A year in review: 2022
Dear Friends of STO Union,
2022 marked STO Union’s 30th anniversary. As the founder and artistic director, looking back on this year was particularly poignant. What have we done, what our communities have been through in recent years, and where we will go from here. Celebrating our 30th in January was more muted than we had originally hoped, but we created several short videos, many are now on our gallery site, looking all the way back to 1992 when the company was born.
Memories of January 2022 feel like another world altogether; we were back in a pandemic lockdown here in Quebec. Was it only a year ago? People in our community were once again isolating and disconnecting, so it was perfect timing to release our second instalment “Winter” of the River project. This project had us “hijack” the local newspaper’s commercial advertisement insert section and use it for art and engagement instead of commerce. Via the Low Down to Hull and Back newspaper, we were able to send out the beautiful drawing shown here made by local artist Nathalie Coutou, (coloured here by Michele Woodard), for the public to colour. We also partnered with and brought it to the local library and school. This was a perfect pandemic project which connected us through art while we were all locked down. Later in the year we featured the artists Stephanie Hill, for “Spring” and Gabiyen Ottawa for “Summer.” You all sent back such amazing colourings and writings! It put me in a kind of shock, it was so intimate. Thank-you.
As always, PAF (Place des Artistes de Farrellton) played a significant role in our community-engaged events for 2022. STO Union was honoured to help co-produce a paddle workshop with Circadia Indigena, PAF and Khewa Indigenous Art Boutique, where 17 youths created an image for a paddle with artists Dean and Gabiyen Ottawa. Later in the year we contributed to the event “Bodies of Water” in which we both publicly exhibited the coloured drawings you all made for the RIVER project as well as presented the ‘rough cut’ of a video about the project. It’s a ‘rough cut’ because I need to make a few changes to it and I want to make sure you are all credited ok… so if you put a drawing in, check out the video and your credit here and let me know what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org (sorry, the video is currently only in English but will also be in French in its final version).
Photo Right: Nadia Ross in HAU: Out Loud Performance. Puppet head by Rick Ritza, costume by Andy Tait. Photo by David Irvine
A lot of our activities this year were with the community, but at the same time STO Union was also building our next body of work under the title Out Loud. I’ve been developing a few concepts for a while now. One of them is the idea of creating modular projects where parts can exist independently, in configurations and as a whole. The other is the idea of creating work where you can stand or sit, and you can come and go as you please. This goes against two of theatre’s traditions, that we all must sit down and watch, and that what we are watching exists as one single piece. I love being able to sit in a theatre and watch something for long periods of time. It can be an immensely powerful experience. I’m exploring how powerful it is by exploring its other side. And working this way is how I have chosen to cope with my own issues with physical pain – moving is good for me.
“Creation Rooms” responded to a need to create spaces where the public of all ages can try their hand at making an element of the theatre. The pandemic put that art form out of mind, and after years of under or no funding in the schools, for many who come in the Creation Room, they never actually think of the ‘stage’ and what that is, or what it could be. The room shows them that the stage is a space of total projection. And what we project, says a lot about ourselves. This is an amazingly useful tool for the development of collective and self-knowledge. Also, when you understand how theatre is made, you are more likely to go see theatre. We produced three different types of Creation Rooms: “What IS the story?”, “Spirit Beading”, “Stage Drawing”. In each of these projects, the public encounters and engages with story, stage, projection, design and more. They respond creatively and give that to us. Over the next year, we’ll respond back.
Kasra Goodarz and Jerrold McGrath (UKAI projects) with A.I. Rituals. Photo by David Irvine
Our collaboration with UKAI Projects generated the so-simple-it-could-hardly-be-more-complex “A.I. Ritual”. Here the public share their hopes and fears, this simple binary that propels us, to the A.I. who transforms this content into a final, concluding thought. Hopes and fears are projected onto large surfaces, where everyone can see the anonymous contributions of others scroll by. In Jerrold McGrath’s article about the project (sorry, in English only) he quotes an exchange he has with a member of the public which pretty much sums it up: The woman says “so, it learns from whoever is here then tries to answer these impossible questions, and then dies?” I told her yes, and she nodded and replied “Well, I guess that’s it, isn’t it?”. With A.I. Ritual, art imitates life at its very core. It’s both moving and also a simple and direct way to share the very basics of what Artificial Intelligence is with the general public.
Since the very early days when the pandemic was declared (March 9, 2020), I’ve been following 14 people and have captured how their lives have changed. Out Loud: Videos are like short, time-lapse videos that capture what so many of us have been through: the fear of the early days; initial outpouring of good will; a build-up of tensions and tempers; profound polarization; desire for world peace and a paradigm shift regarding nature and, well, humanity. The patterns in all of our lives are made conscious once they are transformed into story. In 2022, we did our final recordings and these amazing time capsules were translated into French and German and will contribute to our understanding of this challenging time for years to come.
Photo Right: Ilse Turnsen, Nadia Ross, Renée Richard in Out Loud: Wakefield Stories of Change. Photo by David Irvine
The Performance, depending on the context, can be a one-person monologue (HAU: Out Loud), and at other times, it’s a larger ensemble event (Out Loud: Wakefield). This is where the alchemy, between all the parts of this entire body of work, occurs. The Performance is about how stories function and how they function in public, shared spaces. Stories are powerful encapsulations of projected thoughts, feelings, and imaginings. They rule our world. The Performance responds to the space and community it is in and recollects the shape stories naturally take. A moving, sometimes funny, presentation of the power of story rooted in place.
When you put all these elements together in one space, it’s like a festival or journey which changes with every presentation. When presented as separate entities, they each serve a powerful function in replenishing our collective love and appreciation for all the arts that make up theatre and events, our stories, and the public spaces that hold them for us.
Creating all of this was an immense amount of work that culminated in HAU: Out Loud at HAU1 Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin, Germany. In September, we had the privilege of returning to HAU for a residency and then premiered HAU: Out Loud and presented 3 shows. Then, we brought all the pieces and completely re-configured them to present Out Loud: Wakefield, just a few weeks ago here in our home region. Both productions were truly wonderful to experience and I, artistically, could not be more pleased.
As a seasoned producer however, I have never seen such rough waters. It takes nerves of steel to produce something now. Obstacles abound at every turn unlike ever before. From COVID implications to climate events, a lack of people to take on jobs to discretionary spending and inflation, our industry is suffering. Add to this a level of unreliability in both supply chains as well as, well, people in general – and the result is a very harsh producing environment. I write this with appreciation and gratitude for the commitment of our core team and co-producers like the HAU Hebbel am Ufer. It is truly a testament to the experience, dedication and passion of those involved that allowed STO Union to produce such compelling shows in 2022.
Moving forward to 2023, an analogy might help point the way: STO Union right now is like a pop-up restaurant that opens in different places. It has presented its first two multi-course experiences and the very last of the public has just left the dining room. As the STO Union team looks around, there are dishes to clean, food to put away and notes to take on what just happened and how the public responded.
So many accomplishments in 2022! But there is one more! And it is huge… just this past week the Municipalité de la Pêche agreed to purchase the building that houses Place des Artistes de Farrellton, an artists’ co-op that STO Union has been a supporting member of for the past seven years. This underserved region now has secured a true, bricks and mortar artists’ space dedicated to professional and community-engaged arts! STO Union is proud to have contributed to this great achievement.
Moving forward it’s good for all of us to remember that we’ve all been through a lot and that the changes are profound. It’s all still a shock that is being assimilated and the pieces have not landed. One thing we know for certain is that creativity is here to help all of us through it always.
Wishing you all peace and happiness,
La version française est ci-dessous
We recognize this season of letting go along with our pandemic reality can result in feelings of grief. If you or someone you know is struggling or in distress, please know you are not alone. It’s important to reach out to get help. Some resources include Kids Help Phone, Canada Suicide Prevention Service and Quebec Crisis Intervention. The Canadian Mental Health Association also offers resources to support mental health during the pandemic.