Here is the second of the final letters from #legacy. Last week we posted Judith’s letter to her grandson. This week, we have Donna’s. The version in the piece was edited for length, so I have posted the original letter (without edits) here.
It has been forty years since our brief “conversation” but obviously I have not forgotten it. As my first English Department Head you certainly kept a low profile. Before the time to which I now refer, I don’t think I had shared more than a sentence or two with you over the two years I spent at that school. It was in my final days there that you chose to impart these words to “innocent, impressionable” me. I think your “words of wisdom” were actually words of rationalization or maybe they just stemmed from some remote sense of responsibility that you owed me a nod as the head of my department. You recommended that I follow your example and like you, “never be the lamb at anyone’s slaughter”. Having seen you come and go right on the bell, never involving yourself with anything more than mandatory contact with your students, somehow I was not surprised at your “advice”.
Anyway, I think I just nodded and beat a hasty retreat, knowing that your words were not of much value to me. For you see, you were neither the only nor the first English master to influence me, my character and my philosophy.
Ten years before you I had had a much more powerful conversation with a teacher who, like you, had a stern demeanour and frightened most of his students into a cowering silence. His name was Haydn and he was my grade ten English teacher. I went through hell that year. In October I broke my femur badly and was in hospital until mid-December. One of the nurses was Mr. Haydn’s wife. One day she brought me a copy of The Merchant of Venice so I could try to keep up with the class. My very first experience with the bard, it was all Greek to me. However, when I returned to school in January and Mr. Haydn tried to question my fear-frozen class, I was often the only one to offer a tentative answer.
I was relegated to using a cane because of my bad leg, and it was extremely difficult to manage my binder and books with just one arm. Much to my chagrin, one day Haydn kept me back after class at the end of the day to chat about my interest in English literature. He carried my books for me to my locker and kept talking while I struggled to get into my coat and make it to my bus before it left without me. I was embarrassed but mostly relieved to have caught my bus. Being a country girl, missing the bus would mean my parents would have had to drive all the way to town to pick me up. Bad enough that they had to drive to my bus stop a mile from my home because of my leg.
Then, in March I lost my precious little brother to drowning. He had wandered out onto the thin spring ice when he was supposed to have gone to the barn to be with Dad. When I returned to school, Haydn kept me back for a few words again. He asked me if anyone had spoken to me about being exempted from the Final exams. As I had missed the Christmas exams, I automatically assumed I would have to write all the finals. He told me that he would see to it that I would not have to write English. He said I had endured a very rough year and there was no point in my not being exempt in his subject. I was overwhelmed by his thoughtfulness and the sympathetic generosity behind his gruff exterior.
That weekend was the beginning of our Easter vacation. Mr. Haydn was driving to Ottawa with his seven-year-old son that week while his wife stayed back for her job. Their car was hit by a train and Haydn was killed instantly. Miraculously the boy survived. No one ever knew what Haydn had told me. But writing that exam didn’t matter. The legacy of Haydn’s compassion and kindness had been passed along to me. I have carried it with me always.
And so, Wilcox, you see why I was not impressed by your lamb to the slaughter advice. I had already learned that, if the slaughter is worthwhile, I am quite willing to be the lamb.
Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I feel like live theatre requires all my attention. Putting my phone down, so I can take it all in. #HatchTO
I am the dramaturg for #legacy by Rob Kempson, in residence this week at Harbourfront Centre as part of HATCH 2014! I think this project is fascinating because it combines so many disparate elements: integrating older adults who don’t identify as artists, technology, and social media into a new play development process. Part of my work has been to facilitate the creation of a “Twitter script” – a series of tweets that will be sent from the performer’s twitter accounts during both performances on Saturday, April 12.
Audience members with smartphones (and Twitter) will be able to follow the performer’s tweets from designated “Tweet seats”. For those who can’t follow on Twitter (or do not want to) the Twitter script will also be projected on stage at specific points through out the play. Some of the tweets provide subtext or context to what is being on said on stage. Sometimes they share links to songs, articles about issues mentioned in the play, even a funny cat video. For audience members who choose to follow along, the Twitter script will function a bit like Pop Up Video, the popular 90’s TV show that shared “info nuggets” during music videos.
To help facilitate the creation of the Twitter script I gave the women a list of questions that related to the themes or ideas that they discuss in the play. I asked them to respond to each question in the form of a tweet. We then went through the script and arranged the tweets so that they would emphasis what was being said on stage, or sometimes provide a contradictory point of view.
People in the “tweet seats” will be encouraged to respond via twitter while they watch the play. In one scene, the tweets from the audience will be projected on stage and the women will improvise in response to what they read. This is where the experimental nature of HATCH becomes apparent, as well as the courage of the three women we are working with. Not only are they writing and performing — though they don’t identify as writers or performers — they are willing to come in direct contact with audience reactions to their show while on stage. I am more and more in awe of them every day!
The making of “twitter script”
It’s interesting to me that our twitter script and the audience’s responses will also become a record of the play. I don’t know if Joan, Judith, and Donna will continue to tweet after April 12th. Judith has already stated that her best tweet will be at midnight on April 12th and it will read: “Thank god I never have to tweet again!” But even if their accounts lay abandoned, the legacy of this creation process will remain in the twitterverse. It serves as an example of how the immense amount of content many of us generate and share every day becomes part of our own online legacy.
Now that’s something to think about before you post another funny cat video, or a picture of what you made for lunch!
The public presentations of #legacy are at 2pm & 8pm this coming Saturday, April 12th. Click here for more information & the link to buy tickets.
The process of working on #legacy has been unique, both from my work as an artist, but also from my work as an artist-educator in community or school settings. As an artist (and primarily a writer), I often work alone: toiling away for hours on my own before I ever show a piece to someone else for collaboration and feedback. As an artist-educator, everyone is out in the open, as I work with participants to create the final piece from their raw material.
#legacy has become a hybrid model of the two–where I’m using the raw material created by my co-creators (Joan, Judith, and Donna) to create the script with the support of dramaturg Samantha Serles and the design integration of Beth Kates. Next week, I’ll be adding Isabelle Ly into the mix as our fearless Stage Manager. In short, it’s been a real exercise in collaboration. In many ways, I feel as though I’m receiving so much information from so many sources, and my job is to corral it into something that resembles a digestible piece of theatre.
However, a great deal of the process has been conversations followed by homework. Then we get together again, eat some cheese, have more conversations followed by homework. Repeat. Add devilled eggs (seriously), tea, video, more conversation, and roasted almonds. And cake. Seriously, we are very well fed at our rehearsals.
The homework that I have assigned has provided me with a wealth of material–interesting articles, stories, reflections, songs, recipes, letters, and ideas. Many of them are included in the make up of the presentation that we are creating together. Many more have been delightful for me to read, but didn’t make the final cut (as it were). Either way, I thought that I might use this blog post to share some of the amazing stuff that’s come into my inbox.
May You Always – The McGuire Sisters
Joan shared this piece as a part of our fundraising tea, but it’s also made its way into the script. It’s become one of my new favourites… largely due to the sweeping string section:
Donna spent a little over a month in Florida, and sent us some amazing photos and tweets during that time. One of my favourites was her reflection on “Legacy Park”, a housing development in Davenport, Florida.
She wrote: “Right now we are frittering away some time in Florida, a little retirement experiment that we thought we should try. The next development up the road from us is called Legacy Park. Coincidence? I see it almost everyday. Here it is, a suburban housing development on a field that very recently was either a pine forest or an orange grove, very un-treed and nothing to make one think of a legacy at all.”
Judith’s iPhone Interaction
@rob_kempson Gaining Fame. My name noticed on H’front web site as David’s wife by Industry Canada employee! She will promote.
I was sitting in a public waiting area sending a tweet. A man, several years younger than me, leaned across and commented on how adept I seemed to be on my iPhone. He had an old fashioned cell phone. I commented that My iPhone was like gold dust to me. He asked if I was sending an email. I said no, I was on twitter sending a tweet.
“You know how to use twitter!” he said aghast “Why would you want to do that?” I said I had no choice because I was involved in a project that required it. He said, “I am so impressed. I wouldn’t have a clue. You are the first older person I have ever met who knew anything about twitter. Good luck to you.”
Mom’s Christmas Salad
Joan also sent in her mom’s recipe for Christmas Salad–a jello salad that is simply packed with sugar, but also incredibly delicious. There is some video footage of Joan making this salad in the show, and we got to taste the spoils of her work after the fundraising tea.
1 cup crushed pineapple, well-drained. (Reserve juice for second part.)
Dissolve Jello powder in hot water. Add a few drops of green food colouring to deepen the colour. Add cold water. Chill until partially set. Add pineapple. Pour into the bottom of a deep jelly mould.
One 3 oz package Lemon Jello
1 cup hot water
1 cup pineapple juice
One 8 oz package cream cheese
½ pint whipping cream, whipped
Dissolve Jello powder in hot water. Add cold water. Chill until partially set. Soften cream cheese and beat. When jello is partially set, beat cream cheese and jello together. Fold in whipped cream. Pour gently into mould on top of first layer.
One 3 oz strawberry or raspberry Jello
1 cup hot water
1 scant cup cold water
Dissolve Jello powder in hot water. Add cold water. Chill until partially set. Pour gently on top of second layer.Chill the whole thing until firm. Turn out onto a large plate. Cut into wedges, or large spoonfuls.
Notes: Serves 12-16. This is beautiful at Christmas time, but tasty anytime.
So tired of eating Christmas Salad. Can I change my #legacy?
This past Sunday, we held a tea in support of #legacy–because let’s be honest, every project needs a fundraiser. The tea was held at Humber Valley United Church, where I have long been a paid soloist and section lead in the choir, and the three co-creators are all members. We decided to hold an “after church” event featuring nine songs selected by them and performed by me. The idea was that each of their songs would in some way reflect the legacy of their past, present, and future. They would introduce the songs, and I would sing them. While not directly representative of what’s in the show, it was very much in the spirit of it.
With full tea service, vintage decor, and wonderful stories, the event was a huge success. I put it together using Storify (which is a super cool social media storytelling platform), so you can check it out here. Take a special look at Joan’s “Christmas Salad” featured at the end of the story.
I couldn’t be more excited to introduce my co-creators and performers for #legacy with this video. Joan, Judith, and Donna are all new to Twitter, and do not self-identify as artists. Yet it is these same three incredible women who are writing and performing in this piece.
As we get closer to the live performance experiment, they’ll be tweeting more and more. So follow them to find out what we’re working on, offer your own thoughts on #legacy, and interact with the performance piece as it’s being created.
It’s something I’ve been grappling with since I was a kid – a bit of nature and a whole bunch of nurture. I’ve spent a lot of time tackling, accepting, analyzing, examining and attempting to surrender to this condition, though it often cripples my ability to express myself fully, to enjoy my wonderful life fully and to feel joy fully.
When I reveal this to my friends/family, they are often surprised. I create bold, physical work and spend a lot of my time advocating for positive body image and changes in and around the way we evaluate/punish women in the media for their bodies. I guess it’s surprising that someone who seems so confident in her body would struggle in this way. The truth is, my passion in regards to this issue, and the work I create, come directly from the dysmorphia. It’s how I respond to the voice in my head that deems me worthless because of how I look. And that’s truly what it is: a feeling of worthlessness.
Ironic (or perhaps sadistic?) of me to choose to work in an industry that is frightfully punishing, limiting, and unrealistic bordering on ludicrous when it comes to women’s bodies, and what their bodies represent to the world (this is also happening with men, of course, but it’s still especially damaging with women).
So I exist in a very interesting middle place – loved by so many friends and family members for who I am and what I look like and blessed with a beautifully full and fulfilling life, and caught in an agony about my flesh, my curves, my shape – all exascerbated by an industry that actually does see me as ‘fat’, ‘overweight’ and really quite expendable because of it.
I recently went shopping for a wedding dress and the days leading up to the experience were stressful for my BDD and I. I had many fears. Would the sample sizes be too small? Will I hate everything? Will the size and flabbiness of my arms make me feel like a grotesque female Quasimodo? Yes – this is how extreme these feelings get. But I had to start shopping, since you have to order your dress a lifetime in advance of the day of your wedding, or so the blogs tell me. So off we went: me and Mom.
For the most part, things went well. One store, Ferre Sposa (and yes I’m naming names) had sample sizes that were TINY. I didn’t fit into any of the ones I tried on there. This didn’t happen in other stores. It didn’t make me feel great. Or good. Or in any way excited about my wedding. I name them because I think they should know, and so should you.
I ended up buying my gown at Mrs. Bridal Boutique. They were friendly, low-key and had an exclusive selection of gowns in the style I was looking for.
So I was happy – dress I wanted, in my price range, my Mother was happy, too (miracle!).
Maybe my body issues would stay at bay?
When Kelly, my lovely consultant, took my measurements to order the dress, she mentioned the size I was, and BOOM – trigger city.
Bridal gowns are always made 2 sizes smaller than other gowns so what would usually be a size 10 is a size 14 in bridal, which is maddening. I mean, seriously? Doesn’t that seem topsy turvy? Can none of this be made easier? Why not make them 2 sizes bigger? Help those of us with some psychological minefields out with a bit of vanity sizing for our very special day? Nope.
And the truth is that even as I type this I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed that I even have these feelings – that I feel insecure about my body in this way. I feel like I’m betraying my gender, or I am being overly sensitive, or I should just get over it. But the feelings happen, and I can’t ignore them, or they get stronger. So…shame party over. Back to the story.
NB: This is NOT my dress. This is actually me during a tech rehearsal for the play Mambo Italiano. But this sums up many of my feelings during the dress buying process.
The most telling moment of my own insecurity was when I asked Kelly: ‘What happens if my body changes between now and my wedding?’ I was convinced that I would lose control: emotionally eat myself into oblivion, and out of that dress.
So Kelly gently let me know that it wasn’t a problem, and that they have plenty of time to make alterations.
And then she took a moment to herself, looked up from putting my dress back on the hanger and said: ‘But I really hope you don’t lose weight; you look so great in this dress and you’re beautiful.’
I was stunned and overwhelmed. Maybe because the dialogue inside my brain was the opposite of that thought, or maybe because I assumed the wedding industry would do everything it could to encourage me to lose weight, be perfect, join some godawful boot camp immediately to cure me from my flabby, hideous imperfections.
Turns out: not really. Well, not ALL of the industry is doing that. Trust me: a lot of it does. Almost every blog, magazine, wedding show, thread, you name it – they will tell you how to tone your arms, lose the flab, slim down, bulk up, all of it. I’m sure they could tell you how to grow a limb, if you wanted to.
This experience made me reflect that maybe part of the reason I play the characters I do, and part of the reason my latest project, BroadFish, deals with transformation is because what I’m really wrestling with is what being in my very own skin and body is like.
What do I call myself? How do I see myself? What is it to be a bride? To be larger than life? To be healthy? To sit comfortably in my skin?
I’m not sure I know any concrete answers yet. What I know is that being able to create art, to express myself and to make work that can open a dialogue around these issues is a blessing that has saved me from living my life in one, long, joyless panic attack.
And for that, I am grateful.
Experience any of the same things? Let me know what you think! @melissadags
This project, as with many of my projects, went without a name for a long time. I knew that we were going to explore the nature of legacy—the nature of leaving things behind. But I also knew that we were going to explore how the legacy of the internet (and Twitter in particular) is connected to that overall understanding of legacy. Or even if it is. I knew that these incredible women would be tweeting. But I hadn’t yet picked a title, and I’m still not sure that #legacy is the right one. However, given the universal nature of the “hashtag” as a symbol of the Twitter age, I figured #legacy wasn’t too far off.
Unfortunately/fortunately, but not surprisingly, many people on Twitter have used that very hashtag for a multiplicity of reasons. And as always, the internet both surprises and scares me. Once we settled on that name, I decided to spend time searching that hashtag to see what the world was projecting as a legacy versus what we were talking about. And inspired by Melissa’s post about the joys of the urban dictionary, I’ve decided to categorize those findings here.
Apparently the whole of the internet is convinced that every sports achievement (or failure) is a legacy left. I mean, I can understand that people like sports (I may not be one of those people, but I get it in theory). I can also understand the bonds made in a team, the shared experience of struggle and work that can define a time in a person’s life. I can especially understand the concept of sports as a legacy when related to pride in a favourite team, or an athlete who has passed away, or a national event (like the Olympics), or the awards that go along with sporting events at every level of play. In fact, I have no problem with sports being a #legacy all over the internet. I just wonder why the arts aren’t more often hashtagged in the same way. Surely there are people who like to attend the arts (not as many as sports, but still some). Surely a shared experience of a team is reflected in all of the performing arts (even a solo show requires others to make it happen). We have pride for the work of certain artists or companies, artists who have passed away, national scale arts events, and even awards. But we’re not hashtagging those as a legacy. It makes me wonder how that public opinion might change.
The next most common posts tagged this way are related to war or Nationalism in some way. I think that’s more what I expected to find. Legacy is a big term, one that makes people think on a grand scale. And that usually means that they’re thinking about something that has happened over a long time period or a large area. So these ones make sense to me (not that sports didn’t… it just surprised me). The sadder part is the ones that come close to promoting war, or promoting violence in some way. It’s always a tricky line between supporting a country’s troops while not necessarily supporting the violent action that goes with them. Elegies
The hashtag search also yields a number of posts about the deceased. This is where I see the closest connections to the piece that we’re developing. The co-creators (Joan, Judith, and Donna) have returned to memories of those passed again and again in our discussions. We’ve talked about when we feel most connected to our parents, our grandparents, their precious heirlooms, etc. The people in our lives who have passed away leave a legacy, regardless of their actions or words. They leave a legacy simply in their absence. I can’t think of a smaller, more private thing to post in the public sphere. So I guess there are times when legacy isn’t all that grand or large.
Then there are the posts from hippies and hippy organizations about finding your inner light and leaving your proudest legacy. These provide endless entertainment, and web spirals where you end up watching a great number of videos about family that will make you cry. I don’t recommend the spiral. But I do recommend checking out the services offered by some of these organizations. The fact that they have workable financial models and the arts struggle daily to survive would be comical if it weren’t also a little depressing.
And there are the occasional posts about the arts. Mostly from me or my collaborators or someone connected to this project. So maybe the arts community should begin hashtagging themselves with #legacy, if only to begin to build a public consciousness around the impact that art can have on a community. It might begin to change the way that people value the arts more broadly, because it might make us look less like the nerd in the corner and more like the jock with the most yearbook signatures. Or it might just change the way my tweet deck feed looks. Because it is only Twitter.
Maybe I just need to be more careful about choosing my show titles.
Good morning Internet! I’m Rob—the director and co-creator of #legacy at HATCH this year. #legacy is a performance project that features three women over 65, all of whom are new to Twitter, and all of whom don’t identify as artists. I love working in community and educational settings, and this project provides me with an opportunity to put that work into a professional arts context. I am truly fortunate to have their trust, and the trust and support of the HATCH/Harbourfront Centre team.
When I developed the project idea for #legacy, I think I thought it would be easy. Not “easy” in a this-will-happen-without-crisis kind of way but more of a this-can’t-possibly-fail-artistically kind of way. I suppose that’s pretentious of me. In my opinion, one should always enter an artistic project with a little bit of fear. A little bit of concern that it won’t go well, or it will all fall apart. That kind of fear is healthy—it makes you work harder and makes you more accountable to yourself. But I didn’t have that kind of fear this time around. What I had was confidence: seniors-on-Twitter-while-talking-about-legacy confidence. And surely that couldn’t fail.
But my idea that it will be easy is long gone. You see, all three of my co-creators and performers have joined Twitter and all three have a pretty good idea of how to use it (though I did do a bit of a “refresher” course today). You should follow them. Joan is @Joan_Belford2, Donna is @mccroq and Judith is @judith_dove. They’re smart, and willing to learn more about how to be effective Tweeters. So that part is working.
All three of them have written beautiful, poignant, hilarious and heartfelt reflections on the very nature of legacy, and what it has meant to them. And what it might mean to them in the future. They are sharing so much of themselves, and so much of their wisdom. It’s incredibly raw source material.
And I’ve begun crafting it into a sort-of script, alongside the help of my dear friend and dramaturg Samantha Serles. Beth Kates has started to shape the visual landscape of the piece—a virtual bounty of technological riches.
But despite all of that positivity, it’s not “easy”. I think it can’t be. Not even in the everyone-gets-along-so-well-that-collaboration-is-the-best kind of way (even though that’s true). Easy isn’t what this project requires. There’s a version of it that could be done in that way, sure, but what we’ve begun doing instead is asking hard questions, delving deep, understanding more about ourselves, about the way that art is made, and likely making some mistakes. I know all of this sounds a lot like navel-gazing, and that it really represents my meanderings about the artistic process, but it’s also true. This version of the project results in pauses in the conversation, the occasional tear, the incredible risk of writing something down that might not make you feel good.
This is the first of a number of blog posts about this project—and among the first of many about this year’s HATCH 2014 season. You should come to all of the work, because it represents some fascinating artistic explorations. But you should also come because nothing that you’ll see is easy. And I think that’s probably a good thing.
“After the years and years of weaker and waterier imitations, we now find ourselves rejecting the very notion of a holy stage. It is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep the children good.”