5 Q’s with Tracey Guptill

A black and white photo of Tracey Guptill smiling while sitting on a chair in a dress against a plain background.
Photo of Tracey Guptill. Photo by Amy Gibson.

5 Q’s, 5 Femmes is a short series facilitated by writer Kemi King, interviewing five femme identifying artists; getting to know a little bit about them and their craft. 

This interview is with Tracey Guptill: a movement based actor, stilt walker, and collaborator. Along with establishing anARC Theatre, and its coLABoratory method for Research-Creation, she co-created When I get There as a part of her Masters in Environmental Studies at Queen’s in 2014. AnARC has since created a variety of shows with collaborators such as Cellar Door Project and RAFT Production. AnARC’s current work in progress is Uncovering, an access-centred piece with Kingston Circus Arts. She is also a co-founder of the Kingston Stilters

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Hello Tracey. Can you tell me a little bit about your practice?

For sure. I am a theatre creator and while I love to perform, a big part of me is really into the creation and devising process, and exploring big ideas in my work. My theatre company, anARC Theatre, follows a process that I developed for my Master’s of Environmental Studies: the coLABoratory method. It is process driven, it aims to be community-based and iterative so we use workshops for skill building or for the exploration of ideas that we may want to learn more about and include in our work. These workshops help us build our scripts and connect with the community. 

My dream is that the theatre I create involves all the senses, and resonates with Artaud’s concept of Total Theatre.  I want to bring in all the elements. All the beautiful performance things like sound, smell, and dance; I want to see more movement in my theatre. I am awed by my collaborators who are circus artists. By bringing in this type of spectacle I think we have a greater opportunity to explore big ideas, to escape the bounds of realism in theatre. 

I wonder where environmentalism is able to find space within this sort of total exploration. 

As an actor, one becomes so connected to their body and their voice and we learn to pay close attention to relationships. How can these capacities not then extend to understanding the world of which we are part of, which includes the natural world? The world that sustains our existence. So for me, it started with paying attention to the environment and thinking: “Wow, we are degrading this incredible world that we live in. How can I bring that into peoples’ minds?”  So I started to bring that message of environmental activism into my own theatre practice. Eventually though, I came to the realization that I started this answer with: if we are connecting to our voice and our body, and we’re also connecting to the earth—and that’s actually what I want to see more of, is this sort of, organic connection to the world that sustains us. 

By being more grounded in my body I’m more grounded on this earth. I want to inspire that in people, that feeling of being in their bodies, being able to use their voices, and being connected. These natural processes happening in and around us all the time that we’ve been pulled away from with things like cars and jobs that keep us indoors all the time. I want to explore how the skills we build in theatre help people remember why we’re here. So how that fits into Total Theatre, I’m not sure yet. But part of my goal with creating the work that I do is to keep experimenting and trying to figure out how it all goes together. Or doesn’t. Ha. 

I feel that as well. Theatre as a practice is really wasteful sometimes, we create and print just for the one show and it gets thrown out or sits in storage. What are the current inspirations for your work? 

A big part of my inspiration right now is my doctoral work in the cultural studies program. I’m loving the dive into theory work and reading—learning has always inspired me to try and incorporate all these big ideas into theatre. How do I represent that theory? How do I bring that idea into a scenario?

So right now I’m just kind of absorbed in scholarly work but I’ll be back to creating soon. I’m inspired by people’s big ideas of social justice and how to make a world that is more equitable and that includes the viewpoint of people who haven’t had their ideas included in the mainstream. Questions surrounding how we diversify our way of thinking. How do we create a culture that is inclusive and that is life-giving? These are big questions and I want to see them in action. So I try to get outside a lot too; to connect to something greater than my human concerns, and I’d like to see that influence show up in my future work as well.

Do you have anything coming up that folks can look out for?

Yeah, anARC has a project called Uncovering in the works.  It was supposed to be a great circus piece in Lake Ontario park but we turned it into a digital piece for Covid-related reasons. Now we’re using the work that we created in our digital exploration to come up with a script that we’ll be working on with the performers and collaborators this winter. Then we’ll be workshopping the show at the beginning of the summer and finally presenting it at Lake Ontario Park in its full circus glory, so it’s coming up summer 2023. We’ll be back at it with Erin Ball of Kingston Circus Arts and Liz Morris of Deaf Spirit Theatre. I’m really excited. This time, we have a Deaf director involved and a Disability dramaturg to really bring this work to the next level of accessibility and experimenting with new techniques for including access. I’m really excited to see what comes of this next step of this process because I don’t think it’s the final step for this show.

Nice. We love things in development. We love things continuing to grow and from what I understand, the emphasis on access means the work does not stop. 

Yeah, it’s never perfect. We learned a lot with the first phase of this project. It’s hard when doing new things to include access and realizing that there’s still so much more to be done. But I’m glad that we’re continually trying to push the envelope of: what do you expect when you go see a show?

Thank you. What is a piece of media that you would recommend to our readers?

You know what’s funny is I have a child; he’s one and a half and I haven’t got time to watch anything. Either I am reading or I am taking care of my son. My media is like sitting on a trampoline with my baby and being like wow, being here and now is good. 

I did see this awesome page on Cornell’s University about the anatomy of a bird which was so cool. It’s just playing with the anatomy of a bird.

I think my favorite thing to watch is the way that light reflects on water. You can watch the water or you can watch the light reflecting on a shore beside water and I just really encourage everyone to find a body of water on a sunny day. 

Oh! Also David Parker, I’ve been listening non-stop. 

Keep up with Tracey on Instagram here.