This June brings an original production developed by in situ: director Bella Stewart. ‘the ghost in me – haunted selves, lost sounds and old futures’ is to be performed in the open air setting of Wandlebury Country Park. Susan Quilliam talked to Bella about her vision for the piece.
Bella, what were your motivations and inspirations for this performance?
As someone who works in the field, psychoanalytic ideas and approaches are always key for me personally. Psychoanalysis itself is an exploration of the ways in which we are haunted and can in turn haunt others.
Inspirations for me included Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life and Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters. Both of these works deal with ideas of society and culture being haunted by histories that may be buried, effaced or lost. I also looked at David Toop’s writings on what he calls ‘the mediumship of the listener’.
I was also inspired by soundscape and listening – which are central to the work. The uncanny and the ghostly are frequently experienced through sound – for example, we speak of ‘things that go bump in the night’. I think this is partly because humans are sensitive to sound in ways we might not readily recognise; we are taking in sonic information all the time – about the space we are in, the emotional state of the person we are listening to, the energy of an encounter or a place.
The subtitle of ‘the ghost in me’ is ‘haunted selves, lost sounds and old futures’. What themes are you exploring here ?
A core theme is that we are all haunted, often willingly, by things from the past – our own and that of others – which we hold onto and which somehow help to make us who we are. There are memories, images, stories we carry around; they might be reassuring, but they may also be mysterious or unsettling.
Another strong theme of the piece is the ghost in the voice. Who do we sound like? What languages are in our voice? What songs? An ‘accent’ is the ghost of a specific place in speech.
There is a strong connection to ideas of loss. For Freud, a lost object or person leaves a gap that is gradually closed through a sort of integration, and the turning to new objects – this is what the mourning process is. But a person might instead come to identify with the lost, becoming ‘lost’ or deadened themselves – Freud terms this melancholia, we’d now call it depression. We can be haunted by what we – or someone else, such as our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents – have lost or left. We can be haunted by something we cannot have or be. Haunted by something once held out to us and since withdrawn. Haunted by the futures we once imagined that have not come to pass.
What material is the performance based on?
All the performers have brought material from their lives and memories, some quite intimate. some observational – their way of seeing the world and what they make of it. There is writing of different sorts, the placing and movement of bodies, singing and other vocalisations.
We also explore the presence of the past in a place, how that place has been used, passed through. A place’s name could be the ‘ghost’ of a feature, a person or family, a trade or occupation, a habitation, a function, a way of thinking.
We have also listened to and brought in all sorts of music, and experimented with making non-music from ordinary objects, from abandoned and discarded objects, from made-up instruments.
What about the process of devising and how it works. Why do you choose to work in this way?
Every week the actors share material – sounds, writing, memories, images, ideas. People bring objects.
I might ask participants to prepare a short solo using movement or sound, or both. We might then put elements together, re-combine and re-use, creating something that merges the work of two or more people. There is a central idea that others can complete. or continue. or build on even the smallest thing that is brought. Eventually, episodes emerge in the form of different passages of action, perhaps with a sequence of themes with a common thread or image running through them.
In the way the actors work, there is good space for narrative to be made, to emerge, to proliferate. But I don’t use overt, over-arching narrative. Instead, I am interested in what happens when a collection of fragments or apparently ‘incomplete’ things is assembled and then manipulated in a relatively organised way, like a kaleidoscope or like the Argo – the ship that was constantly being rebuilt bit by bit as it voyaged.
There will be a summer performance in Wandlebury Country Park and a winter performance in the Leper Chapel. Why have you chosen these two performance venues?
Wandlebury Ring has had human occupation for thousands of years. There is evidence of activity going back to the Bronze Age, the ring ditch is from the Iron Age, and the wall and buildings are mostly eighteenth century. The Leper Chapel has a wonderful sense of being set apart in its own green field.
Crucially, both places have a certain capacity to alter the experience of time for us. They have a deep sense of being occupied, they feel inhabited, invested with human presence and a sense of use. In these locations, people have worked and worried and dreamt and solved problems and made discoveries.
I think that performing – and the act of creating performance – in such places is a way of affirming our connection with ways of being in the world that have both preceded us and are alongside us now.
What are your hopes for the impact of ‘the ghost in me’ on the audience?
I hope that people see the performance and then take something of it with them, that they carry on the process, that they continue the making of the work. I hope the audience will see things that we the actors haven’t imagined, things we didn’t even know were there.