Lessons in minding with Louise Lowe

Today’s input on the applied theatre course came via a very exciting Irish artist named Louise Lowe, who was joined throughout the day by members of her company, ANU Productions. I met Louise last Saturday, and we’ve heard her mentioned by other practitioners in almost every session that we’ve experienced this week. I joked this afternoon that it was like the first act of Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, where we hear about Big Daddy for an entire act before he finally enters in Act Two. After experiencing Louise’s work with the students today, Act Two was well worth the wait. Louise is making work in a variety of different settings and in a number of styles. She manages to get actors and non-actors to sign on for some intense durational and environmental performance experiences, and she’s working in Dublin, Belfast, and other communities in between. Suffice it to say, there’s absolutely no grass growing under Louise Lowe’s feet.

Louise’s input followed the general outline of most of the experiences we’ve had thus far. She spent the morning discussing past works she’s created with her company, ANU Productions, and then in the afternoon session, she guided the students through ensemble-building work, and then set them to the task of creating original works inspired by the neighborhood and circumstances of her latest work, The Boys of Foley Street, which will premiere at the Dublin Theatre Festival this fall. Sandwiched between the morning and the afternoon, we received an abridged tour of the neighborhood from local historian and folklorist, Terry Fagan, and through his storytelling, we gained genuine insight into how this one city block has provided Louise with inspiration for an entire cycle of performances that she is creating with her company.

I took a lot away from observing Louise’s work with the students. Rather than do a blow by blow of all that happened in detail, I’ll list a few quotations, paraphrases, and moments, and try to illuminate from there.

1. Louise asked the students to think about three questions: where do you stand? How do you begin? What are you most afraid of? Straight out of the chute, these questions were on the table. A great way to immediately take the temperature of a potential group of collaborators. Students interviewed each other and re-presented each others’ answers. They were then asked to spend the day thinking about how they might present their partner’s answers in a performance piece. Louise completed the day’s work with a re-visit to those potential ideas.

2. Cubist dramaturgy: exposing multiple surfaces. An area that I want to research a bit more.

3. Louise paraphrased: Don’t pay attention to yourself onstage, but pay attention to everyone else around you. Really pay attention.
May sound obvious, but my own experiences tell me that it bears repeating. Constantly.

4. “Too often we get stuck having love ins as artists.”
I may get this made into a t-shirt. This notion of the love in is really dangerous. It’s linked to Bogart’s assertion that resistance is a necessary element of any creative process. I just appreciate Louise’s way of conveying it.

5. Louise paraphrased: Stop acting and look after the others. Be mindful of the others. Mind the others.
Phrases like this came up repeatedly throughout the day. I liked the sound of the philosophy, but then it kicked in when some students presented a piece outdoors and began to draw more attention to themselves than was anticipated. I witnessed Louise and four company members fan out around our group like Obama’s Secret Service corps, and embody what it means to “mind others.” Their presence immediately helped to diffuse the situation at hand, without interrupting the work of the performers or creating conflict within the community. They have embedded themselves in a studio space within the community where their current work resides, and as a result, they’ve gained some deeper connection to the location and its people. It makes me think about the notion of insider/outsider, and how Louise and her colleagues have struck a delicate balance of trust and understanding with the community, but that the delicate balance requires constant sensitivity and re-negotiation. There is no resting on the laurels of past interactions. To me this speaks volumes about how community-engaged artists need to be thinking and intentional when they enter and/or create within a community.

6. “When you mind other people, you cease to become indulgent.”
This takes practice and a lot of self-reflection. But the benefits are immense.

Spending the day with Louise and her colleagues, hearing about their work in more detail, and witnessing my students create reminded me that we all need to have our houses in order if we’re going to make work like this. I was struck that the company itself seemed to be in order as well. People commit to making the work, and the company as an entity commits to them. There’s something synergistic about how it works for these artists that’s inexplicable after just one day of being with them, but my gut tells me that it has a lot to do with the minding. Hence, the title of the blog post. How would art making change profoundly if all artists took the time to mind their collaborators? Not smother or coddle them or always agree with them, but mind them. This is something I’d like to know.

Below are some images from the day’s work.