The following is the January blog post by John Howard Artist in Residence Johnny Trinh. To read more on Johnny’s Residency, click here.
Vancouver is experiencing heavy snowfall, busses are stalled, sky trains are delayed- but that has not slowed down the Artist In Residence Program at the John Howard Society Lower Mainland.
Our first session was held on January 7, 2020. It was a cold afternoon, with a relatively small turn out. Due to office closures, holidays, the residency program was on hiatus. Amid all the social media posts, satire, and new reports about how the onslaught of snow has shut down Metro Vancouver, it has a proportionally huge impact on the service users of the John Howard. For many folks, when the weather is dangerously cold, the priority is staying warm.
This accounted for a small turn out, but it was great to get back to the space and see all the familiar faces. Some participants expressed their sadness that the sessions had been off, and I can’t express how meaningful that is. It’s been amazing how the core group of participants have really taken the program and incorporated it into their weekly schedules.
To kick off this year, we started with Paper Mache. Using balloons as molds, we created the templates for what would be some paper mache masks, or other sculptures if the participants were interested in it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t as much interest as I had hoped, primarily because it was indeed a sticky and messy practice. My intention was to bring in activities that provided more tactile engagement, where participants could get their hands dirty. In the end we were able to make 5-6 masks that were left to dry over the week. This first session was in preparation for work that we wanted to experiment in the coming weeks with a new guest artist.
This past week, was our second session, and our guest artist, Stephanie Blundell, came to share the space. Stephanie hails from the UK, and has loads of experience working in community art. Over the month of December, she and I planned out what her involvement may look like. We decided that some group play, and theatre making could be an impactful activity. I’ve been visioning different theatre type explorations I could do with the group, and having the extra support of another artist is a huge help to make that a reality.
Stephanie and I worked with a full house of participants, decorating masks with paint, creating new masks, and engaging in the general activities that we regularly do at the residency. Stephanie’s ability to help folks, and facilitate with the larger group, allowed me to do more one-on-one work with other folks who at times may have been less engaged.
The unfortunate situation at the John Howard was that the heat was malfunctioning. Some of our folks living with arthritis and other issues found it difficult to hold paint brushes, and could only participate in short spurts. But everyone maintained positive spirits. Despite the cold, we had amazing turn out, and I’m looking forward to the new year.
Once the masks have dried, we’ll revisit this work next week and consider what types of theatre we can create. I do want to say that we are not approaching this without understanding the gravitas of what mask and theatre mean. Sometimes with the artist in residence program, I talk about various mediums we experiment with, or activities we do. At the core, each activity is developed based on the feedback/interests/responses from the participants. Though we have a core group, those individuals do change over time. It is not something to be taken lightly, and it’s a privilege to be able to co-facilitate with Stephanie.
With regards to mask work, Stephanie and I were very mindful of the cultural significance they may have for many of our participants, especially those who are Indigenous. Additionally, in the realm of mask and theatre, it can be very triggering, unearthing many things that we bury within us. We acknowledge also that in masks are used in many art therapy practices. We intentionally separate ourselves from this. The artist in residency in no way claims to be anything other than community based art. In my practice, I have significant training as a theatre maker, holding an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies: Theatre & Creative Technology. One of my highlights was training at the Dell’ Arte International School for Physical Theatre, doing a summer intensive on mask, commedia, and clown.
At the Community Arts Council of Vancouver, we have ongoing discussions about what community based art is, how do artists bring their practices to a community, and how are some practices specifically designed for community based work. I believe that my approach exists within these spectrums, continually trying to bring my specific fields of interest into the space, and engage in a way that is wholly specific to the group we’re working with. My goal isn’t to create a play or theatre performance (though that would be cool), my goal is to help find new ways for the participants to communicate and build community.
For the rest of January, we’ve got some great programming lined up.
January 21, 2020 will be our next music jam session, which is always a great time.
January 28, 2020 will bring us full circle to Lunar New Year. I’ll be bringing in sweets and goodies to celebrate. We’ll be hosting a youtube viewing party, making a group playlist, maybe even some karaoke and dancing.
The Artist in Residency Program is open to all members of the community to attend. If you’re interested, please join us on Tuesdays at 1 pm, John Howard Society Lower Mainland- Client Services Office.
Photo Credit: Johnny D Trinh