“…it is so difficult to speak your language” says Crow as it struggles to communicate with Gerda. Crow’s first language – naturally – is Crow. Sadly, although Gerda’s grandmother understands Crow, Gerda has never learnt to speak it. How many migrant families struggle with communication across generations as well as with their host countries? How many languages become erased?According to the editor of Poems from the Edge, An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages, Chris McCabe, one language is falling silent every 2 weeks. With the loss of those languages are lost unique traditions, oral and written, poetic, cultural. The work of translators is more precious than ever today as the U.K is steered – dragged – towards deeper and deeper insularity and disconnection from the rest of the world, from cultural diversity and richness, while the same troubling nationalism is on the increase in many other parts of the world.I grew up between two cultures, two languages. We children would mix those languages as I hear young Polish people doing today. My parents discouraged this, hoping to preserve our mother-tongue. Largely thanks to them I’ve maintained a good level of Polish, but of course there was something deliciously transgressive about mixing the languages – Ponglish has that charm for me. As I began to write Crow’s words I realised what a multilingual creature this Crow could be, with its mix of Polish and English learned as as additional languages to its mother tongue. We both – the Crow and myself – enjoyed playing with language, relishing each sound, each word. Celebration as resistance.Readers of English poetry will be familiar with Ted Hughes’ very masculine – and more naturalistic – Crow. What of the pronouns for my Crow? In Polish Crow is Wrona, a feminine creature, while animals in English are generally ‘it’, although English speakers often use the traditionally masculine ”default” and say ‘he’ automatically of any animal. People have been getting quite muddled about the genders of my characters, calling Kai ‘he’ – as in the original Andersen story and not knowing what to call Crow, but mostly saying ‘he’ whereas this Crow is decidedly not a ‘he’…My Snow Q Crow is a trickster, a Greek chorus/Shakespearian Fool, deadly serious and utterly silly at the same time, a multilingual Crone, a Time Lord (sic) as in Dr Who. Being timeless and very old ( as well as being a bird) it has a wider, different perspective from the two earth-bound young people Gerda and Kai.
“If you had widzieliście what I have seen, the dead on every street,
police with pistolety on horseback,
the snowy dark.”
Do Crow and Gerda struggle to communicate as well because Crow is old and Gerda is young? I’m passionate about intergenerational dialogue. In the first phase of this project we worked with the Young Carers group in Brighton and Older & Out LGBT group. This year we’re delighted to have young people from the Blueprint 22 project coming to our performance in Brighton. Previously I’ve been involved with Are You Happy Are You Free? a film made by Queer in Brighton where we interviewed younger and older queer people about their lives. We don’t always see exactly eye to eye with the generation below or above us age-wise, but it’s essential we go on reaching out and trying to understand one another. We need each other.
We’re thrilled at Snow Q – our collaborative project re-imagining Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story – to be working with filmmaker Wendy Pye again. For this next version of Snow Q as a live literature production, we needed to make our collaborative work as portable as possible – what better way to do this than through the medium of film! Wendy is working on three short filmpoems which combine Maria Jastrzębska’s poetry, Peter Copley’s music, fine artist Dagmara Rudkin’s work and Wendy’s own ideas and imagery. The three films will run alongside the live literature performances’ February tour. (See also: Snow Q Live Lit Event 2020 TICKETS)
Here is Wendy’s post about her thoughts and concepts about the creation of the Snow Q filmpoems. Photos of Wendy setting up projections in the servants hall at The Regency Town House before darkness set in by Dagmara Rudkin.
The combination of poetry and film I have found out has many different names and appears under different guises. Filmpoems, moving poems, film poetry, videopoetry, multimedia poetry and any other terms of this vein is a “genre” or “art form” that I haven’t paid much attention to until recently, when poet Maria Jastrzębska, invited me to make three film/videos in response to her poems inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story. In this digital age, I can also struggle with how to identify myself: photographer, filmmaker, video artist or visual artist (or all)? Perhaps in reality, my main mode of identification just varies depending on the particular context.
So for clarification purposes, Maria and I seem to have settled on naming the pieces ‘filmpoems’, and that is the term we shall embrace to proceed. The interesting aspect of creating film poems is the collaborative process and Maria insisted that I was not making an ‘illustration’ of her poem, she was more interested in my response to the melding of word and image which then creates a separate experience.
I’m just finishing the first film poem of the trio titled Lullaby. Lullaby traditionally a soothing song or piece of music that is usually sung to (or played for) children to sooth them to sleep. However it’s interesting that the lyrics of lullabies are more than often not sweet and soothing; they are dark and creepy and sometimes macabre.
So which character is singing the Lullaby in Maria’s poem? Is it the Little Robber Girl’s mother who, according to H C. Andersen had ‘a long, scrubby beard’ ? Or is it the Little Robber Girl herself who wants the frightened Gerda to go to sleep? In the story of ‘The Snow Queen’, the Little Robber Girl took Gerda to a ruined castle filled with captured animals.
In our original R&D installation performance of Snow Q on the Winter Solstice in 2018, within the former servants’ basement of The Regency Town House in Brighton, it was fitting to set the Lullaby installation piece in the disused and creepy Meat Safe room. In our interpretation, visual artist and fellow collaborator Dagmara Rudkin created strange and wonderful, textile bird like sculptural puppets that she originated as a symbol of Gerda and The Robber Girl and their tempestuous relationship. Both are trapped by their circumstances. Gerda has to travel through unwelcoming, foreign lands and Dagmara’s representation of Gerda and her journey are bird creations, with laced and embroidered surfaces. The Little Robber Girl knows only a world governed by violence and is represented by birds with scavenged, torn materials, leather gloves and wire. The audience peeped through the meat safe grills to see the suspended bird-like creatures dangling from hooks, layered with video projections of the wings flapping, sometimes frantically and sometimes gently, recalling acts of romantic courtships and acts of violence; moments of fear and anxiety followed by temporary moments of calmness. Raising the question does this ‘Lullaby’ attempt to sooth what is untamed?
As we were approaching the first anniversary of our Snow Q installation performance, It was an obvious opportunity to revisit the eerie basement at The Regency Town House and use the stark space to film my response to Maria’s Lullaby poem.
This time, I decided to film the entire video in the empty, former old Servant’s Hall. The room became the contained space for Gerda’s Lullaby and her imagined restless night’s sleep. With the help of friend and photographer James Pike on camera and Dagmara’s creative support, we filmed video projections that I preprepared in response to Maria’s Lullaby poem. The projections included the presence of Dagmara’s flapping birds on the walls and in cupboards, transforming the room into a fairytale landscape – also filled with wolves and scorpions, wintery woods and stormy oceans.
Even though I was working very simply, I had a clear vision that I wanted the filmpoems to bear a visual, humble resemblance to the haunting black-and-white quality of Ingmar Bergman films and another more modern, recent film inspiration; Polish Director Paweł Pawlikowski who directed the films Ida and Cold War. I managed to simply create a harsh, shadowy ambience just using minimal light combined with the projections, to conjure up an unsettling, dream like quality within the room. The film poem is also accompanied by composer Peter Copley’s solo viola piece that was written and performed to accompany Lullaby for the original Snow Q installation. The music perfectly enriches the dark, unsettling nature of the Lullaby film poem.
I am now starting to work on my responses to the other two poems and will look forward to seeing how they all relate to the new touring Snow Q Live Lit events in February.
Stills and featured image from Lullaby filmpoem by Wendy Pye
Perhaps the loneliness we feel on our own is not as painful as the loneliness we can feel with others sometimes – with a lover, friend, family, colleagues, in a crowd… Snow Q’s poet Maria Jastrzębska has always been interested in what gets in the way of people communicating. Gerda and Kai, two of the characters in her reimagining of the Snow Queen story, are young people whose relationship has broken down. They identify as non-binary, refusing to be confined by traditional gender roles or social expectations. Both are bilingual, switching effortlessly between Polish and English. However Kai has lost all sense of connection, not only with the community they grew up in but with Gerda, their closest friend. Ice has entered Kai’s heart. Gerda tries to find them in a landscape that’s part contemporary, part fairy tale.
‘Even if you had the money to phone/knew which door to open/in these marble white corridors...Nie ma, nie ma nikogo...No one here, not now, not on the ice..’
‘I heard you calling/I heard your voice/though it was daleko./I knew that it was you..Even though snow was falling/had covered up your footprints/ although the wind was moaning/and wilki-wolves answered it,/stars had lód in their eyes/and I was weary…’
We are delighted to work with performer Rita Suszek again and welcome emerging actor Maria Ziółkowska who will join us in performing Maria Jastrzebska’s poems during our tour in February 2020. Below they talk about rehearsing for Snow Q the live literature production. For tickets click on: https://snowqproject.wordpress.com/snow-q-live-lit-event-2020-tickets/
This is my second time working on Snow Q and I couldn’t be more excited! This time we not only have more rehearsal time, but also I get to work with a fantastic co-actor. Maria Z is doing a great job as Gerda and it is thrilling to argue with another person as Kai. Somehow fighting with your own recorded voice, as I did in the previous incarnation of Snow Q, does not provide the same satisfaction… We are also adding more colour to the Crow character – dare I say, it shall ruffle some feathers in the best way possible. Overall, the work is going well and I can’t wait to perform in this unique show!
I cannot express the level of excitement I felt when I got invited to be a part of the Snow Q production! I feel so humbled and blessed and this excitement is only growing stronger as we progress with rehearsals. Being Gerda is a constant challenge, they bash into icy walls head on, full speed and each time bounce off with a new perspective, even the resulting frustration ultimately fuels their growth. To have the opportunity to step into such a complex character’s shoes is incredibly fun and rewarding. Having Rita as my co-actor is a treat and a great source of inspiration, she’s dynamite to work with and fearless in her commitment to the part. I simply cannot wait to share this beautiful and dynamic story with a broader audience. I feel like it’s going to resonate with a lot of hearts, as it sure melts mine.
Featured image and headshot photo courtesy of Malcolm Glover.
For the live literature production of Snow Q – our collaborative project re-imagining The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen – we’re delighted to work with performer Rita Suszek again. We also decided to engage a second actor to work with her delivering Maria Jastrzębska’s poems during our tour in February 2020. (See our Tickets page! ) We’re not a theatre company. We’re an artist-led project, which means being engaged with everything that goes on.
Mark Hewitt is the Snow Q performance director who worked on the the first phase of Snow Q in 2018. No stranger to working on the cusp between written and spoken word, literature and theatre, Mark had worked previously with Maria on her literary drama Dementia Diaries. The character of Gerda in Maria’s poems is not easy to portray. Tender, feisty, nobody’s fool. Luckily Mark is someone who’s used to thinking outside the box. We’re thrilled he is involved with the live literature phase of Snow Q. Here he talks about the process of auditioning to find the right person to work with:
Hate auditions! You get to meet a lot of lovely individuals who happen to be performers and most of them who you have to reject, even if they’re great. Here’s the story of the Snow Q auditions:
We were searching for a second actress – to play the role of Gerda. Our initial ad – which we put on a few actors’ sites and arts job listings, then proliferated as it was picked up and shared on other sites – eventually eliciting around 200 expressions of interest…
We were asking for an actress who didn’t have English as a first language and who could speak words in Polish, (so ideally, an actress fluent in Ponglish). I went through all 200 applications; a weekend working through videos and voice-reels and CVs. With many there was no obvious suitability; clearly some hadn’t read the job description, but then there were many who seemed very competent. In the end I whittled it down to 10 or so candidates. These were mainly auditioned at the Actor’s Centre in London in early December.
An audition is an awkward encounter, even at the best of times, but we tried to keep it friendly. So, after a day of them, with a range of performers, Maria Jastrzębska and I were left with a confusing bundle of impressions and possibilities. Some were right in one way but wrong in another. We’d clearly met a very talented bunch. We debated and discussed, we thought about it over and over. Then after a three day hiatus, the solution arrived – in the middle of the night – about who we would ask to take the role and how we would work it. Maria Ziołkowska was not the most experienced of the actresses we met but there’s a quality about her we both liked. Hard to define, and one has no idea whether it will work out, but in the end you have to go with your gut instinct. Rehearsals are now underway.
Featured image by Dagmara Rudkin
Toni Morrison famously reported a conversation with a fellow artist when she was feeling helpless and dejected about the U.S.A and he told her that this was precisely the time when artists go to work. ‘Not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!’ We are living in scary times when inequality, poverty, the abuse of power and with it the abuse of the planet seem to be growing, not diminishing. All the more reason to make art, to try to connect with each other.
Maria Jastrzębska’s Snow Q poems, originally inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story are about ‘ice in the heart’, disconnection between people, the loss of hope. There are three characters in the live literature performance which the Snow Q team are putting together ready for February 2020: Gerda and Kai, two young people, one of whom Kai goes missing, after disappearing from their home without a word to anyone and the Crow a chorus, story-teller, timeless trickster. More about Crow to follow in another post. Gerda and Kai both identify as non-binary. When asked about these two characters Maria said:
“What does society offer our young people? A world that is falling apart, unemployment and massive debts, a world that still peddles blue/camouflage for boys and pink/flowery for girls. My generation challenged those stereotypes and the next generation is doing it in their own way. I’ve see young people doing amazing things – look at Extinction Rebellion or the anti-fascist marches in Poland or Greece for instance. But struggle doesn’t always mean big public events. Sometimes it’s a struggle just to get through the day. Gerda sets out on her quest to find Kai. But Gerda and Kai are both lost in different ways, in a landscape that is part contemporary, part fairy tale. And these are poems – they are not a literal story. They will be interwoven with sound recordings, with Peter Copley’s incredible music and Wendy Pye’s awesome film work, using some of Dagmara Rudkin’s stunning, original art work. ”
“Snow makes everything quieter.
Plastic, shattered bone – even
rubbish looks beautiful. A trial of prints,
maybe fox? People’s footsteps. Never wanted
to walk in anybody’s. You mustn’t go to sleep
in snow mustn’t lie down. But it’s all
you want to do in snow…”
Here are performance director Mark Hewitt and Maria trying to figure it all out in one of their café haunts and here below is the composer Peter Copley presenting Maria with a very ‘hi-tech’ suggestion for blending film and words. Where would we artists be without our scraps of paper?!