IT ALL BEGAN WITH YES: A conversation with Andraea Sartison of One Trunk Theatre
We asked local theatre artist and educator extraodinaire, Pauline Broderick, to have a chat with I Dream of Diesel director and co-creator, Andraea Sartison (pictured left). Pauline is a veteran drama educator who is delighted to get to ask questions of a new generation of experimental theatre artists. She is part of the design team working on the development of the new provincial arts curriculum. Currently she is privileged to be teaching a class at the University of Manitoba called Arts Infusion in the Digital Age where students collaboratively create performance.
PB: What was the catalyst for this theatrical experiment?
AS: I was really interested in collaborating with a musician. That is a lot of what One Trunk does. We try to make theatre with artists from other disciplines. We decided to work with music this time because it is such a big thing in Winnipeg and it’s a big thing for me. We sought out a musician who would be a collaborator. That is more difficult than you would think. A lot of people are busy or uninterested or didn’t quite get it but when I called Scott Nolan he said “YES! I’m in!” At the time I didn’t even know a lot about Scott but he came highly recommended as an awesome storyteller and a great musician. It was an unplanned match made in heaven.
PB: So it all started with the impulse to work with a musician?
AS: Yes. The reason that I’m after interdisciplinary collaboration is that theatre itself is interdisciplinary. In my own life and my own practise I have always done choir and music and painting and theatre. I think the draw to theatre was that I could combine all of those various interests into a living, story based art form. It feels like a very natural thing to do. In the past we have collaborated with hip hop artists and with dancers but we haven’t done music and we hadn’t done folk music which is such a Winnipeg thing. We started listening to Scott’s music and we got to know it really well then responded to it in a range of different ways. It was the feeling of the music that inspired us. His music is very poetic. We pulled characters and themes from the music and developed their stories. Even now, after the show has taken on its own life, you can find the connections to his music.
PB: Tell me about the beginning steps on the journey from YES to the refinements of a staged production.
AS: We started working on idea development in 2013, so we’ve been at it for a couple of years. We did a whole bunch of workshops. Our first workshop was an image based exploration. We listened to the music then went looking for artifacts that might fit the story. We built scenes with these objects. We identified characters and created sequences using the objects that illustrated the characters hopes and dreams. We performed them for each other and talked about what they made us think and feel.
PB: That was phase one. What did phase two look like?
AS: After that, we worked on physical based explorations of character and stories. We were mostly developing images and characters at that time. The Carol Shields Festival gave us a deadline to work toward. We had to tie a lot of loose ends together to perform. That’s when Claire Therese came on board. She was a really important part of the writing process. She started pushing us in the direction of a story that has A-Z. Our first attempt at A-Z was very visual. It had maybe 35 words. It was very physical. We had a full set and projections and music so it was very sensual and very evocative. From that Theatre Projects Manitoba invited us to be part of their season so this whole last year has been focused on the written script.
PB: What does that process involve?
That’s been Claire, Gwen and myself. The intention was to have a full script to work with. We did some good writing. It took the full year. It finally feels like we have a script. Everyone has had a hand in everyone else’s work. I know there is not one single scene that has not been altered by someone else.
PB: How has that sense of collective creation played out in this phase of production?
AS: Over the last few months we have started to take on more focused roles. Claire did the last draft and edits. Gwen has taken care of design elements and I have taken on the role of producer/director. We trust each other in those roles because no matter how great collective creation is, it doesn’t work to have three directors.
PB: What role does projection technology play in I Dream of Diesel?
AS: In our show the technology helps us paint a picture of “place”. We made a collective choice to make the set pieces very simple and nostalgic. When they are projected upon, another layer of experience is illuminated. We’re interested in using projection to tell the story; to be a character in the story; to transport an audience to a place. Technology is successful when it is fully integrated into the story. It’s the same with music. It has to be fully integrated.
PB: Tell me about the story?
AS: A lot of this piece for me has to do with where the dream intersects with reality. It has to do with the character’s dreams and when they have to let go and face reality or when the dream becomes reality. This play is a conversation between what is real and what is not. Dream and Reality is a big thing. There is also a bit of a haunting in the show; not as in a ghost story but more about a haunting of prairie lore and ancestry; an awareness of the soul of the prairie. It’s also about coffee. The opening invitation to the audience is about sharing a coffee with them. In a lot of ways it’s a prairie symbol of sharing stories. It’s a love story about our relationship to the land. I think the story really speaks to women our age. It about having a dream or an ideal of what your life is going to be and then arriving at the moment when you realize what your life is and being OK with that.