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A touch of magic from Claire is a real catch

YOU can’t help be interested in a performance piece with a title like Fish & The Yesterday Song.

claire webster saaremets, fish and the yesterday song

YOU can’t help be interested in a performance piece with a title like Fish & The Yesterday Song. Fish don’t need too much explanation, but what about the Yesterday Song?

When film and theatre-maker Claire Webster Saaremets asked a group of elderly people about the yesterday song, one lady answered, “It’s the soul of the sea, it’s the bit we forget about.”

Claire, who is artistic director of Newcastle’s Skimstone, was inspired to make a film based on ideas, memories and stories of people she met at two South Shields care homes. The project then grew fins and gills and has developed into the new performance piece Fish & The Yesterday Song.

It’s a humorous, haunting and magical show which entwines mythical stories of the sea with contemporary environmental disasters like the BP oil spill last April in the Gulf of Mexico.

Claire says: “By listening to the sea we would have learned to work with it, but instead we work against it. We don’t tune in.”

Performance and digital media company Skimstone was commissioned by Helix Arts to work with people aged 70 and over, at a care home and day centre in South Shields from October 2009 to May 2010.

Claire says: “I met the most amazing people who were artists: not just old people who had suffered strokes or dementia.

“One person was a fisherman and the theme of the project came from his stories about fish. I would take fish into the care home and we started exploring themes of the ocean. These people had so much to say about the environment.”

As part of the writing, photography and filmmaking project, Claire arranged for her artists to go to Tynemouth to explore our relationship with the sea.

She says: “One lady called Margaret Gofton, in her late 70s, had an amazing imagination and I recorded stories she told about mythological creatures.

“She loved stories as a child and she told wonderful stories of selkies, mermaids and blue fish who could turn into men. I spent three hours recording the story of Aramenta the mermaid.”

“We were inspired by her stories and I think they have meanings for us today. Especially as at the time we were doing this project the BP oil spill was at a critical point.”

Photographs and a resulting film called Fish & The Yesterday Song toured around the North East and as Claire “couldn’t let go” she applied to Arts Council England to develop it into a performance.

After receiving a grant, Claire worked with actor Tim Bennett and composer John Kefala Kerr to create Fish & The Yesterday Song which will premiere tonight at Sunderland Minster.

She says: “From Margaret’s original story we have created a complex piece which hopefully gets us to think about our relationship with the sea.

“We are also using videos in the show which were filmed by the elderly people that we were working with. We have also taken it back to the care homes and they have critiqued it.”

Claire also worked with students at King Edward VI School in Morpeth and the Skimstone’s young artists collective to further develop the performance. We are very proud of the young artists and there is a legacy as they are going to take this work further. There is an important intergenerational nature to the work.”

Fish & The Yesterday Song is at Sunderland Minster tonight at 7.30pm, 0191 565 4066. On February 17 it will show at Culture Lab, Newcastle University, 0191 246 4646.


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