My name is Elysse Cheadle. I am a theatre-maker living in Vancouver, British Columbia. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta in the shadow of the monstrous Rocky Mountains. In Calgary, the Bow and Elbow Rivers carve the city into segments. As a teenager, I spent many late nights sitting on the banks with friends. There, huddled in winter coats and blankets, we would sip cheap yellow beer and speak secrets to one another loudly over the rush of the water. The fingers of the river reached from my backyard West towards a glacier in Kananaskis country, and East towards the saltwater of Hudson Bay. I liked to think about the narrative of the river even as a child. I would dip my hand into it and imagine that hundreds of kilometers before, a Grizzly bear had lapped from that same water. I would drop a leaf in, and as it swirled away, I would picture it crashing, weeks later, into the rocks of the Canadian Shield. I loved the driving noise and the seemingly antiseptic cold of the river, and the unknowns of where it had been and where it was going. The river’s presence in my life often caused me to meditate on the relationship between movement, space, and time. It was a constant reminder of impermanence and interconnection, and of the illusion of the presence and the past.
I moved to Vancouver six years ago to complete my BFA at Simon Fraser University. The Pacific Ocean was a complete novelty for me. I moved in right beside it: on the corner of Denman and Comox in the West End. The smell of the rotting sea plants, salt, and soggy driftwood was overwhelming at first. As was the relentless screaming of the gulls. I chose to go to SFU specifically because of their ‘Black Box’ course. ‘Black Box’ is a wonderful class designed for masochists who wish to completely eradicate any opportunity for social interaction outside of the confines of a windowless studio. I took the class twice. Over the course of the semester, the ensemble creates, and publicly performs a completely original 45-60 minute piece of theatre every two weeks. It was madness, but it taught me more than I ever could have imagined about making theatre – about writing, performing, and directing, and about group dynamics, working under pressure, trusting your own instincts and those of your collaborators, managing deadlines, giving in to the possibility of failure, and of the discipline and rigor required in a creative practice.
The label of being a “creative person” is one I apply to myself reluctantly. I think my acts of creativity occur because of the clash between my pedantic nature and my convoluted thinking. As a child, each school project (regardless of the subject) was taken as an opportunity to write and perform a play. I wrote terrible plays prolifically. At home alone, every new concept was processed by turning it into a dance or a song or a narrative. I remember my math teacher pulling me aside in junior high because, while I was getting the correct answers on my tests, he did not understand all of the extra drawings and steps on my exam papers. He tried to go through the exam with me and show me the simpler, more direct ways of getting to the right answer, but I just could not adopt his methods. I could get to the right answers because I had written different stories at home about the mathematical concepts and created character traits for different types of formulas. Finding the answer required jumping into those imagined worlds. To this day, I think that what appears outwardly as ‘creative’ is simply a self-taught coping mechanism. Theatre is the method I use to process new ideas and to think through concepts and curiosities.
The creative process is difficult for me; it always feels as though I am fighting myself for answers that are locked away. Starting work on a new theatre piece almost always begins when I become obsessed with a specific image or combination of words. These seemingly come from nowhere, and hit me suddenly, without context. The image or words relentlessly slosh against the back of my forehead until I submit to their pursuit. In this first stage I feel like a detective maniacally searching for some sort of broader frame of reference for the obsessive thoughts. Sometimes, this means a lot of research or improvised physical exploration. Other times, I use free-writing to help my subconscious reveal something more about the source of the obsession. My movement from this original thought to a presentable piece of theatre follows jagged terrain. I leap haphazardly between bursts of generative stages, and stages of backtracking through material searching for meaning and the next propelling idea. My goal is always concision, but I can never find that directly. I rely heavily on fellow collaborators. I never create anything alone. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by a pool of smart, playful, strange, and trusting artists who are comfortable collaborating with me on projects whose identity does not reveal itself until close to the performance time.
Currently, two of those amazing collaborators are Carmine Santavenere (www.carminesantavenere.com) and Elliot Vaughan (www.elliotvaughan.com). We are busy working on making a new piece for the Shooting Gallery Performance Series on November 4th and 5th. If you are interested in seeing some material from my past shows, please go to www.elyssecheadle.com
I hope to see you in November!