Out on a Limb tells stories among the trees

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Vancouver’s site-specific theatre specialists The Only Animal literally go Out on a Limb with its digital storytelling project, set to play among the trees in East Vancouver’s Strathcona Park.

Working with the Portland Hotel Society, six artists have gathered more than 40 stories about growing up, coming of age and growing older from a group of youth and elders of Vancouver’s east side.  A two-stage installation, audiences will first be able to listen to audio stories inside tents among a grove of trees and then at sunset watch as additional stories are projected some 25 metres high onto the trees themselves.

“It has been an incredible experience gathering these stories during the storytelling workshops and opening up a safe space to recall some important and transformative stories and being able to share that vulnerability [with the show],” says lead designer and Artist in Residence Keith Murray.

The first major project working with community members as collaborators, Murray takes his role as one of the stewards to the stories very seriously.

“It isn’t about me imposing my own ideas onto the stories,” he says, “it is about helping to bring these stories out, by adjusting and embellishing them but always serving the story.”

As lead designer, Murray is responsible for developing the visual aspects of the production which includes how to effectively project the stories among the Strathcona Park trees.

“My role is translating it onto the trees,” explains Murray.  “Right now I’m working with my assistant animating and editing the sequence, trying to find a way to translate these stories onto the trees.  There have been lots of problems with projecting on leaves.  We’ve done a couple of tests but a lot of it is mental gymnastics and careful planning.  Plus having all my fingers and toes crossed.”

A mock-up of the digital installation among the trees at Strathcona Park
A mock-up of The Only Animal digital storytelling project set to play among the trees in East Vancouver’s Strathcona Park.

Even with the logistical challenges in producing a show like this, it is the power of the stories that Murray continues to come back to, including a few from the LGBTQ community.

“The more I go over this footage the more I’ve fallen in love with all these people.  It is such a gift when people open up this way. There have been a few stories shared by people’s sexual orientation and experiences.  That voice is definitely represented, including a few stories about gender transition,” says Murray.

With a simple hope that audiences will walk away talking to each other after viewing the production, it is in the talking and deep listening that has been the most transformative part of the project for Murray.

“It is the simple and ancient tradition of storytelling where real connection and real transformation happens,” says Murray.  “That is what it is all about: going out on a limb, reaching out to people.”

Out On A Limb
6 – 8 September 2012
Strathcona Park

Fifty youth and elders, in collaboration with six artists, have crafted stories about growing up, growing older, and coming of age, and these stories will be projected on trees in a public park.  Visit http://www.theonlyanimal.com for more information.

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