FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Kaylee MacNeil
FUTURES/forward Mentee, Kaylee MacNeil — cohort #4, November 2021 to May 2022 — mentored by Lisa Anne Ross
Community-engaged arts project — Nurture Nature — a multidisciplinary arts workshop series offering folks of ALL abilities, including adults with intellectual disabilities, the opportunity to come together in community to create connections with each other and nature using interdisciplinary arts co-creation.
KAYLEE MACNEIL is a theatre artist, coordinator, and facilitator based on the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq and Wəlastəkwiyik (Maliseet) Peoples. In 2016, Kaylee relocated from Cape Breton (NS) to Fredericton (NB) where she completed her Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Thomas University. There, she studied English with a concentration in drama and interdisciplinary fine arts with a focus on performance. Some of her credits include Medusa in the coop’s FOOLISH DEEDS, a devised physical theatre production, and Controller in Theatre Saint Thomas’ inaugural and digitally performed production of S.C.O.P.E.. Since graduating, Kaylee has turned her focus towards inclusion in theatre arts and has been working with local theatre company and registered charity, Solo Chicken Productions. Her work at the company involves aiding in the coordination and facilitation of a multimedium arts workshop series for adults with intellectual disabilities called “The Spirit Project” and launching a new program in collaboration with the Multicultural Association of Fredericton titled the “My Home Project” allowing a space for newcomer teenaged girls to explore theatre arts as a medium to express and acknowledge the feelings of “arrival” and “liminal spaces”. Kaylee does this work for the joy and fulfillment. Her hope is to use her knowledge and passion for the intersection of arts and community to coordinate an everlasting connection between under-served community members and the arts.
In the fall of 2021, I recall excitedly crafting an application to the FUTURES/forward national mentorship program alongside my on-again-off-again employer, Lisa Anne Ross of Solo Chicken Productions. Lisa and I have worked together on several projects, but the majority of our professional relationship has centered around a project created in 2019 in collaboration with L’ arche Fredericton and the Charlotte Street Arts Centre entitled, the Spirit Project. The intention of this multidisciplinary arts workshop series has always been to offer folks of ALL abilities, including adults with intellectual disabilities, the opportunity to come together in community to create connections and interdisciplinary art. Through the generous support of the FUTURES/forward program, I was able to take on the role of Lead Facilitator and contrive the Nurture Nature Chapter where our multi-abled artists were able to explore and create art using their thoughts and feelings toward the environment as a catalyst.
Being given the time and space for a true mentorship process allowed for me to grow my skills as a facilitator at an exponential rate due to constant feedback from my mentor, Lisa. In addition, I sharpened the necessary skills of the practice, like how to engage and utilize the gifts of everyone in the room and designing the structure and arc of the project. I also did some additional professional development such as digital literacy training at Theatre New Brunswick’s Digital Now workshops and first aid certification through the Canada Red Cross. Lisa and I discussed the importance of continuously seeking out education and development in the early days of this process and made it a point to include this type of ongoing training because in the arts living with an open mind and heart is vital. When asked what she valued most in our mentorship process, Lisa had this to say; “Time. Time to truly share, to reflect, and to grow. That’s been the joy of this mentorship. To have the time to really talk to Kaylee, to share our process with each other, and then to let those thoughts move to action and back again to thoughts. And onward in that spiral of learning and action!”
During my ten weeks facilitating the amazing Spirit Project artists, I witnessed their unabashed and heartfelt opinions and feelings towards the environment channelled into gestures, dance, music, theatrical improv, and even a four-part haiku entitled “Seasoned Spirit”:
Snow melt, puddle jump
New and alive, the birds sing Spring roots and frogs, boing
Monotonous Sun Water, my Exploration Free style, back stroke, fly
Crunch of Autumn leaves
Turn up that stereo please Wee!
I jump right in
Deep breath, snowflakes fall
Skiing on the frosty white
Bye, see you next year
This Relaxed Performance had the unique opportunity to give a platform to our mixed abilities group and have their voices heard through performance activism. I know this work was paramount to the participants because when asked “how do you feel in nature,” our core members responded with profound answers like “I feel love” and “I am lightning.” I think it is important to also acknowledge the audience’s perspective and the role played in the final crescendo of the project. By dedicating the time to truly witness, accept, and even participate in the baring of Nurture Nature’s proverbial heart, our community helped authenticate the meaningful bonds and perspectives folks with intellectual disabilities have with the environment. On a personal level, environmentalism has always been at the forefront as I was born and raised on the naturally stunning and tourism reliant Cape Breton Island. Strangely, this project was my first time ever exploring the subject in my professional work.
This project, and the FUTURES/forward mentorship overall, has ignited my interest in creating more artistic endeavours with nature at its core. By reconnecting with nature during the pandemic’s widespread burnout and deeply felt loneliness, I am reminded of how small we all are. But, as reflected in Nurture Nature’s daily meditation, it is important to remember that though alone we may be a singular tree, together we are a vast forest providing a comforting canopy beneath. I had the luxury of proximity in my mentorship with Lisa Anne Ross and my engagement with the project’s participants. This physical nearness, which has been newly made foreign amongst the Global Pandemic, felt pricelessly intimate. I recognize that being able to lean on someone during this process, not just metaphorically, was a privilege and I hope I am able to convey my vast gratitude for it.
What truly changed for me throughout this process was my confidence in long-term facilitating. While the process was not new to me, having someone in my corner during the ‘storyboarding’ and practical implementation portion really made all the difference in how I view my own work. I think it is typical in this industry to suffer to some degree of the dreaded imposter syndrome, which is why it is so vital to have those bonds within your community and to have someone to remind of you who you are. When asked about the final performance of Nurture Nature, Lisa had this to say; “There was a moment during the performance of Nature Nurture that I looked across the circle and saw my mentee, Kaylee MacNeil, leading the group with great focus, skill, kindness, and humour. Beyond the great pride of seeing her expand so fully into the role of lead facilitator, it also gave me a window into my own artistic practice, its value and the great joy of how it continually evolves. Being a community art practitioner for many years has taught me that learning and life are a circle and things are always changing, moving, and growing, but it was really profound to fully see that circle in action through Kaylee.”
PHOTOS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: All photographs taken by Kelly Baker
FUTURES/forward gratefully acknowledges that Kaylee’s mentorship thrived due in part to the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts and Judith Marcuse Projects.