The Other Press explores home and landing with play creators Three Flying Birds Collective
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
“Something we say all the time when we’re going into rehearsal, is that we treat the play like a ritual, and in our ritual, we are exploring questions of where we belong and how we accept ourselves for who we are and where we are.” -Anjalica Solomon
“The more I study birds, the more I think about the knowledge that birds carry in their bodies when they migrate along paths which their ancestors traveled.” Anjalica Solomon, a co-creator and lead actor in Wings Over Water, tells the Other Press during a Zoom chat. A bird’s migratory patterns imitate those of their ancestors, and while this is a cycle that is in no need of breaking, Three Flying Birds Collective’s novel play explores other cycles in life that could benefit from being broken.
Wings Over Water was created by: Anjalica Solomon (they/she/he), Shane [Chantal] Dobles Gerring (they/she), and Sarvin Esmaeili (she/they) who together comprise the Three Flying Birds Collective. “We’re all friends, we got together and created this play during the pandemic,” Solomon intimates. “The three of us have really unique sensibilities. We’re bringing together Sarvin’s directorial and narrative sensibilities, my musical and poetic sensibilities and Chantal’s acting and choreography sensibilities and melding all of them together. The viewers should be prepared to witness a marriage of all of these offerings and talents that we have. Anyone that comes to the show will feel the love that we have for each other and our love for telling stories.”
“[The protagonist] Baby Bird is very much taken from my own experience, interacting with the world in a curious way—almost like a child-like way. We chose birds because me and Anjalica spend a lot of time in the forest,” Gerring, the second co-creator and actor in Wings Over Water explains while seated in the forest. “We really took an interest in the way that birds are, so we got some bird books. Baby Bird came a lot from thinking about our ancestral history. I wrote a poem about belonging and reaching out to ancestors, feeling disconnected and [diasporic]. The character Baby Bird, and their mission, came out of this need for belonging—it very much came from my very own experience of diaspora.”
Solomon continues, explaining how her fascination with birds and their ancestry prompted her exploration of belonging: “This ties back to the search for home, migration and travel; Baby Bird’s character is always traveling through these portals.” During these travels, Baby Bird comes into contact with seven different characters: Grandmother Bird, Patriarchy Bird, Anarchy Bird, Blood Bird, Party Bird and Dream Bird. Solomon illuminates how these different characters could be interpreted both as different versions of Baby Bird’s self, but also as different people which we interact with on our life’s journey.
Esmaeili, director, dramaturge and the third co-creator of Wings Over Water elaborates on the thought-provoking nature of the play: “Our main theme is home and landing. ‘What is home? What is motherland? Who can define home?’ Baby bird keeps flying and going to all these places, I think the audience expects to find ‘the place’ of landing. But we want to challenge the audience and ask, ‘Is home one place? Or can it be more than one place?’”
Gerring continues: “The play ends [in] a raw way—in a way where there isn’t a hierarchy between the audience and performers. The lights kind of come up, and it’s very much about seeing the audience, and letting the audience see me. The end of the play kind of points towards the idea of landing somewhere. The audience is going through this journey with Baby Bird, interacting with these figures of authority and these figures of assurance and these figures of rage and craziness and being in this place of ‘Well, how do I find myself in relation to other people?’ It’s that commonality of belonging; it’s something that connects to people, connects to anyone who finds themself wondering who they are, given what’s going on, given that we’re living on colonial land.”
The emotional journey and the thoughts that will accompany the audience are clear, but what about the visual experience? “[Early on] we have some shadow puppetry.” Esmaeili begins by saying: “Before Baby Bird meets the actual Bird, the audience and Baby Bird meet the shadow. All you can see is a shadow first—Baby Bird really wants to be that bird, but as soon as that bird enters the stage, there is no mask, you can see the whole bird, you can see all of their emotions, and their identity, and all their insecurities. This is something interesting; it is something that I really want the audience to see: ‘Who are these birds? Who are their true selves? Is their true self what we see in the shadow? Or is it when they come on-stage?’”
Importantly, the collective aims for viewers to go home changed: “I think when viewers leave our play [they] will carry along this embodied and thought-provoking piece [,] questioning their connection to their ancestry and moving towards this place of self-acceptance.” Solomon adds: “Something we say all the time when we’re going into rehearsal, is that we treat the play like a ritual, and in our ritual, we are exploring questions of where we belong and how we accept ourselves for who we are and where we are. I think viewers will leave feeling stimulated by all sorts of light, shadow, dance, music, that we produced ourselves, and walk away telling their friends that they saw a really awesome, creative and inventive show.”
Yet, after completing the process of creating this play—the music, the choreography, the poetry, the puppetry—having treated the rehearsals like a ritual, the question becomes does the collectivefeel closer to answering ‘Where is home?’ Likewise, are they closer to a sense of self-acceptance and belonging? “Absolutely,” Esmaeili answers, “I rarely recognize these internalized voices that come from my family.” The collective continues by describing how the different characters in the play are directly relatable to their own familial experiences. “The play helped me recognize that we can love all these birds, but at the same time, we don’t have to become them; we don’t have to do what they ask us to do. How can we separate their voices from our voices? I think that the play really helped me to grow and be like ‘Hey, these Birds—or these people can still love me, but I’m just gonna follow my path and break the cycle.’”
“The play really deals with themes of breaking cycles,” Solomon elaborates. “So, in performing the play, and in creating the play, [we were] thinking about ancestral cycles that we’re breaking. I feel the growth in acknowledging that and imagining a world in which Baby Bird can break cycles.” Esmaeili finishes by describing how the theme of breaking cycles extended through the realms of the play and into their process of creating Wings over Water. “Working with these two really helped me innovate theatre, [since] I’ve been used to traditional theatre for so long. But because we were so connected, it felt very fun and very fluid and smooth; we were improving in the beginning, we were really helping each other and offering feedback and there was no power dynamic happening—which is something that theatre needs to have. We should all be on the same level, and share and receive, our team really has that.”
Wings Over Water premiers on September 10 and runs through September 19via Vancouver Fringe Fest. To accompany Baby Bird and experience an otherworldly collision of visual pleasures, original music, and evocative poetry, tickets are available online at the Vancouver Fringe Festival website.