A multi-faceted combination of performance is what Mary Steadman's This Is The Land has to offer, and it is playing at the Vault Festival later this month. Using abstract expression to explore human relationship with various aspects of nature, it merges the seasons in particular with relevant social issues of the contemporary world.
Giving us an insight into the creation of her work, Mary has answered a few questions- read on to find out more.
What can you tell us about the show, and what drew you to directing it?
This Is The Land has been created through my PhD study, which is an investigation into the ‘eerie’ in performance. The eerie clings to certain physical spaces or landscapes; it is a force that is unseen which creates a feeling of unease. These unseen forces that work on our lives are what interest me in performance making. Inspired by folk-horror and the eerie-folk, which is very in vogue in film, and Paul Wright’s film Arcadia (2016) with its ‘mash-up’ of images that explore our changing relationship with the British countryside. I wanted to create a performance that draws on these themes and explores these through the ‘rave’ culture slogan of ‘dance yourself free’, and folk music. We looked at how through the medium of dance, music, movement, live vocal looping, and an atmospheric soundtrack we could capture a spirit of this land that is embodied in the Celtic figure of the ‘Trickster’- a shape-shifting archetype that embodies this spirit of counterculture, resistance, and renewal.
How is this show innovative in its presentation of the cycle of the seasons?
Its structure is cyclical, as a non-linear journey through Spring to Winter. The seasons are a metaphor for a life-cycle, and as a way of connecting us with a more elemental cyclical sense of existence. The Spring is a time to ‘begin again’, to start anew and the resilience that is needed to begin, the Summer is a time of memories of freedom, expansion, longing, Autumn a time of resistance and endurance, the coming dark, and darker forces, and Winter to sleep, to rest, to renew, to survive. This sense of our instinctive, elemental nature is presented through this cycle, with stories relating to each season reflecting these themes.
What makes this appealing to audiences?
This Is The Land resists narrative as it invites an audience to feel, with its atmospheric soundtrack, imagery, humour, and compelling visceral movement - it's a sensual wake up call. It appeals to the eyes, ears, to feeling in our muscles and bones, and to let go of ‘what happens next’ as it searches for what is resounding in the land to resonate with the audience's own experience and stories of the land.
How has the process of personifying abstract concepts been, and how do you ensure that these are understood by those watching?
These concepts are gradually introduced through the creative process, with the performers imagining themselves as shapeshifting to tell these stories of the rural land that is not idyllic. We framed the theatrical world as a ‘thin’ place, where the living encounter the dead - or the spectral past. The performers become folk figures ‘of’ the land, changing into animals, and non-human beings - they tell many stories which draw on the imagery of folk-tales: birds, weather, the sea, times of day, moons, waves, tides, snow, horses, foxes, and many more. This places the audience in an elemental world on stage, where actions and events are guided by other non-human forces.
How is it different directing multi-disciplined performers?
The task of directing is to find a common language that does not diminish each individual performer’s discipline, but draws on these to create a multi-dimensional piece that embraces these talents of musicians, dancers, and singers to discover innovative and unusual ways of storytelling.
How is the show relevant to society today?
Increasingly, the global economy forces our lives in directions that we seem to have no control over. The piece is not about this as such but more of a response to how we are drawn into ways of thinking and being that seem to ‘eerily’ drive us. It considers how we are deeply connected to the land but this is increasingly ‘owned’ by a few, with prejudices, social inequity, greed, and an endless need to have more that come with this. It seeks to ignite a spirit of counterculture where people choose to live differently, to make their own choices about how they want to live, and if we want a future on this planet it's down to us to imagine what we want that to be for ourselves.
Can you sum up the stories told in this piece, in just one sentence?
Stories of resistance, resilience, and renewal.
Thank you to Mary for discussing your show, and best of luck for the run soon!
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Additional thanks to Matthew Parker for coordinating this interview.