War of the Worlds, Reimagined, pt. ii

Half a year ago I wrote about the radio play we made with Frog in Hand which reimagined H. G. Wells’ classic tale of horror and survival in the face of something wholly unknown and beyond our immediate understanding. The War of the Worlds has inspired us as artists; its themes resonated with us as we read and listened and as we rewrote and created. Its themes almost seem prescient for its time, especially as we reemerge from an unforeseeable worldwide calamity and as our country continues to unearth its terrible imperialistic history. Or maybe that frame of mind is too naïve. Not prescient, but present. Maybe the fact that we are dealing with such similar things over a hundred years later is the real calamity.

These thoughts have brought us around.

We are now in the summer of 2022, and for 5 weeks have been back in-person, with a new company of dancers and actors who are reimagining, once again, this tale that we told, this tale that we became so inspired by. These tales that are so interesting that Colleen has mashed them altogether into one tale that spans time, distance, language and movement.

The War of the Worlds Reimagined has finally become the dancetheatre piece it was originally intended to be. But with two extra years behind it, and many more brains and bodies attached to it. It is going to be big. To have 16 dancers, an arena, scaffolding and an overpowering soundtrack, this piece is BIG.

I now sit in an interesting seat, going from writer to actor to dramaturg. It has been enjoyable to watch people interpret my story into movement, and emotional to watch my voice move another body through the space. It is exciting to cut between past, present and future and to see how they all comment on one another, how the voices of the past are very similar to those of today, whether that is a consoling thought or a worrying one. Regardless of which it is, I can’t wait to sit in the audience with you and experience it together. I wonder what new inspiration and conversation it will bring this time.

War of the Worlds Reimagined runs July 8th & 9th, 15th & 16th.

Tickets are available through Eventbrite.

War of the Worlds Reimagined

In 2020 while the world was pivoting to understand the new realities of life under a pandemic, Colleen Snell, Callahan Connor and I brainstormed a way to do the same with what was supposed to be the next show from Frog in Hand: a live Toronto Fringe dance-performance set to an audio version of H. G. Wells’ classic tale War of the Worlds.

All of a sudden, we didn’t have a deadline. The realities of live performance anytime soon seemed like a dream that disappears as soon as you wake up. So what’s a dance-theatre company to do? Probably many things, but we decided to turn to the world of audio dramas, having already been inspired by Orson Welles’ famous 1938 reimagining.

We didn’t want to just copy the brilliance of Orson Welles’s piece. We wanted to make something different. Something our own. And now, locked away in our homes because of a deadly bug, we had time to create.

The three of us decided to split the task so we would each have an opportunity to tell a portion of the story. Together we listened to the original book and collected images and narrative techniques that resonated with us.

What really stood out to me, listening to this story written in 1897, was the sense of awe the narrator in the first half showed in the face of the unknown and potentially unknowable. Everything seemed, on that listen, uncertain; details would change from paragraph to paragraph. The narrator would question their own senses. It reminds me of the same techniques Jeff Vandermeer uses so effectively in his weird fiction such as Annihilation and Borne. I talk about all this in a bit more detail here.

And so my story began: the story of Alix, a person wanting to escape it all and reconnect with the world around her. So she plans a trip with her friend Sam, a solo canoe trip in the heart of the Algonquin before convening at a meeting place to venture further into the woods as a duo.

Little do they know that while they are dealing with their own journeys, something much larger is about to change the world forever.

After months of joint writing time over Zoom accompanied by instrumental albums; workshopping with the Frog in Hand Summer Company; engaging audio genius Miquelon Rodriguez (@troysteel) who advised us how to set up recording studios in our closets surrounded by sweaters and blankets for optimal sound capture; rehearsing and then finally recording everything, we had something. By the end of the year we were able to hand it all over to Miquelon.

And what he sent us back was stunning. To imagine a world and write it on paper is one thing. To hear that world come to life in your ear holes is quite another.

My introduction to the War of the Worlds Reimagined project, The Algonquin Tapes, premiered at 2021’s Digital Toronto Fringe a received some wonderful reviews.

And now the entire trilogy is available online.

Each part takes a different angle and throws you into a new setting and cast of characters as the world deals with this new unknown.

Here’s an excerpt from part three: Back on the Air written by Callahan Connor.

I’m really proud of what the team has created here. Colleen’s piece, Last Day, is a visceral piece of writing and Callahan’s, Back on the Air, is this charming bit of hope and community.

If you’d like to get away from a screen for a bit and listen to a 3-part story about the world ending and then not ending, I’d be so happy to hear what you think.

“Acting” in my closet.

Moments of joy from 2020, pt. iii

Continuing the series of posts detailing some of my projects from 2020. Because of the nature of the projects and the Big Shift that happened last year, I wasn’t very advertisey in the moment. While many planned things dropped, I was still able to be part of a bunch of interesting and inspiring projects. Over the next little bit, I’m planning on detailing each and sharing some lessons learned throughout.


Odditi(m)es | A Tragic Comedy in Pandemic Times

In the summer, as the pandemic continued and restrictions were becoming a little more lenient, my friend and collaborator Troy Hourie received funding to create a live performance adapted for the then-current realities. His idea was to adapt an old form of puppetry, following the traditions of Portuguese Dom Roberto and English Punch & Judy shows, and adapt it for a contemporary Canadian audience. This allowed us to speak directly about the lives of three individuals during the pandemic lockdown.

Dom Roberto puppet shows are often played behind a tall, four-sided cloth covered box, with the puppets appearing at the top. Troy’s idea of opening up that box to create one long counter, made of four equally sized panels allowed us to showcase 3 different houses: a snapshot of a neighbourhood. This gave us a 2 meter distance between puppeteers. It also meant having 3 puppeteers instead of one, myself, Colleen Snell and Troy.

Odditi(m)es was live-streamed to, well anyone who wanted, but specifically to a group of beautiful puppeteers in Portugal called Teatro e Marionetas de Mandragora. A document of the performance can still be viewed on Troy’s site:

Odditi(m)es | A Tragic Comedy in Pandemic Times – Troy Hourie Portfolio (format.com)

The Learning

Outdoor theatre during a pandemic is possible and so important.

Opening private spaces to community is beautiful. This show happened in Troy’s backyard, which just so happened to be designed as a raked outdoor amphitheatre. It was possible to distance and clump households together because of this. If you have the space, use it!

Small puppets and loud colours read from a distance.

Nature is the greatest stage.

Projecting through a mask is difficult but possible.

3 days to create, rehearse and learn how to use these newly-made puppets really lets you understand what is meant by the “exquisite pressure of time.”

I need to work on my wrist strength.

I am still ambidextrous.

Puppets are the best.

Moments of joy from 2020, pt. ii

Continuing the series of posts detailing some of my projects from 2020. Because of the nature of the projects and the Big Shift that happened last year, I wasn’t very advertisey in the moment. While many planned things dropped, I was still able to be part of a bunch of interesting and inspiring projects. Over the next little bit, I’m planning on detailing each and sharing some lessons learned throughout.


Therapeutic Clowning

Our work changed in 2020. All around the world many therapeutic or hospital clowns were not allowed to enter our places of work for a variety of very good reasons. It looked like the whole thing would stop and be deemed non-essential. And it did. It was. For a bit, at least. Therapeutic Clown programs all around the world mobilized quickly and efficiently to find ways of continuing this vital work. As you can imagine, a period of lockdown and social isolation is a most important time for our work as therapeutic clowns. Because of COVID-19, so many people in long term care have been more isolated than ever before.

Eventually, after a bit of a change, the work continued by embracing a couple new formats.


Peachy (Heather Marie Annis) and Cecil (me)

I was about to start an in-person apprenticeship in Elder Clowning with Kathleen Le Roux when the pandemic arrived. This caught many of us off-guard and the apprenticeship had to pivot quite dramatically. With Kathleen and her group throughout the summer, we figured out some ways to adapt in order to still be in person. Some sites (like Union Villa) have large window galleries, accessible to the outside. As Kathleen coordinated with staff indoors, the residents were brought to the window galleries at a specific time. Once there, the residents of all three floors were greeted by a couple fools they knew, and one they didn’t (me!).

Dizzy (Kathleen LeRoux)

These outdoor visits forced us to be larger, more theatrical. They asked us to find things that read across distance. Things that could travel to the upper floors. We also had to remain socially distant from one another: one of us would often be close to the glass while the other would be farther back, interacting with the upper floors. It’s not the same as being in the same room and right beside one another but we were able to find moments of true connection: throwing kisses across the yard and up to the second and third floor; hands pressed against the window glass, touching the same surface but not the same skin; mirroring, leading, following the movements offered by either side.

Peachy and Dizzy cheers their friends
Peachy writes on the glass for the residents inside

The visits with Red Nose Remedy eventually started up again on a virtual platform. After half a year, we were able to visit our friends again in their homes, friends we hadn’t been able to see since March 13th. This time, however, we arrived from screen to screen, or, as we like to call it, from nose to nose.

The RNR team after one of our virtual trainings.

The learning curve here was gigantic. One of our biggest skills as therapeutic clowns is the ability to read the room and adjust/enter/proceed accordingly. One of the most effective ways of being in a duo is having an awareness of our proximity to one another and to complement or contrast accordingly. These two fundamental things completely change when a three-dimensional space all of a sudden becomes a series of rectangles on a screen.

Testing out virtual duoship and music.

In both instances, outside/distanced visits and online/virtual visits, true touch is no longer an option and the nature of playing music changes dramatically (another of our often reliable tools).

The Learning

Like anything and everything that’s happened since this pandemic started, trying to recapture how things were before and insist it remain the same is foolish (and not in a good way). We must adapt, even if that means our service looks and feels only slightly similar to what it looked like before (and what it will look like after). What we are able to offer has taken on its own shape, it’s own structure. And with that, there are so many freedoms and creative inspirations that follow (like the unlimited use of props, or playing with the framing of the camera). Our clients still receive authentic, direct and personal interventions, even if they are across such distances.

All around the world, therapeutic clowns are getting back into their places of work. In some countries, hospital clowns have even been receiving the vaccine because the work is recognized as essential. And it is. I’m sure many people will agree that the social isolation we’ve been required to participate in is difficult and has potential to become unhealthy. People need people. We need connection – connection not through a screen. But if that’s all we have right now, then that’s where we’ll meet you.

With a smile and a song.


For more information about Therapeutic Clowning, check out Red Nose Remedy at www.rednoseremedy.ca and Kathleen Le Roux at www.kathleenleroux.com