I was lost, I was riding around in circles. I was getting nervous. I thought I would never find the space. Eventually I saw a small group of people huddling outside, and I made my way in. I found myself at the performance of Much too Much to Say directed by Zorya Arrow in a small building on Ellice Ave. (Winnipeg) at sundown. The space looked like it was in flux. Different patches of flooring and paint revealed its many histories. It was clear, the space and the bodies inside it informed each other. The cast Arlo Reva, Arne McPherson, Bo van der Midden, Emma Beech, and Arrow fed off their surroundings and each others bodies. I was moved, and I still am when I think back to visceral feelings I had from watching another’s story spoken through the body.
Arrow's work is generous in the way it pulls from differing mediums with such freedom. Clown, dance, theatre, devised theatre performance art are just some of the tools she has available to her. I asked her specifically about devised theatre (as I define as a home made recipe of relative art forms which often mirror the confusion and chaos of daily life) and how it relates to her. “I work in the spirit of devised” in which she went on to define devised as “theatre work that is made through doing”.
What makes devised odd yet poignant is its ability to take the ordinary and turn it on its head, leaving an openness for the audience to decide where they place meaning. Arrow is a master devised but also an artist that is not defined by genre or medium. Her work examines the fragility of the human experience; Grief, exhaustion and big questions about life and death. I talked to Arrow about her inspirations, meaning, and why she does what she does. She is currently researching with Sick + Twisted a theatre company that explores the experiences of people living with varying mobilities and disabilities.
"i try to create a container to free up and enable emotional responses in the viewer. So in this way, the visceral emotional experience becomes the by-product of doing the work."
How did you start dancing and how did it evolve into performance/theatre/devised theatre etc.?
My big sister was my first dance teacher. I was her guinea pig, model, muse, and side-kick for all general performative endeavours. We were homeschooled, and ample time was given to exploring our artistic pursuits. For me, dance was always connected to a broader picture of art making. A tool to be used, one of many. This concept kept me going throughout my formal training whenever I was doubting my choice to pursue dance. I like having this kinetic knowledge which allows me to move in a physically thoughtful way. This tool has become the base that my artistic practice stands on.
After four years of physical, emotional and mental dedication completing the Professional Program of the School of Contemporary Dancers, studying devised theatre and later clown really opened me up to new tools and ways of working on performance which have shaped the direction of my work. In clown I learned the deeper interconnections between the body's movements and the body's emotions. I owe much of my continued artistic development to interactions and collaborations with artists, friends and people close to me in my life; great learning and shaping.
How To Recreate Human Cremated Remains, 2017 , Courtesy of artist
You talk about your sister as your teacher for dance, but was there anyone who helped shape your later pursuits in clown and devised?
Yes, for clown I had influences early on without even realizing it. As a kid I loved watching the physical humour of actors such as Mr. Bean, Jim Carrey, and Jackie Chan. David MacMurray Smith later became my first teacher in clown and hugely shaped the way I think about clown work, the performer’s relationship to audience, and performance in general. For Devised Theatre, I was shown through the door by Claire Borody in a 4th year honours class at the University of Winnipeg.
How do you pull from your emotional life and research to create your performances?
I believe emotions are important to listen to, how they sit in the body is information. This is what fuels my work. Thinking about my own experience in the world, my surroundings and how I move through the world brings up questions. My current questions usually become my guides when I am making a work. A sort of ever-present floating soft voice, or colour, or sheet, blowing around in my head…while I fumble around trying exercises and movements with myself or performers; that is my research. It is mostly an intuitive process, I either say yes or no to impulses along the way. For me the lines between performance and life often become blurred. My work holds the desire for communication, the desire to tell a story.
Sounds like being in tune with the physicality of the moment is important to your work? Can you talk about an instance when you felt an emotion viscerally and how/if it later showed up in your work?
I try to create a container to free up and enable emotional responses in the viewer. So in this way, the visceral emotional experience becomes the by-product of doing the work. It is the process of figuring out what elements or shapes to bring to the table to facilitate this visceral experience for the viewers, often this means putting myself on display in an emotionally raw state.
For example, my YouTube tutorial video, How To Recreate Human Cremated Remains. I wanted to be able to hold and touch my partner’s remains. I decided to pursue replicating them as I was not able to touch the actual remains. I found little to no information on how to replicate remains online, so I guessed. I made a video of this experience because there was a gap there on YouTube, but also because there was high potential for the experience to be emotional for me and I was curious to have that filmed for myself. Deciding to post the video to YouTube was as much a joke to myself as it was a vulnerable invitation for people to perhaps feel something through my raw experience.
Can you speak a little bit about the process of creating much too much too say?
much too much to say was a commission from Company Link. Funding for the project was applied for while Scott, my partner, was alive and well. We got funding and shortly afterwords he died suddenly. That changed everything, and my original idea went out the window. We pushed the project back, deciding to go ahead with it. I found a space, and we rented it for 6 weeks. We had 5 weeks to research, build and finesse the work, and 1 week for performances. I didn’t know what I was going to make, and I still don’t really know what I made. It was a conjoining of the wonderful, supportive energy from the people involved. We started by cleaning the space. It was filthy and had no bathroom. We cleaned the walls and patched a bit of the floor. That helped to make it feel like it was ours. The space really shaped the piece that ended up coming out. All the movement material that we developed was made in that space. Ultimately, it was a learning experience in adapting to the curve balls of life.
much too much to say, 2017. Courtesy of artist
From watching the performance I could see that the space not only contained the performance but also heavily influenced it. Can you speak about how your fellow cast mates interacted with the space and how it differed from your own interpretations?
We did a lot of improvising in the space together. Each performer brought their own skills to the table which influenced how they interacted with the space, be it with sound, text, or movement. I think one of the differences was that I had to be thinking of practical elements as well, such as how we would facilitate the audience moving through the space. We all became quite attached to the space, the hole in the wall where we would put our little lint balls and stray hairs, and the way we would roll up the heavy store front window blind when we got to the space to let the light in; I do believe we found a common affection for that fairly grungy space after all the time we spent in it together.
Do you find it difficult moving between roles as a performer, director and writer?
Moving between roles as performer and director is for sure tricky, but also useful. I like to know how something feels from the inside, and it is hard to get a sense of that when you are only on the outside. That said, when I am in my own work it is hard to really know what experience the audience is getting, even if you are filming rehearsals, video is just not the same. I like working with an outside eye if I am performing in a work that I am making. Writing for me is a fairly solitary process, it doesn't interact in the same way with directing and performing.
Can you talk a little bit about what collaborating feels like as a director?
I try to give performers space to try things with a balance of some guidance as well. At the beginning of a process I am bad at this, leaving thing too open, then as we work it gets clearer what is needed and I make more concrete decisions. I try to listen as much as possible to the performers and their needs, ideas, and experience being inside the work, this feeds the work enormously.
Good Morning and Good Night, 2013. Courtesy of artist.
What are you currently working on, and is it related to work you have made in the past?
I just finished working on a video project through Video Pool’s New Artist In Media Arts Fund, as well I am performing in and acting as an outside eye for other projects. After finishing much too much to say I felt really tired. I needed a break from that subject matter and leading projects. Having opportunities to be creatively engaged in other peoples works since then has been really great.
Frontis image: Hue Quilted Windowpane, 2016. Dir. Lasha Mowchun.
Find more of Arrow's projects here.