In Conversation with Julia Aplin & Jacquie PA Thomas of “The Hum” at the 2015 SummerWorks Festival
Interview by Madryn McCabe
“Listen. Can you hear it?”
We sat down with Julia Aplin, one of the performers and creators of The Hum, a theatrical experience she co-created with her partner, John Gzowski, and their daughter, 10 year old Jenny Aplin.
MM: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your show?
JA: It’s called The Hum. I created it with my partner, John, and our daughter, Jenny and it’s based on Jenny’s drawings, which have come out of family discussions about books that we’re reading, and ideas that we’re talking about. A lot of her drawings are of the outdoors, from camping trips and her experience even with wildlife in the backyard, so we’ve extrapolated stories and ideas from all of that and put it all together.
MM: Is the show based off of one particular drawing?
JA: No. I remember there was one meeting between Jacquie (Thomas, The Hum’s director) and myself in my kitchen and there was a drawing that Jenny had done stuck on the fridge of a woman who was sitting in the sun, curled up. And Jacquie said, “That’s really interesting. What is that?” It was a drawing Jenny had done from a book. She has a children’s book called We Are Stardust, and I have another book called The Universe Within, which has the same kind of information, but mine was more of a scientific adult book, so we discussed the ideas, and then Jenny drew this woman in the sun. We are stardust, scientifically. The materials in our bodies, everything that we’re made of is from stars, and she knows that, and that our sun is a star, so she put it all together into this drawing of a woman in the sun.
MM: What kind of story can we expect to see?
JA: There are some stories from when I was a kid, there are some stories of Jenny and her pet snails that she found in the garden, there are some stories of John trying to explain scientifically from a sound designer’s point of view how the earth might hum. The way we work is pretty abstract; this is the most story based piece we’ve ever done. There are a lot of emotional, dance, music moments where John plays music and I dance.
MM: It doesn’t sound like it’s the kind of theatre that lends itself to a very traditional ‘we have a script and we rehearse scene by scene’ approach. Can you talk about the elements that we might see in the show?
JA: The main elements are dance, music and there’s actually text in the show too, which is rare for me. I usually have little bits of text, but this is a big step having chunks of text, that I wrote. It’s pretty exciting. Jenny wrote her monologue and John wrote his monologue and almost all the music.
MM: Jenny is in the show as well?
JA: Yes, she is. Performing, dancing, talking, drawing. Another huge element is her drawings. She does some live drawing, which is projected, and we’ve also taken some of her other drawings that she’s done and animated them. We used The Woman with the Water, because she’s talking about the concept that the same water that’s in the lakes is the same water that we drink is the same water that’s in our bodies. We’ve got an amazing animation of The Woman with the Water, so that’s onstage with us.
MM: Is this the first time that you’ve collaborated with your family?
JA: John and I have collaborated a lot before. In fact, we first performed together at TPM in the backspace together, Quartet by Eugene Stickland. That was about nineteen years ago. Since then, we’ve done a lot of collaborations. Mostly, John composes for them, and I’m either choreographing or dancing, so this is new for us, to collaborate as a family. I’ve worked with Jenny before as a teacher, choreographing a piece for her dance class or something like that, but never with her as a fellow artist. We’re really including her artistic point of view on this.
MM: I’m really getting the impression that Jenny is an equal partner in the creative process.
MM: Is this something that you’re focusing for a younger audience or do you feel like this is a piece for everyone?
JA: My hope is that it won’t exclude anyone. So the kids that come will have an “in” to what’s going on, but also that the adults don’t feel like they’re watching Barney the Dinosaur. I hope that it speaks on different levels. The three of us are together on different levels. We have a 10 year old, and we have–I won’t say how old (she laughs)–so between all of our different points of view, we hope to be pretty inclusive.
MM: Do you think you’ll collaborate with your family again?
JA: That might be a question to ask me in a week or two! (she laughs) I’m sure we will. We won’t be able to help ourselves.
MM: Where does the title The Hum come from?
JA: Have you ever read The Bone series? It’s an awesome set of graphic novels by Jeff Smith. We read the first one and kept going and it became this obsession in our family. There are characters in there who talk about The Hum Hum and there’s this one character named Thorn who does this (places two fingers to her forehead) and she can feel all kinds of things. We’d go walking in the forest and do it too, and when we heard the word, it clicked that it was a word for everything we were already feeling, and then The Hum became a catch word for something that we already knew.
We know something in our bodies. Our bodies come from this earth and we’ve been here in this form for 10,000 years. But if you keep going back through evolution, back to when your mom’s mom was a fish, that’s where we’re from. If you really go deep, you can hear that, and that’s The Hum. In our modern world, we don’t really listen to it, but now science is showing us that ‘oh this is actually, really true’. We really are from stardust, we really are connected to the earth, and the scientific principles are coming forward and people now are like, “ohhhh”. Maybe we should have known this all along.
(At this point, director Jacquie PA Thomas, artistic director of Theatre Gargantua, who are co-producing The Hum as part of the SideStream Cycle joins us, and she adds this to the conversation):
JT: This is a unique family. It’s a family of two well established and beautiful artists coming from different backgrounds, who both dabble in other artistic realms. Julia is also a musician and John does some instrument making and design. When I first proposed the idea, I thought it would be exciting to understand from a child’s perspective what it was like growing up in a family of artists.
I knew that Jenny was a drawer and we’d seen some of her work, which was really quite remarkable for such a young age. I’ve known John and Julia for over twenty years and we’ve collaborated on a number of shows, so the artistic relationship goes back years. Our new stream of performances, which we are calling SideStream Cycle allows associate artists time and space to explore something freely and offers them the opportunity to experiment with form and content. Julia had never actually performed specifically as an actor, she’s never really written anything professionally for the stage, and we’ve discovered during this process that she’s a really beautiful writer. John has never, ever acted in his life, and he’s quite charming on the stage, and of course their daughter, in terms of where the ideas came from for the piece, they all sprang from her drawings. When you look at Jenny’s drawings, a lot of them are of these beautiful, strong women who have tree branches as veins, or a winged- woman looking into the sun and she has fire coming out of her. She has this really interesting way of looking at the world, and I thought that was a good beginning point. What’s it like growing up in a family of artists, and a child’s perspective on not only family, but connections to art, connections to life, connections to the world. It seemed like a really amazing opportunity for us to explore these wonderful artists.
presented as part of the 2015 Summerworks Festival
In Person: At the SummerWorks box office at Factory Theatre & At the door of Theatre Passe Muraille, one hour before show time.
Monday August 10, 4:45pm
Sunday August 16 2pm
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue