Graduating during the pandemic is hard. The pandemic has affected opportunities in the performing arts. For this group of recent drama department graduates, the answer is to form their own collective to break into the industry. The Hidden Neighbourhood is a collective of U of A 2020 Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Acting program graduates, debuting their premiere piece, Invisible Thread.
The Hidden Neighbourhood is a group of classically trained actors located across Canada. They boast skills and training in other areas such as video editing, dance, producing, and composition. What they have in common is a BFA from the U of A class of 2020 acting program and a passion to create meaningful and relevant theatre pieces.
Though the group has members around the country, the barrier of physical distance and COVID-19 restrictions between them have been bridged by the use of technology. This is most prevalent in their debut work, Invisible Thread.
Invisible Thread is a three-part episodic dance piece, premiering online at the NextFest festival. The work is also in conjunction with Good Women Dance Collective. In Invisible Thread, three choreographers each led one of the episodes. Braden Butler, Meegan Sweet, and Emily Anne Corcoran were in charge of choreographing the three episodes and fitting their separate parts to Invisible Thread’s theme.
The episodes of Invisible Thread show off reimaginations of previous performances that were done in-person together on a live stage. Each of the three pieces used the initial impulses, narratives, and ideas of the live performances and filtered them into something new. Changes were made based on the requirements of the pandemic, the digital medium for creating film, and also the unique experiences the artists had since these pieces were last performed.
Braden Butler, choreographer and director for one of the episodes, as well as a producer for Invisible Thread, describes the interwovenness of the dance series to be unintentional at first.
“The reason why we call the project Invisible Thread is because … when we started to see [the episodes] together and arrange them, we noticed how interconnected they were, despite being created entirely separate from one another,” Butler said. “There was a magical cohesion that became evident.”
Invisible Thread is a choreographic impression of our daily lives. Butler described the dance series to be “resoundingly relevant.”
“It was amazing to see how personal each of the episodes were, and how moving they are because of that,” he said. “When you create from that personal place within yourself, it has the opportunity to move or touch other people, and I think that’s what these pieces will do.”
The fact that Invisible Thread is personal and authentic is no surprise, seeing that Butler describes The Hidden Neighbourhood as giving importance to work they are “deeply motivated to make.”
“We think that’s the best place from which we can tell stories which are meaningful, and might move or inspire others,” Butler said.
However, the creation of Invisible Threads was not easy, especially with pandemic restrictions limiting performers’ ability to gather.
Originally, The Hidden Neighbourhood had planned the recording of the episodes to be in-person, with masked dancers spaced three metres apart. With the restrictions, that was no longer possible. Thus, Invisible Thread had to adapt to the changing conditions of the pandemic, something that Butler says was sudden but necessary.
“[The restrictions were] four weeks before episodes were due … we all completely pivoted and went in an entirely different direction with our episodes,” Butler describes. “All of a sudden everyone’s filming themselves with iPhones as opposed to professional cameras that the festivals had offered to us.”
Invisible Thread actually had a fourth episode, which fell through because of pandemic restrictions. Despite this, Butler reaffirms that Invisible Thread was shaped by the hurdles The Hidden Neighbourhood had in making it.
“There was a moment halfway through where we thought, ‘we can’t deal with [the new restrictions], it completely throws everything off,’ but we just pivoted and made it happen in the end,” he says. “I feel really proud of everyone for having the gumption to do that.”