Lead Editor’s note: We will be publishing excerpts from Q18: dis/sustain/ability, guest edited by Bronwyn Preece, in order to make the content accessible to blind readers with audio screen readers. We’ll also be including audio descriptions of the Quarterly’s original layout designed by Stephanie Plenner. Please stay tuned for future posts and share widely. In this chapter, Susanna Uchatius discusses an “othered” performance by Theatre Terrific.
Produced and performed by Theatre Terrific September 2015
By Susanna Uchatius
During the longest West Coast drought in recorded history, Theatre Terrific gathered an inclusive cast and crew to explore our place in the natural world. Inspired by philosopher and cultural ecologist David Abram, we journeyed into a conversation with nature. Abram observes, “Humans are tuned for relationship. The eyes, the skin, the tongue, ears and nostril – all are gates where our body receives the nourishment of otherness.” (1)
We asked ourselves the question:
What would happen if we fully embraced otherness in ourselves, in our communities, and in nature?
The result was Theatre Terrific’s production of BEING ANIMAL (2) , performed in Sculpture Park on Granville Island as part of the 2015 Vancouver Fringe Festival.
A cast of 12 actors, often labeled as “other” due to cognitive, physical, mental health, gender and/or cultural differences from the normative, took up the challenge and collaborated in a bold exploration that tested the truth of our relationship with our natural surroundings.
Do we speak the language of water, of wind, of tree, of bird?
The collaborative ensemble consisted of the physicality, language and perceptions of artists, some of whose life experience includes autism, cerebral palsy, brain damage, schizophrenia, Down syndrome, gender uniqueness, and the cultural experience of the Indigenous, Chinese, Filipino, Irish to name a few.
BEING ANIMAL became a musical moving conversation. The work incorporated the park environment such as the trees, grass, confined water, large stone, sky, air — as partners in performance. Using song, dance, music, mask and puppetry, BEING ANIMAL, explored how to truthfully “live” in our world, share thoughts with the environment around us and ultimately find commonality and companionship with the natural world.
How did we do this?
By embracing the gifts of diversity offered up by cast and place.
How to speak with a tree. An actor chooses an audience member to pick a tree and then guides them through a speed date…. The awareness of the tiniest detail as one attempted to impress a tree made for astute and profound conversation.
The life cycle of nature. An actor crawls out of his wheelchair and furiously claws at the earth to get closer to the beloved family members he has lost. Behind him three actors gesture the dance of love, death and ultimate rebirth…an enactment of the continuum that is the natural life cycle.
Value all things. The simple gesture of a cast member gently picking up a stone or a leaf, examining it and then with great respect, giving it as a valuable gift to an audience member endowed the simple object with reverence ….
again and again and again….
BEING ANIMAL closes with a large Mother Earth puppet who slowly appears, and with outspread arms, embraces the cast: guiding them to walk to the water’s edge to raise their arms in praise to the open sky, ocean, trees and wonder of it all.
MISSION: Theatre Terrific pioneers inclusive opportunities for artists of all abilities to develop performance skills and collaborate in the production of theatrical works.
MANDATE: Through its work, Theatre Terrific challenges audiences to be open to the impact of thought-provoking art.
Susanna Uchatius has been the Artistic Director of Theatre Terrific, Western Canada’s longest running inclusive theatre company for artists of all abilities in Vancouver, since 2005. She has written, directed and collaboratively developed over 30 professional, community and site-specific productions. She has pioneered a rigorous and respected accessible ensemble process, that includes Equity and emerging actors of all abilities in the creation of high quality productions tackling universal issues relevant to the human condition.
Photos by Chantele Fry
1. Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous : Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World. New York : Pantheon Books, 1996. Page ix.
2. A direct reference to Abram’s 2010 book of the same name.