fbpx Geaux and Gather | HowlRound Theatre Commons

Geaux and Gather

Time doesn’t stop. Even in death, bodies decompose and continue transforming. My relationship with time has changed significantly over the last few years. A change in geography has played a major role in this transition, as well as a massive cultural shift. Three years ago, I moved from crowded, fast-paced New York City to the quieter, stiller streets and forests of Norway and it forced me to slow down in a way I didn’t know was possible. My internal clock used to be on a steady and frenetic go get ’em kind of vibe which became an important survival tactic. The artist hustle is a real one, and if you want to pay your bills and feed your tummy, you can’t stop and slow down. At least that’s what I thought.

I took the opportunity to go back to school and get my master’s degree in performance at The Norwegian Theatre Academy (NTA). Going back to school provided me with the network I needed to reestablish myself, and the time to research and dig into the work I was exploring with performance and permaculture. Permaculture, drawing inspiration from indigenous ecological practices, is a creative design process and set of design tools based on whole-systems thinking, informed by ethics and design principles, and reliant upon “observing the patterns in nature’s cycles. The patterns can inform the design of the infrastructure we need for a sustainable future.” The merger between my budding environmental pursuits and my creative work seemed so hard to attain in New York. Being in Norway and spending two years with access to land to grow and learn, for free, created a massive window of opportunity. I was able to investigate how to make work that speaks to the time we are living in while being resourceful and exploring methods of working in alignment with the more-than-human.

This two-year study period is where Gather (g)Round was both conceived and realized. Gather (g)Round is a multi-iterative research project seeking to redefine concepts of community, ecosystems, and gathering. It also seeks to redefine and reconsider relationships to performance, what performance can look like, and who is considered a performer. Performance is often likened to singing, dancing, and acting in the traditional sense. In the world of theatre and performance studies, these ideas tend to expand more as they did during my time at NTA. This is when I realized that every entity involved in my projects needed to be credited as a performer because of the roles and influences they extend into the project. As I witness their growth over time, I see how they shape the development of material, music, and text through the conversations they spark, and how they affect our moods and the moods of our audiences.

A group of people stand in a circle in a field.

Gather (g)Round- In Relation audience and participants. Created by Ayesha Jordan in collaboration with the Norwegian Theatre Academy; Talberg Farm; seeds, soil, insects, and water. Lighting design by the sun. Costume design by Cecilio Orozco-Martinez. Photo by Jessica Williams.

I spent much of my time during my studies developing and literally growing my skills on a farm in a town called Skjeberg. I had the opportunity to work with the land, soil, seeds, insects, and weather patterns, while building my relationship with the family living on the farm, as well as the numerous people who came to help me. These relationships are ongoing and ideally will continue to expand while this project grows and transforms.

With time, I came to realize that I should explore the merging of my artistic worlds. Thus was born the idea to develop Shasta Geaux Pop presents: Shasta Greaux Crops. This came from the splicing of two seeds: Gather (g)Round and Shasta Geaux Pop, an immersive performance wrapped up in the form of a wild underground house party led by a pop diva superstar and her collaborators, who include Justin “J.U.S.E” Hicks, DJ mxmedusa (previously DJ Average Jo) aka Jo Collura, Tuçe Yasak, Abigail DeVille, Kent Barrett, and Charlotte Brathwaite.

Shasta Geaux Pop was born several years before the first actual production came into existence in 2016. It started with a song called “Drunk and Famous,” which was written roughly around 2007. This was at a time when celebrities like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were making the front pages of tabloids and getting flashed all over the news for partying and getting DUIs. It was also a time when hip-hop artists and pop stars were booking starring roles in film and television. I thought why not become a pop star so I can make it in the industry? Shasta's song repertoire increased. Many of the songs were social commentary from a comedic perspective. A few song titles are “Exponential Thrust,” “Kegel to the Beat,” and “Spicy Hot Chocolate.”

A performer in a headdress performs onstage.

Shasta Geaux Pop on the Highline 2018. Written and Performed by Ayesha Jordan. Co-created and directed by Charlotte Brathwaite. Musical direction, composition,  and performance by Justin Hicks. Additional music production, DJ-ing, and performance by DJ Avg Jo. Lighting by Tuçe Yasak. Costumes by Abigail DeVille. Video by Kent Barrett. Photo by Liz Ligon.

The first performance premiered at The Bushwick Starr in Brooklyn, and was what we called a “basement get-down party.” We toured this performance and adapted it based on the locations—be they black boxes, lobbies, or outdoor spaces. Shasta became a clear identity with her own Facebook page, Instagram, and very inactive Twitter account. She has made guest appearances at varied locations and events while fostering access to topics that are often difficult to broach in public settings with strangers. When I left New York, I decided to put Shasta on hold because I wanted to focus less on performing and being “centered” as a performer. I dedicated my time to exploring methods of decentralization while attempting to ensure there was equal attention and focus on all parties involved in my work. However, taking two years during my Master of Arts to shift the focus of my practice brought to my attention how much I missed performing and how valuable Shasta was as a vehicle to convey ideas.

I wondered what would happen if I took these two highly collaborative projects and processes, mashed up the world of pop, comedy, and entertainment with eco-performance, and created a whole new adventure that dives deep into the exploration of time, heritage, ritual-making, knowledge, and skill production while aligning artistic practice with seasons and seed cycles. Could we make a project that has some positive effect on the present and the future of our planet? What types of networks and support systems could we create, and what existing networks and support systems could we tap into?

A graphic detailing the life cycle of plant projects.

Project Planning Breakdown by Ayesha Jordan. Audio description here.

Shasta Geaux Pop presents: Shasta Greaux Crops is being developed as a multi-species collaboration. Over the next three years I, alongside my collaborators, will spend time in various rural and urban locations working with land, soil, plants, people, and each other while creating material, growing food, and working to find ways to develop and support communal ecosystems that aren’t solely reliant on capitalist models of creation. For example, can this project become an art cooperative? I have already been exploring ways of making Gather (g)Round a co-op that allows room for input and participation from more than just the creative team.

What if we were just a bit more aware and mindful of being in right relationship with our more-than-human kin? Perhaps this would allow us to treat each other a bit better.

But, why does any of this even matter? What is the purpose? Sometimes I imagine what the world would be like if humans were better service providers. Not in the sense of customer service to sell products, or to work in the hotel and restaurant industry, but as service providers to the earth. Suppose we were holistically interested in servicing other species as well as our own. Suppose we considered the soil, trees, plants, animals, and microbes. At the very least, what if we were just a bit more aware and mindful of being in right relationship with our more-than-human kin? Perhaps this would allow us to treat each other a bit better.

While walking my dog Maxine recently, I thought about soil. Soils are critical ecosystem service providers. I thought about the time it takes for soil to become healthy. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, “Some tangible benefits from improved soil health may take five-ten years to become visible or measurable, but others may appear within a single year.” This means, of course, both immediate and long-term measures can be taken to improve the matter who literally gifts us life and aids in our survival. I liken this to the approach I am currently taking with my artistic practice, taking both immediate action and slowing down. I cannot expect change to happen overnight. The genocides, oppressions, climate shifts, and colonial regimes took years of planning and strategizing to get the world to this geological age that many refer to as the Anthropocene.

As a Black American who is a descendant of those who were kidnapped and enslaved, the notion of the Anthropocene resonates very differently with me and connects directly to my artistic practice. In her book A Billion Black Anthropocenes, Kathryn Yusoff writes, “I want to challenge the racial blindness of the Anthropocene as a willful blindness that permeates its comfortable suppositions and its imaginaries of the planetary-imaginaries that constitute its geographies of concern and attribution.” I actually reached out to our pal ChatGPT to break this down in simpler terms: “I aim to question how people overlook racial issues during the Anthropocene era, viewing it as a deliberate choice rather than an oversight. This blindness affects their comfortable assumptions and the ways they imagine the world, including how they perceive and assign importance to different geographical areas on the planet.”

White supremacy has played such a vital role in the destruction of our planet. White supremacy has erased and destroyed so many traditional ecological knowledges and practices—ways of being that were in alignment with the earth’s natural processes. We weren’t separate from nature; we recognized ourselves as nature. I strongly believe that in order for the planet to heal we absolutely cannot continue business as usual with the West leading the way and continuing down the same path of destruction.

This is why this project must be developed intentionally by those belonging to the Global Majority. It must be created and explored by those who have been marginalized and whose voices and existences are constantly challenged. It is also pertinent that we spend time cultivating an audience of participants who look like us and see themselves reflected in the work. Living in Europe, and working in the arts in general, my experience has been that audiences are predominantly white, have financial privilege, and/or are connected to the arts. This work wants to challenge that and cultivate a truly diverse audience, which takes time and requires building relationships. This is why workshops are such an important aspect of the developmental process. Through long-term engagements with different groups, we can establish trust and understanding of the processes we are both experimenting and working with. There is also a multigenerational aspect of the work that juxtaposes the past and the future, through examining archives and traditions, while imagining new futures and creating new rituals that shape and prepare generations to come.

What does the spring ask of us? How do we understand the needs of the summer and the fall?

We must remember that we are not the most important species on the planet, but our impact is great, so we must move with care. Seasonal compassion and sensitivities are a necessity. What does the spring ask of us? How do we understand the needs of the summer and the fall? Where do we place ourselves in the winter, and who do we shelter in case we have accidentally or purposefully displaced habitats? In the spring of 2023, we embarked on our first collaborative exploration. A few collaborators in New York City—Justin Hicks, Kenita Miller-Hicks, and Jo Collura—flew to Oslo to meet with me and two other Norway-based collaborators: Vjolla Emiri and Cecilio Orozco-Martinez. We spent a week talking, sharing, gardening, hiking, cooking, and creating. One of the immediate takeaways was how we merely scratched the surface and needed more time. This had been the first time a couple of my collaborators had ever put their hands in the soil. We planted seeds together, both on the farm in Skjeberg and on my balcony. Most took root and I tried to document their growth over the course of the summer and fall harvest. We made music in the forest and studio, and recorded our conversations on cassette tapes so we could reference them later.

Five people stand in front of a planting bed.

Jo Collura, Justin Hicks, Vjolla Emiri, Kenita Miller-Hicks, and Cecilio Orozco-Martinez at Shasta Greaux Crops May 2023 Residency Session in Norway. Pictured in the photo Photo by Ayesha Jordan.

One idea we have set out to explore is growing our costume materials. Using plants grown domestically or foraged in nature as dyes and/or textiles forces us to truly take our time while experimenting and understanding these materials. This is a new process for all of us, so we are actively seeking others who have skills and are willing to share their knowledge. We have an agreement to develop work at an urban farm in Oslo called Losæter. The farm started as an art project of The Flatbread Society called The Flatbread Society Bakehouse. I am hoping to engage and learn with individuals and groups working at Losæter over the next three years.

We are still determining the shape this performance event will take, but I imagine it to be festival-style, taking place over the course of a day or several days, and in varied landscapes. Music, text, dance, sound art, education, food, getting dirty, working with soil and seeds, and varied other activities are some of what I imagine happening once this comes to fruition. I will spend September 2024 to June 2025 as a Princeton Hodder Fellow where I can focus on research and development with my collaborators. Perhaps this is when we can present our first work-in-process sharing with the public. There is also a plan to develop a freely accessible physical and digital toolkit that will reflect various learnings, discoveries, and aspects of our practice.

The purpose of Shasta Geaux Pop presents: Shasta Greaux Crops is to serve as a vehicle for change through the use of regenerative agricultural practices, Indigenous practices and principles, education, and collaboration, while also engaging, inspiring, and entertaining. The next three years, once we are ready to present our first major public sharing, will only be the true beginning of what feels like a “second life” project. My hope is that it grows into something much bigger than an eco-performance project and can belong to anyone who feels connected to the work.

 

 

Bookmark this page

Log in to add a bookmark
Thoughts from the curator

The climate crisis has been called a “crisis of imagination.” The phrase refers to our inability to grasp the magnitude and violence of the changes we are facing, our reluctance to let the reality of it permeate our collective consciousness, and our resistance to envision positive futures. But imagination is the currency of artists. In this ongoing series, Chantal Bilodeau, playwright and artistic director of the Arts & Climate Initiative, invites theatre artists, practitioners, and scholars to reflect on the ways in which they use their imagination to create the stories that will support us through, and lift us out of, this transformative moment.

Theatre in the Age of Climate Change

Comments

0
Add Comment

The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here

Newest First

Subscribe to HowlRound

Sign up for our daily, weekly, or quarterly emails so you never miss the latest theatre conversations.

Sign me up

Supporting HowlRound

We fundraise to keep all our programs free and open and to pay our contributors. Thank you to all who make our work possible!

Donate today