Lois Brown on Genius, Paper and Microphones

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By Harris Frost

Interdisciplinary artist Lois Brown is currently rehearsing her new piece I Am A Genius Does Anyone Here Know Me?. The piece was developed with dramaturg and PWM artistic director Emma Tibaldo and dance dramaturg Thea Patterson. Lois spoke with us in July during her studio residency at PWM.


PWM: The piece you’re working on with us right now is called I Am A Genius Does Anyone Here Know Me?, could you tell us a little bit about it?

Lois Brown: It’s gone through a couple different iterations. A couple of years ago I was calling it The Papers Improvisation. And even before that, its roots go back to when I was an artist-in-residence here at PWM. I used to write my thoughts down on paper every morning. And then I started getting more interested in the qualities of the paper and playing with it. That then lead to me becoming interested in different objects and what they might do if I tried my best not to act on them. And also I wanted to play with the microphone, so it turned into a sonic relationship.

Now, at this residency, I brought in the composer whom I’ve wanted to collaborate with for a long time. This is our first time working together. And because so much of this piece is based on the sonic relationships between different objects, it’s been really exciting to have him here.

PWM: You’ve described this piece as a combination of improvised  and scripted elements.

Lois Brown: Yeah, there are some things that I know that want to talk about. For example, I’m talking about the value of playing aimlessly. Being able to realize the genius in things when you’re not just focused on what their functions are. So I want to combine some of my skills in writing and structuring things in a theatrical way with my interest in the way that dance practitioners choreograph pieces. I’m improvising because I don’t really know what the paper will do when I do something to it, but I’ve worked with it so long that I have a good idea of what it might do.

PWM: How did you first become involved with PWM?

Lois Brown: I came here first for a very short time, through a grant from Canada Council, back when Paul Dankert was the Artistic Director. And then, several years later after I had had an accident, Emma, who was just taking over from Greg MacArthur offered me the opportunity to be the Artist in Residence. That came at the right time for me, because I wasn’t able to get around after my accident. I’ve become really attached to this organization because it’s helped me so much and it’s become a sort of home for me.

PWM: And is that experience part of the reason you’ve chosen to collaborate with us on this piece?

Lois Brown: Yeah, but also, strangely, in my community in Newfoundland, there are very few resources available to a small, independent artist. So for me to come to Montreal to rehearse is actually easier and less expensive than if I were to stay in my own city in Newfoundland.

PWM: How has it been working with your composer/collaborator James O’Callaghan over this week? Especially since you’re involving someone new in a project that you’ve been working on alone for so long.

Lois Brown: It’s really scary, yeah. Before James came in I had a meeting with Thea [Patterson] and we laid out some of the principles on which the piece was developed, what my ideas were and what I wanted my relationship to the things to be. And then, with James we started by just going through all the different objects and playing with them separately. So I would show him what I had been doing with a particular object and then he would get up and start playing with the object himself. What he did was quite different and much more sonically sophisticated.

PWM: Could you speak a little about the title of the piece? How does it tie into what you’re doing?

Lois Brown: Well, we all learn in grade school everything is made up of the same stuff, the same matter. So I use that fact as a jumping off point to examine the way in which I’m trying to control things that happen. So for example, I’m trying to tell a story with the plastic bags but if the plastic bags do something by themselves, then that becomes more important than whatever story I’m trying to tell.

And also my dad used to wear a pin that said “I am a genius” as joke, although maybe he thought he really was a genius. He really enjoyed that you never know what type of person actually is a genius. So I guess I just think that everybody’s a genius really. But also, I want to explore the connection between genius and memory. You can appear to be really smart just because you can remember a lot of things.

I Am A Genius Does Anyone Here Know Me? will be performed at the Festival of New Dance in St. John’s on October 4th.