Saturday, September 26, 2015

Beer, Ice Cream, and Inspiration

Last week, we traveled to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, for the Contact East 2015 conference hosted by the Atlantic Presenters Association. The primary reason for our attending was to pitch a project we are working on this season, Raining Aluminum.  The experience was truly rewarding for several reasons.

The purpose of Contact East is to bring touring artists and agents together with Arts Presenters to foster opportunities for communication and, ultimately, to help those artists get bookings. Among the artists pitching or showcasing were musicians ranging from folk to classical to contemporary pop/rock to percussion, circus acts, dance, theatre, and everything in between. One of the pitching artists I spoke with, Nancy Kenny, was presenting her original one-woman piece Roller Derby Saved My Soul. Yes, she wore her skates and pads all three nights in the Contact Room. I also talked with Tessa Mendel from Halifax Theatre for Young People about their name, which the are thinking of re-branding or changing. It was a great conversation about identity, reaching audiences, funding, and the types of work our companies do and why.

There are very few theatre companies who present either a pitch or a showcase. Theatre is harder to travel for conferences like this. But the two companies who did showcase their work made a definite and lasting impression on me. Horse + Bamboo Theatre Company from Lancashire, UK, presented a small taste of a piece they have created called Angus, Weaver of Grass. Using mask, puppets, actors, projection, and traditional Gaelic folk songs, they create a visually striking and beautiful play telling a very compelling story.  From their showcase, I take away the effectiveness of simple technology (masks, puppets, song) to create moving work. Mulgrave Road Theatre presented the entirety of their play Watching Glory Die, an incredibly thought-provoking and devastating one-woman show about the Canadian prison system.  From it I take away again the beauty and effectiveness of clean lighting design, and the incredible importance of vocal work and vocal training. Again, the simplicity of the production elements (set, costumes, sound) made this production tremendously powerful and resonant. And Stephanie MacDonald, the actress, made wonderful use of tone and vocal quality to create three very distinct characters.

By far the most rewarding element of this conference was the opportunity to to share with others the Raining Aluminum project. On the morning of Day Two, we made our five-minute "pitch" to the delegates, and on each of the three days were available in the Contact Room to talk with presenters. So many people stopped by our table to say how interesting they found the project - pairing the Boston response to the 1917 explosion in Halifax harbour and the Canadian response on 9/11 in 2001. In addition to comments like, "This, this is a new way to tell the stories - good," we had so many opportunities to talk with people who live in Halifax.  Many shared the stories of their parents, who were children in 1917 and survived the explosion. Others spoke of the significance of both the sending of the Christmas tree to Boston every year and the efforts of not only Halifax but Gander on 9/11 and the days that followed.
Several of us spoke about these lessons of helping communities in crisis in light of the current Syrian refugee crisis facing Europe and the world. There is a need to tell these stories, there are still lessons to learn from them. We are definitely taking on a good and important project.

Of course, I would be remiss to not mention how absolutely beautiful Charlottetown and PEI are and what gracious hosts APA were. We toured the island; got to experience work in beautiful venues; eat Cows Ice Cream (you must do this at some point in your life); and, of course, drink lots of Canadian beer. It was truly a visit of inspiration and confirming the purpose and desire to work hard and create.

~ Carey Cahoon