original grant application to the Ontario Arts Council
We had intended to call the piece “Strange Stranger.” Many of ideas shifted from this initial writing but many of the questions were pertinent to our research creation.
Strange Strangers is a site enhancing multi-disciplinary art performance piece based upon an examining of the ecology of place in the multi-faceted context of an urban watershed, in London Ontario. Strange Strangers integrates contemporary dance, live music, circus, post-dramatic text, audience participatory scores and movement based performance art.
This performance project will engage with the growing arts practice known as participatory arts engagement. We are in the midst of a seismic shift in cultural production, moving from a “sit-back-and-be-told culture” to a “making-and-doing-culture.” Active or participatory arts practices are emerging from the fringes of the Western cultural tradition to capture the collective imagination. Many forces have conspired to lead us to this point. The sustained economic downturn, rising ticket prices, the pervasiveness of social media, the proliferation of digital content and rising expectations for self-guided, on-demand, customized experiences have all contributed to a cultural environment primed for active arts practice. At a time when media and telecommunications often propels us into disembodied virtual spaces, we are reacting with a felt need and interest in acts which root the body firmly in physical space and in meaningful connection to one’s immediate environment, be it a remote span of forest or an urban city/landscape or a local river and park like our site in SoHo London Ontario.
Kevin, Mitch, Ruth and Billy Jack have collaborated on multi-disciplinary ecological based performances both inside theatres and outside since 2009. Currently they are working on creating place based performances in watersheds throughout Ontario where they question a communities sense of their ecology. They produced a site enhancing piece called Confluence in 2011 (Madawaska Watershed) and will create their next piece in the Thames Watershed (where Ruth, Kevin and Billy grew up) in London Ontario (2013).
Strange Strangers is a creation project that will take place in the low income, multicultural neighbourhood of SoHo (South of Horton) in London Ontario. SoHO has existed within the same boundaries since London’s inception in 1840. Originally named St. David’s Ward, this neighbourhood is bordered on the north by the CN railroad tracks parallel to, and north of Horton St., on the east by Adelaide St., and on the south and west by the Thames River, originally called The Antler River or Deshkan Ziibiing in Chippewayan, the aboriginal history stretching back for at least eleven milena. Its 150 year colonial history includes its early days as a place of refuge on the Underground Railroad, to housing one of the City’s major medical facilities, to being located along the edges of the downtown and the Thames River. These factors have given this neighbourhood a prominent role in the development of the City.
We have received a residency from the Aeolian Hall for August 25-30 2012 and August 1-September 15, 2013 to create and develop Strange Strangers.. We will work towards an inside/outside component that will take place in Horton Park along the Thames River on September and in the Aeolian Hall theatre from September 13, 14 and 15th 2013.
The audience interaction will shift between audience as witness and audience as co creators. As co creators they will contribute and physically participate in the creation of the the work, facilitated by us.
We will set up scores that the audience will follow, and utilize the audiences’ physical bodies to create the set, all together enacting a directly experienced engagement with site specific artistic questions such as:
Can a dance together allow our bodies to meet?
Can an inter-arts project next to a river allow us to better connect to this place?
Can we acknowledge the dance between the river and the banks that has existed long before any of us have arrived?
Can we feel a connection to the watershed that we live in?
Can we create a duet with it?
In looking at the forest and the river, what is missing?
What are the stories embedded in the landscape?
• the significance of your proposed program of work to the advancement of your artistic practice.
Strange strangers will shift between interpretive engagement (performing, remaking an existing work of art that we produced in the Madawaska Valley) and inventive engagement (creating something entirely new in relation to the Soho Community and the Thames Valley watershed that it is situated in). This piece is an extension of a site enhancing piece performed in the Madawaska River Watershed in Barry’s Bay Ontario in August 2011 and part of a larger project engaging the ecology of peoples, rivers, watersheds, climactic and weather patterns, homes, [animals] flora and fauna found living in the environment today as well as those of legend and myth, [roads, buildings] the built environment, etc. In different watersheds in Ontario.
This instance of interaction between performance and the real world on the banks of the Thames/Antler River points to the possibility both literally and figuratively of the beginning of a recuperation of a relationship to place. Soho has seen waves of immigrants move into the area from all regions of the world. We want to engage with all of the physical ecology that SOHO is enmeshed in. The river and the green space that runs through SOHO is not separate from the urban neighbourhood and the people that live in it. Ruth Douthwright, Billy Douthwright and Kevin O’Connor all grew up in the SoHo area and Ruth recently moved back into the area.
This performance project will offer an opportunity for strange strangers to meet. By engaging recent ideas in environmental philosophy that stresses the need for an ecology without nature, as the term ‘nature’ implies something outside of and separately from, not part of our being. By performing both in a theatre and along the river we hope to/that both will stretch the boundaries of conventional choreographic practice, allowing the material to be(come witnesses and participated in with a variety of cultural filters converging. In this way Strange strangers questions with the participation of the audience-actors the idea of being interconnected, as in a mesh. Who or what is interconnected with what or with whom? The mesh of interconnected things is vast, perhaps immeasurably so. Each entity in the mesh looks strange. Nothing exists all by itself, and so nothing is fully “itself.”… Our encounter with other beings becomes profound. They are strange, even intrinsically strange. Getting to know them makes them stranger. When we talk about life forms, we’re talking about strange strangers. The ecological thought imagines a multitude of entangled strange strangers. Nature is not something out there, it is something from/intimately entangled with our own individual ecology.
The stories that inhabit, that live, in this neighbourhood are always encounters between strange strangers…