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. i

This is the first in a 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 during each.


First up is a project I co-lead with Alice Cavanagh, produced by Frog in Hand in collaboration with Clay and Paper Theatre.

Cyclops

CYCLOPS was a project that manifested as 3 distinct wandering performances roaming neighbourhoods in Port Credit, central Toronto and in the east end of Toronto. These localized parades shared a few elements: they needed something tall (like a banner or large puppet), they needed to be mobile (wheeled methods of transportation highly encouraged), and they needed to include music and ways to make sound. Aside from that, artists had freedom to create what they wanted.

My group, the “Planting Queens” (a play on the Abba song “Dancing Queen” which became our silly anthem) were a wandering quartet of clown gardeners (because everyone took up gardening in 2020) designed to spread joy along the lakefront. Trowel (me), Sprinkle (Drew Berry), Fern (Rohan Dhupar) and Petal (Mackenna Martinez) wandered the streets of Port Credit from the piers of the harbour to the bridge across Cooksville Creek. We sang for, laughed with, cheered on cyclists and runners and greeted people we met on our way.


I did mention there were other Cyclops groups happening around the city at the same time ours was parading around Port Credit. Here’s a quick peek at Alice’s group, Space Force, with the wonderful Clarke Blair and Erin Eldershaw wandering the east end of Toronto:

photo by Tamara Romanchuk

And the wonderfully bizarre group of wild animals caught on the prowl in central Toronto, with their group The Pond. This group included Lizzie Moffatt, Keitlyn Seibold, Zachary Bastille, Jeremy Pearson and Michael Derworiz:

photo by Tamara Romanchuk

The Learning

My only real regret is our scheduling. We scheduled each of these pieces to be wandering at the same time. It was a tricky thing, being our first live performance since the lockdown in mid-March. On the planning end it seemed fine: focusing on our own geographical neighbourhoods and coordinating at a distance would limit travel. Keeping the numbers low would, ideally, minimize the risk of infection. Each group was advised to have all necessary safety measures on-hand (face masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes). But each group member was also performing. We planned to keep these self-contained, and because of this inward-looking focus we didn’t notice the big, person-shaped hole right beside us.

The groups needed a support.

We misplanned the importance of an outside body to accompany the groups: someone whose sole responsibility would be to act as a reminder to clean, to take breaks, to field questions from the audiences and to step in in case anything happened to ensure the safety of the performers.

This should have been myself, or Alice. Our schedule didn’t allow this and so we were both performing, simultaneously, in different cities. I especially didn’t see this need because my group actually had Colleen Snell (director of Frog in Hand) accompany us every day. This meant I didn’t flag it until things were well underway. While we are lucky that nothing drastic happened during these performances there were definitely situations, such as people getting a bit too close, where it would have come in handy to have that extra body.

field notes.04 // Helen Donnelly & Neil Muscott

field notes.
episode 04 // Helen Donnelly & Neil Muscott
a foolish conversation about clowns

June 2nd, 2016
8:30pm
Sorauren Park

I catch up with my clown teacher, Helen Donnelly and her partner/director Neil Muscott to chat about clowns, flat tires, preconceptions, clown logic and realness.

helendonnelly.com
fooproductions.com
fooandfriends.com


reverend foo

The Reverend Foo Revival Time
playing June 8th, 10th & 12th at Factory Theatre
as part of the Toronto Festival of Clowns.

2011-TFOC-Logo-SM