Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a trio of FGCU luminaries came together – Jim Brock, professor in the Department of Language and Literature; alumna Brittney Brady (’11, English and Theatre), who is based in California; and former instructor Kimberly Campanello, who lives in the United Kingdom. They met over Zoom for connection and collaboration rooted in what everyone was experiencing during the global pandemic.
What arose from their early conversations is “One Island,” a hybrid performance-installation piece to be presented by Ghostbird Theatre Company at FGCU’s Wasmer Art Gallery. Performances are June 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $10 for students, $20 for general admission. The installation created throughout their performances will remain in the gallery until June 25 with free admission.
“We have spent the last year of isolation, upheaval and displacement having conversations, sharing scripts, poems, songs, videos, soundscapes, images, movements, as we have been conceptualizing and building the performance and installation,” Brock said.
Their creation features interlayered vignettes, poems, songs, videos and soundscapes.
“I like to think of it as a collection of poems,” Brock explains. “As you move from one to another, you can have a completely new subject. Yet the work still registers the same note thematically and emotionally.”
“One Island” explores ancient history as a way to lend perspective on the current situation humans find themselves in. The performance turns around a central image – Pangea, the land mass formed when the continents drifted together roughly 335 million years ago before breaking apart again. Evidence of this once-united supercontinent is present today in the existence of trilobites, inch-long vertebrates whose fossilized remains can be found in such far-flung places as Florida, Morocco and Ireland. Brock sees them as “the vestigial remains that connect us to the very deep time of earth’s history.”
“One Island” speaks to the isolation, upheaval and displacement of the last few years, not just from the pandemic but also the continuing climate crisis and the war in Ukraine. The performance’s assorted pieces strive to capture the mood of this particular moment. “We explore our connections to ourselves and deep time, but also the alienation that defines our Anthropocene era,” Brock says. “Thinking about our own spirituality, our daily health, the state of the world today – it all feels fragmented and atomized. In building this performance, we wanted to capture that experience.”
Brock, Brady and alumni Katelyn Gravel (‘12, English and Theatre) and Philip Heubeck (’10, Art) founded Ghostbird in 2012. The company focuses on immersive site-specific work, creating performances tailored to a particular space rather than a traditional stage setting. Performances have been staged at Koreshan State Park, the Langford-Kingston home and Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. In a theater space, people come with certain expectations, Brock says. Ghostbird seeks to challenge those expectations.
The nonprofit company received a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to develop “One Island.” The project expanded to include five more collaborators – Gravel and Heubeck, theater and film artist Xiaoyue Zhang and performers Juliana Morgan Alvarez and Carolina Vargas Romero. “We went into it with an openness to the process,” says Brady, who has an MFA in directing from California Institute of the Arts. “It’s not a conventional performance piece with a person who writes the text and performers who perform it. We’re all generating material; we’re all contributing to a kind of archive. It’s been a way to cope with the last two years and the uncertainty of all of it.”
Uncertainty is a theme running throughout the performance. “We’re committed to staying in the questions,” Brady says. “We ask, how can we be very present in this unknowing place? How do we hold it all tenderly?”
Ghostbird’s performances leave its audiences with a spectrum of emotions going far beyond what a traditionally staged play might elicit. “One Island” is no different. At times disorienting, at times hopeful, the piece strives to contain the current state of upheaval and life seen through the longest lens – “layers of time and civilization, traces of eras that have come and gone,” Brady says. The experience is like reading poetry, as Brock says, or sharing a collective dream.
“I dreamt last night of the show,” Campanello wrote to the group in April. “The opening was a montage film of the sea and a boy talking about the sea. Then the sea was there in the gallery and the performers were in it and on the sand, stretched out, trying to speak to each other in the wind, feeling all the things that can be felt. There was danger in the atmosphere but also beauty.”
This feeling of “danger in the atmosphere but also beauty” is one of many sensations “One Island” explores, distilling the collective experience of the last two years and returning to the connectiveness of humanity. It doesn’t seek a neat resolution but instead allows the story to remain in the questions. “We don’t know the end. We’re still very much in it,” Brady says.