Making ‘Traces of Her’

Juncture – Day 10
Wednesday 14 March

Charlotte Vincent & Claire MacDonaldIt’s the end of the afternoon. Claire MacDonald and Charlotte Vincent have left the studio. For the last three days they’ve been working together on the creation of a new piece, Traces of Her. The studio’s littered with paper cups, a scratchy DVD of a performance has been screening on almost-perpetual loop, and Charlotte’s heading off for physio on her shoulder…

We take the opportunity to sit down with Claire and ask her to tell us about Traces of Her.

They met five years ago when Charlotte recreated The Carrier Frequency, a piece originally made by Claire with Leeds-based experimental theatre co-operative Impact Theatre and Russel Hoban in 1984. Charlotte took the part which had originally been Claire’s, and the two talk now about the experience of ‘sharing’ that part. Claire even refers to it as “a ghost between us.”

The three studio-days this week have been spent exploring memory, and finding out what can be re-traced through performance. One of the things both women remember about The Carrier Frequency is its sheer physicality. Performed in a huge pool of ankle-deep water (“painfully cold” according to them both “and very hard work”), its extreme, post-apocalyptic physical theatre demanded a lot of its cast of performers. There was, Claire says, a lot of falling-off things.

“It probably couldn’t happen today. The next generation’s a bit more careful,” she adds. Health and Safety rules would probably dictate that the 1983 incarnation of The Carrier Frequency be toned down, physically. Claire also suggests that Charlotte’s and her own body might no longer be up to it – Charlotte  is currently recovering from surgery to her shoulder following years of lifting and catching other people in performance – hence the trip to physio.

And this is part of the exploration process, too. Two female artists, one in her 50s, one in her 40s, publicly facing their limitations and the process of ageing. When asked what she hopes audiences might say about Traces of Her after they’ve seen it, Claire replies, “I hope we might provoke people into thinking about the experience of performers who engaged with physical performance for so long. That this is a genre with a history. Traces of Her attempts to unlock what it’s like to have been part of that. It’s made us think about our lives as performers. Not in a nostalgic way – we’ve tried to be a bit tougher with each other than that.”

This is the first time that Claire and Charlotte have worked together, “a baptism of fire,” Claire laughs, and a collaboration which she acknowledges has been “hard, but in a good way. Two women in different generations articulating methodologies – how we make images, how we relate things to each other – it’s been fantastic to oil the gears of that, to say Oh yeah! This is what we’ve done. This is how we’ve lived our lives.

We ask Claire how she feels after three days contemplating her past life as an artist, and whether she feels a shadow of mortality hanging over the studio.

“Well, that mortal awareness is very much present, but I certainly don’t feel mortality hanging over this or me any more than I did in 1984. Less, perhaps. As a performer, you’re ‘opening up the present’ at every moment. I never thought of myself as ‘older’ when I started work on this, but it’s been a tonic, an astringent, to watch footage that old. I’ve come out of the studio optimistic about the world of performance that’s out there. And feeling engaged.”

The Carrier Frequency is clearly a work that stands out vividly in Claire’s memory. The 1986 tour was suddenly abandoned as the company arrived in Warsaw on the day that the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant failed, releasing large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Europe. The company travelled home by road across the continent, being checked at every turn by officials with Geiger counters and radiation suits.

And artistically, Claire attests that, for both her and Charlotte, “it was a very anarchic, important show to us as women performers”. 

So what will Traces of Her be like when we see its progress on Saturday 24 March?

“Fifty minutes, two women, a table, two microphones, 100 paper cups – a mix of half-remembered gestures and texts – revisiting ghosts of our former performing  selves… We don’t know what the future of Traces of Her might be, though…”

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