The first undeniable memory I have of Push Festival, which just blazed through Vancouver for three weeks (Jan 14 – Feb 2), is watching Romeo Castellucci’s Hey Girl in 2008 and engaging in a passionate discussion about the work with a stranger who hadn’t even seen the play on the the bus after. Celebrating ten years, PuSh Festival curates provocative local, national, and international works that elicit excitement, curiosity, and dialogue. The works span disciplines and combine disciplines to create hybrid works. This year the offerings included theatre, dance, and music performances, films, artist talks, workshops, and more.
One of the unique impacts of PuSh on the local arts and culture landscape is that it brings a number of international artists to the city cultivating an environment for audiences to view and engage with works they likely wouldn’t encounter otherwise, and therefore ask questions they might not ask otherwise. It is an eclectic mix of offerings that can both appeal to and challenge audiences, and other practicing artists, to question and re-imagine what we think we ‘know’ and to step into the unknown. The PuSh Festival asks us, in their own words, to ‘cross the line.’
This year, in addition to seeing 9 Mainstage Performances and spending several nights in attendance at Club PuSh, I took the Fantasy Interventions (Writing for Site-Specific Performance) workshop, conceived and facilitated by Ant Hampton (London, England), presented by PuSh Festival, with Boca del Lupo.
First of all, I would like to extend a big thank-you to PuSh Festival and Boca del Lupo for providing engaging training opportunities for artists at affordable prices. This is a Festival that gives to the community in numerous ways and, as an artist, I appreciate the accessible opportunity to study with intellectual and creative rigour.
Secondly, I want to thank Ant Hampton for challenging me from the get go, when I endeavoured to staunchly define myself as an artist. During initial introductions I billed myself as a multi-disciplinary performance maker who creates work by being inside it, by embodying my impulses and creating with the flesh. I stated point blank that of all the things I consider myself to be, I do not consider myself a writer. Ant’s response, absolutely valid as the workshop is entitled ‘writing for site-specific theatre’, was that we were there to write and that I was going to write. And, so, write I did. I surprised myself. I discovered that writing allowed me to link images in a way that I hadn’t necessarily been able to when I was inside them, feeling them.
From the beginning Ant offered up intellectual musings, heady considerations for text-based image creation. We prepared by reading, in advance, excerpts from Dreaming By the Book,by Elaine Scarry. The readings focused on writing techniques that can be applied to facilitate vivid and directed image making. Elain Scarry, in her book, writes that “[t]he most vivid writers are often the writers most deeply associated with place.”
On the first day, after a casual lecture presentation that included text samples, photography, and films from a range of artists, we took to Granville Island as a group to look at different sites that we could use to construct a narrative. We then had time to individually choose a resonate site where we could anchor our image making. What we were working toward was writing a piece that we would record and collectively listen to on the sites on the third and final day of the workshop. In retrospect I am surprised that I thought eight hours was a long time to spend writing a five minute (or so) intervention, which is what we would be doing the entire second day.
This is the site I chose:
I knew that I wanted to use the whole of the space. And on day two I began imagining and writing. I pleasured at paying particular attention to the descriptive details of each image, relishing the words, the feeling of conjuring anything I wanted…fireworks that leave behind a mushroom cloud of smoke…. Truthfully, that is the only image I remember from my first draft. Because my site visit with Ant, about three hours into the day changed everything. First, Ant drew my vision beyond what I had been thinking of as the background, pointing out the building in the distance, which created an expansiveness that I had not hitherto considered. Then there was the question of how images link together to create a whole and how to anchor those images clearly in space. I took a couple hours to ponder those considerations before needing another conversation with Ant to start unpacking the question of narrative versus story.
I have long believed that the terms narrative and story are interchangeable, which seems odd. I have always been okay with slapping together images, yet the work I produce has conceptual underpinnings. My brain was abuzz with questions galore, and I got – not stuck because I swear I was forging new pathways in my brain as it navigated new intellectual and creative considerations, and not sidetracked because this was a track that ignited my engine. But I couldn’t write a word for the rest of the day because I had deeper work to do first. This is when I decided, even though Ant assured me that this was a work in progress and that it didn’t have to be perfect, that I wanted to create a cohesive vision for this site, that every image would feed into each other, and that the the images would be mapped to the site, steering the imaginative eye of the audience directly with the words. With these goals in mind, after an evening shift at work, I wrote with rigour through the night until six am. When I woke up after an hour and half of sleep, I felt awake and excited to share my work.
This is a video that I wanted to ‘throw together’ after the workshop, that in fact, took eight audio drafts (even though the text itself has only undergone a few, mostly incidental, edits since the workshop) and ten video drafts.
written, recorded, filmed, and edited by Nita Bowerman
inspired by a Fantasy Interventions workshop by Ant Hampton
workshop presented by PuSh Festival 2014, and Boca del Lupo
“What is the impact you want to make with your work?” Why do you make work?” “What are your dreams with regards to your work?” Thanks for asking Ant Hampton. I’m glad I was there to be provoked and encouraged.