Memory is a strange thing. Why we remember some things and not others is a mystery. Do we we shun the horrors we endured, bury them in the past and remember only the good times? Do we ever remember things as they were or do we see them later in life through rose-tinted glasses?
An intimate, deeply personal and rare piece of theatre
Basque-American Daniel Camou confronts these issues in Now Entering Ely, Nevada, a remarkable piece of theatre he developed for his Masters Degree at Rose Bruford. “I don’t remember much of my childhood,” he says, “but I remember my summers in Ely. So, I thought it would be a good place to start.“ And so we embark on a journey into the past in what Camou describes as “a multi-sensory immersive solo show about sense memory”.
His grandma grew up in a copper-mining town in the high desert of Nevada. When he was very young she bought a rickety two-bedroom house in Ely. It became his family’s summer home and his retreat for the rest of his childhood. At the end the season they would stack the furniture and cover everything in dust sheets for the winter. But it’s summer again now and Camou meets us outside the Space Theatre on the Isle of Dogs, introduces himself, asks our names and and leads us in.
We remove our shoes and socks. Our feet are going to get dirty as we walk onto the compressed compost that covers the entire floor. The interior is just as the family left it last year. Now we start the task of rolling back the covers, setting out the chairs and other furniture so that we can experience grandma’s house as he remembered it all those summers ago. Everyone has a job, for we are his new family. “I welcome you into this old home of mine,” he says, “where we attempt to rebuild and sort through a childhood of disorganised, fragmented, and forgotten memories.”
There are family photos to be seen, stories of outings to be told, old records to be played from his gran’s collection and the story he recorded of her relating her escapade on the ice, a song to be played on the guitar and a picnic to be eaten on a trip to the lake, We engage in these and many more activities as Camou charmingly reveals the secrets of the house and the impact events there had on him that remain to this day in what he confesses to be “a vulnerable, visceral, and honest meditation on growing up and the fallibility of memory”.
Camou’s studies and training with the Grotowski Institute, Song of the Goat, Teatr ZAR, and Gecko Theatre give him the confidence and expertise to comfortably deliver this style of theatre and place his participants at ease. This is his work and material through and through, but director Sophia Hail has clearly formed a close relationship with Camou to guide him through the performance of his message that is rooted in sincerity. She too has a rich background on which to draw. She received her BA in theatre performance from the University of Kansas and undertook further training at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre and has recently completed her MFA in Collaborative Theatre Making at Rose Bruford College. Lighting by Ferdy Emmet and sound by Sam Tannenbaum form an integral part of the work designed to change the moods and create triggers for the development of story and atmospheres for thought and reflection. The floor not only has the contents of the house strewn around it but also juniper twigs and weeds to further the outdoor feel along with the scent of sagebrush, amber and pine; plenty to keep stage manager Paul Sage creatively busy in catering for all our senses along with production assistants Jenette Meehan and Austin Yang.
This is the first production from the newly-formed Corduroy Theatre Company and is produced by Camou and Estelle Homerstone. The company aims to make work that is devised holistically. Now Entering Ely, Nevada reflects that approach as an intimate, deeply personal and rare piece of theatre. It is grounded in solid methodology and well-crafted to provide a thought-provoking and reflective experience that by example encourages us to consider our own memories and their reliability along with what we value from the past.