Sara Tilley will be giving her inaugural reading as Writer in Residence at Memorial University on Thursday, September 29th at 8:00pm in the Suncor Hall at the university.
Tilley is also working with a percussionist and a vertical dancer (who uses ropes and harnesses to dance in the air) to create a performance piece that will take place at the Queen Elizabeth II Library at Memorial University on October 18th. The reading and performance are both free and open to the public.
Tilley has written eleven plays and two award winning novels, Skin Room and Duke, which won the 2015 BMO Winterset Award and was shortlisted for the 2015 NL Book Award for Fiction. She is the founder of a feminist theatre company called, She Said Yes!
Tilley teaches Pochinko Clown Through Mask and uses the technique to shape her own theatrical work and prose. Tilley said she usually begins working on a piece by videotaping herself improvising in mask. She then watches the video and dictates notes about her performance before finally beginning to write.
“When you work in a mask and you work with improvisation you access a subconscious or subterranean layer of impulse that I find is harder to access if you go straight to writing,” Tilley explained about her method.
As writer in residence Tilley will be spending sixty percent of her time on her own work and forty percent on outreach activities that will be offered to students of the university as well as the general community. Tilley said she was thrilled to find that Memorial University is very open to outreach activities of an experimental nature.
“I’m excited because I think the university is really behind play and experimentation in terms of how you go about writing,” Tilley said.
In addition to offering one-on-one consultations on prose and playwriting, Tilley will facilitate two workshops as part of her Writer in Residence outreach activities.
One of these workshops, The CollabLab, is composed of students and artists from the community. The group will meet bi-weekly to participate in a collective writing experiment. Over the course of the semester, using different writing exercises, the group will create a collectively written, stage-able play.
The second workshop will be composed of five of Tilley’s former clowning students. Tilley will teach these students how to use clowning techniques to create written works and theatrical pieces.
During her time as Writer in Residence, Tilley will be writing a play called “White and Red” and working on the text for a graphic novel she is creating in collaboration with visual artist, Audrey Hurd.
Tilley and Hurd discovered they had a shared love of graphic literature when they found themselves living together in an old house in the isolated community of Dunterra, where they were both completing solo-artist residencies.
“It was almost like someone asking you out. Audrey kind of shyly asked, ‘would you ever think about maybe making a book with me?’ I got really nervous and blushed and said, ‘yes! It’s what I’ve always wanted!’” Tilley said, joking about how they decided to work together on the project.
Hurd has studied clowning with Tilley and they will be using Pochinko Clowning Through Mask to create the world of their graphic novel.
“We’re going to be working with masks, literally inhabiting our characters, improvising and video taping them just like we do for theatre,” Tilley said.
The graphic novel is set in the future, in a world where humans no longer exist. Tilley will use the video of their improvisations to build the plot of the play. Hurd will draw selected stills from the video to determine how their characters look and move.
The other project Tilley will be working on during her residency, her play, “White and Red” was inspired by a trip she took to Sicily and Slovenia to pursue puppetry and playwriting.
The play tells the story of three writers, a Canadian woman in her thirties and two men in their sixties, one Italian and one American. The characters are thrown together at a writing retreat in Sicily and find they have nothing in common except for their profession.
For Tilley, the play is about how strangers with different cultural backgrounds interact. She says that although the play will have lots of funny moments it will also explore very dark territory having to do with manipulation and sexual politics.
For this project Tilley is drawing inspiration from detailed notes she made during her trip as opposed to clowning and improvisation.
“Even though it seems traditional to sit down and write to me it feels really experimental,” Tilley said about her process.