Deep 2.0 at Silence Residency (Hiljaisuus residenssi)

From July 8th through the 21st, I worked on an original musical theatre project titled “Deep 2.0” at Silence Residency in a small village called Kaukonen in Kittilä, in northern Finland. It was for the continuous development of “Deep- the musical,” a performance about the deep-sea creatures, which was premiered in Vapaan taiteen tila last year. Silence Residency is run by Silence Festival (Hiljaisuus festivaali), an annual multidisciplinary performing arts festival. This 2-week residency process culminated in a demo performance for the villagers on Saturday, July 20th.

The working group consisted of me as the project leader, Tanja Männistö, Georgie Goater, Maikki Palm and Elina Sarno (with her 10-month-old son).

A lot of things happened during the residency, and here are some of my highlights.

Quality of time and light

I’d never been to the region of Lapland during summertime. What does it feel like to live in a remote village where there is no dark night and only daylight all day?—I was curious.

When I arrived there, one of the first things I noticed was the quality of time. People tend to feel busy and tense mentally in the city and more relaxed and slower in the countryside. That was certainly the case in Kaukonen. Without any strict schedule to follow or any store to go to nearby, the villagers seem to own their time. No rush. Everyone moves leisurely and minds his or her own business in the formidable quietude of northern nature. Wild reindeers and rabbits paid frequent visits in the backyard of the house we were staying at. It’s just part of the everyday scenery in the village.

And the light. In sync with the languidness of time, the light felt soft and slow on my skin. It continued on and on, permeating the mind of the whole village and its air. This peculiar quality of light and the lack of darkness started to disorient me shortly after I arrived. Even though my bedroom had nice curtains to shut out the light during the night, my mind was feeling the impact in a subtle way; It was very hard to feel the passage of time since the shade of light never really changed throughout the day. Nonetheless, I did enjoy the early morning before everyone else in the house woke up. I would walk into the living room and sit by the window. Clear white light pierced through to embrace the table where I would work for an hour or so by myself. A sparrow would rest on the windowsill and watch me curiously. The quietest, most comforting time I had when I was there.

Kaukonen, Finland
Kaukonen, Finland

Putting together different pieces of a puzzle

In terms of the work we did during the residency, my primary responsibility as the leader was to create a dramaturgical and musical structure for the ideas and expressions generated by the working group members. I was also directing the show and performing in it, too. A lot of stuff to do, but it was my attempt to fuse the collaborative process and my artistic autonomy somehow.

Tökäri, our working/performing space

As much as I was holding the big key to determine how the piece was formed, the artistic contributions of other members were also very crucial. Each of us had a different background in performing arts. Tanja has been working in youth theatre and is also a visual artist, Georgie and Maikki are well-versed in the contemporary dance field, and Elina has done a lot of puppetry and object theatre work. I wanted each one’s expertise to be integrated into the show as well as their ideas.

The way I approached the developmental process was somewhat like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with no premeditated design. First, each one brings in her own story, idea, text, a movement phrase or whatever is related to the deep-sea creatures and the themes of the piece. The fragments of their artistic input become the unique pieces of a metaphysical puzzle. I look at the pieces and start putting them together in various ways to see if any image for a story appears. When it does, I compose music and lyrics to go with it. Then I propose the song to the working group, and we try to specify the theatrical language to best convey the story in relation to all the other pieces of the puzzle and the performing space. The process repeats itself until I could sense an overall dramaturgical arch.

(On the side note, it was a strange coincident that Maikki and Georgie took to actual jigsaw puzzle during the residency. When not in rehearsal, they would spend hours staring and putting together pieces on a table.. just like I was doing in my mind 😊 )

For the first week, there were only Maikki, Georgie and me. We focused mostly on movement and choreographic aspects of the show. What kind of physicality do deep sea creatures have? How can we express the quality of waves and the flow of water with the body? How does “depth,” “time” and “pressure” manifest in the body? etc. We would spend hours in the space to explore those questions. Simultaneously, I was composing songs and suggesting some theatre exercises and stories for Maikki and Georgie’s deep-sea creature characters. It was a demanding week, to say the least.

Tanja, Elina and Elina’s baby joined us for the second week. It was a tight schedule alright, and oh boy, it was even more demanding than the first week. They had only three and a half days to absorb all the work that had been done before they came, to make their own characters (in the case of Elina, to make puppets), and to learn the songs. And we got to rehearse the whole show only a few times before the demo. Concurrently we were also building the performing space and rigging and adjusting lights. Once again it was almost a miracle that we made it to the demo.

photo by Maikki Palm

Also, Elina had her baby who needed her constant attention. We decided that the baby would be a part of the show somehow since Elina couldn’t really leave his side at any moment. Then the baby became another piece of the puzzle on a whole new level to me. Along with the lack of time, the baby was something that was outside of my control. I had to adjust to and adapt what was there and available to make the most of it for the story.

But in the end, those pieces that were relatively unpredictable made the final image of the puzzle more unique and special than I could ever imagine.

Demo and birthday party of the Ojanperäs

One big element at the residency was the interaction with the villagers. We were very lucky to be staying at a beautiful house managed by one of them, the Ojanperä family. The Ojanperäs has been a kind supporter of the Silence festival and its activities for many years. They not only provide accommodations for the visiting artists, but also are genuinely curious about and willing to get to know the artists and their works. Throughout our stay, they helped us with transportation to the city, baked delicious pastries for us, fixed our car, gave the baby feeding chair and bed for Elina’s baby, let us use their sauna and grill freely, etc. Some of us became quite close to the family and got involved in their personal lives as well.  

The house we were staying at

One day I found out that the last Saturday of our residency period would coincide with the birthday party for two of the Ojanperä family members. So, it was no brainer for me to decide that we should do a demo performance on that day, not only to show our work to the villagers but also to express gratitude for their incredible generosity and support. Once the demo date and time were set, all my focus went to putting together a good show.

The pressure and workload were real and challenging, as I mentioned in the previous section. But I was aware and weirdly excited that it was just a part of my creative process. I only learn from it.

The big pay-off came on the day of the demo. The Ojanperäs brought a group of kids and adults who were attending the birthday party after the demo. Also, thanks to my working group members’ consistent interaction with the villagers and advertising in person and on social media, the audience turnout was amazing. We got the full house. The demo itself went well as well. The kids in the audience were very engaged in what was happening in front of their eyes. They laughed and screamed throughout the show… so much so that it was hard for me to hear myself singing sometimes. The adults seemed more subdued compared to the kids, but no body left in the middle of it. So, I gathered that they were also interested in what we performed.

As the director, I saw a lot of things for which I would have liked more time to develop in the demo. But making a show for the audience helped me see where it needs more work and how we can proceed from now on. Meeting the audience with the work was also a part of the creative process, a very important one in my opinion.

After the demo, some of us joined the birthday celebration with the Ojanperäs. Later in the day I heard that one of the family members said, “Your demo was the biggest birthday gift!” I took a sigh of relief and felt the meaning of what we had accomplished during the residency.

Puppets made by Elina Sarno
Poster made by Tanja Männistö

Inspiration from Reidar Särestöniemi

In the midst of the intensive work schedule, some of us took one afternoon off to visit Särestöniemi Museum. I didn’t know anything about the artist Reidar Särestöniemi (1925–1981) before the visit. I was pleasantly surprised once I stepped into the estate of the museum. It was filled with his colorful, vibrant, and yet gentle art encased in beautiful wooden houses and in harmony with the surrounding nature. It was a wholesome, warm experience of getting to know the artist not only through his art works but also through his living space and the nature to which he was deeply connected. Smelling the aroma of the wood, feeling the soft air on the skin, seeing the colors of his painting reaching out to us, listening to the flow of the river nearby, and tasting the history etched in the space.. I was quite inspired and replenished.

His art didn’t directly influence our work, aesthetically speaking. However, his life and attitude towards art definitely helped me regroup mine. One of his quotes resonated with me especially:

”Maalauksissani on vain minä itse. Niissä on minun onneni ja tuskani, minun täyttymätön kaipuuni, koko minun elämäni.”

(In my paintings are only me. In them are my happiness, my pain, my unfulfilled longing, and my whole life.)

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Before finishing this essay, I would like to thank my working group for their work, patience and creativity. It’s obvious, but I need to reiterate; I could not have done this without you all. I always learn a tremendous amount about collaboration and myself as an artist in working with you. Thank you!

Last but not least, my deepest gratitude goes to the staff at Silence Festival, especially the managing director Joonas Martikainen who arranged the practicality of the residency for us in a very humane, considerate way. We felt immediately at home when he welcomed us at the train station and drove us around Rovaniemi and Kittilä to give a personalized tour of the area. We had a very special experience thanks to you.

Till next time!

Team Deep

“Deep- the musical”- miracles and lessons in Vapaan taiteen tila

I graduated from the master’s program in theater pedagogy at TeaK (Theatre Academy in Helsinki, Finland) in June 2018.

One of my goals after graduation was to create an original musical about deep sea creatures with my colleagues from TeaK.

This goal might sound a little random to those who don’t know me. But, “Deep – the musical” project has its origin in a short demo performance I did with several other theatre pedagogy colleagues in the spring of 2017 at TeaK. It was for the course titled “Performance and Practice” where we were encouraged to explore various processes and practices for making a performance. So, my group tried quite a few things: Viewpoints, interacting with farm animals, automatic writing exercises, object exploration, etc.

The theme of the marine life emerged almost organically through those. Then, one day one of us wanted to sing something. So I brought a guitar to the rehearsal. And a while later, our piece became a short, weird musical about strange deep sea creatures called “Deep.”

 (Demo of “Deep” at Teatterikorkeakoulu in the spring of 2017)

The demo was a surprising hit, and I started to dream about developing it into a full-production.

So, how did my dream turn into a reality?

I first tried to get some funding for the project, but all my grant applications got negative answers. By the time we were supposed to start rehearsing, I had 0€ in the budget. This was obviously frustrating and discouraging. But I did not and could not throw in the towel. I was determined to make it happen somehow.

The lack of financial support taught me one of the most important lessons in making “Deep- the musical.”

Use everything you’ve got WELL.

I decided not to complain about the lack of money, but to optimize the resource I did have, which was great and priceless. I wanted to make the most of everything I’ve got.

So, let’s count the blessings.

Firstly, on a pragmatic level, I was very lucky to be able to use Vapaan taiteen tila for free. There was some technical stuff already there for us the working group to use freely, such as basic lighting equipment, movable walls, curtains, etc. We had the total of 14 days in the space: 8 days for rehearsal and the rest was for 4 performances and off-days.

The space is truly unique and endlessly inspiring for a creative project like Deep. Once my working group entered it, our imagination exploded; the stories and imageries emerged one after the other as we got to know the space. We even managed to do the set and light designs on our own.

  (Vapaan taiteen tila. Before the rehearsal began.)

Second, my artist friend Tikke Tuura lent me a part of her plastic artwork and materials for it. We used them for the set pieces and even for a costume. Tikke’s art really inspired us and helped tremendously to set up the atmosphere of the space. Her plastic artwork also went well with the theme of our project, the deep sea, due to the detrimental impact of our careless usage of plastic on the marine life.

  (Tikke Tuura’s plastic artwork)

And last but not least, I was extremely fortunate to have a working group that was willing to work with me even without salary. They were my ex-classmates from the pedagogy program, whom I admire and trust: Tanja, Elina, Goergie and Liisa. Tanja works in a theatre field primarily as an educator for young people and she’s a great visual artist as well. Elina is very experienced in object theatre and puppetry. Georgie and Liisa are from the dance pedagogy. Not only can they move amazingly but also they have so much experience in choreography. And all of them are incredibly open-minded and have a great sense of humor. Collaborating with them felt like the best roller-coaster ride.. fast, smooth, exciting, exhilarating, unstoppable, and full of laughter. They are my dream team.

(Deep-the musical working group. From left, Tanja, Georgie, Elina, Liisa and me.)

This leads me to a few other important lessons I learned in the project as a director and musician.

– Have enough trust in the group to let an overall vision and a story develop in the process.

– Discover more, control less for collective storytelling.

Although I had a general direction where I wanted the production to go artistically, at the beginning of the process, I had very few specific ideas. I was not sure if I could make a dozen songs on my own and play them, too, for different scenes and characters… in 8 days. But once the rehearsal began, all I had to do was take the ideas given by the working group, edit them and let them transform into something wonderful before my eyes. Tanja, Georgie and Liisa kept on giving their all to the process (Elina was absent for the first 6 days due to her pregnancy). Their movements, voices, texts and personalities made my song writing process effortless and fun. (In fact, all the songs got made in 6 days.) The songs helped them develop their characters and stories in return. I even had them sing some of the songs ? As the characters became richer, I started to “see” the overall arch of the piece dramaturgically.

And when Elina finally joined us two days before the premiere, I knew where she could fit in the show; I asked her to manipulate a small fish puppet in one spot, as the anchor of the whole piece. At the same time, she was given freedom to do whatever she likes with the puppet’s movement. It was not exactly what I had planned for Elina originally, but somehow it was “a discovery” made in the process that felt right.

At the final stage of the process, I felt that the piece had its own life and didn’t need my detailed directions or control to do well. Each performer was taking charge of her own character(s). I just played and sang the songs as I listened to and watched how my fellow performers moved and lived the collective story we were telling together. And they listened to me, too.

 

Here are some photos from the production (Photographer: Teresa Nurmioja):

 

After the miraculously efficient, inspiring process, the production of “Deep – the musical” turned out to be a miraculous success. We only had four shows, but all of them had made a strong, lasting impact on the audience. I was truly surprised and touched by how they responded to the show. Here are a few excerpts from the audience feedback. *English translations follow the Finnish feedback:

 

“Deep images, touching different chords of the soul, arising memories. It felt like walking in an art gallery, underwater, with paintings from different authors. Each painting, in its simplicity, was complete and yet open. Also the music and the use of voice and action provided an incredible variety of colors. These art pieces came together through special creatures of the sea, whose special journeys resonated in me and mirrored my fundamental questions of life.”

“Tunnelma oli maaginen. Tuntui kuin tila olisi rakennettu näytelmän ympärille. Tykkäsin, että tunteet heittelivät kromisen ja syvän kosketuksen välillä. Olisin voinut helposti katsella vielä toisenkin tunnin. Piditte minua otteessa koko esityksen ajan. I LOVED IT❤️ (The atmosphere was magical. It was as if the space was built for the show. I liked that feelings fluctuated between the deep and the light. I could have easily watched the show for another hour. You enthrall me the whole time. I loved it!)”

“Äärettömän kaunista tilan käyttöä ja äänimaisemien luomista. Esitys oli kiehtovalla tavalla hauras sekä ainutkertainen. Näyttelijöiden välinen luottamus näkyi. Kiitos kovasti. (The extremely beautiful use of space and the creation of soundscapes. The show was delicate and unique in an enchanting way. The trust among the performers showed. Thank you very much.)”

“Sanoja, joilla kuvaisin esitystä:
Sydäntäsärkevä. Kaunis. Herkkä. Niin koskettava laulua. Kaikki ne kielet. Kaikki se, ajankohtaisuus. Niin hauska! Niin läsnäoleva. Kiitos <3 Ja tilan käyttö!!! (Words to describe the show: Heart-wrenching. Beautiful. Delicate. So touching singing. Those languages. That timeliness. So fun! So present. Thank you <3 And the usage of the space!!!)”

“Esitys oli ilahduttava. Sen rytmi, rehellisyys ja läsnäolo oli koskettavaa. Muistutitte tärkeistä asioista, miten kaikki elämän sävyt on koko ajan läsnä; arvaamattomuus, riemu, unelmat, pelko, antautuminen ja voi vain elää! (The show was delightful. Its rhythm, honesty and presence were touching. You reminded me of important things, which is how all the life’s nuances are all the time present: unpredictability, joy, dreams, fear, surrender and oh just to live!)”

“Katsoin esitystä yhdessä 2-vuotiaan lapsen kanssa. Työskentelen myös lastenkulttuurin parissa ja usein katson esitykset näkökulmasta miten ne toimisi pienelle yleisölle. Deep toimii! Rytmitys, visualisointi, musiikki – pitävät pienen katsojan mielenkiinnon yllä. Jos lasten esitys ei toimi aikuiselle, ei se toimi lapsillekkaan sen syvemmin. Parhaimmillaan esitys on kaikille, kaikissa tasoissa ja jokainen löytää siitä jotain itselleen. KIITOS <3 (I watched the show with a 2-year-old child. I also work in a children’s culture field and often see performances from a viewpoint of how they would work for small audience members. Deep works! Timing, visualization, music– they kept the tiny viewer’s interest. If the children’s show does not work for the adult, it does not affect children any deeper. A show at its best is for everyone, on every level, and everyone finds something for him or herself from the show.  Thank you <3)” 

“Your performance was such a heart-touching and eye-wetting piece of art! It really took you to the deep end of life and into so many levels of humanity. To the dawn of the womankind! Back to the birthplace of us — to animalcule.
So, that we wouldn’t forget. That we are not the master of nature or universe! It told me how we have lost our innocence, the importance of life itself. We have the ultimate responsibility, cos we got the gift of conscience.
We have to go deep, deep down to realize, what we have done to mother earth. Human being is destroying all the living. We have created an artificial world with plastic people.
What have we done to each other? Nothing is anymore connecting people! Where is all the playfulness, friendship, love and caring of neighbour. We are just seeking the right one in our despair.
Of the ancient myths of life and death there is only destruction left!
And now – in the moment of emergency – we are longing back into the mother earth’s womb.
I am so proud of you girls of what you have achieved!”

“Istuin alas.Odotin hetken. Ajatukset ja tunteet lipuvat. Ehkä saan nyt puettua sanoiksi fiiliksiä.
Ensinnäkin WAU! Mahtavaa nähdä joukko lahjakkaita ihmisiä tekemässä taidetta. Musiikki oli hienoa, upeat laulut, tila oli käytetty loistavasti. Tarina kosketti. Upeaa oli myös käytetyt eri kielet.
Esitys oli yksinkertainen ja samaan aikaan runsas, monia hienoja oivalluksia ja upea ryhmä toteuttamassa sitä.
Ah, niin paljon jää sanomatta, kun on sanaton. Tällä hetkellä: tunsin, inspiroiduin, heräsin, liikutuin ja ennen kaikkea rakastin esitystä. Aivan mahtava!
Kiitos koko ryhmälle ihanasta kokemuksesta. Tällaista olisi upeaa nähdä lisää, useammin.. ja uskaltaiskohan nähdä vielä syvemmälle. (I sat down. I waited for a moment. Thoughts and feelings are floating. Maybe now I can put words to my feelings.
(First of all, WOW! Wonderful to see a group of talented people make art.
The music was fine, great songs, the space was used superbly. The story touched me. It was also great to hear different languages being spoken.
The show was simple, but at the same time rich, many wonderful insights and the great group realizes it.
Oh, so many things are left unsaid when one is speechless. At this moment: I felt, got inspired, awakened and moved. And above all, I loved the show. So magnificent!
Thank you to the working group for the great experience. This kind of performance would be awesome to see more often, and I would dare to see even deeper.)”

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The audience feedback leads me to the last lesson I learned.

– A performance is ultimately for the audience.

This is something, of which I’ve been constantly convinced every time I perform. But each time it gets deeper and more profound. It’s not about pleasing the audience or catering to their wishes about what they want to experience. It’s about reaching out to them and sharing the time and space so that they could experience something that is greater than what they could imagine individually. I often see and feel it as a connection between the performer and the audience. Through this connection, theatre becomes a transformative art of time and space.

 

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When the last performance was done on 22.8.2018, every single working group member was talking about how we could continue developing Deep and bring it to more people. I’m, of course, excited about the possibilities and future of Deep. We are ready to move on to the next phase.

 

So, the journey continues!

 

 

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FYI:

 

“Deep- the musical”

17.-22.8.2018  Vapaan taiteen tila

 

Ohjaus ja musiikki/ Direction and music: Yuko Takeda

Teksti, äänimaisema ja esiintyminen/ Text, soundscape and performing:

Georgie Goater, Liisa Heikkinen, Tanja Männistö, Elina Sarno and Yuko Takeda

Muovitaide/ Plastic artwork: Tikke Tuura

Valokuvaus/ Photography: Teresa Nurmioja

Kiitokset/ Special thanks: Olga Potapova, Leandro Lefa, Veli-Matti Saarinen