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Walk & Squawk returns with the ‘Walking Project’
DETROIT – Walking. It’s a simple, everyday activity that no one really thinks much about; we just do it. Detroiters walk; South Africans walk. Is there a connection between us – despite our distance?
Metro Detroiters are about to learn the answer to that question when the Walk & Squawk Theatre Project brings the “Walking Project” to the Boll Family YMCA beginning March 29.
“There are stories within walking,” director Erika Block told BTL from Boll’s second floor lounge that overlooks Broadway, a recently refurbished street in downtown Detroit that’s come alive with walkers. “The piece explores walking from many different angles and perspectives.”
The concept began percolating a few years back when British-born performance artist – and cofounder of Walk & Squawk – Hilary Ramsden rode her bike through the streets and sidewalks of Detroit. Why would a sidewalk suddenly end, she’d ask herself? Who created the paths through the city’s many vacant lots, and where were the people going who traveled them?
The experience triggered a memory, Block said, of Ramsden’s years working in a South African convent school. “She remembered looking out her window in the morning and seeing heads popping up through the grasses – the people who had cut paths through the grasses. They were walking home or to the taxies, or to their church or to the marketplace.”
It’s a world full of walkers, Ramsden and Block realized, so the artistic collaborators set out to explore the simple act of walking. While doing their research they even discovered a sociological name for the paths Ramsden observed: desire lines – paths that are traces of people’s footsteps. And it was connecting those desire lines between people 8,700 miles apart that intrigued the duo. “It’s about connecting two different communities across that vast distance,” Block said.
Development of the “Walking Project” began in 2003 with the first of four residencies, three in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and one in Detroit. A recent series of walks through the Detroit neighborhoods of Woodbridge, Rivertown, Cass Corridor and Heidelberg netted some interesting tales. “We ran into a lot of people who wanted to know what we were doing, and they ended up sharing their stories.”
Collaboration is a key element of the project. “Most of our work comes out of the stories or ideas of the people who are creating it,” Block said. “What we do is walk into a rehearsal with an idea, and then we improvise.”
With a cast of seven that includes four South Africans who speak little English, that’s not always easy. Nor is it easy to cross international borders. “It’s very difficult to bring in international artists – especially artists of color.”
Participants include not only performance artists from both countries, but the University of Michigan, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Hannan House and numerous community groups and schools are also involved with the project.
The “Walking Project” doesn’t end with the Detroit performances, however. A tour is in the planning stages, and Block is currently looking at ways to use new technologies to bring together stories from all across the world.
Block calls the show’s combination of music, dance and storytelling “fun, funny and a good night out. I still believe people love to come together in a space and hear stories. And that’s what this is.”