Backstage: Innovation comes naturally to festival mentor

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Public Relations Liaison Michael D. Reid talks with physical theatre mentor Stacey Horton about the upcoming festival, and her own award-winning work.

It seems only natural that Stacey Horton would have been invited to participate in the upcoming Festival of New Works as a mentor to three Year II Canadian College of Performing Arts students who are creating and developing physical theatre pieces as their mentorship projects.

Like festival participants who are encouraged to creatively have their voices heard, guided by mentors in disciplines such as choral music, directing, playwriting, spoken word, choreography, film, musical theatre and stage management, Horton has herself been mentored while innovatively telling a personal story, as she did with her dance piece Concussion.

The Victoria-based independent dance theatre artist, choreographer and new College faculty member won the 2018 Chrystal Dance Prize for Independent Artists for Concussion. The prize money took Horton to Germany to collaborate with renowned Berlin dramaturge Gabe Beier during a two-week residency. Concussion then premiered at Berlin’s Ada Studios last summer.

Inspired by Horton’s own experience, her fusion of dance, music, voice and visual effects to convey the disorienting and terrifying experience of struggling with the trauma and recovery from having had multiple concussions began life as a workshop production with Dance Victoria in September of 2017. An expanded version featuring live soundscapes by composer David Parfit was presented in January at Intrepid Theatre Club.

Horton said it took her awhile to realize she had suffered a concussion when a set made from a PVC pipe collapsed and hit her on the head during a rehearsal for a show she was working on in 2016. First came the headaches, then a feeling of fogginess, memory problems and anxiety, as well as having to deal with being stigmatized and losing a sense of self.

“I feel fortunate that I got this chance to present my story,” said the physical theatre instructor whose piece featured ping pong balls scattering around the stage to evoke fragmented memories.

Researching the subject for her piece that uses humour, visual ingenuity and drama to evoke the emotional experience of living with a concussion, Horton said her interaction with representatives from Cridge Centre for the Family’s Brain Injury Services was an eye-opener.

“I learned there are so many people who don’t want to admit this,” says Horton, who leads a normal life but admits she sometimes wonders whether it’s the concussion that made her just bump into something, or suddenly forget a word. “There’s a high level of denial.”

She said she was also surprised to learn how many lives have been touched by brain conditions.

“A fellow dancer said ‘My mom had concussions,’” Horton recalled. “Everybody knows somebody. The brain is so complex, whether it’s a concussion, or a brain injury down to Alzheimer’s.”

Horton was heartened to hear that Concussion had inspired some College students who had come to see it.

“She said, ‘This is exactly the kind of show I want to do,’” Horton recalled one Year II student saying.

The pieces that the students Horton is mentoring are creating in collaboration with performers are generally movement, dance and theatre-oriented, she says.

Tentatively titled Mujer, Regina Rios is developing movement piece about the experience of being a woman in sections such as birth, discover, play, menstruation, body image, catcalling and reconciliation.

“It recalls her experiences growing up in Mexico and her relationship to the country itself,” Horton said. “Regina is using a song that she found with lyrics that have been inspiring her.”

For Dreamcatcher, Geri Schaer works with shadows and projection to depict an imaginary, dreamlike world inhabited by make-believe characters as seen through a child’s eyes.

To create I Am…, Pedro Siqueira, who has a strong dance background, is pushing himself by creating something that is not exclusively dance-based, says Horton.

“In each rehearsal he shows something he has found online,” she said. “He’s moving around mirrors on wheels. He has some found text, a poem, and it’s in four sections, with an overture, solid movement and then theatrical interactions between performers.”

Horton says the Festival of New Works is valuable in that it provides a rare opportunity for students to create and stage their own work from material that inspires them.

“They have so many opportunities to perform in plays but this is an opportunity for them to put together something that lets them have their voice and just test it out,” she said.

Director of Education and Programming Heather Burns said the festival is one of her favourite events because it gives students a chance to showcase their creative strengths.

“It allows students to shine creating projects that come from their area of passion and interest,” she said, adding it also nicely complements the work Horton does with them in class.

“We’ve had quite a resurgence in interest in physical theatre so it’s great having Stacey able to step in and bring her expertise, to share that load with our other Physical Theatre mentor & faculty lead, Treena Stubel.

“I love the chance it gives her to work with a really small group of students in this way, to bring her own creative voice and process into the college, which is a wonderful opportunity for a new faculty member to be able to do.”

View Photo Credits

Stacey Horton in Concussion | photo credit Gillian Davidson