Questions for Susanna Day Hamnett
Friday, January 30, 2015
This week’s post if from Susanna Day Hamnett who was the recipient of the Colleen Porter Artists’ Residency Award in 2013. She is a dedicated member of IPAY, and a visionary in the world of making work for young audiences.
Susanna is an actor, clown, teacher, director and theatre-maker. Born in England, she studied Russian at Cambridge University and then acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. She went to Toronto 20 years ago to take some clown workshops and is still there, happily clowning around with three brilliant children and cabinet-maker/musician husband.
Can you describe your work for us?
My work - I think - is the confused love child of two very different approaches to theatre: a very traditional classically (Shakespeare) based theatre training and theatrical clown. It is this tension between being extremely over-earnest and serious, whilst longing for some riotous and mischievous foolery that seems to shape how I approach everything – performing, teaching and directing. Maybe it’s just being British.
How did you first become involved with IPAY?
I was accepted to do a 10-minute Spotlight of Nearly Lear. I did not know anything about IPAY at the time, this being my first venture into making work, and I was only just beginning to dip my toe into the world of theatre for young audiences. Woefully ignorant was I about this world and the visionary, inspiring community of IPAY artists and presenters. I was in England at a funeral just prior to the conference, and was tired, and feeling skeptical about the usefulness of getting on a plane back to Canada to drive down to Pittsburgh for ‘10 minutes’. Like I say: woefully ignorant. Those 10 minutes was literally life changing, leading not only to a run at the New Victory and the Sydney Opera House, but to lasting friendships, rich and wonderful connections, extraordinary work opportunities, and a commitment to working with young audiences.
Two years later, Nearly Lear was given a full showcase and honoured with the Victor Award. Then last year I was once again honoured - and deeply moved - to be the recipient of the Colleen Porter residency award.
Even though it was a seemingly short time together, can you describe the experience of working with Slingsby?
Andy Packer and his colleagues are magical people. I mean that literally. They deal in magic. Beauty and magic. So to have a chance to be invited into the rooms where magic is spun, as an observer with no responsibility other than to simply soak it all up was heart-stoppingly wonderful. I sat in on two days of design research and development, and then in the rehearsal room for the last week of r and d with the actors, musician and designer before the final rehearsal and production five months hence.
These are artists who are exquisitely finely tuned to each other and their creative exploration through sometimes years of working together, but I was welcomed so warmly, easily and generously to just be in the room and take in whatever I could, and to contribute thoughts or reflections whenever invited to. I soaked up every moment.
And as if my artist’s cup was not already overflowing, I also had time with Sam Routledge and Terrapin in Hobart, and Dave Brown and Patch in Adelaide; watching, talking, taking in everything that could be gleaned and absorbed from being in the room.
What Do You Think You Took Away From This Experience? Has it influenced your theater making?
Well now I just want and need to be Andy Packer!
I’m joking – but actually only a little. Because of course an experience like this brings one even closer to one’s own dreams of creating more beauty and transcendance in one’s own work. What is learnt is in many ways unquantifiable. You have the chance to become a little more embued with that particular magic, and it cannot but inform how you think of your own work ever after.
Being allowed into the development process of work that I so deeply admire has allowed me to contextualize my own process and given me insights that have pulled me towards new ways of imagining and proposing that a project may be developed. It’s subtle, largely invisible, and it’s very very real. The way we gift each other and are gifted by sharing the work of making work.
There is also a feeling of great community that comes out of an experience like this. The generosity that was extended to me during these weeks was truly remarkable. Overwhelming in a way. I kept wanting to have something concrete to offer back, and gradually over the months I have come to realize that as I share that generosity of spirit in my own work and life, and allow my projects to be touched and nudged and influenced in large or small ways by what I experienced, that that is how it gets given back, passed on. And in this way a beautiful web of generous shared intention weaves across the world.
Why do you think the Colleen Porter Fund is an Important Part of IPAY?
This award in Colleen’s name champions artistic community. It supports the fundamental truth that artists need to explore, share, mentor, be mentored, cross-pollinate, inspire and be inspired, be amazed, challenged, stirred and shaken – and feel part of a family. Theatre can be a horribly competitive world. Here in this particular corner of the theatre world people are creating a world of mutual support and generosity. In this generous award, Colleen is present, shining the light of the vision that she held for this artistic community.The award honours, and she is honoured through it. It is beautiful.