One of the more intriguing and aloof offerings at VAULT Festival this year is Red Room Productions’ This Is The Land. With an ominous listing promising to connect complex stories from the Earth’s sediment with the seasons, ecological crisis, social inequality and political repression. We sat down for a pixelated pint with Director Mary Steadman to get the inside dirt on This Is The Land.
You can catch This Is The Land at the Network Theatre as part of VAULT Festival between February 11th and 19th. Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.
Hey Mary, you’re the Artistic Director over at Red Room Productions, where we’ve been told you create shows that are a unique combination of dance, theatre and technology. Tell us about that process and how you got into it.
“The process is inspired by the film Arcadia directed by Paul Wright, a ‘mash-up’ of images and archive footage about the rural British Isles; defined as folk-horror. Which is in-vogue in film right now. This sparked my imagination, as my practice-based PhD focuses on how we sense and encounter feelings of the ‘eerie’ in abandoned sites, places, and landscapes. The eerie is often associated with the paranormal or supernatural, with its sense of unease being an expression of latent
anxieties and dissents that are needing some form of expression. The eerie is often defined as an absent presence of something unknown, here, it is the energy of the ‘Trickster’, which draws from the land’s deep Celtic identity – characterised by a wildness that refuses to be tamed, a symbol of resistance, resilience, and renewal.”
“The performers embody these characteristics, and respond to these ideas through improvisational tasks: dancing to folk and rave music, moving, singing, and writing. Stories and figures arise that encapsulate this spirit of counterculture, elemental beings those who want to dance themselves free. There are many dances, songs that tell stories, with the technology on stage as another mode to communicate how these are told. With four microphones, which ‘detect’ and ‘capture’ these voices, sounds, and stories, as fragments. Once detected, they are looped, through the vocal-looping, filling the space with a symphony, a ghostly sense of disembodied voices, generating an eerie effect.”
You’re taking This Is The Land to Vault Festival this year which is all about “thin places” – tell us, what is a thin place, and how was the process of creating a piece about them?
“The initial stage of the process was instigated through framing the theatrical world as a ‘Thin’ place, a liminal portal to worlds that exist alongside the known world. I ask, what exists in these ‘thin’ places? What kinds of figures are encountered here? This is a provocation to the performers’ improvisations, asking them to practically explore how the materials onstage: bodies, costumes, sounds, and objects behave in this thin place. I observe how the objects, technology, sound, light, and the performers’ bodies become more mutable.”
“This framing device is complemented by the process of the performers’ imagining themselves as if they are becoming shapeshifters; mutable beings or entities that exist in these ‘thin’ places who can shift between human, non-human and animal forms. The performers shift between being in this ‘thin’ place as figures from another dimension and themselves as performers on stage, blurring the boundaries between the dimensions. The piece uses this frame to think ‘beyond’ what we know and understand as reality.”
This Is The Land is rooted in themes about the Earth – sediment, the seasons, ecological crisis, social inequality – what are you hoping the piece will share with or evoke in the audience?
“What comes across in the show is the way in which the ‘Land’ is not a separate entity; it’s in our muscles and bones. The piece searches for the ways in which this is a felt experience, with each season a metaphor for our sensory experience of the land – not as something idyllic, or pastoral – but as wild and unpredictable. Our shifting relationship with the land unfolds as the piece progresses, with ‘land’ being defined as ‘cultural’ as well as ‘rural’. This brings with it its social inequities of ownership, class systems, and prejudice around who and what belongs in this land. This is epitomised in the symbol of the fox hunt, to portray how bodies and the land fall prey to systems of control. Ultimately, This Is The Land is a timely reminder of our resilient nature, appealing to an audience’s untamed muscles and bones to resist these narratives – to ensure our survival and that of the Earth. The audience is invited to feel, to reconnect with this instinctive and wild nature’.
Now that we’re gearing up for VAULT Festival 2023, what are you most excited for?
“We are really excited to bring this show to London, it’s toured to Bath
Bristol, and Belgium, with each performance it continues to grow and develop. To be part of a festival atmosphere is really exhilarating, the buzz around so many different performances to go and see, is something we look forward to being a part of. This Is The Land deals with its themes lightly, with an absurdist humour, and we have a fantastic international cast. We look forward to offering this to the VAULT audiences to come along and see.”
Fitting with the themes of our magazine, if your show was an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage (think cocktails, mocktails, shots, beers, be creative!) what would it be?
“The show has a very strong Celtic feel, so I would suggest a very good pint of Guinness, poured slowly to allow the head to settle, and strong whisky chaser or two – preferably after the performance to ensure that your senses aren’t too numbed by alcohol to feel.”