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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged theatre

June 8 LIVE on Northumberland 89.7 FM Small Town Radio!
LISTEN HERE if you missed it!

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My guest, Matt Kowalyk, and I discuss things like:

– Godhead and the other one-acts from The Northumberland Players
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– Recording processes
– Taking a break from acting and then coming back to it
– How each of us got involved with The Northumberland Players
– The Players as an organization and what we can expect from them
– Running a fast-growing not-for-profit organization
– Critiquing art
– Directing theatre
– Art and creativity as a means of being well
– Work-life balance
– Being a parent

 

Featured Music

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The Tragically Hip

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April 27 LIVE @8pm on Northumberland 89.7: Truly local radio:
LISTEN HERE if you missed it live!

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Join Lyss and guest, Jeff Caine, to discuss topics including:
– The Stars of Port Hope Civic Awards
– An update on Green Wood Coalition
– The recent sexist terrorist attack in Toronto and “incels”
– Redefining masculinity/what men can do about this
– Jeff’s career in the finance world
– Community theatre (specifically, on-stage kissing, among other things)
– Jeff’s radio show

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“Jeff Caine is a die-hard, newly award-winning Port Hope resident. Radio personality, finance dude, and semi-professional Good Guy, you can listen to Jeff on Northumberland 89.7 on his show “Northumberland Focus”, Mondays at noon. Jeff has a long history of involvement with the radio station, has sat on the Green Wood Coalition board for several years, is involved in community theatre with the Northumberland Players, sits on committees with the Municipality of Port Hope, and sits on the Take Back the Night Port Hope committee.

A news fanatic and closet wrestling fan, Jeff is passionate about his community, his friends, and not being a complete and total jerk.”

Featured Tunes:

“Angela” (Lumineers cover) by The Hannigan Sisters (of Clan Hannigan)
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I heard The Hannigan Sisters (Eile and Ayisha) play tonight at The Stars of Port Hope Civic Awards and they sounded gorgeous. So gorgeous, in fact, I made a video of the second song they sang and came home to convert it to an MP3 so you can all hear just how gorgeous that 3.5 minutes was.
These teens also play with their family’s band, Clan Hannigan, which also includes their very talented mum, Saskia Tomkins.

“I’m Done” by Bad Cop / Bad Cop

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Based out of LA, this feminist punk band is signed to Fat Wreck Chords and released their most recent album, “Warriors”, in June of 2017.
The story behind their new album is especially powerful. After the release of their first album, “Not Sorry”, Bad Cop/Bad Cop toured often and one of their singers, Stacey Dee, began partying too hard. It began to affect the band, but with the support of her bandmates and her label, Stacey was able to receive treatment and work towards wellness.
“Warriors” is the product of Stacey reuniting with her bandmates to create something new after a significantly challenging experience.
“We tend to stick up for the underdog,” Dee concludes. “It hurts us when anyone is marginalized. I was so negative for most of my life. After changing my life, I have been trying to focus on strength, connectedness and positivity. I think this record is a good start.”

 

“Chick Singer” by Winona Wilde

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“A child of Iraqi parents, [Winona Wilde] was born Noosa Al-Sarraj and became infatuated with playing classical music on piano at a young age. At the same time, her country music-loving nanny planted the seeds for her future devotion to artists like John Prine, Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn, and by her teens she discovered a natural ability to write songs in a similar style.

Noosa explains, ‘On my first album, I was too afraid to be good. On my second album, I was too afraid to be real. This time I feel like I am as real as I can possibly be, and the songwriting is infinitely more vulnerable.’”

The woman who describes her music as “Canadian Feminist Folk” mostly calls Peterborough home and can be found playing just about all over the place. Winona Wilde‘s newest album “Wasted Time” just came out this past October 6. Lurk her facebook pagewebsitespotify, or bandcamp for all things Winona Wilde.

The intention of this project is to promote healing and storytelling through community and performance. There will be an open call to anyone who wishes to get involved in the process of creating a piece of performance art regarding the topic of disordered eating and performance.

There will be efforts made to encourage a wide range of people to participate in the workshopping and performing process. This includes diversity in age, gender, race, sexual orientation, ability level, and type of disability. While, ideally, most of the collective would be comprised of people living with disordered eating behaviours, it may also be interesting to hear from people supporting loved ones living with disordered eating behaviours or people who work closely with performers living with disordered eating behaviours. There is no cost to participants associated with this program.

There will be a five week series of workshops where this group of people will discuss things such as:

How does disordered eating affect performers? How does disordered eating affect performance itself?

What is performance?

What is disordered eating?

How does performance affect people physically and emotionally?

The difference between intentional and unintentional performances regarding disordered eating

Is there a place for people with disordered eating behaviours in spaces that promote performance?

How can we support one another regarding disordered eating behaviours?

while also taking care of ourselves?

How can being creative contribute to healing?

How does body image affect performance?

The lived experiences of performers with disordered eating behaviours?

Any people involved in the workshopping process will be invited to work on the actual writing of the performance based on the notes from the workshopping process. The format of performance will be discussed amongst collective (monologues? One act play? Music? Dance? Movement? Visual art? Combination?) There will be 4 rehearsals and two performances at the end of the workshopping process. Tickets will be sold for $20 each, with compensated and discounted tickets available to anyone who would like to attend, but cannot afford the ticket price. There will also be a “pay what you can” donation jar available at all performances and throughout the workshopping and rehearsal process.

Other topics will likely come up, and anyone involved in the collective will encouraged to bring up topics that are relevant to the project. Notes will be taken at each workshop. Workshops will be co-facilitated by Lyss England and Jillien Hone. Workshops will be done according to To the Root’s community discussion format.

 

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collabart.JPGThe above is a collaborative piece of art that was produced during the process of The Performance and Disordered Eating Project. The artists involved are Lyss, Jill, Lindsey, MJ, Clayton, and Marcela.

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The Performance and Disability Project, presented in partnership with To the Root Community Discussions and Green Wood Coalition in Port Hope Downtown, is a collectively formed piece of performance art on the topic of disability and performance. With the intention of promoting healing and storytelling through community and performance, there was an open call to anyone in the Northumberland community who wanted to participate in such a project. Once the collective, which is comprised of about ten people, was formed, we began to meet at Green Wood Coalition’s space on John Street, in Port Hope, where we took part in a series of five community discussions centered around the topic. What underlies these discussions is a collective intention to care for ourselves and one another, and to remain committed to anti-oppressive practice- and creativity. Rather than positioning the facilitator (Lyss England of To the Root) as an authoritative expert, members of the collective are considered an expert on their own lived experience. Outlines and notes from all five community discussions can be found at performanceanddisabilityproject.tumblr.com.

While engaging in this five week long workshopping process, folks in the collective kept in mind the creative end product (which was presented as a very open concept- simply that of “performance”), and begin to work on a creative ways to present their story and experiences regarding disability. Although most of this collective has no previous performance experience, we have worked towards feeling comfortable sharing our stories through various means of performance such as poetry reading, monologues, a short silent scene, and performance art. After the five workshops, we moved into Ontario Street Theatre  to spend three weeks running through our show.

It has been a process that has allowed folks in the collective to explore ourselves creatively, gain support from one other, and to stand in our own power to share our stories and experiences on our own terms. Therapeutic processes can sometimes seem daunting to participants because the end product (feeling safe, comfortable, and supported) seems so far out of reach. Contrastingly, theatrical and performance processes are often so focused on the end product that the process (including emotional and physical components) becomes secondary to the end product. This format fuses therapeutic process with creative end product. The best of both worlds. Our show is raw, honest, and paradigm shifting. Most importantly, it creates a space for the stories of people who are too often pushed aside in our community.

Shows are July 24 at 7pm and July 26 at 2pm at Ontario Street Theatre in Port Hope, Ontario. $20 per ticket (contact Lyss at totherootdiscussions@gmail.com if this price makes the show inaccessible to you). Contact Lyss England (totherootdiscussions@gmail.com) or Sean Carthew to reserve tickets, or show up at the door. Proceeds go to Green Wood Coalition and future To the Root projects. Physically accessible, sober space with immediate peer support available on site. Big thanks to Northumberland Sunrise Rotary for funding!

 

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From www.greenwoodcoalition.com

We’re pleased to partner with To the Root facilitator and theatre activist, Lyss England, in presenting the Disability & Performance Project over 8 weeks, beginning June 2. This series of Tuesday evening workshops, presented at our space, 17 John St., Port Hope and the Ontario Street Theatre, and will consist of five three-hour long workshop evenings on topics related to performance and disability, three three-hour long evenings of rehearsal, and two performances. There is no cost for this great series, so if you’d like to be involved, contact Lyss at totherootdiscussions@gmail.com.

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Click here to view notes from the entire collaborative performance.

 

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I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of social justice theatre and the general concept of using art of a means of expression, healing, and communication. The first time I found myself really drawn to exploring this more, I was sitting in my eleventh grade English class with one of my favourite teachers, who was also my drama teacher. He had us read Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” out loud, and, naturally, I read for the role of Nora. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this play, it’s the story of a woman (Nora) who leaves her husband and children to find herself. In 1879, when the play premiered, it was pretty scandalous.
My first week of university, I walked through the University Centre, carefully scouting out the various tables all the clubs had set up. I came across a booth that said “Vagina Monologues”, and, as a women’s studies major and theatre studies minor, I was sold. I spend that year directing Vagina Monologues’ sister play, “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and a Prayer”, a collection of monologues about stories of violence against women in girls that raised money for the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guelph’s local Women in Crisis Centre. It was a heavy play. Over my university career, I performed in “The Vagina Monologues” and directed “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and a Prayer” for a second time.
When I moved to Port Hope, a small town on the other side of Toronto from where I’d spent my life so far, I produced two collective creation performances, “The Performance and Disability Project” and “The Performance and Disordered Eating Project”, which raised money for a local charity I have since become heavily involved with, Green Wood Coalition. These shows were created over a 5-8 week long workshopping process and a 3-5 week long rehearsal process, each with two performances at the end. The intention of these projects was to give people the opportunity to share their story, on their terms, in a way that utilized the healing potential of performance.
Now, I am acting as the liaison between Green Wood Coalition and the production team (lead by director, Dave Clark and producer, Mary Elizabeth Clark) of a play that Dave wrote called “To Shut the Mouths of Lions”, which is being remounted for one show to raise funds for Green Wood Coalition. From the press release: “To Shut the Mouths of Lions explores themes of social justice, fairness, freedom of expression, and family dynamics. The scene is set on a Boxing Day, when the McBride brothers gather in the home of their mother and father, a patriarch with some very specific ideas about how men (and women, for that matter) ought to be. One son, a left-leaning, gentle soul, is invited to bring his wife, while the other son, an athletic, career-oriented man isn’t welcome to bring his husband, due to their father’s heterocentric family values. The play’s title, a reference to the biblical tale of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, quickly proves its accuracy.
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The play follows the family’s interactions throughout this setting, revealing tensions, differences in values, varying conceptions of masculinity, gender, and sexuality, uncomfortable attempts at communication, and expressions of love. The dialogue is witty, gritty, and honest, keeping audiences engaged through a story that is both dramatic and comedic.”
An issue that was come up for me time and time again in the time I’ve been involved in social justice theatre has been that of trigger warnings, content warnings, and caring for both the cast members and the audience so that it is a positive experience for as many people as possible. Sounds great in theory, right? Generally, when people are involved in creating any type of performance, one of the main goals is to provide entertainment and enjoyment for as many people as possible. No, you’re never going to be able to please everyone (or provide a “safe space” for everyone) because everyone’s needs, interests, and values are different… but the goal is to give people a good time.
When I was involved with “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer” and “Vagina Monologues”, it was very clear that a trigger warning or content warning ought to be used, since the plays deal directly with sexual violence, include explicit descriptions of violence, and the shows were produced by an activist organization, not a theatre company. When I was involved with “The Performance and Disability Project” and “The Performance and Healing Project”, again, the content was extremely sensitive and contained specific accounts of violence, struggle, and oppression and was also produced by a charity rooted in social justice principals, not a theatre company. In both cases, actively caring for the cast, crew, and audience were central roles of the production team.
Navigating “To Shut the Mouths of Lions” has looked a little different, since it was originally produced by a theatre company and is not a straight-up social justice play, but rather a play containing social justice themes. This has brought up some really interesting and important discussions for those of us involved in this particular production, and has made me think a lot about trigger warnings, content warnings, and care in the context of not just social justice theatre, but theatre in general. Although the content of the play is not nearly as blatantly upsetting as some of the other more straight up social justice plays I’ve worked on were, I could certainly see watching a gay son triggering some intense shit for someone who grew up queer in a heterosexist household. There are many aspects of the play that may bring things up for people, so I feel as though it’s an important thing to consider, given a dedication to caring.
Initially, I called for a meeting of anyone who wanted to be involved in the planning of the remount and was joined by 3 members of the board from Green Wood Coalition, one of whom is also performing in the play, as well as one member’s sister. At that meeting, in that context, with that group of people, I brought up the idea of whether or not to include a content warning. I stopped using trigger warnings a long time ago, since I don’t think it’s useful to attempt to identify what a group of peoples’ triggers may or may not be, and instead opt for content warnings, a broader kind of heads up about the subjects approached in a performance, tv show, movie, article, essay, book, etcetera. The response from that group at that time was “yes! Absolutely include a content warning on all promotional materials and on the day of the performance!”. Honestly, even given how social justice oriented that group of people was, I was kind of surprised. I wrote up a specific, clear content warning: “This play discusses subjects such as family dynamics, various types of family relationships, heterosexism, sexism, childhood trauma. There will be peer support available”.
I’m the kind of person who loves to hear other peoples’ input on projects. I love collective creation, and I truly value differing standpoints. I emailed my updated planning list to all involved parties including this content warning and the plan to include it on all promotional materials and at the performance. The play’s writer and director emailed me back with some concerns that the content warning may be a bit of a spoiler and might deter people from coming to to show out of fear that it will be upsetting more than entertaining. I could see why that was a concern, and feel as though it’s really important to keep this event within the integrity of the vision of the director of a play. So I reached out to my friends and colleagues, David Sheffield and Jillien Hone, the Community Outreach Coordinator and Community Outreach Coordinator Assistant of Green Wood Coalition to get their thoughts. We had a really valuable conversation where David echoed Dave Clark’s concerns, focusing on the potential of folks not being interested in seeing the production based on their concern that it would be more upsetting than entertaining. (As usual, Jill was on the exact same page as me, coming from a similar background/standpoint regarding content warnings and social justice.)
This gave way to a conversation about content warnings in general. To me, content warnings aren’t about recommending that people opt out as much as the ability to consent and take care of one’s self accordingly. A content warning doesn’t encourage me to opt out of a performance/essay/book/movie etcetera about 98% of the time I see one. However, some days where I’m already struggling to convince myself that not every man I come into contact with is going to rape me I don’t always feel up to engaging with anything to do with sexual violence. It doesn’t mean I won’t ever see that performance/read that book/see that movie/read that essay…it just means that in that moment, I do not consent to engaging with something that will probably make me feel not okay. OR, maybe I really want to engage even though it will probably make me feel not okay, so I give a friend or two a heads up and ask them if they’re willing to provide some support if I do end up feeling triggered by specific content. Or I’ll make sure to engage at a time where my partner is around and I’m not home (to freak out) alone. Or I’ll accept that it’s worth being not okay because it may contribute my healing process…or simply be entertaining. And that’s valid. I think that art can be healing and that there is a place, both in healing and in art, to be triggered. But it ought to be consensual. When you look at content warnings this way, it seems to follow pretty logically to me that, as a person who is invested in caring for myself and other people, content warnings make a lot of sense in working towards a community that is caring, supportive, and autonomous.

I’m part of some communities where this is kind of the general consensus. I’m part of some communities where some people do not choose to ever engage with anything that they may find triggering. That’s where they’re at, and to that, I say: good for them for knowing themselves and their capacity in the moment. In Port Hope, I am situated in a rural context where content warnings are rarely looked at this way, but instead as a warning that this whatever you’re about to experience IS going to feel fucked up. If that’s the interpretation, I don’t blame people for feeling deterred by it. And if two very socially conscious men are concerned about this, you better believe I’m going to take it seriously.

When David Sheffield, Jill, and I had our discussion, we ended up realizing that what it came down to was deciding whether to prioritize keeping as many people feeling safe and okay as possible or getting people to actually come see the show. In the context of this community, that seems to be the way it is. (I’ve gotta say, nothing has challenged my activism more than settling in a small, rural town). We decided on a middle ground of sorts that we felt straddles this line decently. On the posters that are posted around town, there is a brief content warning that isn’t identified as a content warning: “This play may contain some subjects that may be upsetting to some”. On social media, there is a more specific content warning right at the very bottom of the poster.

In the press release, I wrote, “The connection between To Shut the Mouths of Lions and Green Wood Coalition is easy to see, given the shared themes between the play and the organization regarding community, communication, family-based trauma, and caring as the characters discuss issues such as poverty and equality. Given the potentially sensitive nature of some of the topics involved in the play, there will be peer support available during and after the show, as well as a question and answer period with cast and crew following the performance.” Is this too much? Will it deter people? Will it simply be seen and ignored and chalked up to some young radical because it’s a small town and enough people know I’m involved in the planning and this is how I roll? Or will it allow them to make a consensual, informed choice about what they’re about to engage in and give them the knowledge that the community in that space and time will be caring and supportive?

I don’t think there’s any one right answer, and this whole experience has taught me a lot about idealism and activism in small, rural communities-and especially theatre communities within those small, rural communities. The standpoint of most people here is different from my standpoint. Is it more conducive to change to get as many people to see the play (and raise as much money) as possible, or to radically care for the community in a way that will only be useful to some people at this  time? Should I leave that paragraph out of the press release before I actually release it to the press? I have no idea. But this is the way I’ve been thinking about it.

I’m considering applying for a fellowship with a magazine I’ve been reading since I was fifteen, trying to figure out which category to apply under. I generally write about feelings and relationships and mental health and other emo stuff like that. The closest category I can apply under is “Pop-culture Criticism”. I say to the group of people sitting in my living room, “I need a topic to write about. Think ‘Pop-culture Criticism’”.  
“Why don’t you write about us?” she says.
I say she, because I don’t know what to refer to her as. We’ve jokingly referred to each other as our “girlfriend”, but is she my girlfriend? I’ve had sex with her twice, we talk every day and hang out almost every day. She comes over and makes me dinner while I’m at a fundraising committee meeting, and then sits close to me. She told her mom about “us”. She refers to “us”.
“That’s actually a really good idea,” my partner says, after a three second moment of silence.
My partner and I have been together for almost eight years- literally my entire adult life. We have a punk rock love story for the ages, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that this dude is the love of my life. We’ve grown together, and we want the same things for our future. I don’t feel held back, instead, I feel safe and grounded in our relationship. 
I think about it: I could write something about romantic/platonic/intimate relationships that differ from typical monogamous (and polyamorous, for that matter) relationships. I could write something about consent and communication in relationships in the context of this…thing we have going on. I could write about navigating jealousy. I could write about the body feels or gender feels this has brought up for me. I could write about feeling like I’m living the bisexual dream- and about feeling conflicted about the fact that I even feel that way. I could write about exploring my sexuality for the first time in my adult life. I could write about how vulnerable I’m making myself by writing about this whole Thing.
And then I realized that I don’t even know what to refer to her as. Maybe I better stick to writing about the whole process and touching on each of those things for now. This whole Thing is still so fresh, and, worst case, what if I screw it all up because of something I write and it puts an end to it all!?

Two years ago, I met a girl through community theatre who I thought was a total babe. We became close friends and periodically flirted, even sexted. I shared the sexts with my partner, and we flirted in front of him. He was into it. I also made sure that she realized that I was sharing our flirtation with my partner. She was into that. I tried to hint that I’d like to sleep with her, but when she found out that the deal my partner and I had established was that I could have sex with other women when he was involved, she never acted on anything.

Then, one night, she and I went for a walk to catch Pokemon (don’t judge us), and we found ourselves down by the beach. We walked along the beach, and just as we were about to head back into town, she said, “I want to talk to you about something. I’ve been having feelings for you…” and then she kissed me. Right there, under the stars, on the beach. I followed that with something like, “hold on, I need a smoke”.

I lit a cigarette, and she told me that she had discussed her feelings with my partner, who had told her that he thought I would likely be receptive to her initiating something between us. He was right. He also told her that she and I could discuss what capacity we were comfortable with having him involved in. We discussed some specific boundaries and what we were both looking for, as we walked back towards my apartment. I texted my partner: “hey, are you down to have sex with _____ with me?”. He texted back: “hell yeah”. We got back to my place, and the three of us discussed our specific boundaries and committed to open communication, regardless of what happened from there. Then, I said, “sooo are we gonna go to the bedroom or not?”, and we all got up and practically ran to the bedroom.

It felt like being 14 in that I was nervous but SO excited. I’ll spare you the details, but it was awesome. After, we checked in,  smoked a couple joints, and she went home. Since then, we’ve spent almost every day together, and had sex a second time. It was even better the second time, and it’s looking like this is going to be an ongoing thing. She and my partner are friends, but, believe it not, they’re both really into ME. How freakin’ neat is that!?

The things that have come up because of this Thing are interesting, and even a little bit surprising for me. First of all, I never thought I would feel comfortable having a third person share the intimacy that my partner and I share. I guess I’m lightening up… learning to enjoy myself for the sake of enjoying myself. Feel good for the sake of feeling good. She makes me feel good, and so does my partner.

It feels really good to take things slow and redefine a friend relationship into something that doesn’t even really have a name. It feels really good to share this experience with my partner, and bring a whole new level of communication, trust, and intimacy to our relationship. It feels really good to explore my gender and my sexuality. It feels really good to feel queer (not that I haven’t always been queer, but it feels different to be in an intimate relationship with another woman after being exclusively with a cis man for so long). It feels really good to confront body image issues I have. It feels really good to confront the way that my gender is tied in with those body image issues, and that those body image issues are just the tip of the gender-shit iceberg. It feels really good to heal alongside another woman- one who I think is beautiful, and caring, and fun. It feels really good to let my partner witness and engage with this entire process. This Thing feels really good in general.

I can’t wait to continue exploring this process, and to find the language to describe this Thing. I’m also looking forward to navigating the bridges we will, inevitably have to cross, such as: to what extent are each of us/will each of us become emotionally involved? How sustainable is this Thing? What happens when she meets someone and wants to be in a relationship with them? How will this change our friendship in the long run? How will this change the way each of us are in relationships moving forward?

I think that, as long as we all remain committed to communicating honestly and openly, the possibilities are endless. And, if nothing else, this is a Thing that feels good.