Friday, August 15, 2008

(lost toy story), a Q & A with TJ Eckleberg

Here is a Q & A I did with TJ Eckleberg, the creative director of Shopfront Theatre for Young People. They are putting on a free, three day arts festival celebrating lost toys. There is something I find about the concept really appealing. Thought I'd post the Q & A here because I had to shorten it and write it as a story for Drum. I'm actually quite into Q & A's. More words from the horse's mouth and less from the writer.

I spoke to you last when you were preparing A City Of Shadows and Ice. How did that event pan out for you?
Hey Lee – Yeah I remember. Lovely to hear from you again. ‘…shadows and ice’ was hot, hot, hot and cold cold. Of course.
It was gorgeous – the fire and the sheets of ice and projections and so on… but standing watching the performers struggle each day with ice in the town square was pretty cold. I ought to know better. I’ve always thought you need to be careful what you call a project – or it comes back to haunt you. Consequently I named a project (lost toy story) and spent yesterday losing my pen in my pocket, my car, a cafĂ©…

(lost toy story) is quite a wonderful concept for an arts festival. Where did it come from?
Firstly I was inspired by a beautiful public nativity installation in Brussels, Belgium in 2001– gorgeous, glowing, life-sized cows and glowing sheep curated in the old town square. And a book I gave a friend of mine that was essentially a collection of lost pet posters.

Put that with numerous conversations about hybrid arts, Transformers, electronics, pink bears and the desire of emerging artists to direct a piece of their own in a highly public setting… and it all just seems so obvious…

Why the parentheses and lower case in the title?
I guess it reminds us this is about the little things and the lost things. The things in parentheses and lower case – that are overlooked or unimportant or no longer particularly noteworthy. Toys are kinda like that. They seem so urgent and eternal, but they fade. It’s good to be reminded the little things play a big part in our lives.

Toys have been an important part of the lives of even the oldest adults. Is the intention for this to be appealing to a broad range of ages?
Everyone knows what it is to lose a toy. And toys are people too. I think this is why the project has struck such a chord. We put posters drawn by young people about lost toys, in urban centres and cafes, and the response has been staggering – humorous, weird, enlightening… and sometimes a little too weird. People have called, emailed, even created their own posters in response. But I think it touches on the idea of loss without being too cerebral or uptight or conceptual. It’s good to have to ask yourself what became of something you set aside. And pretty much everyone you ask is eager to share a story about some precious toy that broke their heart.

Given that the festival celebrates toys that have been lost to the past, do you think preparation has affected the young performers and artists involved view the toys they have now?
I definitely think the telling of the stories has changed them. Yeah.

Toys represent fun, and in a sense having a festival commemorating toys that are lost could be seen as a little like telling a kid that it’s okay to have a new puppy but they must also understand that it is going to die one day. Aren’t you raining on a few parades?
Not at all. Teddy’s back man. AND he wants a hug! Ha. That’s the great thing. Even the things you think are gone, in so many ways, aren’t really. We remember the stories and we can pass them on, and find hope and connection in and through them. And turn them into posters and glowing sculptures and performance. We can use loss as an excuse to talk to one another, to remember and to get out on the streets.

I really like the idea of the memorial pond to lost toys. What can you tell us about it and what do you expect it to be like?
Not just lost toys – but lost things. It’s a little ritual in the middle of this crazy performance where you can take time out to write down something or someone you want to remember on a little sail, attach that sail to a little sailboat, light a candle in the boat and float the boat out into the water. There’s no real gimmick – it’s just a twist on a very traditional way of celebrating and remembering something or someone who is gone.

What particular toys will you be remembering during (lost toy story)?
I had a teddy when we went to America that got lost in transit. Five years later it got returned when we came back to Australia. I got the teddy back but something had changed. Seeing him now reminds me of a journey where I lost friends and a whole country. Other than that, I really miss playing games. Don’t you? It’s a real shame we’re not supposed to play Hide and Seek once we grow up. Or Red Rover Cross Over. Or What’s The Time Mr Wolf? They were fun.

Other highlights for you?
The young people. Always. They amaze me with their stories and courage and willingness to look and play and explore. Some of the songs have been gorgeous and jaw dropping (did I mention there have been twenty one tracks produced in an album accompanying the festival?). The young directors too – they constantly come up with ways of doing or creating that surprises me and makes me smile.

I’m a sucker for poetry. Can you give us any of the poetry that is part of (lost toy story)?
I want to go home
I don’t like being held upside down
Covered in food or ice cream for that matter
I don’t like my seams being torn
or my eyes hanging loose
But after they’re gone they make me sad
I’m missing the life I had
I want to go home.

Drum readers will be interested to see that Meem is involved. How did that come about and what can you tell us of his participation?
Meem has been totally integral – he’s been a friend for a while – through A mutal friend and longtime Shopfront collaborator Deepchild. I’ve had him in mind for a project and he was perfect for this – he worked so quickly and with so much empathy – the perfect sound artist – he was really able to get inside the heads of the young people and the directors. The soundtrack is stunning. But not only him. Byron Williams and Ozi Batla from The Herd, Vic McEwan from Box Freezer Romance, David Kirkpatrick and Phreaze all kicked in with production and song development. And on the odd occasion when I could drag myself out of interviews, I even managed to strum a guitar or press record myself. ;-)

Okay. I’m a modern and fast-paced dude whose toys are very electronic, very blinky and play music LOUD... and they are not lost. Why should I come to (lost toy story)?
Oh come on! When was the last time you saw a six metre glow in the dark hot pink teddy bear? Or real life Transformers roaming the streets? Or five pink bears who keep getting tangled in ribbon? Why stay at home and watch reruns of CSI when you can follow the important real life forensics of the MTU: Missing toy unit?

It’s time to remember. You can’t keep ignoring teddy forever.

WHAT: (lost toy story), a three day free festival arts festival.
WHEN & WHERE: 22 – 24 August, Hurstville CBD.

Lee Bemrose


Johnny said...

When I was 5, I had a toy snake named Wamba, and he went every where with me. We went camping on a beach in Michigan and my older sister burried him in the sand and couldn't remember where. I remember crying the whole day for that eff'ing piece of rubber. A few days later my dad came home with a new snake and said "Here's Wamba." I knew that it wasn't, and wanted nothing to do with it. First time I had a broken heart. (Ha, over a toy snake)

Lee said...

And that, I believe, is exactly the kind of story this festival is about.

I think it's a very cool idea.

Cheers, Johnny.