Monday, December 16, 2013

The Question... Ingrid Hansen on Little Orange Man (WildSide)

The High-Octane Danish Girl
by Estelle Rosen

Raised by Danish immigrants in Kelowna, BC and fuelled by a love for talking with strangers, Ingrid Hansen is fascinated with ways of creating temporary communities out of groups of strangers. She has toured Little Orange Man across Canada, designed for the Dora-Award Winning musical Ride the Cyclone, and was a lead puppeteer for the children’s television series Tiga Talk! on APTN. Ms Hansen also does ongoing work with the inmate-run prison theatre company William Head on Stage in Victoria, BC. She loves to teach students of all backgrounds, especially beginners, and has taught theatre workshops for children, adults, actors, dancers, puppeteers, and prison inmates.

CHARPO: The last time we were in touch was about SNAFU Dance Theatre production of Fractured Fables, a play written and performed by prison inmates. At first glance, Little Orange Man (LOM) seems a departure. Yet perhaps not. LOM involves an outcast fighting dark battles, both incorporate fables and puppets. Are there any connections or is this coincidence?

HANSEN: I suppose the main similarity between the two projects is that when we started, we really had no idea what the end result would be. When working on Little Orange Man, at times we threw out huge chunks of material -- entire show’s worth of material -- or evolved the story into something completely different. It’s now the story of Kitt, a high-octane Danish girl whose greatest delight comes from re-enacting her grandfather’s grisly folk tales to young neighbourhood children. Kitt fires up homemade technology to extract and re-enact the audience’s dreams. Through the weird songs, fast-paced humour and shadow puppetry we have the story of an outcast child who entrusts a group of strangers to help fight her darkest battle. 

Little Orange Man had two main collaborators: myself and my director/co-creator Kathleen Greenfield. For the Fractured Fables: Prison Puppet Project, we were combining the creative minds of not only the 27 men directly involved, but also the team of 'outside' artists, AND the material gathered from the group of incarcerated men who gave stories during the initial creation workshops four months before rehearsals started. Some of the men from these initial workshops were transferred to different institutions or were released before rehearsals began. They never got to see the show. In the end we had a wild, enormous full-length piece that told both true life stories of the men involved and fables crafted by the group, all to a live original soundtrack composed by the inmate band. 

Little Orange Man is a living show that we continue to tour. I perform it solo, and everything we need for the show lives inside a giant old steamer trunk suitcase. We throw the trunk on a bus and perform anywhere, either with just a bare floor and a few household lamps and a ghetto blaster, or in a beautiful professional 200-seat theatre. It’s D.I.Y. chic. It’s low budget.  It’s ready to roll. 

Next we’re heading to the Centaur Theatre in Montreal for their WildSide Festival. January 3-12th 2014.  (I . . . love . . .Montreal.)  We edit, trim, re-write, and change the show all the time.  We even built and tour the stand-alone sequel that happens in Kitt’s life two years later, a show called Kitt & Jane: an Interactive Survival Guide to the Near-Post-Apocalyptic Future. (Kitt & Jane is touring to seven Fringes this coming summer: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, and Victoria.) 

In contrast, the team performed The Prison Puppet Project for five weekends inside a federal prison for the public and then evaporated--never to be seen again. When your team is made up of 27 people going through huge life transitions as coordinated by Corrections Canada, a remount is almost entirely impossible. There’s something special about that. 

And yet much of the guts of it are the same. Both shows work with fables—existing folk lore and also the weird brainchilds of our minds. Both shows have attempted to create something out of next-to-nothing—out of repurposed cardboard and glue and children’s toys and thrift store rejects and bed sheets and paper and food. Kathleen and I find ourselves much more turned on to the idea of creating out of old objects we find lying about. Spending tons of money on new materials feels not only wasteful and out of our price range, but also just against our instincts. SNAFU shows are built primarily from existing or second hand materials first, and it doesn’t ever feel like a limitation, it feels like freedom.
I was impressed by the resourcefulness of the guys at the prison theatre company. As you can imagine, incarcerated people learn to be very resourceful, good at making do with what is at hand, and making something out of nothing. Again and again, I heard guys say, ‘I don’t know, I’m not very creative . . .” and then I would return later to discover they had found some random scrap of something lying around and turned it into something brilliant. 
I’ve found we fly best together when we create with abandon and trust each other and roll with each other's weird ideas, because you never know what is going to work until you work it. Some of the most potent stuff comes out of being game to try all the left-field ideas.
Living and working in live theatre, we form these intensely intimate short-term communities, never to re-form again (except in the glorious chance of a remount or someone planning a reunion.) These communities are especially potent when the people involved are not 'hired hands' but active contributors to the material- people for whom the project is not a career move or a check mark on the résumé, but something that turns their crank – a personal risk.  People who have an urgent reason to be a part of this expression on stage—a visceral NEED to create and share it with people. I want to know: when we form these intense temporary communities and experience these changes together, how does everyone transition back into their post-show separate lives?

Little Orange Man is at WildSide


  1. Great article, Great artist, Great Show!
    Totally Inspiring.
    Thanks to Ingrid Hansen & Kathleen Greenfield their genius.

  2. Wonderful show. If you have a chance, check it out. You won't be disappointed.


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