A series of performances, conversations and reflections inspired by women’s voices from the Centre of Alternative Technology Oral History Archive.
The first performance was commissioned through the Women’s Equality Network for International Women’s Day in Machynlleth in 2014. The idea of working with voices of women collected in interviews from the CAT Oral-history project, sprang from a conversation between Ariana Jordao and Allan Shepherd in late 2013. The performance was created by Rosie Leach, Ariana Jordão, Siriol Joyner, Yonnie Kwokpickles and Jane Hoy in just three days, on a tabula rasa, through listening to the life stories contained in the archive and enacting timeless actions performed by women worldwide. “Sail through a sea of voices to navigate the roots that anchor, hold women true” reads the poster.
Performance at Clwb Bowlio – Machynlleth – Bowling Club on March 8th 2014
Searching for the root of what holds us true. Stirring up conversation. Yearning to learn from the generation before.
We began by listening to the interviews and picking out sections that intrigued us, drawing out themes of work, family life, austerity (voluntary or otherwise) and relationship to place.
Although gender roles and feminism had not been central themes of the original interviews, feminist energy, frustrated ideals and radical progressive vision reverberated through them.
The physical metaphor of water, as energy, movement, transformation, flow between roles, emerged early in the process. Pouring water between containers became symbolic of the way women moved, between places, roles, perspectives.
We played with ‘recorded delivery’ – listening to the voices of the women through head-phones and speaking simultaneously. Moving about the room as we moved the water about, as the water moved itself, pouring, mopping, spilling, dripping, making a mess.
We wanted to create a space for conversation – a container for debate. After the show we turned on the recorder and asked the audience for their reflections. A few stories were shared. The charge in the room felt imbalanced. We were charged, channelling the energy of the women whose lines we’d spoken, but the audience hadn’t been put at ease.
“how you create the spaces in which people can take the ego out of things… so you get the best thinking and you respect that the group has an intelligence together” (quote from the oral history interview with Rachel Lilley, former CAT member of staff)
After the performance, we listened to feedback, and sought it out, from women with more experience than ourselves. There were calls for more structure, more emphasis on drawing out and holding a dialogue with the audience .
In moulding a revised version for Volcano theatre’s Yr Odyn and the launch of the Oral History project at the National Library, these words were uppermost in our minds.
On May 1st 2014, we performed as part of the Yr Odyn cohort showcase at Volcano theatre in Swansea. We opened with Ariana interviewing Rosie, to give the audience a contextual overview of CAT, the oral history project and the March performance of Holdfast. Then we shared snippets from the interviews through recorded delivery, with our headphones connected by one cable to the one MP3 player. We had some debate about whether to buy two MP3 players, and did at first, from the shop down the road, but came to the conclusion that this was excessive and took one back.
When we started to move about, connected, we realised the tension between the headphones echoed the tension and conflict in the words we were speaking. When we accidentally split water on the floor in rehearsal- we realised this was an opportunity for some comic mopping.
We gave the first performance in the kitchen of our friends, and on reflection, this is where we felt it ‘worked’, with a closer connection to our small audience, without the glare of stage-lights.
The third chapter for Holdfast took place at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, at the launch of the CAT Oral History project archive there. We held a live debate with a number of the women from CAT past and present, discussing to what extent CAT has been a liberating place for women to live and work, over the years. The debate felt lively, and pertinent.
Holdfast remains a process focused exploration across art forms using oral history devised performance, social choreography, authentic movement and installation to present and discuss intersectional feminist perspectives on work, home, time, gender, ecology, and water, which has become a baseline polyvalent element highlighting the many qualities and multiple perspectives of the emerging narratives. The resulting map of ever shifting, always becoming, temporarily occupied space remains a versatile metaphor for maintaining fluidity in relating to the world. We remain open to the next iteration.