By Catherine Hart
“Challenging yourself is harder than being challenged by someone else.”
These were Aimee Smith’s words when discussing the process of creating the powerful and emotive show, From the Ground Up, and what poignant words at that!
From the Ground Up is a show that combines physical theatre and poetry to express the pain and love that exists within personal healing. Produced by the Wellington-based company Women Aren’t Wolves and directed by Aimee Smith, the show was first performed at the NZ Fringe Festival in Wellington. It is now preparing to have a second season at the Nelson Fringe Festival in the beginning of May. I met with Aimee to talk about the show, their process, and the reasoning behind their beautiful words and movements.
Aimee begins by explaining how the group were interested in finding a way to combine written word, visual art, and performance. “We’re interested in poetry, and how poetry works in a theatre piece. We talked about what, as performers, we wanted to explore more of that maybe we weren’t super comfortable with and [that was] physical theatre.”
“We [as a group of women] were interested in female mythology and mythological ideas. I was really into this book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, at this point… and we were also interested in things that are sort of witchy, which I guess ties into female mythology.”
“So we spent the first part of the rehearsal process not really thinking about what we wanted to make but how we wanted to make it.”
“We threw these ideas around, talked a lot about what we wanted to explore in terms of ideas, and then we were like, cool, let’s just get into a space and start playing physically. Because again, none of us had devised together as a group, in general we had very little experience with devising. So we spent the first part of the rehearsal process not really thinking about what we wanted to make but how we wanted to make it… The whole thing is pretty outside of our comfort zone in a lot of ways. ”
This leads me to ask Aimee, how does this process differ from your previous work? She explains that in the past Women Aren’t Wolves had worked on productions that were mainly comprised of monologues and interviews, so From the Ground Up was always going to be different. “We really had to re-learn what our rehearsal room looked like, and how we worked together… We did start working really early, but a lot of that time went into ‘how do we devise’, and self-exploration.”
Aimee tells me that at the beginning of the process she set up a space for the group to teach each other their skills and knowledge. As a performer, Bethany Miller taught the group vocal exercises that “…connected the part of the body we were resonating the sound from with an element. That actually became the launching pad for what the content of the show was, because from that we started devising poetry in the room.”
As a writer this idea fascinates me, the idea of writing poetry as a collective group instead of at a desk on our own, so I probe for more information. “We probably spent a good month and a half of rehearsals where we would all kind of write a poem responding to [an element] in the room…We did this thing where we would all write a poem and someone would start by reading out what they wrote, and while they read that everyone else would do free form movement. And then someone would tap out, write a response to it, and then that would continue in a cycle until we’d generated all of this material, and just generally getting people connecting with their bodies. So that was how we generated all of the text side of the show.”
The NZ Fringe season of From the Ground Up was performed in a cafe, The Preservatorium. I ask Aimee how the piece may be affected by being performed on a more traditional stage at the Nelson Fringe. Aimee tells me that she’s sure that it will only benefit the show; “There was no division between audience and performers in the previous space, and we tried to create it, but it didn’t really feel right. I think bringing it onto a stage is going to be useful. And just from my knowledge of that space… it’s a nice in between space where you feel connected [but still separate].”
Aimee goes on to tell me what else may differ between the two seasons of the production; We’ve really worked on clarifying the roles and our characters… “I think it’s a bit sillier in some ways. We’re trying to push the extremes, so making it darker but also make the silly moments and the light moments lighter. We’re trying to stretch both ends.”
“It’s really a general upheaval of everything from realising who these people were, and really establishing a solid location and character as a base point, and then really kind of creating a new story on top of that… Essentially, the poems are the same, the cast is the same, some of the movement has bits that are the same. But I guess the intention in a lot of the action has changed or been solidified, and that has taken [the show] in different directions.”
“It feels like we’ve spent so long working on it, in some ways it’s felt like a lot of really hard slog, but I think a lot of that is because we’re trying something new for us.”
To finish off our conversation, I ask Aimee what the main difficulties in creating the show have been. “[We’ve had] all the general difficulties of doing something really outside of our comfort zone. It feels like we’ve spent so long working on it, in some ways it’s felt like a lot of really hard slog, but I think a lot of that is because we’re trying something new for us. So even though it’s been really hard I’m really proud of everyone because we’ve really challenged ourselves with what we’re doing… Challenging yourself is harder than being challenged by someone else.”
And with that I am left feeling fully energised and eager to see the reworked production of From the Ground Up. If you are interested in self-care, emotional healing and the natural elements, this is definitely the show for you!
To learn more about the production of From the Ground Up, you can read the review from the NZ Fringe season by Art Murmurs here.
From The Ground Up will be performed at the Nelson Fringe Festival on Friday 5th May. To book tickets, click here.