Elders in Residence Week 1

Split Britches have been hosting a three week residency on Governors Island, New York City, as part of our preparation for our new show, Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) which is premiering at La MaMa theatre in October 2016. 

Week 1

Welcome to our UXO Elders in Residence blog! Here, we will take you through each week of the residency, sharing stories and pictures along the way. 

Day One saw a team meeting where we made our weekly schedule and shared our individual desires for the three weeks ahead. Our desires ranged from wanting to connect with elders on the residency, to seeing how the making of a performance process develops, to a longing to document the three weeks in the best way possible. We were very lucky to have our own documentarian join our team, Shelby, who will be following us around and filming our process! Shelby's Week 1 Video Diary can be seen below... 

We were eager and excited to begin the project that we had been planning for so long and finally arrive on the island and settle in to our new ‘home’!

It felt as though we were walking on to a film set...the house was beautiful. Built in 1902 and used as a single-family home for many years, Building 20B is now used for cultural events, projects or residencies. With its incredibly beautiful wooden floors, the house was in fantastic condition.  However, as they were covered in paint chips, it was a good job that we'd brought cleaning supplies and lots of energy with us from Manhattan. 

Exploring the many floors and various rooms, we allocated different rooms for different purposes.  We particularly loved the porch, where we knew we would be doing many Porch Sittings! All it needed was a few of our rocking chairs….

We knew that three main areas of engagement would be needed; the porch, the Situation Room and the Activity Room. With the porch duly mopped, Edythe and Meg built the rocking chairs, with little need for the instruction manual! Once all the rooms were clean, we set out our Situation Room with four tables in a square and chairs surrounding them. This was a layout that the team had used before at the previous UXO residency at the Barbican in London and felt that it work well again. Sitting around the tables and talking through our plans for the project and the performance, roles and responsibilities for the residency were discussed.

A major theme of Unexploded Ordnances is to explore hidden or buried desires in people, with a special focus on elders. In order to encourage elders to think about these themes, we created different activities designed to prompt these kinds of conversation. Meg drew a map of the world, where visitors could pin point where their ‘buried desires’ were situated. 

Another of our activities asked elders to write down their unexplored desire and bury it in sand....

Unexploded Ordnances is inspired by the 1964, Stanley Kubric film, Dr. Strangelove. The strap-line for Dr. Strangelove is 'How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb', we adopted a similar style and created a space where people could come up with their own strap-line...

With all the activities set up, the house prepared, and the team dressed in our UXO t-shirts - it was time for our first Open House Session!  Our sign was put up,  our ‘Elders in Residence’ t-shirts were hung on our ‘washing line’ - and we were open! 

Topaz, Dora, Marilyn and Colleen joined us on our first day. Topaz is a good friend of Split Britches and helped the team on their first Unexploded Ordnances residency at the Barbican in London, so Meg, Ema and I were pleased to meet her! The lovely weather meant that we spent most of the day out on the porch, whiling away the hours on the rocking chairs, discussing the performance and reading some scenes from Dr. Strangelove. It was so great to see people reacting to our activities and sharing their buried desires. We were able to use their responses to generate conversations that were beneficial to the performance, specifically around creativity and ageing. 

That Saturday, we were joined by Colleen once again, and Warren, whom we met whilst visiting senior centres in New York. His particular interest in the project meant that it was great to see him again. 

Colleen and Warren were incredibly engaging and we carried out our first Situation Room with them. The Situation Room is inspired by Dr. Strangelove's 'War Room'. Lois and Peggy adapted the 'War Room' and created 'The Situation Room', a space where important conversation could be had, and where elders could have the space to be heard.  

On the Sunday, we hosted our first Porch Sitting. We had quite a young group of participants join us on our porch, which added an interesting dynamic and an intergenerational feel to the project which was very enriching. We sat, wandered and discussed issues such as Brexit, climate change and the upcoming US Presidential Election, all of topics are becoming integral themes to the performance.  

As Week 1 drew to an end, we reflected upon our first week on the island and left feeling very content with the conversations we had shared, the progress the performance was already making and how much we were enjoying being on the island. 

As we left the island that evening, we were treated to a stunning sunset on our journey back to Manhattan...