This blog post was written by Zoe Pearson - "Glasgow based human with many modes of exploration, experimentation and expression". Zoe received a Blueprint100 commission to create a performance in the lift of the Stove Network, Press Play debuted at the Behavin? Festival at the end of July 2019.
What project did I take part in?
I took part in the inaugural edition of the Behavin’ Festival - a brand-new DIY micro-fest of performance art, collaboratively programmed and produced by Blueprint100 and The Stove.
What did I do?
I was commissioned to create a performance in the lift(/elevator) of The Stove Network building. I proposed to occupy the lift on both days of the festival, and improvise a new performance each time the button was pressed to open the lift doors.
I visited The Stove a few times before the festival to develop my proposal into practice, in conversation with Jordan (Blueprint100) and Martin (The Stove Network). I spent some time in the lift, to get a lived sense of the space and test out my resulting ideas. This part of the process was really important to the development of the performance - giving me an opportunity to understand what sort of ‘toolkit’ I’d need to assemble in order to improvise over the two days.
I occupied the lift between 12noon to 5pm on the Friday and Saturday of the Behavin’ Festival.
I transformed the lift in to a dream like environment, making a wooden frame to fit into the back of the lift, using it as a literal framework to improvise around and hang things off. I decorated it using curtains and textile pieces which had been made during previous projects between 2016-19 (some by me, some in collaboration, some by others). Martin described the transformed space as “somewhere between a puppet theatre and a child’s den” (much to my delight)!
In the lift I had materials for crafting, making, drawing, and writing — as well as costumes. Throughout the two days I added to this environment with the pictures I drew, poems I wrote, puppets, masks and random objects that I made, building a physical context which I could use to trigger new ideas as people came to join me in this environment for a short while.
I also had a small omnidirectional mic set up, plugged into my phone, on which I broadcast the full duration of the performance on digital radio (via an app called Mixlr).
Fairly quickly on the first day of performance, and helped along by Jordan’s observation and suggestion, I started inviting people into the lift with me when the doors opened, explained to them that I would perform to them as we went up and down in the lift, before pressing the button for the first, second or ground floor. This format stuck - there was something nice about journeying together to nowhere in particular, and then ending up (for the most part) where we started again!
I approached my interactions with people with the intent of creating an atmosphere of trust and safety, in which they could engage with an unusual, aesthetic experience, as well as silliness and humour. The viewer takes a risk as they step into this small space with me - a space which is so frequently associated with awkwardness - and have to watch me perform at a distance where I can see their reaction! I only have a short moment with them, to elaborate on the ‘opening up’ which their risk taking offers, and shift focus onto something completely different.
In some instances I hummed for people - this seemed to create a mutual relaxing. In other instances I hummed and danced for them. In some situations, the awkwardness became the point of humour, for example a poem I wrote which only contained the word ‘hmm’ and other wiggly wandering sounds - which I performed to two lads, looking them both straight in the eye, whilst they both laughed and went red (then came back to ask for a repeat performance)! In other situations, the performance was of a nature (bizarre or engaging) that the focus was totally shifted away from the physical shared space of the lift. I performed verbally and non-verbally, using puppets and props, such as “Larry the Lizard” and “Moth”. I sang a song about a pom-pom hat. And I chatted to people.
How has this helped my personal and professional journey?
I learned loads through the process of developing and doing this performance. Through having to deal with the scary situation of performing on demand, without being ‘prepared’ in the way I often feel I ought to be, I also built up my confidence a lot. The whole process of preparing a ‘toolkit’ to improvise with, then trusting that the ideas will come in the situation, really demonstrated that I can trust myself to cope in a performative situation, and that improvising is an extremely generative mode of creative activity for me.
I am also really pleased to have met and worked with Blueprint100 and The Stove Network, as well as meeting the wider community which engage with them. I am usually based in Glasgow, grew up just outside Carlisle, and have wanted to make connections with the art community in Dumfries, and wider Dumfries and Galloway. This project was perfect for me to make a start on building relationships with the folk in Dumfries that are grafting to make interesting, valuable and culture changing things happen for the town.
Professionally, it’s amazing to have had the opportunity and platform to perform in front of an audience, as part of a larger event, and to have been commissioned for a piece of performance art. It’s invaluable to have the photos and artefacts generated through the process of the performance, which I can draw upon to develop and/or apply for future performance and creative opportunities.
Proving that point already - I signed up for a short performance in Glasgow which is in a couple of weekends. I spotted the opportunity after I knew I was performing at Behavin’ - which gave me a drive to just go for it, and I am directly drawing upon a song I wrote/improvised in the lift, developing this to create a new piece of work.
Thank you to Blueprint100 and The Stove Network!
To find out more about Zoe and her work, check out her Instagram account @zoecharlottepearson