Windblown / Rafales

“Windblown/Rafales” is a site-specific performance project presented by Knowhere Productions ( in Ponteix, Saskatchewan on July 15th, 2008.

July 19, 2008

Back to "civilization"

Well, that's it. I got back to Calgary with Mel on the 17th. Driving back into the city was like entering a new dimension that I had blocked from my consciousness. Being in Ponteix will remain a precious moment in my memory, shared with absolutely amazing people from our group and the town of Ponteix.
Being part of Windblown/ RAAAFAALES was a blessing. I flew on a high of creativity, laughter, raunchy jokes, puns, spontaneous hugs, soccer and frisbee games in the gym, cooking, doing dishes, getting lost in the dark as rain fell on my bed from the worst hail storm since 1955 (I quote Laurent Thibault, here). I will remember this family that I had and loved intensely for two weeks.
Being the tocken French person on hand, I have to say I had a strange role. Pronouncing my name became a hopeless task as Derek was able to say it one second and then butcher it the next. I finally became "Oooh genie". In 23 years in Canada, that is the newest version of my name. I love it.
The show went very well. I didn't expect so many people to come, especially during the pilgrimage. I enjoyed engaging with our audience and making them laugh as I mimicked the "noise" of bits of conversations of the Ponteix Bakery and Cafe, where I made a lot of Friends.
Some people approached me and said we had "touched them to the core", that we had managed to "get" Ponteix, its history, its people. I am so proud of us for achieving this.
Camille's initial speech about the crisis of the dimishing francophone people out West, their language disappearing and their need to belong and to find their place was applauded. Camille's my daughter by the way, yep.
I also have to say that Andy is amazing. The day before the show, during our "dressed rehearsal", everything went crazy and not as planned. It was a zoo. He remained calm. I would have lost it. He encouraged us to keep doing what we were doing.

So, to all my team, I would like to say this:
Melanie, you are the other sister I knew I had. I have found you. Let's keep laughing out loud.
Ken, you are and always will be my gentle giant, with a touch for spontaneous fits of giggling laughter. You are the only Anglophone I know who was able to "fix" his pronunciation in French in half an hour.
Phil, you are a whirlwind of energy and organization, with fits of laughter and insanity. Please get some sleep.
Derek, I enjoyed our time together, marching to get water, marching through the school, and playing soccer in the gym. Yoga was fantastic too. I can now chew my toe nails.
Andy, I think you need another bottle of listerine and I love the way you run all the time. I do love your English accent with a slight happy twist which "tooches" me...
Regina, your quiet disposition didn't hide very well your intelligence and kindness... and an awesome sense of humour. It was interesting getting our names mutated all the time.
Melanie and Naomi, your arrival was a blessing: volleyball and dancing, with my girls in particular, and your friendly personalities was like you'd been with us since the beginning.
Yep. I loved you guys and I wouldn't have traded any of you for anything.
Ponteix to me, was about you.
Well, now, I have to grow up severely and face the bills and responsibilities I had so joyfully escaped for a sweet two weeks.
When is the next project?
(I speak Spanish too)




July 17, 2008

Pilgrimage back to the concrete jungle

I returned to Calgary today. The long drive did nothing to alleviate my state of raw vulnerability. These shows demand a lot of everyone: the artists, the community, the families of artists. Devising Windblown/Rafales has been an intense experience for all of us sojourners and I think many of us feel like we've been through a pilgrimage. Now that I'm "home," I am even more aware of the passion that has surrounded this event and the toll it's taken on all of us. And I think we'd probably all say it was worth the effort if only for the amazing people we met and the test to our creative impulses.

This morning I took one last run up to the Lady of the Fields. I still find the shelter built over her takes away her powerful image. The decision to cover her under a shelter reminds me of theatre staged in a purpose-built theatre - a structure built for the purpose of staging a theatre event. What I like about site-specific performance is that it is risky and vulnerable. Because the spaces are used for something that isn't performance, there is always a possibility that the elements won't cooperate: that a bride will come in and say she needs the parish hall for her wedding, that a rainstorm will make the pilgrimage more difficult, that props will go missing, and that nuns will be angry that artists are treating a sacred space as something secular. To me these risks mean that our performance will be more sublime. All of the elements that have come between us and a polished event become a part of that event in a significant way. Like the Lady of the Fields. Without the shelter, she'd show the scars of being battered by the wind, rain, snow, and hail. I think all those involved in this project feel a little battered by the wind having been exposed to many challenges, obstacles, and elements working against us during the devising of this project. These scars are evidence we've done our job as artists.

It's a typical Thursday night in Calgary on the Red Mile strip and the noise outside my apartment window is both disorienting and comforting. Ponteix already feels like a hundred years ago as I look through the pile of unfinished work to be done and bills that have accumulated since I've been gone. The personal details of my life that were filed away under the part of my brain labeled "Do not open until after July 15th" have emerged back into my psyche again. My mind has already moved on from Ponteix. Soon I'll be romanticizing the whole experience and people I've met. The challenges we had will be a distant memory and the positive highlights will be all that I think about.

I'm both relieved to be back in a place where I can't hear myself think and sad because of the people I left this morning. Eugenie and I had breakfast in the bakery before we left. Eugenie knew everyone there of course! As usual, I remained a bit shy and reserved. The Thibault brothers were there. Laurent asked me, "how are you ever going to be able to live in Calgary and Toronto after being here?" I answered that I didn't know. But in reality, I think I live in large places out of survival. Not just physical survival (jobs, opportunity), but emotional survival. Small towns with their sense of community and identity remind me too much of my emptiness. I don't think I am the type of person who will ever be able to settle into a sense of belonging. Belonging is something I desire, but something that seems out of reach for me.

Ponteix in one sense was quite isolating for me, but in another it was not isolating enough. It's a place where people all know each other, where everyone knows the scoop on everyone else, and where residents have deep roots. In the city, there is a certain anonymity. If I have a falling out with a friend, I can disappear among others for a while. If there is a scandal within my family or marriage, no one needs to know and if they do know they probably don't really care. Ponteix by contrast, is a place where you can't escape your neighbours. There is always someone there for you during life's storms. I can't think of a single person in my life who would really be there for me if I needed them. No one seems to have the time in the world in which I choose to live. We're all busy making ourselves more busy, so that we aren't obligated to wave to people on the street or stop to chat.

I want to write about the show, but for now I'm in a state of culture shock.

July 16, 2008


Three cheers for the FABULOUS people on Ponteix!

We had a h-u-g-e, overwhealming audience come to our performance on Tuesday. We couldn't have ASKED for more (we certainly didn't anticipate this size of audience!). The show went off without a hitch... Our fantastic audience joined us on our journey from the Notre Dame d'Auvergne Church to the Gabriel Residence, and onto the pilgrimage or the orchard. The show finally culminated into a finale in the Parish Hall that sounded good and looked great!

Our audience did exactly what a good theatre audience should: they asked questions, they were positive, they were critical, they were analytical, they were reflective! A work such as this, which touches so much on the fine threads of a community, will always recieve criticism, but it is our hope that this criticism spurs thought and discussion for a few days, weeks, and months. As artists, we enjoy the relationship with our world to comment on it, and try to affect change through our various mediums. We hope we've struck a nerve and perked up Ponteix's already-optimistic sense for the future.

Of special note, and especially because of their oversight in our show's programme, I want to graciously thank Melanie Kloetzel (I spelled that from memory) and Naomi Brand, our two fantastic dance artists who joined us from Alberta. Melanie is an Associate Professor at the U of Calgary, and Naomi an M.F.A. grad student in the U of C's Program of Dance. They came in, and in no time gell'd with our core performers, and created a spectacular piece of dance. It felt like they had been with us for the entire rehearsal process. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with two older ladies in our audience who had seen Melanie and Naomi's piece, and they were delighted by how the artists had embraced the space, the story, and the community.

I also need to sincerely thank the two of the most wonderful, caring, and sincere people we've met on our journey... Caroline Cloutier and Daniel Fontaine. They have welcomed us into their home as extended family, cared for us, laughed with us, and been such sincere friends to our whole company. These two people have opened their hearts to us and were two of the hardest people we have to say "farewell" to...

And it has been hard to say "farewell." This morning, we're all coming to the realisation that our time in Ponteix is, for the moment, coming to a close... As we pack up our lives for the last weeks, tie up our sleeping bags, and zip up our luggage, every step takes us a little closer to moving away from this journey, and back towards another one.

If you live in southern Saskatchewan and are looking for a place to go, visit Ponteix. They have a fantastic hotel, a great way of living life, and some spectacular people. Slow down driving on 1st and 2nd Avenue, wear your seatbelt, and do walk to all corners of the town so you don't miss anything. Ponteix is ready to grow... Do you want to buy some real estate?

July 14, 2008

More than this provincial life?

I think I finally get it.

The appeal of smaller communities, that is.

Earlier, when I encountered some of our visitors from Québec and France, we greeted each other with a cheerful "bonjour!" or "salut!" as we strolled past.

Today, I needed to replace a lamp in my car, pickup groceries, and run an errand. At home, in Regina, I would hop in my car, drive to each location, get swamped up in traffic, and spend an hour in total. Here in Ponteix, I just walked. In this gorgeous, sunny day. I talked to a man on the street in front of the grocery store.

When I went to pickup the lamp for my car, I would walk into a monstrosity of a store, with far too many items I don't want or need; and I certainly wouldn't be greeted. Today, in Thibault's Auto Parts, one of their employees struck up a conversation about the bulb in my hand, tracked it down for me lickety-split, and had me looked after.

In Scully's (the grocery store), I recognise almost every one of their shop assistants, the store is well-stocked enough that we have not gone for wanting; and small enough you're not assailed by fifty types of laundry soap, a clothing section, and a "café" in the middle of the store. You're in and out in 10 minutes, but you visit often because it's not an assault on the human capacity for retail.

There is a distinct appeal about this town, its people, its spirit. On Centre Street, there's a beautiful home for sale, and the chances are good that the asking price here is far less than in Regina; and the ammenities you're looking for - gas, grocery, dining, etc. - are all a short walk away. Ponteix doesn't have a Wal-Mart, a Shoppers Drug Mart, or a Canadian Tire. What they do have are stores that fulfill what you need, with the courtesy and service a large centre lacks.

Two days from now, we'll be leaving Ponteix, but I won't say "goodbye;" I'll just say "see you later, my friend." This town is feeling very comfortable to me, very relaxing, and the friends we've made in this town have opened themselves up to us in so many ways.

Windblown / Rafales is presented by Knowhere Productions with generous funding from the Saskatchewan Arts Board and the University of Regina Humanities Research Institute... But the bills don't stop there. Groceries, sound equipment, props, and costume alterations have piled up many bills to sustain the show through to its end-point. Tomorrow we perform, and all the stops get pulled out - there's no going back. If you'd like to show your committment to this unique site-specific work, please consider making a donation to Knowhere Productions, so that we can continue this work, and the development of theatre, music, visual, and performance artists across Canada.

July 12, 2008

Much like the mysteries of alchemy, one ponders how divergent and sometimes seemingly unconnected elements combine. If one were to image this alchemic ensemble as the elements: earth, fire and air, it becomes evident that this combination can only create incredible things.

Heather Shaunna and I are working with air, the element that is only tangible through the things its touches. In this case, specifically, we are working with the wind. If we consider that the wind is only visible through the things it touches or moves, it is easy to image it as a force with intent or purpose. Perhaps in some theory of chaos or a sketch of the cosmos the role of the wind may seem evident, but in our world we image that it is a force that defines destiny without defining a specific course. Most evident in most alchemic practices, such as this, is the inevitable outcome of change.

Another aspect of the wind or air is exchange. Your breathe is your neighbour’s breath and in a crowd we share this thing most in common. With wind and air there is little that can be preciously mine or yours. The world of the windswept is not defined by you or me, but us.

Shaunna’s kite work will work to stitch the sky together, perhaps an attempt at bandaging or soothing emotions that can sometimes become undone with the change that wind brings.

Heather’s small farm structures, shadows, will kindle a sense of what the past may have been; perhaps hint at a possible future.

In an attempt to connect with the “us” in Windblown I will be giving, in exchange for a picture, commemorative mementoes.
Together we will be inverting the bell tower, bringing the exterior and the force of the wind into the still sanctity of the tower steps.

I was in Regina yesterday, editing the video that I shot with Regena on Tuesday night. It’s going to be installed in the Gabriel Residence, which used to be the hospital, as part of the performance there.

The whole process was a learning experience. That’s a nice way of saying it was frustrating. During the shoot, lights broke. I knew within seconds that my original idea wasn’t going to work, and that I’d have to think of something else. Most of the props I’d bought in Swift Current turned out to be useless. And who knew that gaffer tape wouldn’t hold fabric onto the wall? Regena was very patient despite all the confusion, and I eventually ended up with 40 minutes or so of tape that was going to have to be cut down to about five.

Editing was easy, in one way, because a lot of what I’d shot just wasn’t going to work. But I don’t use Final Cut every day. It’s a powerful tool, but also complicated. I always forget how it works and it takes time for me to relearn all the little tricks. For instance, I got one transition in place, but it took an hour to figure out what I’d done right and get the next one running. It all came out okay in the end. The next task will be figuring out how to install a scrim in a doorway. At least I know now that gaffer tape won’t work.

The idea for the piece came from Regena. She noticed something about how expressive Sister Belliveau’s hands are, and that got me thinking about the nuns who live and work here, and the different kinds of work they did here, and the hands that did that work. They cooked and cleaned, they cared for patients in the hospital, they taught school, they prayed. That part of what I’ve come to think of as the church compound was theirs. I wanted to explore and commemorate all the work women did here. I hope that people walking through the Residence on Tuesday get something of that from the installation.

July 11, 2008

Performing Therapy

The progress on the show has been good so far. It is slowly coming together. As often happens on these projects the exchange of ideas and the creative process has been interesting and engaging. Watching the new(er) comers start finding their voice and making interesting creative choices has been wonderful to watch. As often the case, performance is therapeutic as it provides an opportunity for a person to share and explore a profound, often very painful and traumatic, experience. Performance in this way is a form of active catharsis, where the person is the protagonist in the ritual and, therefore, in the cleansing of themselves of that trauma. For the onlookers, me and the rest of the group, for instance, this is interesting as we are witnessing and engaging a different aspect of this person’s being which creates a more resonant relationship. Even if we do not know the specifics, it is enough to know that the trauma is there which causes us to relate to a person I have just recently met in a much more profound way.

Performance, in this way, is about creating and understanding relationships and engaging with what is real and what is present; which, seemingly paradoxically, is often hidden or unattended to in the every day, real world. This just exposes that what is often is experienced is a product of the system that we are presently engaged in, performance often can, if it chooses to be, either another manifestation of the present system of engagement or it can present a different system of engagement—if I can impose this ‘either-or’ binary. What I can say is that what attracted to me to performance, in the way that it was taught to me, was that is was open-ended. This open-endedness could be a therapeutic experience, and I choose it to be so, because it could be something that could deal with the traumatic experiences that were unattended to in the other systems of engagement that I operated in. It gave power and legitimization to a part of me that had little purchase with my peers, even if they too had their own parts that didn’t have purchase to their peers. It has been satisfying to see the process repeated again and by writing about this, I can’t help but notice that that process got repeated by me in this analysis. Perhaps this treatment of the traumatic can be done in our work in Ponteix and offer a different system to engage and legitimize the shared discontent in this community that gains little purchase in the current system of engagement.


Finalising Events | Committing to Go

Ken and I are in Regina right now. He's cutting together the film (which I have no doubt will be very interesting) for part of the project installation, I am rounding up sound equipment so our audience will be able to hear our fantastic performers; and lighting equipment to highlight special installations.

I am delighted by the passionate artist's voice and language my collagues on this blog use in their postings. This passion, this connection and voice, is exactly what I see these artists, as researchers, performers, and theatre practitioners pouring out on a daily basis. They are so responsive to the story being told, and invested in the moment, the art flows from them, and is a delight to watch as an administrator and coordinator. I have every confidence this piece will be unique, engaging, and entirely fleeting...

Fleetingness truly is the nature of theatre. No matter the breadth of documentation we, as artists and arts administrators, make of the show on paper, in diagrams, in photographs, and in videos, the truly momental nature and the immediacy of theatre lends itself being fleeting. Site-specific work even more so, as the text falls from its former life if taken out of its location, and removed from the context, space, and world with breathed life into its core.

This is a project that needs to be reflected on, written about, and debriefed on... This blog provides one of just many outlets; and many of my collagues will produce scholarly writings, films, and presentations on the project for months to come. For me, it is now 4:00pm, and time to pickup the last bits of audio equipment from GV Audio!

We'd love to see you at Windblown / Rafales. Please do consider joining us on the 15th of July. You can visit to get more details on the show, or to find a way to contact us with questions.

Drought/Storms of Dust

God, will it never rain?

Are those clouds I see westward? No. The clouds are just dust, fed by the harsh wind. Masked in potential like a mocking tease, the dust plays with my hope. Making me sense a stirring of life, its identity is all the more despairing. The wind feeding its malice on me like cancer. Thick and stifling. How wretched I am.

No rain, no crop, no feed, no faith, only wind. Wind that stirs the dust in my face, my hair. Settling in my ears, my eyes, so that I cannot hear or see anything but grey. Wind, an excruciating slap that doesn’t break for breath. A symbol of a tormented wasteland. A continuous reminder of my aridity, of my futility. My worthless waste of space. Of my inability to create anything lasting.

What good is soil without growth? What good is a land without harvest? What good is a body without fertility? What good is a woman without children? “You’re not a real woman in your husband’s mind until you bear a child,” she says to me. “Your husband didn’t think so last night,” I want to say to her. But I don’t. Instead, I remain silent. Too weak and withered to respond.
God, will it never rain?

Running towards the Lady of the Fields

I took a run to the Lady of the Fields icon on the hill with Ken and Andy. I thought about how many people have visited the site seeking answers or comfort. Many I'm sure came as tourists too. Two very different reasons! For us, the Lady of the Fields is merely a destination to mark the halfway point of our run, where we use the benches to stretch. As an artist, I'm trying to appreciate the value these objects have for catholics. The bible having no description of what Mary or Jesus looked like, I assume these icons serve as a visual manifestation of what one might imagine they looked like. This is why every culture has varying representations of what these characters. In Africa, Jesus is oftentimes depicted as black. In wasp protestant culture, he resembles a dentist or primary school teacher. In South America, his skin is olive and his bone structure prominent. When I was little, I always imagined Jesus looking like Michael Landon from Little House on the Prairie...rugged, handsome, kind, and good humoured. Human beings aren't comfortable with the mysterious or the exotic, although we'd like to think we are. Perhaps this is why the bible warned against creating graven images, because we'd all get it wrong.

I find it peculiar to pray to an object. The aboriginal people feel God in the intangible - the wind, the rain, the sky, etc. I'm trying to think more like that when we perform our wind dance, our grass dance, etc. I need to "feel" it rather than "imagine" it. This is true also with running. I suppose running is a contemplative act as I suspect praying to an icon is. Running doesn't come easy for me and I struggle with it, but if I persevere, it eventually becomes meditative. I normally run at dusk or late afternoon, but the way our schedule here works it makes more sense to run in the morning. It's glorious, because the air hasn't yet warmed up and I feel refreshed and focused afterwards.

One last thought about the Lady of the Fields icon. It is surprising that a shelter was built over it, which obstructs the view of it and takes away from the intent for the image to be powerful. It's as if the icon were "precious" in the same way North Americans are precious about their cars being stored in a garage. What's the point?

July 10, 2008

Getting to know the Communty of Ponteix
An important step in devising site-specific events is getting to know the community where the performance is planned and establishing a sense of mutual respect between the people of the town and the incoming artist and performers. About 18 months before coming to Ponteix to work on our production of Windblown Rafales, Keith Heiberg, who was then the Parish Father invited us to participate in the town's Centennial Celebrations in July 2008. Since that time, Father Keith has left his post for another situation and, while this may have presented a challenge in continuity for us, we found that the community was still amenable to our presence - even without a clear sense of what we were planning.

Father Raymond Carignan, who took over from Keith has thrown the doors open and through him, we have met many warm and interesting new friends. Originally from Ponteix, he has provided us with some historical insight into the community. One of the may events he hosted was a picnic at his cottage.

Robert Carignan, the chair person of the Centennial Committee has been a very strong supporter of our initiative and without him, nothing would have moved forward. When there appeared to be a hurdle, he smoothed the way. The Sisters of the Covent of Notre Dame D'Auvergne have also welcomed us and supported us in innumerable ways - including providing us with choral accompaniment under the direction of Claudette Begin. Mark Morris, at the Flea Market has loaned us furniture and Adele Boisjolis has given us props. Denis Cloutier has rehearsed the Good Time Band to help with the finale of the event. Dwight Denney is our reliable technical director and local artist. He has built a series of sculptural pieces that will be a part of the performance.
Everyday the actors work with and become better acquainted with the puppets who each have a unique presence. This is no easy task as the performers have little experience in puppeteering and are learning as they go.

July 9, 2008

On the Visual Art Front - Interventions

There are only a few days left. Moulds and casts are still curing, paint is drying, cables and ends still need soldering… Shaunna, Heather and I are quickly putting the finishing touches on our work. It has been an exciting opportunity to work again with Knowhere Productions and to work for the first time with Heather Benning and Shaunna Dunn.

We do not want to give away too much at this point, but we can give a few hints. Think of the sound of wind, flying and aged spaces.

Look for some images tomorrow.



July 6, 2008

When Phil asked me to contribute to the blog, I wasn't sure what to write. I've kept a journal, on and off, for years, but that's not something I would share with anyone else. And I haven't really had time to reflect on what's been happening since I arrived last Wednesday.

I love the landscape here: the rolling green hills, the light, the openness. I've loved southwestern Saskatchewan ever since I saw it the first time 10 years ago. I remember that on the May long weekend, the first spring I lived in Regina, I threw a sleeping bag and a bottle of water in the car and started driving. Alone--Christine didn't want to come along, or had work to do, or something. I ended up driving along Highway 18, on the northern edge of Grasslands National Park, through Mankota and, eventually, into Val Marie. It was an education. Back in Ontario, people would say that the prairies are boring, that there's nothing to see. But they're wrong. It's an astonishing landscape; the sky, the tremendous sense of space, are as sublime as mountains or the ocean. Ponteix is a little farther north, but driving into Swift Current this afternoon to pick up a few props for the video, I had the same feeling.

When Kathleen asked me to do some writing for this project back in February, I was apprehensive. I'm not a poet, for one thing, and I was afraid somebody would point that out, or that I would get a summons from the League of Canadian Poets for operating without a license. Trevor Herriot did something similiar for the Crossfiring project at Claybank, and I'm no Trevor Herriot. His book, River in a Dry Land, meant a lot to me when I was first in this province. And I had a hunch that the history here would be difficult for an outsider to get more than a superficial grip on. I kept thinking about Andy Suknaski's Wood Mountain Poems, and the intimate knowledge of that community they contain. I don't have that kind of relationship to Ponteix or any other Saskatchewan town, and I'm not likely to develop one. I wasn't born here. I'm not going to move here. And even if I did, it would take years to know this place in my bones the way the people who live here do. If I ever got there.

But I had the first lines, or a version of them, almost immediately. At first, it was "She is a stranger here / a wooden virgin on a treeless plain." That was my way into it. But it wasn't going to work. Why would the statue of the Virgin Mary still be a stranger after almost 100 years? And who was I saying this to? It was the only point of entry I had, and I was pretty sure it wouldn't work.

On my way back from my research trip in June, though, it hit me. I would say whatever I had to say to the statue of the Virgin. And although she was a stranger when she arrived, when Father Royer held a crowbar in his hand, pulling the top off the crate in which she had traveled across the ocean--twice--she wasn't a stranger any longer. Not after all those years of watching Masses, weddings, funerals, not after all the pilgrimages. I'm the stranger. And I had to make it clear that I was addressing the statue itself, as an object, and not the religious (or mythological) figure it represents.

After that, the words began to come easily--and that surprised me, since most of the writing I've done in the past six months has been like breaking rocks with a pickaxe. Also, everyone has been very positive about what I came up with, which has been another surprise. Perhaps I've discovered something about myself I never knew, or had forgotten.

We do love what we're producing here in Ponteix. In the last few days, we've had the joys of meeting many new people, making many new friends, and learning more and more about this community. Rehearsals are going very well, and the art pulls itself together.

There are a few essential elements to maintaining good theatre artists. Among them are coffee and alcohol. In the morning, we need good coffee to get our brains firing and actors' bodies energised. In the evening, we need a glass of wine or a bottle of beer to unwind and relax, so that we can disengage from the work we've spend several hours on through the day. It just so happens our Producer, Kathleen, has brought us those two very essential elements! Keep in mind that we've been eating, breathing, and sleeping this production 24 hours a day since we arrived in Ponteix; and that initial work began on this project nearly one year ago... So a lot has gone into this, from writing and researching, to producing and performing - and don't forget the visual artists and music!

We'd really appreciate it if you could contribute any donation to our continuing work on the production... All donations are graciously accepted, and your generosity is truly appreciated. Please click here to learn more about how your donation helps, or to get started.

Hope we'll see you all in Ponteix on Tuesday the 15th of July... And as a reminder, the show begins at the front of church at 2:00pm.

July 4, 2008

Windblown / Rafales

As producer and scenographer of Knowhere Productions' latest performance event, I thought I would start be telling how the idea came to us for Windblown / Rafales. It might give you an idea of how we develop our work - which is devised and site-specific. Devised means that we don't necessarily begin with a text, although text is important. Our starting point is usually a physical location. We start with this and then add a number of other elements that contribute to the final event - in this case we added text, music, puppets and elements such as props and other scenic devises.

But first - how and when did we begin to think about the show in Ponteix? In the fall of 2007, just a year after our last major work, Crossfiring / Mama Wetotan, I received a phone call from Keith Heiberg, Parish Priest of Notre Dame D'Auvergne Church in Ponteix. He indicated that he was aware of Knowhere's work, having seen The Weyburn Project video of the production we did in the Weyburn Mental Hospital in 2002 on SCN. He asked if we would be interested in producing something for the Centennial Celebrations in Ponteix in July 2008. My immediate response was NO. We were still recovering from Crossfiring and the lead up time for 2008 was too short - we needed more time to put
funding in place. He was disappointed but asked us to think about it. After consultation with the other board members we agreed figuring that such an invitation would, at least, expedite the lengthy and often complicated process of getting to know the community. We were on board - but the community had to agree to the concept! A plan was then made to travel to Ponteix for a public meeting on July 14th 2007 - a full year before the event.

For the 4 board members who made the journey (Rory MacDonald, Andrew Houston, Melanie Bennett and I), this was our first trip to Ponteix and we were very excited and a bit daunted by this new opportunity. Father Keith arranged a evening for the community to come to hear our proposal. About 100 people showed up and we exchanged ideas, discussed the intricacies of site-specific theatre and met The Good Time Band - who entertained us with old French fiddle tunes. We decided that we would devise a production in the Church, the old hospital building, the Parish Hall and the land around. It was agreed that we would move ahead with our plans and for the next year Knowhere Productions, sought funding, made puppets, and worked with Regina-based composer, Linsay Stetner, and writer, Ken Wilson. Things started to come together.

Director, Houston and his collaborator, Bennett, brought other actors, Derek Lindman and Eugenie Ducatel, on board. At the end of June 2008 we all travelled to Ponteix to devise and rehearse the material for the piece. So many people in Ponteix have helped and are helping with this process. We have been housed and fed by generous community members and the school has opened its doors for us as a headquarters and a place where we can be accommodated as our numbers swell as the production date approaches. In the days leading up to the event, dancers, musicians, and artists will start to arrive who will also play an important role.
One last note - how did we get the name "Windblown" - it came to me in a dream!! I jotted it down on a piece of Kleenex by my bed and found it the next morning. Then I had it translated by Nicole Cote at the French Dept., University of Regina. The prairie wind blows hot and cold in Ponteix - it has, as times, ravaged the land - but it has also taught a hardy group of immigrants from France how to survive and flourish for a hundred years.


July 3, 2008

Puppet Labour and Birth

The four puppets were created over a four-week period by Chrystene Ells ('C') and Kristine Dowler ('K').

Chrystene Ells (top) and Kristine Dowler with puppet parts in the studio

As directed by Kathleen Irwin, the Caucasian characters were to simultaneously read as the elderly memories of history and as child-like hints of the potential of the future, both alive and dead, both individuals in their own right and accessories or adornments for live actors. They were to be both relatively genderless and yet read as two female and two male characters, in generic, austere, black-and-white period costuming. Many of the intended attributes being contradictory or strongly juxtaposed presented design challenges which made the fabrication of the puppets interesting and intense.

The puppets are a collection of wire, foam rubber, cardboard, paper, styrofoam, wood glue, hot glue, contact cement, masking tape, duct tape, fabric, thread, gesso, acrylic paint, and used clothing and shoes. The first step was to create the hard parts, designing those elements of the puppets which would imbue them with life and personality, namely the faces and hands.

C took on the process of creating the face, which was sculpted and re-sculpted in non-drying oil-based clay over a period of five days. This is the penultimate version of the sculpt before the final smoothing.

Meanwhile, K began the structural work on the hands, which consisted of baling wire, cardboard and masking tape.

The eight hands then underwent a time-consuming process of being individually built up with masking tape and paper to create the tendons and knuckles of hands that have been dedicated to hard labour and hard times. Kathleen wanted them to be 'expressive,' so an attitude of simultaneous relaxation and engagement was implied with the positioning of the fingers, allowing for the greatest possible variety of expression in a fixed pose.

Following this step, each hand was slowly completed by building up four layers of overlapping small strips of glue-soaked paper. Each layer was dried before the next was begun, so this took many days.

Hand bouquet.

The hands were finished with a 'skin' of semi-flexible pulp-style papier mache.

Meanwhile, Kathleen had approved the face sculpt, so C made a plaster negative of it, and the process of producing the four faces began. Each one consists of between five and six layers of wood-glue and construction paper strips, each of which had to be thoroughly dry before the application of the next.

Optical illusion: this is actually a negative casting of the face inside the plaster mold.

Many dream-like days were spent layering paper and glue.

Once removed from the mold, each face underwent a finishing process that imbued it with its own unique character. The idea was that the puppets would ultimately look related, yet unique.

Fresh from her plaster womb.

The faces were attached to craniums of styrofoam and securely fastened to the neck tubing, all of which of was then covered with several more layers of paper and wood glue.

Once the hands and heads were thoroughly dry the painting process began. A layer of Gesso was applied to both hands and faces as a blank canvas.

Kathleen had specified that the skin should look 'dead but with a sense of life.' Drawing on the painting techniques of the Old Masters, we decided to build up the skin tones with a series of washes, starting with the blue-green tones found in veins and under skin to provide the sense of 'life.'

The final paint job on the hands and faces is the result of about five stages of transparent washes, which give a sense of the translucent quality of skin, but which also carefully avoid the rosy tones found in healthy Caucasian skin. Layering subtle shades of a sallow hue over the blue evolved into the 'dead but not dead' result we were going for. Painting the eyes as shadows, rather than giving them irises, adds to the dreamy, alive but dead quality of the expressions.

The arms and legs were built of foam rubber, using strong wire for the bones. Gaps between the bones, along with extra padding, created joints that allowed for smooth life-like articulation.

To add strength and integrity to the arms and legs, they were encased in hand-stitched cloth.

Another requirement was that the heads would both hold themselves up and be capable of manipulation, while maintaining a rotational position as adjusted by the operators; in other words, if a puppet's head were turned to the left and the puppet was then moved, the head should not swing around or have sloppy movement. C developed a new spinal structure which fulfilled all of the requirements, which was then affixed to the inside of the foam torsos. These were then also encased in hand-stitched fabric.

Assembly consisted of stitching all of the pieces together.

Finally the puppets were dressed. The men's clothing was purchased at a thrift store, and the women's dresses were fabricated from scratch.

The gentleness of the puppets filled the studio. When they were taken away for their work in Pontiex, a hole was left in the fabric of the studio as if four long-time friends had suddenly vanished. Much love and life had already been breathed into them during this labour and birth; as they are re-birthed by their operator friends in Pontiex, their personalities are sure to emerge more fully.

It has been a great pleasure working on this project. We look forward to seeing the puppets come to life. Chrystene's website, which features other puppets and projects, can be seen at:

July 2, 2008

So, here I am, IN Ponteix. This is pretty friggin' neato, too. I've now met Eugenie, Melanie, and Andy, and gotten reacquainted with Regena... This is a great place and I think I'm going to have a lot of fun.

The view out the window is right into a lovely tree line. Of course, I'm NOT uploading a photo of that right now, because I've uploaded photos of my drive TO Ponteix. Here you go!

Oh, by the way... If you want to view any/all of these photos in higher res... Just click on 'em!! I'll get better with this photo thing at some point (read as: on our last day here in Ponteix).


July 1, 2008

Getting the necessities ready

Bonne Fête du Canada! Happy Canada Day!

So, one of the things about working on a project that's about 3 hours and 36 minutes (according to Google Maps, which is wrong) is that you kinda need to bring everything with you that you need in the first trip... And anticipating an ever-evolving artform like site-specific is nearly impossible... Thoughts like I'm taking my laptop, but should I take my printer? and Will I have high-speed data network on my Trēo? become exceptionally valid concerns when you're dealing with media and technical contacts back home in Regina. Thankfully, the amazing folks in Ponteix are willing to put up with our shenannigans, so we can produce our best work.

On a happy note, I got an "absolute essential" today: A new digital camera... So expect lots of exciting photos of production, the site, and the work to make their way up and onto the blog regularly!

Next blog entry should be once I'm on-site in Ponteix! Wish me luck, trust my driving (and navigation skills), and have a great Canada Day!

June 26, 2008

Going there and getting lost

I can't help but feel a parallel between Royer a hundred years ago and my own experience going out West with my daughters to be part of a project with little or no experience. Admittedly, the comparison requires a little stretch of the imagination.

Yesterday, we arrived in Regina. Kathleen came to pick us up, showed us around her (beautiful) house, give us the keys and now we are just hanging out.
Journal of journey. Moving through, navigating the unknown. Tying my experience with that of the prioneers. Because I AM lost.
In the house, I look for little things. Yesterday, it was garlic. I looked everywhere. I refused to think Kathleen could live without garlic. I was right. Garlic is the first thing I found as I was looking for coffee filters. Finding something might start with letting go of the NEED to find it right away, bad habit of instant gratification. It could mean surrendering patiently to the great unknown (even if that is a kitchen) to watch it materialize later, in its own time, maybe perhaps in a different shape we had anticipated?
It could mean doing things differently. I made an espresso coffee instead. It was amazingly good.
However, I still don't know WHERE I am. Okay, I know I'm in Regina. "Philinstone" street is out front: it's busy, there are traffic lights and traffic. There is a school up the street and a park down the alley on the other side. I looked up "Philinstone" on the map of the phone book. It doesn't exist. How can that be? Can't look up the Internet. I don't want to bug Kathleen. I struggle in the uncertainty. I spend twenty minutes squinting at the maps and index of the phone book. To no avail. I need glasses: this has become a clear conclusion.
I was searching, trying to remember where we were from the University, feeling panic, anticipating "lost" time, feeling impatient, frustrated... It is after all 2008, no 1908: they had reasons to get lost; I didn't have any.
And then, I thought with a renewed sense of peace that it would be nice to GET lost, walk aimlessly, find whatever comes our way... Because we are in a city. We will definitely find people and places.
I better quit whining, because really, I am not lost.
I am not on a schedule: I have nothing better to do than discover... with my kids. They'll learn the joy of walking.

June 23, 2008

First Post! Blogger being mean to me!

Hi everyone! My name is Phil Ollenberg, and I'm the Production & Communications Manager for this shindig! First on the block... Blogger is being mean to me! I tried all day to add more items to this page, but it's not letting me; keeps giving me a 404... So for the moment it's barren and sad looking.

In the next few days, we should see the Contributors list grow, grow, and grow. Windblow/Rafales is a collaborative project produced by Knowhere Productions, and so is this blog. Ideally, we'll use it to share our thoughts, feelings, and discoveries during this project... And what is this project about exactly!?

Windblown/Rafales is part of the centennial celebration for Ponteix, Saskatchewan... And more than that, it's a celebration of the rich history of the town, a salute to its people and its future, and yet another exciting, and totally unique site-specific project. We'll journey around the town with artists, musicians, actors, and dancers... But I will let those talented artists all speak for themselves, as they will have a lot of exciting news to share!
The town of Ponteix is located about three hours southwest of Regina, and is a friendly community a short jaunt from Swift Current, the U.S. border, and a beautiful national park. We're all very honoured to be welcomed by the town of Ponteix, and to be invited to help celebrate their history!
Hopefully in the next day or so, I'll have the page more gussied up, ready for photos, videos, and lots of unique opinions! If you have the chance, join us in Ponteix on July 15th, follow us right here on our blog, or visit us at!