Playing With Ghosts: An Interview with Anuja Ghosalkar on Performing Archival Absences

Co-Director of Staging Our Histories, Arpita Bajpeyi, recently had a chance to meet with Anuja Ghosalkar, founder of the Bangalore-based theatre company DramaQueen.  Ghosalkar is also the actor-writer behind Lady Anandi, a one-woman play based on her research into her maternal great grandfather’s career as a Marathi actor and female-impersonator in late nineteenth century India. The following is an e-interview with Anuja on her work and experience crafting and performing Lady Anandi.

To begin with, you mentioned that you had an opportunity to start writing Lady Anandi as an artist-in-residence at an art lab in Stockholm . Before you began writing the piece, though, what was your experience in the archives like? What drew you there in the first place?

I have always been fascinated with archives—  during my work as a film researcher in 2005 with Rosie Thomas, University of Westminster on the early stunt film in India, I spent hours peering over newspapers from the 1930’s and 40’s at the Asiatic Library, Mumbai. I made several visits to the National Film Archives of India and there too, the smell of film and the documents I found, intrigued me. I suffered from archive fever.

Following this, I did an Oral History project on my grandfather, Ram Tipnis—the oldest living make-up artist in India at the time.  A Sarai fellowship enabled me to record his stories—a history from the periphery of cinema and its technology. The entire project is documented here: http://papaajoba.blogspot.in

During five my years at Indian Foundation for the Arts, as programme officer for the Arts Research and Documentation programme I closely interacted with archivists, academics and organized and attended conferences around documentation and the role of archives. Through this, my significant learning was, while there is some attempt at archiving in India, there is no artistic intervention within the archival spaces. To plug this gap, I, along with a colleague designed fellowships for artists to retrieve materials from archives and use it artistically. Our aim was to enable the archive, not just as a repository site but also as a site of retrieval.

Post IFA, I became an actor— a lifelong dream that I decided to pursue at 34! It was during my early days as an actor, that I had the idea to use material from my family archive. I wanted to tell a story that meant something to me, rather than work with a pre-written text. Thus, I decided to work on the story of my great-grandfather—a female impersonator in late 19th century Marathi theatre. But he was absent from the archive and my archival excavation was drawing dust.

That led me to the question— can the archive be site of omission as well?

One of the things I loved about Lady Anandi was how you used the medium of the play to call attention to the distance between yourself and the scenes featuring your great grandfather. You read from scripts and wove stage directions into the scenes themselves – though the latter is something you did in scenes featuring your character, Lady F, as well. Can you elaborate on your choices in using, and pushing, the boundaries of your medium? Was that something that developed as you wrote the piece, or as you performed it? 

At the end of my residency, I had to share my text in a formal presentation. I had written the text for three actors, however I didn’t have access to actors Sweden, so decided to read all the characters myself. Since I didn’t have time to learn lines, I decided to hold the script in my hand, in case I fumble. During the “presentation” it became apparent to me that there was merit in it. While writing the script I hadn’t decided that will be “read out” rather than performed. But the more I present Lady Anandi, the more I feel holding the pages of the text are vital to create distance. And since in my mind it is unfinished, and it is a presentation, holding the papers seem only natural. Early on, while pitching the performance, I would say it is a lec-dem and I feel that in that form holding your papers in front of an audience is acceptable.

In short, that decision was made while I performed it for an audience. I think a performance can be rehearsed several times but it’s only when one does it in front of an audience, does its impact become obvious. Otherwise it’s a bit like going scuba diving in a swimming pool, the ocean is missing.

Having been a part of many mainstream plays, I feel the idea of a completed piece which is perfect, where everyone knows their lines, and is clean, does not appeal to me. In my aesthetic world, I prefer rough edges, mistakes, it really shows up the spirit of exploration. I do not mean that rigour is compromised, I simply mean that some part of the puppeteers strings show.

You use projections of archival photographs of your great grandfather throughout the play, often projecting them onto your own body. Like him, you slip fluidly in and out of differently gendered bodies throughout the play. It’s no surprise you premiered Lady Anandi at the Gender Bender theatre festival presented by the Goethe-Institut with Max Mueller Bhavan and the Sandbox Collective! Can you speak a little on your use of these photographs, your body, and the place of gender in the play?

Gender is central to the performance. I always knew that my great grandfather had a theatre company and he played female characters. But it was while working with a German dramaturg on Virginia Woolf’s text A Room of One’s Own, I thought about creating a performance on him. In Woolf’s text she writes about Shakespeare’s imaginary sister, Judith—would she have been given the chance to be a playwright? Or would she be married off? That had me question my place me in theatre, the roles I was given, the lines I was made to say. The responses I received when I decided to be a full time theatre actor at 34! Deeply uncomfortable with my insights, I decided to create a performance that meant something to me—two actors, separated by 100 years, one who plays women characters convincingly, the other, me, struggling to stand like lady.

I looked at family albums, one aunt had three photos, the other a few more. It was becoming apparent to me that he was absent from theatre history. In the stories I had heard of him growing up, he seemed like a hero, who played both male and female characters with ease, received critical acclaim, drank five litres of milk a day, loved wrestling. Could these stories be made up to feed my young imagination? Was he an apparition? If not, why was he missing from the archives?

But I found twenty odd photos of him. The decision to use photos was something I made right at the start of the project. That was the only real material I had. The more I looked at the photos, the more connected I felt to him. I could see him and touch him. And as I an actor, touching that image, however ephemeral, makes it tangible for me.

I believe that the body is an archive of the past as well, of what we have experienced, suffered, endured and it holds stories of our ancestors. And as an actor, I wanted to capture those images on my body.

I am interested in looking at the photo archive and its relation to the body as an archive and I put myself at the centre of it. Me, with my imperfections and the photos in all their regality and finesse.

Who is ‘Lady F’? How did you use her to situate yourself within the play? Or was she a vehicle for you to say something else, maybe address a gap that needed some attention within the work or the context/dialogue you see the play functioning in?

Yes, you are absolutely right, she is a vehicle for me. In theatre we love narrators, someone who pieces it together—Lady F is that character, except that she cannot give us a complete picture. I have often been asked is Lady F different from Anuja? Why not just say Anuja? Lady F is certainly NOT Anuja, she is the person who sees the ghost of her great grandfather every time she goes up on stage, Anuja doesn’t see ghosts, she writes about characters who do. A lot of theatre veterans said to me in the early stages of this project, “why should I listen to your story?”, “why is the personal so important for us to watch on stage, pay money for it?”  Therefore I created Lady F (F for Fuck Off, if you will, or F for Female).  But I do not “play act” Lady F, she is natural, urban, can answer questions, talks about process. Anuja later tells her how the show went, scolds her if she got a delivery wrong and so on.

 

When I had the chance to see Lady Anandi, you prefaced your performance by saying that this was a work in progress. After the show, you welcomed questions, critiques and comments from the audience. What has it been like to perform the piece for audiences as a work in progress? What has come out of this process for you, so far? 

It has been a very rewarding experience sharing this unfinished work. It makes me vulnerable as a performer and creator but it also emboldens one’s choices. It ties back to my earlier point about scuba diving in a pool—the audience is one of the most vital elements of a performance for me. Several people have said to me after the show, “thank you for making us feel important, as if what we say really counts. Otherwise we are shown work after it is completed.” The audience, especially in Delhi at S-47 Panchsheel Park, was rigourous in their feedback. They engaged with the process, with the research. They were progressive enough to say “you don’t need a director”, “it is unfinished only because you say it is, we felt it is complete”. Showing it to the audience has given me courage!

I also like the performative element of the Q& A— I sit there, someone asks me something terribly important. There is a shot in Godard’s Breathless where he shows a press conference and the inanities of it. I love it. But on a serious note, one audience member came and said to me, we are as vulnerable as you are, sitting there, trying not to hurt you, but say something that will add value to the project.

To reiterate, I really enjoy the feedback process, it teaches me a lot. And in the absence of a director, who critiques the show, the audience’s response fulfills that.

You wrote, above, that your research led you to question whether the archive can be a site of omission. I think for a lot of us who delve into the (institutional) archives, particularly when we’re looking for histories that tend to be marginalized by text and assumptions about the kinds of narratives that should be preserved as history, we find more gaps and silences than stories. What are your thoughts on encountering these absences in the archives and, more generally, history? How can we use the body as an archive, as you put it to respond to these?

This is a complex question to respond to. In my case, given that I had very little information on my great grandfather, I had to turn to my own body. And I felt that there may be some continuity there, in the stories or memories we physically carry. I think as performers, we can turn to our bodies for some sort of a response, either by juxtaposing our bodies with material we find or simply occupying space, where archival material is absent. For a filmmaker, academic, her relationship to that missing archive might be different. So I cannot comment about it in general terms but I guess what I am trying to say is that in our search for that missing archive, our relationship to the scant materials or tools we use to mediate it, is of great significance. Also, in Lady Anandi, the quest to find the material is what audience members enjoy watching. This leads me to believe that, the endeavor to fill the gaps is as vital an act, as finding that material.

My thought on history— I am not sure I am qualified to answer it. But I’ll attempt it. It is that the more personal, un-institutional voices that write it, tell it, the better it might be. I am a bit skeptical of a grand historical narratives. I prefer the fragmented, disjointed versions of it.

Many thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for this, Anuja! We look forward to following your work, and seeing Lady Anandi in Bangalore again in July.

 

Anuja Ghosalkar is a theatre actor, writer and director based in Bangalore. Drama Queen, her theatre company, is evolving a unique form of documentary theatre in India. Anuja has worked with theatre directors including Atul Kumar, Abhishek Majumadar, Kirtana Kumar and Arundhati Raja. She teaches theatre to young adults and children across Bangalore through Jagriti and Ranga Shankara. When not doing theatre, she works on Experimenta, a festival of moving image art in India. In the past, Anuja has worked as a programme officer at India Foundation for the Arts, in film research, curating, writing and teaching cinema. Recently, she was an artist-in-residence at Art Lab Gnesta, Sweden, where she wrote Lady Anandi.

You can follow Anuja on her Facebook page, Drama Queen, and on her website: www.drama-queen.in.

 

Photo credit: Nazes Afroz

Students Bring History Alive in Kolkata’s South Park Street Cemetery

Last December, Think Arts and students from schools across Kolkata, India, opened a temporary exhibition at the South Park Street Cemetery. In the coming weeks, a new batch of students will have the opportunity to bring history to life in their own way in the same space. Read on to learn more about the project. (Feature image photo credit: Nazes Afroz)

The South Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata is one of those iconic spaces in the postcolonial world that whispers to passersby of a very different time and place. The weathered, mossy stones now interrupted by trees and plant life that have had centuries to stretch their limbs invite you see the cemetery as an artefact of the past with little bearing on the bustling city outside its walls. Though largely forgotten by residents of Kolkata, it still has a pull for some people, like Ruchira Das. “Every time I visited the South Park Street Cemetery in Calcutta, I have been moved by the gravity of the place. Not having grown up in Calcutta, I discovered this fascinating place quite by accident, during one of my visits to the city.”

But Das, founder of Think Arts – an organization geared to engage children with the world around them through the arts, in unconventional ways – was also keenly aware of the kind of history that the cemetery represented in the city’s past. “After I moved to Calcutta a few years ago,” she writes, “I got a chance to spend a lot more time at SPSC and was struck by the fact that the cemetery was in use during one of the most interesting periods of Calcutta’s history (1767 – 1830) – it was during this period that Calcutta was named the capital of British India, the Asiatic Society was founded, the Bengal Renaissance took its roots and the city saw several such significant events.”

Upon realizing that many of the city’s residents, including children like those at a school just a couple hundred meters away from the cemetery, had never entered the space, Das approached the Christian Burial Board, under whose management the cemetery fell.  The board mirrored her concern about the lack of public engagement with the space.

“Paradoxically enough, it was in a cemetery that the pages of history came alive for all of us.”

Das proposed a project wherein school children would spend six months researching and exploring the narratives buried in the site to develop an exhibition called ‘Our History, Their Times.’ The project was designed to encourage students to think about the spaces and stories that surrounded them through art forms they were familiar with: “Retracing a city’s history and presenting it using their [students’] forms of expression can be an involved, exciting activity with a tremendous scope for learning – learning outside textbooks.” For Das, the installations, which ran from the 7th to the 13th of December, 2015, represented a critical understanding and response to the histories to be found in the South Park Street Cemetery – an engagement that was as much about the form as the content in the physical pieces themselves. This emphasis on the value of art as an active site of learning is something Das believes in firmly, and was a driving factor behind the project. In her concept note on the project, she expressed a need to ensure “that the youth is involved in critical thinking – of investigating history, discovering stories, examining perspectives and questioning the accepted.”

The students, grades eight to eleven, came from schools across the city. They were captivated by the romance of the cemetery from the start. Reflections on their first visit to the site highlighted the picturesque beauty of the space, but also revealed a curiosity of the stories that lay behind tombstones and beneath their feet. “I thought that the cemetery was exquisite, but beauty certainly isn’t skin deep,” wrote one student. “The visit gave me the opportunity to make my way deeper into the stories of the people who lay there, and introspect on the lives that once were. It certainly had a great impact on me.”

The project was a huge success, both among participants and with members of the general public who poured visited the exhibition last December. Over the six months of the project, students explored the histories of individuals associated with and interred at the site, as well as those of the nameless Indians and Europeans who lived in Calcutta during that period. Working in groups with help from visual artist Nobina, and professor of English, Dr. Sudip Bhattacharya, students produced a number of different responses to the space, and explored various themes to bring the history of their city to life within the walls of the cemetery. Sunita Biswas, a teacher at Modern High School for Girls was as enthusiastic as her students about the project: “It’s been a wonderful learning experience for the entire team…teachers and students. It gave them a better understanding of Kolkata and its past. Paradoxically enough, it was in a cemetery that the pages of history came alive for all of us.”

Thanks to Ruchira Das and her students, the South Park Street Cemetery was bustling with live bodies for the duration of the exhibition, which brought in residents of the city from all walks of life who were curious about the colourful displays scattered between the trees and tombstones. “Our History, Their Times” was such a success that the Christian Burial Board has asked Das to facilitate the project again this year with a new group of schools. They will be starting their research and work on their projects in the coming weeks, and open up the cemetery gates for a second exhibition in December, 2016.

You can learn more about Ruchira Das and her organization, Think Arts on her Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/thinkartskolkata/.

7 Reasons to Experience History off the Page

Although math is not her strong suit, Co-Director Sinead Cox lists her top seven reasons to snag tickets for History (a)Live: 

ONE: THE TALENT                                                                                  StaginOurHistories

Our performers are multi-talented artists, storytellers, poets and filmmakers, and they actually constitute eight great reasons to be at the National Arts Centre on May 31st. Staging Our Histories brings this group of diverse amateur and professional artists together in the same room for the first (and probably only) time. Their artistic voices and perspectives on history are entirely original and distinct, but their pieces complement each other by asking similar questions about identity, memory and legacy.

TWO: IT’S NOT THE HISTORY YOU READ IN SCHOOL

Our organizers are interested in how stories and memories change across different mediums, and how performance can be a powerful platform for unwritten or unrecorded histories. Each of the seven histories presented on stage on May 31st is personal and revelatory, and interrogates how we share and forget the past on and off the page.

THREE: IT’S A PARTY

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Ticket-holders for Staging Our Histories are invited to a reception following the performances. There will be refreshments, snacks, and a chance to mingle with the performers and organizers.

FOUR: YOU CAN BE PART OF HISTORY

Staging Our Histories is a conversation, not a lecture. The evening’s discussion of performative histories will extend beyond the stage, as host Adrian Harewood moderates talkbacks between the artists and the audience. We hope theatre-lovers, students, historians, and just about everyone else, will be inspired by the convergence of history and performance, as we continue to be.

FIVE: THERE’S A CHANCE TO GET IN FOR FREE!

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You can win tickets to Staging Our Histories, and a copy of History, Memory, Performance, just by tweeting your favourite history experience to @stagehist with the contest hashtag #mylivehistory. 

SIX: RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE

Staging Our Histories happens at ‘Canada’s Stage’, the National Arts Centre, in lovely downtown Ottawa. It’s conveniently close if you’re in town that week to attend the 2015 Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ottawa, or you’re taking part in the Walk for Reconciliation, also on May 31st.

SEVEN: THE (HISTORY) A(LIVE) TEAM

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Once again, this is six good reasons for the price of one. The Staging Our Histories organizers are volunteers motivated by the desire to expand public access to unconventional and thought-provoking histories. The co-directors and core volunteers are all recent grads or current students of Carleton University’s history program; they’re also keen, passionate about history, and a lot of fun to hang out with– so look for us at the reception after the show.

If you care to join us for a night of extraordinary performances, you can GET TICKETS NOW at the NAC’s box office.

Need another reason? Contact the co-directors with any questions at staginghistories@gmail.com!

#MyLiveHistory: Tweet @StageHist & Win!

All the world’s a stage. What’s yours?

How do you prefer to experience stories? What captures your imagination and gets you excited about the past?  Is it museum programming? Movies? Video games? A family member that tells a great tale? A nice commemorative plaque, maybe? Something a little unconventional? How have you shared your own unique perspective on history with others? Show us! Tweet your photos of history (a)live to @Stagehist.

Staging Our Histories spotlights the ways histories are talked about, embodied, represented, remembered and forgotten off the page and outside of the classroom. Before our performers take the stage at the National Arts Centre on May 31st to express their thought-provoking histories through theatre, storytelling, film and poetry, we want to hear from you!

WIN by sharing your favourite experiences of history off the page!

Become a #twitterstorian and tweet original photos or video links of your favourite way to  experience history a(live) to @StageHist with the contest hashtag #mylivehistory, before May 29th.

On performance night, participants with the most retweets* win two FREE tickets to Staging Our Histories and a copy of History, Memory, Performance, generously donated by editor David Dean, to be presented at the reception following the night’s performances on May 31st. The runner-up will also receive a pair of tickets (kindly sponsored by individual donors).

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Contest Details

Eligible tweets will include a photo or linked video of an activity, performance, artwork, location, person etc that inspired you to experience or reflect upon the past and/or its legacy in the present. Everything from playing a video game that takes place in an alternate past, to a selfie on a historic walking tour is welcome. Tweets may be in French or English.

To be considered for prizes, all tweets must  include Staging Our Histories’ twitter handle (@stagehist) and the contest hashtag #mylivehistory. If you are tweeting about the work of another individual or cultural/heritage organization, we encourage you to tag them as well.  Entrants are welcome to submit multiple tweets. The contest ends midnight on the night of May 28th.

@Stagehist will retweet all eligible tweets. The  two tweets to receive the most total retweets** before May 29th will be the winners!*

Our first prize winner receives a copy of History, Memory , Performance, edited by Prof. David Dean (value $90) and two FREE tickets to Staging Our Histories (value $30+ tax). The runner-up receives two free tickets (value $30+ tax).  These prizes can be collected on Staging Our Histories’ performance night, May 31st at the National Arts Centre.***

The histories you tweet can be untold, unofficial and unexpected, but please make sure they are also sensitive, thoughtful and respectful. Any tweets of a graphic nature or those deemed offensive, hateful or inappropriate by the co-directors of Staging Our Histories are disqualified from consideration for the contest and will not be retweeted by @stagehist.

* In the event of a tie, Staging Our Histories’ organizing team will act as judges to vote for the winning tweet and the runner-up. The organizers’ and performers’ tweets are not eligible to win the prizes.

** For the purposes of this contest, we will count only RTs, not quoted tweets, MTs or favourites.

*** The winner must provide a full name & contact information by private message/email to collect his/her prize on May 31st.

Tickets on Sale NOW!

Get tickets for the first-ever Staging Our Histories today! 

May 31st, 7:30 pm                       National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage

CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS via Ticketmaster 

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We’re pleased to announce that you can now reserve your seat at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth stage to experience ten talented artists embodying the past and its implications in the present through storytelling, film, theatre and poetry. The evening will additionally feature talk-backs between audience and artists moderated by host Adrian Harewood.

Be a part of our first year and participate in a dialogue regarding how history is told and how it is received. Our audience is a significant and valued part of an interactive, one-of-a-kind evening of live performances and conversation. A ticket to Staging Our Histories grants you the chance to see eight extraordinary works, an opportunity to address the artists, and an invitation to an end-of-the-night reception at the National Arts Centre.

Staging Our Histories’ Venue & a First Glimpse at our Poster!

Our co-directors are pleased to announce that the very first Staging Our Histories will take place at the National Arts Centre‘s Fourth Stage, 53 Elgin St, Ottawa at 7:30pm.  After the evening’s performances and interactive talk-backs with the audience moderated by host Adrian Harewood a short reception will follow in the same location.

We’d like to extend our gratitude to Tannis Price for collaborating with co-director Arpita Bajpeyi on our eye-catching poster.

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Carol Jones

http://caroljonesdanse.blogspot.ca/

Formée en danse et jeu, spécialiste en percussions corporelles, Carol Jones œuvre dans le milieu artistique depuis plus d’une vingtaine d’années.  La danse l’a menée au théâtre.  Diplômée à la maîtrise en théâtre, elle joue, danse et choréthéâtrographie. On l’a vue tant sur scène (Free, Pour filles de couleur,  Angélique); à la télé (Chez Denise, Les dames de cœur, Watatatow, 19-2) qu’au cinéma (Le Matou, Louis 19, Je me souviens. La femme allongée).

Fille d’un jazzman (batterie), nourrie par les rythmes africains, Carol développe sa technique de percussions corporelles, associant diverses danses percussives et rythmes de la batterie, qu’elle enseigne dans diverses écoles (UQAM, Rencontre Théâtre Ados, etc.). Également, elle collabore à des productions musicales comme celles de l’Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal.

Dans le cadre de l’activité « Qui a mis le feu à Montréal le 10 avril 1734? » initiée par le Centre d’Histoire de Montréal, elle crée le personnage Angélique qu’elle présente depuis 2007 dans les écoles et les bibliothèques.  Ainsi, chaque année elle amène quelques deux cents élèves à répondre, sous forme théâtrale, à la question. Tout récemment, le projet s’est mérité un Prix d’Excellence décerné par l’Association Québécoise des Interprètes du Patrimoine.

En 2010, avec l’aide du Conseil des Arts du Canada et de l’Unesco, elle présentait Free à la Salle Carpe diem. Cette pièce entièrement exprimée en percussions corporelles pose un regard sur le trafic humain contemporain. Son art la fait voyager : Brésil, Turquie, Trois-Rivières, Sierra Leone, etc. où elle participe à maints événements et festivals. En 2015, suite à une résidence de création au Collège Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, Free prendra l’affiche au Théâtre de la Providence, salle annexée à ce même Collège.

Actuellement étudiante à l’American Dance Therapy Association, Carol achève une maîtrise en danse thérapie.


Trained in dance and theatre, and a specialist in corporeal percussion, Carol Jones has been active in the artistic field for over 20 years. Dance  led her to theatre. With a Master’s in theatre, she acts, dances and choreographs. She has been seen on stage (Free, Pour filles de couleur,  Angélique); on television (Chez Denise, Les dames de cœur, Watatatow, 19-2) and cinéma (Le Matou, Louis 19, Je me souviens. La femme allongée).

Daughter of a jazzman (drummer), inspired by African rhythms, Carol develops her corporeal percussion, associating diverse percussive dances and drum rhythms, which she teaches in various schools (UQAM, Rencontre Théâtre Ados, etc.). She also collaborates on musical productions such as the Greater Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra.

Within the framework of the activity “Qui a mis le feu à Montréal le 10 avril 1734?” (who set fire to Montreal the 10th of April 1734?) initiated by the Montreal History Center, she created the Angélique character, whom she has presented since 2007 in schools and libraries. Therefore, each year, she gets two hundred students to respond, in theatrical form, to this question. Quite recently, the project earned the Prix d’Excellence (excellence prize) given by the Association Québécoise des Interprètes du Patrimoine (Quebec Association of Heritage Interpreters).

In 2010, with the help of the National Council of the Arts of Canada and UNESCO, she presented FREE at the Carpe Diem Hall. This piece, entirely expressed in corporeal percussions, focuses on contemporary human trafficking. Her art makes her travel: Brazil, Turkey, Trois-Rivières, Sierra Leone, etc., where she takes part in many events and festivals. In 2015, after a residency at the Collège Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, FREE will be presented at the Théâtre de la Providence, a hall annexed to this same College.

Currently a student at the American Dance Therapy Association, Carol is completing a Master’s in Dance Therapy.

 

ANNOUNCEMENT: Adrian Harewood Hosting Staging Our Histories

The Staging Our Histories team is very excited to announce that prominent local journalist and broadcaster Adrian Harewood will join us as our moderator and host on May 31st, 2015. Mr. Harewood will facilitate short talk-back sessions between the audience and performers that encourage contemplation and active discussion regarding the themes and questions raised on stage during the evening.

Audience members and performers are invited to a reception after the event to informally continue the discussion!

If you want to share our stage, submit your performance proposal by January 9th, 2015. Storytellers, dancers, musicians, playwrights, filmmakers, and poets are all encouraged to submit. We are looking for diversity in both subject matter and performance styles, and pieces that will catalyze a greater understanding of how we remember, forget, and tell stories to make history. Get all the details and the proposal guidelines here.

If you are more interested in securing a spot in our audience, more information will be coming in the new year regarding tickets!

The co-directors of Staging Our Histories would like to thank Adrian Harewood for joining us for our first year, and for continuing to be an advocate and supporter of social conscience and culture in the Ottawa community.

A Chat with our Co-Directors Part II: An Awesome, Mind Blowing, Intellectually Stimulating Show

IMG_3180On Nov. 29th, the three co-directors of Staging Our Histories (Arpita Bajpeyi, Sinead Cox and Marie-Anne Gagnon) met with colleague Christina Parsons via the magic of the internet to talk about the concept and their expectations of the event. You can catch up with Part I  of the the discussion here.

Christina Parsons: Do you feel that you may encounter some contention between people who have experienced certain histories differently?

Marie-Anne Gagnon: There are so many pages of history to choose from that it would be a big coincidence. But if so, I don’t think that would be a problem, but rather a great opportunity for exchange and fostering understanding.

Arpita Bajpeyi: Absolutely! Part of the event will be opening up the floor so that the audience and performers can have those conversations in a positive, constructive space. But I think the very nature of the performance implies each history will be a personal interpretation.

Sinead Cox: There will be the talk-backs. And as much as performance can be very cathartic and personal for a performer when they’re talking about history, I think an audience can also have a very visceral reaction, positive or negative. The day we had our performances [at Carleton], I remember it being very draining: they were incredible, but it was emotional. I think performance is great for engaging you intellectually and also getting you right in the gut.

Marie-Anne: We have left the theme very open-ended so that people can bring forward whatever project they would like. In future years (if we are lucky enough to make this happen again!) it could be interesting to narrow the subject to see different interpretations of the same topic

Christina: Very true, it would be great to see many facets of the same topic.

Marie-Anne: As Sinead was saying, in our experience, people chose very personal topics, that had to do with their own history or that of their family.I guess we wanted to see that happen again. Because it was so powerful.

Arpita: Those are the stories that were the most powerful.

Sinead: It’s interesting how commonalities pop up even when the topic is broad. I think patterns emerge. Like grandparents.

Marie-Anne: Did you know genealogy is the most researched thing at LAC? Just proves that people care about where they personally come from. Henry VIII can seem rather far.

Christina: Being able to share personal stories on a larger scale can be very affirming to someone who does not usually have that platform.

Sinead: Yes! And I think as much as [submissions] can be about a personal history, they can also be about NOT having that history. Of being divorced or alienated from your history, or conflicted about it.

Arpita: And that is something we’re hoping to provide, for sure. A space for histories that are typically overlooked or ignored because of the way that they are told, or because of who is telling them. And those can be incredibly powerful pieces too.

Marie-Anne: But I suspect we might also see performances about parts of history that interest the participants, even if they are not directly connected.

Sinead: What speaks to people isn’t always directly close, for sure. Maybe someone feels very connected to and passionate about Henry VIII! As long as they’re telling that story in a new way, we’d be interested.

Marie-Anne: Most historians study not their own culture. Part of being a historian is having a curiosity for what you don’t personally know.

Christina: Are you making an effort to include indigenous or counter-colonial narratives?

Arpita: I think the three of us definitely gravitate towards those kinds of narratives, for various reasons. I’d be surprised if none of them appear in the program!

Marie-Anne: Indeed.

Sinead: I hope so. Attention all of you with counter-colonial narratives: please submit!

Arpita: That’s part of the fun of this experiment. Seeing what comes our way.

Christina: What mediums are available? For instance, will you have audio/visual equipment?

Arpita: We will provide most equipment, unless it’s highly specialized.

Sinead: That’s a good question! We’re definitely interested in film and multimedia. So we will try to accommodate the proposals we accept within the limits of the venue.

Marie-Anne: We should probably mention how long the performances should be, and how long the evening will be.

Arpita: The evening will begin at 7:30, and performances and talk-backs will run until 9:30, after which there will be a reception. Performances should run between 5-20 minutes.

Christina: Also, for posterity, what day is it?

Arpita: Sunday May 31.

Marie-Anne: If you’re coming to Ottawa for the CHA AGM, please drop by! [It will be] an awesome, mind blowing, intellectually stimulating show. (You don’t need to include that. Just a fact.)

Sinead: It may need to be the title!

Keep an eye out for exciting news and updates about Staging Our Histories in  the days to come, including the official announcement of our venue! Many thank yous to Christina Parsons for her time, and for her thoughtful questions as our moderator. You can hear much more from Christina in her upcoming podcast, H is for History and read her work at History Watch.

You’ve read how the co-directors envision the outcome of Staging Our Histories, but the reality will be up to you, and the challenging, surprising and powerful work you submit by January 9th! Read more about the submission guidelines here.

If you have any queries for Arpita, Marie-Anne or Sinead before you submit, email us at StagingHistories@gmail.com.

A Chat with our Co-Directors Part I: Where ‘Staging’ Started

IMG_3180On Nov. 29th, the three co-directors of Staging Our Histories (Arpita Bajpeyi from Ottawa, Sinead Cox from Goderich Township, in rural Southwestern Ontario and Marie-Anne Gagnon of Montreal) met with colleague Christina Parsons via the magic of the internet to talk about the origins and concept of the event. Find Part II here.

Christina Parsons: So welcome, why don’t we start off with personal intros and an introduction [to Staging Our Histories].

Arpita Bajpeyi: Sure! We’re all graduates of the Carleton University Public History program.

Marie-Anne Gagnon: I am a public historian from Montreal. During my Master’s at Carleton, I had the pleasure of studying with Arpita and Sinead. We all participated in a Performance and Narrativity seminar in the Department of History [with David Dean], which is where little mind wheels started turning.

Sinead Cox: After graduation we were trained and excited to actually do history in public in inclusive and innovative ways. But we weren’t finding opportunities to necessarily do so right off the bat. Maybe Arpita wants to describe the exact moment Staging our Histories came into being.

Arpita: I think the exact moment for me was after a summer of volunteering for some really great organizations, and enjoying it immensely, but also missing Public History, and the things that used to interest and inspire me daily.The performances from David [Dean]’s class had stuck with all of us I think, and I remember walking out of his class wanting more of that experience, and being able to share it. So I got in touch with Sinead and Marie-Anne to see if they would be interested in taking on this project, to do just that.

Sinead: [Carleton] was a great environment for us, to both interact with wider theories and the current practice of public history, and to pursue histories that were very personal to us, that we were passionate about. And although we met in the same program, we had very different historical interests.

Marie-Anne: Public History has for many years been a way to push history outside of academia, by working more directly with museums and heritage organisations. But even outside of university walls, public history can be relatively conservative, sticking to the written word and physical objects. That’s why some historians are turning to performance as a new and exciting way to explore history

Arpita: And that’s why performance is such an amazing way to push those boundaries.

Marie-Anne: By partnering with storytellers, dancers, musicians, we can find more embodied, present, and emotional ways of experiencing our histories

Why Perform History?

Christina: Theories of performance in history are pretty cutting edge. Is breaking that wall with the public very new in the realm of history?

Marie-Anne: I think the public is accustomed to a certain way of interacting with history – mostly through museums.

Arpita: That isn’t to say that historians (however you want to classify them – academically trained or otherwise) haven’t been experimenting and challenging their various audiences for some time now.

Marie-Anne: Of course film and living history sites perform history for the public, but not in the same way as stage arts do.They can be great ways to spark an interest in history for audiences that are hard to reach by more traditional means. They often try to pair entertainment with educational material. But I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to do

Sinead: [Performance] is a way that history is already being shared, and has always been shared. So we’re not reinventing the wheel in any way, but we want to look at those methods seriously, and reflectively, and see how the storytelling avenue itself impacts the history. I don’t think it’s a new way to tell history, but I think understanding performance as history in the same way you understand a written source as authoritative is maybe still not the norm?

Arpita: Yeah, bang on there, Sinead. I think that’s something that’s really important to us here, is re-examining ‘traditional’ methods of sharing history and taking them as seriously as ‘modern’ ones.

Sinead: The interactive element of performance, what an audience brings in real time, is also something that I think can’t be underestimated.

Christina: Those are all really great points. I also really like the intersectionality that you are very consciously pursuing.

Marie-Anne: I think it might be worth adding that we’re not looking for performances that present history as fact. We welcome creativity, as the past can hold many truths, not all of them the cold hard facts of traditional historiography

Sinead: The idea for the event also comes from as a grad student reading a lot about performance and history, and it’s maybe more productive to just, well put on a show and do it. Which we got a taste of in David’s class; we all had to do a performance. Arpita danced. Marie-Anne sang. I had a little theatre piece. And we want to do that on a larger scale, with a mixed audience of academics, the arts community and the general public, and explore, as you said Christina, the intersectionality!

Arpita: Quite! I think we’re also looking for self-reflexivity, and an understanding that each story comes with its own baggage that needs to be understood and acknowledged.

Sinead: Good point! We’re really focusing on performances that explore history, and history telling, and are self-reflexive, rather than a straightforward interpretation, if such a thing exists.

The Honesty of Performance

Christina: Does performance allow for more self-reflexivity and truths than other mediums?

Marie-Anne: Performance allows the performers to explore their own personal baggage about certain events that touch them in some way, and to show to their audience how they are aware of their own biases.

Arpita: In some ways, I think it does allow for more self-reflexivity – though some mediums more than others. Film might more easily avoid it than, say, a poem.

Marie-Anne: Bias is usually regarded as something bad, to be avoided, or camouflaged. But in performance, history tellers can embrace their biases and show how history matters to them.

Arpita: There is definitely something very intimate and personal about a performance, and this will be emphasized by the nature of our venue too!

Sinead: I think with performance, just the connotation of that word, there’s more acknowledgement of artifice, of storytelling, than in written sources which are often taken as authoritative and reliable, and authentic, which is of course not always the case. So I think there’s perhaps an honesty or an understanding  that there is art involved, a particular perspective. So I don’t know if it’s more truthful, but I think it is inherently reflexive.

Arpita: Yeah, I really like that. An inherent honesty.

Christina: Does that lead to more personal histories intertwining with larger narratives?

Marie-Anne: I am hoping we might get some performers who intertwine oral history and performance. Oral history is very big in academia at present. I think people are realising more and more that personal stories matter.

Continue to Part 2

To follow the rest of the discussion, and learn more about what Arpita, Marie-Anne and Sinead envision as the outcome of  Staging Our Histories and its successful submissions, look for Part II on Monday, December 1st. Many thank yous to Christina Parsons for her time, and for her thoughtful questions as our moderator. You can hear much more from Christina in her upcoming podcast, H is for History, and read her work at History Watch.

You’ve read how the co-directors imagine Staging Our Histories, but the reality will be up to you, and the challenging, surprising and powerful work you submit by January 9th! Read more about the submission guidelines here.

If you have any queries for Arpita, Marie-Anne or Sinead before you submit, email us at StagingHistories@gmail.com.