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Untold Physical Theatre creates forum for artists in self-quarantine

By Troy Hasselman, March 26 2020 —

Untold Physical Theatre, the Calgary-based interdisciplinary arts collective, has launched Creative Distancing, an online forum for sharing ideas and uncompleted works for artists reeling from the mass cancellations of performances and events in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Untold Physical Theatre was founded by University of Calgary alumni Emily Sunderland and Samantha Ketsa and presents physical, movement-based pieces that highlight the perspectives of overlooked or marginalized voices.

“Physical theatre means we primarily focus on dance and theatre, although we do often work with musicians,” Untold Physical Theatre Co-Creative Director Emily Sunderland says. “Our mandate is to tell what we classify as an untold story and an untold story is something we define as a narrative that has either been suppressed or needs to be brought forward and brought to life.”

Untold Physical Theatre has been playing with the idea of creating a forum where artists can conduct works they have in progress since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pair moved this forum into an online space after the pandemic caused the cancellation of large public gatherings.

“My co-creative director, Samantha and I, have been playing around for a while with the idea of finding something for emerging and mid-career artists to come together and meet monthly and do something together so we can help build the community,” Sunderland explains. “We were looking at planning an event and the coronavirus happened and we were like ‘Well, we can’t do a meetup. Let’s find a way to do this online.’ Sam came up with the idea to do this forum where we can share scripts or writing samples or physical choreography and provide feedback and engage with each other because everyone’s shows got cancelled.”

Since the announcement of Creative Distancing there has been a strong amount of community feedback for the forum.

“We’ve been getting some really awesome, positive feedback,” Sunderland says. “A lot of people were really, really enthusiastic when we launched it. It’s our most engaged post on any of our social media platforms which is really exciting for us. It’s been really busy and really exciting. It’s our first big recognition in the outer community aside from our own circle which is really cool.”

Photo courtesy of Rose & Range Photography. // Logo by Nicole Logan.

Creative Distancing has attracted a range of artists that were previously involved in works with Untold Physical Theatre and also artists the collective hasn’t worked with before such as Reckless Daughters Creative and Jupiter Theatre’s Andrew Cooper.

“It’s been kind of a mix of people we’ve worked with in the past either as Untold or individual artists and we are starting to get some broader things,” Sunderland says. “There’s the Reckless Daughter Creative, who we only know via social media, they’re starting to pour in some stuff and share it. Andrew Cooper, the artistic director of Jupiter Theatre just joined our drive which is really cool and we haven’t met him but we’re very excited to get to know him and have him on this.”

Creative Distancing offers a pressure-free space for creatives to gain feedback from other artists and showcase new works to others within their field in a time where so many in the artistic community have lost their means of making a living. 

“The thing that we really recognized and felt deeply when this happened was all of our friends who are artists lost everything,” Sunderland says. “The second non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people were shut down, we all lost all of our jobs. Everyone I know is unemployed, looking for a job, hoping the new government emergency benefits came through and so, what we wanted to do was provide a place where we can heal together, work together and still create without pressure. This is for feedback, we’re advocating new scripts that you haven’t put out to any festivals, choreography pieces you’ve been doodling around with while you’re hanging out at home. Let’s share it, let’s provide feedback. Let’s continue to build and create without pressure.”

For anyone looking to support artists in the meanwhile, Sunderland suggests hiring for childcare positions and avoiding refunding tickets for cancelled events.

“Hire an artist for childcare if you need one,” Sunderland says. “Most of the people I know have jobs where they teach in some capacity and all of that got ripped away when the school’s closed. Many of us were artists-in-residencies so we’re all very qualified people to take care of your children if you’re looking for childcare. Another thing that’s a really great thing to do is if you have season tickets or you bought tickets to a show and that show has been cancelled. Consider leaving your ticket with the company as a donation. Because if those major parent companies go away, we don’t have anywhere to work in the fall.”

Artists looking to become involved in Creative Distancing can do so by contacting Untold Physical Theatre at untoldphysicaltheatre@gmail.com

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