Interview with Laura Astwood (Ottawa Stilt Union)

by Ottawa Fringe

June 29, 2008

D2X_2008-06-27_18-44-14“This is a very old story” played at the grounds outside of Tabaret hall, a bring your own venue space that the Ottawa Stilt Union took full advantage of for their play about the cyclical nature of war and death. I caught up with the show’s creator, Laura Astwood, who graciously sat down with me for an interview. I was then shocked to discover my recorder hadn’t recorded a single word. So she even more graciously agreed to answer the same questions by email. So without further ado…

Describe the origin of the Ottawa Stilt Union.
I taught a workshop at the U of O in the winter of 2005 and then the next winter when my friend Jennifer Brewin was directing the Snow Show at the NAC we thought it would be fun to include a stilt element – Jennifer and I worked together for a long time at the Caravan Farm Theatre where she was artistic director for eight years and we used in stilts in their outdoor snow shows. So I brought six of my stilt students to do the snow show with me and while we were rehearsing we decided to call ourselves the Ottawa Stilt Union: no pay, dangerous work conditions, membership is its own reward… Then we made BEOWULF for the Magnetic North Festival co-produced by the University of Ottawa theatre Department.

D2X_2008-06-27_18-11-45What inspired you to get into stilt walking and that area of performance?
A theatre company called PRIMUS based out of Winnipeg – I sat in on one of their rehearsals in 1991 and saw stilts used for the first time in a theatrical (as opposed to a circus or carnival) setting. It was such a surprise – an awesome surprise in the true sense of the word. Several years later I went back to Winnipeg to apprentice with that theatre company and they taught me stilts and since then it has become my favorite way to perform and my favorite theatrical tool.

Describe the development of the current show (This is a very old story).
This show developed over the course of several months of work – I would ask the performers to make an action based on, for example, death. Then I take their actions and combine them into scenes. Originally I had more ambitious plans for this show, but ultimately I didn’t have the time and resources, so I left it without text and without a linear story, just as a physical expression of my ideas about war and death and the cyclical nature of our relationship to these things. In its next incarnation it will have a text.

D2X_2008-06-27_18-27-52How has the audience responded to your show? Do they want to get up and try it?
Some do. When I talk to audience members after the show they tell me all sorts of things that they saw and thought while watching it that are wonderful to hear – the great thing about a show with no clear story and no text is that the audience are free to make up their own story. And some people ask how they can learn stilts and I tell them that I’ll keep them informed of upcoming workshops if they give me their contact information, so here is my email address and if you are interested in stilts, either learning or booking a stilt performance, you can contact me: [email protected]

What is next for the OSU?
Well we have a show in Wakefield on Monday June 30th at 5:00pm on the field across from the post office on Valley road. Then we’ll be in Wakefield on Canada Day, in the parade and then doing a public workshop for people who want to give stilting a try. We have a show on July 24th in St. Laurent Park at noon – it’s through the City of Ottawa and you can find out about it through their website. Then we’ll be at the Lumière Festival on August 9th.

I’d also like to mention that the Ottawa Stilt Union is grateful for the support of the U of Ottawa Alumni Association, the Ontario Arts Council and the City of Ottawa Arts Funding Program.

Previous interviews:
Interview with Alex Eddington (Old Growth)
Interview with Gemma Wilcox (Shadows in Bloom)
Interview with August and Frieda Strindberg (Inferno Sonata)
Interview with Shelley Liebembuk and Dylan Ryan (Raven for a Lark)
Interview with Vision Theatre (4Play: One-Acts by David Ives)
Interview with Weeping Spoon productions (Greed)
Interview with Brigette DePape (She Rules With Iron Stix)
Amy Salloway (Circumference)
The Absinthe Collective (A Leave of Absinthe)
Peter Hayes (The Tricky Part) and Greg Landucci (Mr. Fox)
Penny Ashton (MC Hot Pink / Busty Rhymes)
Keir Cutler (Teaching the Fringe)
Celeste Sansregret (Wonderbar!)
Jem Rolls (How I learned to stop worrying and love the mall)