Blind artist Alex Bulmer takes the arm of people in her new neighbourhood. Together, they walk, listen, and share life stories — an architecture of place emerges. Experience their journeys through these multi-sensory moving-portraits that consider the past, illuminate the present, and evoke possible futures.
Originally created in 2018 as a live, interactive, performance installation, May I Take Your Arm? has been re-imagined into a 7-part multidisciplinary follow-at-home experience, co-produced by Theatre Passe Muraille & [ReDefine Arts], with the support of Common Boots Theatre. Read about the project from the artists behind the work: Alex Bulmer, Anna Camilleri, Tristan R. Whiston, Becky Gold, Katie Yealland, and Wy Joung Kou.
Alex Bulmer – Co-Creator, Performer
In 2018, I moved back to Toronto after living in the UK for 15 years. While away, I’d become completely blind. Instead of a return to familiar landscapes and buildings, I came back to a void – endless space. Without sight, new territory has no here-versus-there, no this-versus-that. “May I take your arm?” is a question I asked several people living in my new Toronto neighborhood in an attempt to understand where in the world I had landed – to turn space into place into home.
During the making of this digital work, my internationally esteemed Guide Dog Zeus died. He was twelve and a half years old.
Zeus was my greatest walking companion. Together, we walked across the urban streets of London UK, across parks in Scotland, climbed hills in Summerset, ran the beaches of Cornwall, trekked through the snowy sidewalks of Toronto, romped the fields of Puslinch and stole a few bacon sandwiches in cafes across the world.
Zeus lived in London UK for eight years and in Toronto for just over four. Wherever he lived, whatever space he laid his furry head, he so knew how to turn space into place into home.
I have heard it said, and hope it may be true:
“let me be the person my dog already thinks I am”
Tristan R. Whiston – Co-Creator, Sound Editor/Dramaturge
We began with audio, with listening.
We began with a desire to explore a neighbourhood through sound and story.
So, in May, 2018, RDA invited 8 storytellers who had a connection with “Cabbagetown/St Jamestown” to share a walk of their choosing with Alex Bulmer, and we audio recorded these walks.
As an artist team, we weren’t exactly sure what we were “making,” but the starting place was listening, and we have primarily been led by what arrived, by what was encountered on those walks – stories, characters and of course “noise.”
Early in our process, Alex said “sound without meaning is simply noise.”
I have lived in the Cabbagetown area for 20 years; through this work, I now hear my neighbourhood anew. What had always been there in the background as chimes, bells, beeps, clangs, scrapes, hums, buzzes, creaks, chatter have emerged as melody, harmony, rhythm: the resonant drone of airplanes (a never-ending presence in 2018 giving way to a strange quiet in 2020); the piercing ever-present bird-song; the rising and falling hum of traffic in the not-so far distance.
Anna Camilleri – Co-Creator, Environment Designer/Maker
During the 2018 walks that became the ground for this project, we moved as a caravan: Alex and a storyteller, walking arm in hand, Charles ambling backward with a boom mic, Tristan marshalling, and me zig-zagging ahead and behind, recording notes and impressions.
Despite my long relationship with the neighbourhood and its people, I was struck by proximity and contrasts. The density of shadow cast by high sun. The pungence of garbage bins and magnolia in bloom. The canopy of trees amongst Victorian houses. The absence of trees amongst multi-story towers. A neighbourhood on the edge of highway, river, and urban forest.
For this 2021 iteration of May I Take Your Arm? I wanted to bring the character of place alive beyond digital records of the immersive tactile installations originally created for the live performance -- installations that invited touch.
I offer a series of 200 handmade books to bridge the space between public and private and alone and together; to enact the intimacy of theatre created through the interaction between audience and artist. The books tell the story of place and the land that mediates, hosts, and supports our creative inquiry, and upon which we are guests.
Wy Joung Kou – Website Designer
When I walk around my neighbourhood, I see a pride flag hanging from my neighbour’s balcony; I see rabbits snacking on flower beds and a wasp nest clinging precariously to a tired tree branch; I see the beings, homes, and people that make up my West-end Toronto neighbourhood.
I designed this website with the intention (and challenge, as a sighted person) of centering Blindness and providing a meaningful home – a welcoming neighbourhood – for the work of my co-collaborators.
When I came aboard the May I Take Your Arm? creative team, I arrived with my own question: “may I hear your screen reader?” And with that, I was thrust into the unknown [to me] worlds of JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver. To be guided through these for the first time was a humbling experience, and one that emphasized to me, yet again, the joys and revelations of interdependence.
Through access intimacy and many layers of collaboration, this website came to be. It houses stories and relationships, some of them represented on the pages of this site, and some of them embedded directly into its fabric. Whoever you are and where ever you may be, I sincerely hope that they are all able to reach you.
Katie Yealland – Co-Creator, Live Video Animation
In the previous iterations of May I Take Your Arm?, my main role was operating a camera, wirelessly connected to a projection system. As Alex navigated the environment, I shadowed her explorations. Sometimes 100 ft wide, the projection added another layer of liveness, revealing poetic abstractions and details of the space, and movements and textures within it.
For our June 2020 production, I filmed all the new footage in the neighbourhood and created video sequences that were live mixed into our show. I also operated the live camera in our adapted garage theatre for our livestream edition. The piece was re-worked to reflect the reality of the lockdown and how it affected the spirit of the show, with new writing, video, and audio elements.
For this production, I’ve helped with presentation of video documentation, and I’ve joined Anna’s book making project.
Becky Gold – Creative Access Support, Livestream Audio Description
Since first premiering at Cahoots Theatre in 2018, May I Take Your Arm? has been restaged five times; each iteration distinctly unique and illuminating. Out of these five productions, two of them took us away from our home base of Toronto. For me, as a support worker/creative enabler, the experience of touring this show in places like Kingston and Vancouver has presented an exciting opportunity for Alex and me to really live and breathe the ethos of the work – to walk together, arm in hand, to discover and orient ourselves to new and unfamiliar surroundings.
While May I Take Your Arm? has evolved and shifted throughout its various iterations in different spaces and locations, for me, the show has always been about interdependence, connection, and care. At its core, this show invites a reconsideration of how one experiences and navigates their unique world – through sight, through sound, through touch or smell. It invites reflection on how one gives and receives support, connects with others, and navigates the constantly changing world around us. While we wish we could have been in space with you all this year, we’re so glad to have you join us this way for our newest iteration.