Today we’re joined for a pixelated pint by Pelagie-May Green, Performer-Director of Think Me In Circles, a new puppetry-centric, heartfelt piece landing at VAULT Festival in just a few weeks time. The piece is based on the story of a mother’s loss of her daughter, and uses physicality, storytelling and puppets to convey messages of grief, heartache and acceptance. With intriguing dream-like visuals and such an incredible backstory, we recently sat down with Pelagie to talk all about the piece’s origins and dig deeper into the play. Take a read of a shortened version of our conversation.
Catch Think Me in Circles at VAULT Festival from February 17th to 19th. Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.
Hi Pelagie, you’re a part of creating a very sensitive and thought-provoking piece about grief, could you tell us more about the story behind the piece and how you got involved with it?
“Hello Jake, it was so lovely to meet you in person and to talk to you about our show. Think Me in Circles is a very sensitive piece. The text, written by Diana Maes, is autobiographical and is a very beautifully written memoir about the journey she has travelled through after losing her daughter.
This resulted in a greater awareness of life in general and made her focus more on growth and beauty rather than the deep sadness of her loss. Diana is a close friend of the family, and her daughter was a dear friend of mine and my mothers’, Pascale Pollier, who is the Artistic Director of Think Me In Circles.
Diana has written the text in Flemish and has translated it into English. For her, the experience and journey has also been a positive healing process and for her to know it will be performed, and that people are rehearsing her lines is a continuation of that feeling of getting stronger. When she asked me if I wanted to create a piece based on her text and direct it, I felt so honoured that she had given me her trust. It is a very special project, very close to my heart, and I found myself sinking into the feeling of grief and letting go. It all flows together in this complexity we call life.
But how does one deal with grief after losing a loved one? How does one carry on regardless?
There is a mutual respect between the cast which is very powerful and also between myself and Diana – this is so precious and important to me. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we feel as a collective that this story will help many people, especially those who have lost a loved one through suicide.”
The show utilises puppetry a great deal in creating the aura and atmosphere that the themes deserve, tell us a little about the process of creating the puppets and what it has been like working with them.
“Our main puppet consists of three life casts, one of my own face and two of my arms creating a life-like white solid sculpture; here we first started using wax which was a little too fragile and then plaster which proved to be too heavy. In the end we used wood epoxy which has all the qualities of the former two i.e., lifelike, and solid but with the added qualities that it is also strong and light to manoeuvre. making the life casts was very exciting, there was a lot of trust involved as my entire face was covered in first a purple gooey silicone and then layers of plaster bandages, just my nostrils were free to breath, it took around 30 min. Pascale, my mother, is a medical artist and focuses on making realistic anatomical sculptures. She is also our puppet maker!
Collaborating with my mother has been and still is incredible, especially as we both have strong connections with what happened. We have been working together mostly deep into the night producing and finishing props or repainting/creating new puppets… cooking chalk puppets …the list goes on (I have two little boys so working and creating at night was the only option and has been the new way of living). Having my mother make the casts was quite calming, I don’t know how I would have coped if someone else had done it as I’m quite claustrophobic. The puppet comes in different shapes and appearances one of which, for example, is a clear resin version which can be lit up and, in a sense, becomes a body of light. Then there is the puppet which represents the father, this is made of paper and is not at all realistic. he died a long time ago also through suicide, and thus – memory of the details of his face had become quite faded, nevertheless he still plays an important part in the memories of the mother.
Bringing the puppets to life has for me been a surreal, reflective experience as I’m essentially performing with myself? On one occasion I actually burst into tears whilst the character of the puppet tried to get my attention. We’ve had the honour of working with Sean Garrat and Heather Lai who have helped us immensely with the creative process, specifically with puppetry which has now become second nature to us all. We feel we have grown so much and there is still an endless amount to be explored.”
We’ve heard the show is going to feature live music, what can the audience expect and how is the music a part of the piece.
“We will be using original music written by Steve Aruni and additional material by August Janklow. The music plays a very important part. It lifts the text, balances the heaviness of the words and follows the journey of emotions linked with every memory. It won’t be all soft and delicate ……but I also don’t want to give away too much.
The show utilises a lot of dream-like qualities whilst still remaining grounded in a real-world story, tell us about the significance of those and how you’ve found balance between the two
“The Mother” stays in the real world and in the present time reminiscing about the past, so her dreams and memories are being shown through puppetry and symbolic visuals; A crumbled chalk face symbolises the fractured fragile mind, and the fading of memories of the physical body after death. The two worlds may sometimes collide where the observer doesn’t know what is real or what could be a dream. There are a lot of dreamlike visuals, but we also don’t hide away from the harsh heart-breaking facts of what actually happened.
Chalk and dust are recurring elements within the show, referring to ‘ashes to ashes dust to dust’ and snow crystals but also to the writer of the play Diana Maes and her husband who were both teachers and thus used a lot of chalk on the blackboard.”
Tell us a little about the stigmas that the show is hoping to break down.“
“With this performance we want to bring awareness of expression and mental health, why is it still stigmatised, and still looked down upon?
Our aim is to break down the silence surrounding suicide and mental health issues.
We intend to raise awareness of the importance of professional support for people with depression and mental health issues and to emphasise the need to help grieving families afflicted by suicide. I know Diana feels very strongly about this.
– It’s been the hardest show I’ve ever worked on for many reasons. Yes, because of the realness and the connections I have with the story, but It’s also been the most reflective process.
There is no real plot. We know from the beginning what happened. It’s a raw performance of someone, on stage, opening up to you and self-reflecting with naked sometimes painful truth, no sugar coating, but not overly sentimental either but full of integrity.”
The team behind Think Me In Circles is quite international – tell us how it has been performing together.
“We have an amazing cast; predominantly female and predominantly from overseas.
Meeri Aro from Finland, Josefine Elfrida Hartvig Twisttmann from Denmark, Diana Maes, Pascale Pollier and myself are from Belgium, August Janklow grew up in New York, Henry Barker from England and Steve Aruni from Wales. It has been a beautiful collaboration, and within our own language and culture we have found similarities, specially noticing the wording of different phrases when translating the text to English. On our first day of our R&D week we spoke about what grief represents to each one of us and how we visualized it. This opened a whole new way of knowing one another
It definitely broke the ice, and we became very close because of it. It also made us realize that being open and honest and raw was a very important first step to start on this journey together, working around the themes of mental health, death and grief is not an easy one to dive into. “The Mother” played by Josefine who has worked around not only trying to understand all Diana’s complex emotions and journey but also trying find a flow in a language that isn’t her first, explained; “To me, it’s been terrifying to do this text but of course also amazing, exciting and a fantastic opportunity, but definitely also terrifying.
This is my first real, long performance in English, and when reading the text, I had to realise that this was probably going to be difficult. The text isn’t written in an everyday speaking style of language, and there were so many words I didn’t even know or understand.
Would I be able to say these lines and make them sound natural and convincing? Am I actually even able to sound properly natural in general when speaking English lines? Would I just sound like an awkward foreigner? But no matter what, I’m getting less and less scared and more and more excited!”
Now that we’re gearing up for VAULT Festival 2023, what are you most excited for?
“I’m very excited to watch as many shows as I possible can, so many incredible shows to choose from. I’m also very excited to hear what the audience will say about Think Me in Circles, will they understand, will they come away with a feeling of togetherness knowing they are not alone and can reach out. Grief is an emotion we can all connect with and relate to, there is always someone who is willing to help and listen.
But most of all I’m excited for Diana’s response to it. She will watch the show for the very first time on the 18th of February.”
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?
“A cocktail of milky thunderclouds sprinkled with edible glitter on the rocks.”