Go Deeper

What the Landscape Said

Posted September 3rd, 2011

Heather Shayne Blakeslee learned this summer how pervasive the Philly Fringe is.

“It’s like when you learn a new word and then you see it everywhere. My neighbor is a dancer and is in a couple of pieces. I went to the Erotic Literary Salon to promote this show, and I met the woman doing Song of the Sacred Whore,” Heather said.

For the 2011 Philly Fringe, Heather has pulled pieces from a novel she’s writing, combined them with songs from her repertoire (her band is Sweetbriar Rose) and illustrations, and sought out collaborators and feedback for The Articulate Landscape.

“I decided to do a Fringe show in part because it gave me a dealine. It was a way to bring something to a larger audience beyond the music community. I like the idea of being a part of a collaboaration, that’s part of a collaboration, that’s part of a collaboration,” Heather said.

“The novel evolved over the last two years from a single image in a magazine I saw of a little bird in a tree. I asked questions that I’d ask about songs: Who are they? Where are they going? They’re the same questions we ask ourselves about who we are, and the ansers are different anecdotes that provide the compilation of who we are.”

After the jump: Jungian archetypes, collaboration, and next Saturday, free food from Kennett Restaurant!

Part of The Articulate Landscape involves a woman who considers becoming a book.

“She’s not eve thinking thematically but thinking, ‘Will I be poetry or fiction? Will I have to set type, or have type set on me?'” Heather said. “I conceived of it as a live storybook, including illustrations, mostly of botanicals from the story. The actors talk, and the music is there to drive home the narrative and folk tale quality of it all. it’s sort of a fairy tale for grownups.”

Novel-writing is generally thought of as solitary work, so Heather said she was grateful to have a collaborative opportunity using the same material.

“To have collaborators help me understand what it is, is fundamental. They can see things in characters and narratives that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. Because I’m new to writing fiction its the best workshop I could have had. They ask what stuff means.”

Heather’s a transplant from New York City, which she left shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, but she hails from Pennsylvania originally.

“I grew up in Bloomsburg. Despite the fact that it was small, it had the Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble, which Whit McLaughlin [now of New Paradise Laboratories] was a principle actor in when I was growing up. We also had a wonderful theater program at my high school, and then at college.”

Heather attended Muhlenberg College, where she studied philosophy and English as part of the Dana Scholars program, a program which also allowed her to design her own coursework. One project she did was with the Bronx-based Pregones Theater, which came to Allentown and worked collectively with the Puerto Rican community there to create a play. After her time in New York, where she worked for Poets & Writers and was involved in the performance scene, she first relocated to Stone Hollow Farm in Hellertown, and then came to Philadelphia because she wanted to go back to a city, but not back to New York.

“I’ve been here for about seven years now, and from the day I got here I met people in the music scene I’m still friends with. I really value the songwriting here in Philadelphia. It’s a great place for most artists in general, because it’s easier to exist here,” Heather said.

Despite her past performance experience, Heather said that only one actual actor, Gabriel Vazquez, is performing in the show. The rest of the cast is drawn from her coterie of musician friends, like Amos Lee’s drummer Freddie Berman, and Tom Kehoe, the owner of Yards Brewing Company.

“Gabe is playing a door. There are a couple of doors, and they all talk. They’re very much at the center of the story. He got very excited about it. He was in Puerto Rico a little while ago and sent me a text saying, ‘There are all these wonderful doors down here!’ He started to imagine lives for them,” she said.

“Part of how I constructed it was that characters from the natural world have voices. In one song, a family of crows hold up the sky. When the king becomes doddy it needs to be explained. The sky forgets what season it is, and the weather becomes particularly confused. The character of the wind is annoyed that people don’t listen to the natural world anymore. Floating over all that is the idea of listening–what we listen to and why.”

Heather is particularly compelled by Jungian archetypes, which attracts her to certain creative forms and which reflects into her own work.

“That’s why I’m drawn to folk tales, murder ballads, all of these stories that pop up again and again. They have more to tell us than we think they do. There’s this deluge of information–it’s hard for modern beings to sort through it in order to survive, let alone thrive.”

In this show, Heather said she’s not working with strictly Jungian archetypes, but with a slightly different trope.

“I’m really interested in the person who’s trying to find their story, who lost their story. I agree with [the philosopher David] Hume that we’re different people at different times, so you have to check in about who you are.”

You can check in with The Articulate Landscape today, September 3, at The Fire, 412 W. Girard Avenue, Northern Liberties. 3:00 pm. If you miss it today, there are two shows on September 10, at 3:00 and 6:30 pm. Attending the late show will get you a free drink, free food from Kennett Restaurant, and admission to the concert at the Fire that night (featuring Heather’s band).

–Nicholas Gilewicz