours preparing a powerpoint presentation of my artistic journey over the last 20 years. I’ll be presenting an Artist Talk on Friday evening, September 28th at 7pm in the Phoenix auditorium. The presentation follows a conceptual thread weaving through my work, as well as including artists who have influence me. Hope to see you there and am looking forward to your questions.
I have also been putting together all the art supplies for my workshop “Meeting Your Inner Goddess – Creating Her Portrait”. Paints, brushes, papers, pencils, canvases, books, and props. Hope that this workshop will be a playful and creative experience for those who attend. It is on Sunday, September 30th from 10 to 4pm. No artistic experience necessary!
Ellery will be offering his memoir-writing program From Memory to Memoir at The Haven October 26–28, 2012 & November 1–3, 2013.
“To write a memoir is to taste life twice.” – Anais Nin
It was a weekend last fall, and I do remember it well. As I sit here reading some of the pieces people wrote in that particular memoir-writing program, I can’t help but feel moved all over again, as I felt during the workshop, listening to these deeply-felt personal stories read aloud by the participants. At the end of the workshop, I asked them to choose a couple of pieces they had written in the course of the weekend and e-mail them to me, so I could put them together in a booklet and send everybody a copy.
Following are some brief excerpts from a few of those heartfelt healing memories and reflections. I have changed the names for obvious reasons.
From “Stepping Stones” – by Elena
“I knew about things my classmates didn’t. I knew about slavery and racism and poverty. I knew about homosexuality and concentration camps, the holocaust… I saw the duplicity of my parents in joining a club that had admission policies that went against our highest values of racial acceptance. I felt myself to be running sometimes lonely outside the pack at school, feeling myself to be not understood.”
From “My Role in the Family” – by Rose
“Another day done. Well, not done, but almost. The kids were upstairs getting themselves ready for bed and the darkness outside turned the curtainless windows of the house into mirrors, reflecting the lives of those within. A huge house it was, with not enough furniture to make it cozy. Not enough anything to make it what it might have been.
“Then looking more closely at the reflection, she took it in. A wan, sad woman looked back at her. Hair straggled, like her soul, her face expressionless with eyes red-rimmed from crying earlier that day, a ghost, joyless. Who was that spectre in the window? It sure as hell wasn’t her. It wasn’t the little girl who entertained her family and sang happy songs with her sisters while they washed dishes in a different sink so long ago.”
“I was gathering images all my life, storing them away and forgetting them. Somehow, I had to send myself back, with words as catalysts, to open the memories out and see what they had to offer.” – Ray Bradbury
From “The Turning Point” – by Louisa
“Without that nudge from Sandra, my best friend at school, I might never have become who I am nor had the life I am so privileged to enjoy. Sandra was a bit fast. By that I mean that she actually dated during high school. I, on the other hand, felt lucky if finally asked to a school dance by some classmate (dared by his buddies). Robert braved that, found that it wasn’t so bad, and from then on, he just kind of assumed we were going steady by default. But that boy could sure as hell dance … Then Sandra suggested I dump Robert, and look for someone more interesting, which I did.
“Oh, I cringe looking back, but this was a major turning point in my life. And I have to say it was a relief to have done it. Richard never pursued dancing, the one thing he did well and loved. He remains uninspiring, joyless, pinching his pennies.”
The other day I was telling my friend Sylvia Edlund how excited I am to be sitting in with Eric Bibb, to help out with his workshop, Spirit in the Song, coming up September 16-20. My good fortune came through the good fortune of Eric and his wife Sari, who are expecting their first child this October. Sari assisted Eric last year, however this year she will not be travelling from their home in Finland to Gabriola so close to her delivery date.
Sylvia was a participant in Eric’s workshop last year. She was positively effusive last September, talking about her experiences during the workshop, and how she had connected her spirit of the song with her creative expression as a fibre artist. I was curious to hear from her what it was like for her now, in reflection a year later, with the intention of sharing her experience with others interested in learning more about the program. I was particularly interested in her perspective as a ‘non-musician’, as I sometimes hear from people that they would love to attend, but have no music training.
After listening to her, I realized I could never do justice to what she had to say. So I asked Sylvia if she would put her thoughts and feelings into written words. A few days later I received this…
I had first met Eric Bibb in a course at The Haven where several creative modes were offered for experiencing; and he gave a concert after his few sessions. I was so impressed by his easy, friendly style, and how quietly but meaningfully he got us writing lyrics to songs. But it was the soft, creative energy and love that he offered out to the participants, that hooked me! I have no aspirations to be a songwriter or a performer, and have only basic musical skills. But I was taken with the creative energy he exuded, and found that just that brief meeting stimulated my work in fibre art—my medium.
So I signed up for the Spirit of the Song workshop immediately, for the next year.
It was a fascinating course. Many of the folk in it were songwriters already, and performers. However another person and I were not musicians. But we were encouraged to fully participate as much as we wished, and Eric made this easy. He broke down the steps into easily understood ideas. He started us off writing a group song, and I was able to contribute enough to satisfy my needs, and did add my perspective on the subject. Soon after we were writing lyrics to our own songs, and some started working on songs that they had already started, or thought were finished. We shared our lyrics, and Eric made gentle comments on how we could improve them. And the other participants also helped each other.
Eric was able to figure out our weaknesses and strengths and to give gentle nudges to enhance our strengths and tempt us to try things totally foreign. He inspires confidence to try new things. I expected to be shy and awkward and had been willing to spectate through most. But I quickly found myself fully engaged and I did not feel embarrassed about my lack of talent or experience. I was able to develop and finish a simple and meaningful song, to which Eric made strategic suggestions for improvement. I was even able to create a simple tune to fit the lyrics. A highlight was having Eric accompany me, as I sang my song.
Eric gave each of us individual attention, tailor-made to each of our needs and skills. And we all produced wonderful songs that reflected the essence of ourselves. Each got the needed boost and mini-tutorial. We participants became close during the workshop and have stayed in touch. And I found my creative juices for fibre art were greatly enhanced for months afterward.
I would recommend this workshop to anyone interested in creativity and of course those who are intrigued by music and lyrics that come from the heart.
I cannot imagine what I would add, other than a few closing thoughts; one is about Eric, and another is about creative expression.
If you have ever been to one of Eric’s concerts, you have likely felt his ease, warmth and passion for music and people. If you spend five minutes with him off-stage, you will find the same thing. For me, he is a rarity among performers of his accomplishment. He has been acclaimed and recognized around the world as one of the finest writers and performers. Music greats such as Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Ruthie Foster, Odetta and Guy Davis have joined Eric on his albums.
And yet, whether he is headlining at the London Blues Festival (as he did last month, to a standing-room only crowd of over 5,000) or in the intimacy of the Phoenix Auditorium, first and foremost for him is his love for the spirit of the song, and the spirit of the people. He simply cannot hide his delight to be with others as they seek, find and express who they are, in their own way.
Among Ben Wong’s many words of wisdom that have stayed with me is this:
The fullness of our self-awareness cannot be realized without creative expression.
I am thrilled, and honoured, to be part of the Spirit in the Song with Eric next month. I invite you to join, whatever your musical acumen. You may well discover more than you imagined in the spirit of your own song.
T.S. Eliot’s poetry is often quoted, but usually in short renditions. Only rarely are his longer works presented in a public forum. More than 70 years after their first appearance, the Four Quartets is still immediate and relevant. A full reading of these poems requires nearly an hour, the length of a musical symphony. Dealing with issues of time and eternity, worldly dissatisfaction and spiritual yearnings, it can be seen as a lyric prayer for modern people.
Jock McKeen, MD, LicAc(UK), DLitt, who trained as a physician, has always had a passion for poetry, dance and music, along with a burning curiosity and concern for the human condition. While studying classical Chinese medicine and philosophy, he became fascinated with the art of living, which he has combined with his studies of the science of life. He combines his deep knowledge of people with a love for language and artistic expression. He is a dynamic and engaging reader of poetry; people are enchanted by his passionate renditions of his own work, as well as creations of other authors.
T.S. Eliot is one of his favourite poets. Jock says of Eliot:
“His language covers the entire range, from the commonplace to the celestial. His scope is comparable to a singer with an extraordinary range … the lows are deeply stirring, and the highs take one into the sky.”
Jock says, “This is a special treat for me, to really be able to dig into a full-blooded reading of this masterful work.”
Jock has worked with his partner Bennet Wong, a psychiatrist, for over 40 years. Together, they developed The Haven Institute, an educational centre for personal and professional growth on Gabriola Island. Besides their work at The Haven, these two men have presented their ideas and seminars throughout Asia and Europe, as well as in Russia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America. They co-authored six books which describe much of the germinal philosophy underlying their work with people. One of these books is a collection of Jock’s poems entitled As It Is In Heaven. Their most recent book, The Illuminated Heart: Perspectives on East-West Psychology and Thought, is a comprehensive distillation of their views; it has just been released by The Haven Institute Press.
In a recent article, Jock wrote, “We are involved in a much bigger enterprise than we usually realize. The forces of the universe flow through us. We are, in our deepest imaginings, linked with each other, and the larger picture.”
Tina Boehm writes about Storytelling led by Margo McLoughlin for the first time this March.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in Storytelling for Reinventing the World this past weekend, and was soon whisked away on a carpet of music, stories and poetry guided by Margo and woven together with my fellow participants.
I was initially hooked and intrigued by the title, and was curious to meet someone who had co-led workshops with Mark Nepo, who, through his writing and poetry, has touched me in a way that no other writer has.
Margo brought with her a Hang drum and a small Tibetan singing bowl. Both instruments were employed to punctuate, and assign an ethereal quality to her lovely and melodious storytelling.
Margo has a background in teaching, story telling and Divinity and has crafted a weekend workshop of exquisite poignancy. We were invited to share our own stories using various prompts: such as place, people, significant events, and themes which have shaped our lives. Our stories are given new life in the telling and re-telling, thereby informing and influencing both the teller and the listener.
Incorporating her own gift of story telling from around the world using her soft lilting voice Margo carried us away to a gentler place and time. We were mesmerized.
I learned to appreciate and trust the alchemical process of story shaping and sharing and found great comfort and learning through telling my own story. In the telling I was invited to ask the following questions of myself : What stories do I tell? Do they serve me? How have they shaped me? How have the stories of significant people in my past shaped who I am today?
The program left me feeling so deeply connected to my own Soul and the intricate web of life that connects all of us through the power of Storytelling, catching and sharing.
The small but wonderful group, worked so well together, and I felt so privileged to have been able to spend this magical time with them. I left feeling cradled and wonderfully transformed by the shared experience and connection.
I urge everyone to treat themselves to this marvelous weekend. I am forever changed by this remarkable program and the gentle gift of story so lovingly delivered by Margo.