World premiere of ethnographic performance at graduate theatre symposium

The world premiere of the morning I died I flew over the tobacco fields..., a multimedia ethnographic performance created by York University undergraduate and graduate students and a team of artistic collaborators involved with Sensorium research centre, will take place on March 28 at a conference and symposium co-hosted by York's Graduate Program in Theatre and Performance Studies and the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography.

"Imagining Differently: Research-Creation Practices in Urgent Times" is a two-day conference being held in York University's Accolade East (ACE) building at the Keele Campus with events taking place in rooms 207, 209 and 244 ACE. In addition to the premiere of the morning I died I flew over the tobacco fields..., the conference will feature seven panel presentations and a keynote talk from artist and University of Alberta Associate Professor Natalie Loveless, titled "Why Research-Creation? Artistic Method and the Anthropocene."

The keynote presentation will begin at 10 a.m. on March 28 in ACE Room 208, and the morning I died I flew over the tobacco fields... will be performed later that day at 6 p.m. in the McLean Performance Studio (room 244, ACE).

Sadie Wells Liddy as Missus Quince. Photo credit: Amadeusz Kazubowski-Houston

Sadie Wells Liddy as Missus Quince. Photo credit: Amadeusz Kazubowski-Houston

The morning I died I flew over the tobacco fields... is based on a short story written by Toronto interdisciplinary artist Lynn Hutchinson Lee, the daughter of a Canadian mother and Romanichal (English Romani) father. The story is inspired by the life of Hutchison Lee's paternal aunt May and takes place during the latter part of the Depression in the Tillsonburg, Ont. area. The performance project uses multimodal ethnographic approaches, including physical theatre, spoken and written word, film and photography to tell the story of family, identity and absence. Hutchison Lee's aunt climbs onto a roof being tarred by her father and brothers and is enchanted by the sight of two swans on a pond owned by the wealthy tobacco farmer for whom her family works. She is hired as a paid companion for a farmer’s wife, Missus Quince, and is assigned the task of preparing food for the swans. Over the years, Hutchison Lee's aunt finds comfort in her visions of the two swans on the pond who often ‘visit’ her at night, and eventually becomes a healer of birds. The story will be performed by York student Leanne Hoffman and former York student Sadie Wells Liddy.

“The story is based on my family’s history," said Hutchinson Lee. "I wanted to bring life to this young girl, to humanize her. My aunt May was a recluse and she came from a poor, illiterate family who was separated and scattered. There are stereotypes about the Romani people, and I wanted to dispel some of these biases about my father's people.”

The creative team behind the performance, lead by York University Associate Professor Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston and based out of York's Sensorium Centre for Digital Arts and Technology, sought to explore a non-living person through the practice of performance ethnography, employing theatre and performance – as collaborative, multisensorial and transdisciplinary modalities – at the level of ethnographic process, analysis and representation. The group works at the intersection of humanistic anthropology, theatre and performance studies and visual anthropology, initiating dialogues about how ethnographic performance-creation might help to re-conceptualize public engagement, activism, collaboration, reflexivity and representation.

The performance is free and open to the public, however organizers request that those interested in attending RSPV to co-director Becky Gold.

A complete itinerary of panels and presentations is listed on the conference website. A list of events hosted by York University's Graduate Program in Theatre and Performance Studies can be found on the program's website.

Production details:

Dramaturge: Lynn Hutchinson Lee

Co-direction: Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston, Shawn Kazubowski-Houston

Assistant direction: Becky Gold

Featuring: Leanne Hoffman, Sadie Wells Liddy

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