May I Take Your Arm?

by Alex Bulmer, Tristan R. Whiston, Anna Camilleri, and Katie Yealland, with creative access support from Becky Gold.

May I Take Your Arm?

An interdependent, audio art installation

In a downtown Toronto neighbourhood, Blind artist Alex Bulmer takes the arm of community members. Together, they walk, listen, and share stories of place. Experience their journeys through these interdisciplinary portraits that consider the past, illuminate the present, and evoke possible futures.

A Theatre Passe Muraille and Red Dress Productions co-production of May I Take Your Arm? is opening on Friday May 7, 2021 at Theatre Passe Muraille, with the support of Common Boots Theatre. 

Co-Creator & Performer: Alex Bulmer
Co-Creator, Sound Editor/Dramaturge: Tristan R. Whiston
Co-Creator, Environment Designer/Maker: Anna Camilleri
Live Video Animation: Katie Yealland
Creative Access Support: Becky Gold

Trailer

Transcript of trailer
[CANE TAPPING ON SIDEWALK]

[STREET NOISES]

Hello everyone, I’m Alex Bulmer. In April of this year, I moved to a part of the city I did not know at all.

[VOICES]
— May I take your arm?
— Yes, sure!
— Yes, you may!
— Okay, I’ll take your right one.

“May I take your arm?” is the first thing I said to people in my new neighbourhood.

[VOICES]
— May I take your arm?
— Absolutely. Now just to let you know, I am in a power wheelchair.
— May I take your arm?
— Yes, of course.

We walked.

[VOICES]
— We’re gonna go for a walk together.

We talked…. It was all an attempt to help me understand where in the world I had landed.

[VOICES]
— Where are we right now?
— Where are we gonna go?
— And, where are we going?
— We’re going to go to the farm.
— Oh great!

[FARM ANIMALS]

— So, how long have you been visiting Riverdale Farm?
— Um….

[COW MOOS]

— There’s a cow!!!
— Oh!
— Are the cows in a field or are they in a pen?
— They’re in a pen. They’re in a pen right now, yeah.
— Aww…. Do they ever get to wander out of pens or do they….
— I don’t think so.
— Oh no….

[PLANES OVERHEAD]

— And now we are entering the little archways at the, um, entrance to Necropolis.
— ‘kay.
— Yes, it’s one of the oldest, um, cemeteries, um….
— What’s that one say?
— Hmm, this is very funny…well, interesting…not funny necessarily. I think the family name is Dye.
— Oh no! [LAUGHTER]
— D-Y-E not D-I-E.
— Oh that is funny. Okay, D-y-e.
— Yes, and there’s all these beloved wives.
— Okay. He had a lot of beloved wives. Okay, so this is Dye….

[BIRDS CHIRPING]

— And where are we going?
— Well, I just like the parks around the neighbourhood because there is like a few of them. They’re kind of like isolated islands in the Caribbean. And I just like to walk around in them and see the trees…. Oh, there is a tree here! — Can I feel the tree?
— Yeah, come this way.
— It’s so great….

[CHILDREN PLAYING OUTSIDE]

— Alex Bulmer, it’s Janis Purdy!

[LAUGHTER]

— Oh!
— I can’t believe it.
— Hello!
— And these are 12 of my Beaver Scouts surrounding you!
— Why do you need that thing?
— Why do I need a white cane? Does anybody want to take a guess?
— Um, ‘cuz, ‘cuz you can’t see, so you have to swing it around so you can know where you’re going!
— Aww! [CLAPS HANDS] That’s exactly right! I have to swing it around so that I know where I’m going. Because I’m blind.

[VOICES ECHO IN HALLWAY]

— Okay, so now we are walking down a hallway?
— Yes. Yeah, the door’s opening right now. So….

[PLANES OVERHEAD]

Over here, is the roof!
— Oh wow!
— So you can hear all the sounds. It’s actually pretty bright outside right now. It’s really…it’s so amazing. This is like the smell…. More of a smell garden.
— Okay.
— So like when you smell over here.
— Where?
— Over here….

[BIRDS CHIRPING]

What started as a genuine need turned into…well..this: a pilot production in development with Red Dress Productions. Art that asks, “How do any of us turn space into place into home?”

[PLANES OVERHEAD]

If we walk together, does the way we ‘see’ our neighbourhood change?

In April 2018, I moved into a Toronto apartment in the east end. I knew little about the area, the neighbours, the local history. Although I had spent nearly 16 years in the city between 1988 and 2004, when I left Toronto, the city for me had started at Dufferin St. and ended at Church St.

Throughout that space and that time, I transitioned from living sighted to living blind.

On my return to Toronto, I struggled to reconnect to this place I once called home. It felt more like an undefined, space of noise to push through, rather than an actual place, a landscape to encounter, with people to relate to and understand.

May I Take Your Arm was born from a need to understand where I am, a need to turn space into place into home. Through partnership with Red Dress Productions, we turned this need into interdependent walking audio art.

I walked with people from the local community, mostly people I’d never met before. We shared stories, memories, and descriptions of what we encountered together and how we engaged with place and home. The way we ‘saw’ our world was forever changed.

— Alex Bulmer

Installation photo from May I Take Your Arm?

May I Take Your Arm is about interdependence, relationships between people, our relationship to the St. James Town and Cabbagetown neighbourhoods, and the land upon which these neighbourhoods are settled.

Artist Team Biographical Notes


Alex Bulmer

Alex Bulmer is a blind theatre artist and an inclusive arts consultant. She is the artistic director of Invisible Flash UK, Toronto’s Cripping the Stage, and co-founder of the Picasso Project. A fellow of the BBC Performing Arts and the Winston Churchill Foundation, Alex was named one of the most influential disabled artists by UK’s Power Magazine.

Tristan R. Whiston

Tristan R. Whiston is a Toronto-based theatre director, dramaturge, writer, performer, audio and community artist. He has written and directed five audio documentaries for CBC, including Middle C, which won the 2007 Premios Ondas Award for International Radio. Tristan’s film pINCO Triangle was honoured with three 2018 Queer North Awards, including Best Canadian Film. He is co-artistic director of Red Dress Productions.

Anna Camilleri

Anna Camilleri has been working with performance, image, and text for 25 years. Her inquiries span socially engaged practices, narrative, materiality, and the public imaginary. Her books have been recognized with distinctions from the LAMBDA Literary Foundation, the Association of Independent Publishers, the American Library of Congress, and are part of the University of Toronto’s Fisher Rare Books Library Queer Canadian Literature Collection. She is co-artistic director of Red Dress Productions.

Katie Yealland

For 20 years, Katie Yealland has worked in the commercial film industry primarily as a grip (film technician), and since 2010, Katie has worked with Red Dress Productions in various roles including community artist, live video animation, and production lead.

Becky Gold

Becky Gold is a community arts facilitator, artist support worker, and emerging scholar currently pursuing her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies at York University. She holds a BA Honours in Drama and English from Queen’s University and a MA in Theatre Studies from the University of British Columbia. Her research and community-engaged work focuses on working interdependently with disabled artists to enable self-advocacy and community activism through the performing arts. 


Photos

View photos from this performance on Flickr

Presentation history

  • MITYA Premiere Pilot (produced and presented by RDP). Cahoots Theatre, Toronto ON, September 2018
  • Festival of Original Theatre (FOOT) 2019: Equity & Diversity in Performance. Centre for Drama, Theatre & Performance, Toronto ON, February 2019 
  • FOLDA Festival of Live Digital Art 2019. Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, Kingston ON, June 2019
  • Arts Club Theatre Company and Bard of the Beach Shakespeare Festival: Theatre and Accessibility in a Digital World Symposium.BMO Theatre Centre, Vancouver BC, October 2019 
  • FOLDA Festival of Live Digital Art 2020 LIVESTREAM. June 2020

Funders: Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, National Arts Centre English Theatre (The Collaborations)