PATRICIA GOMIS HELENE DUCHARME

ANIMATAZINE

WATER

Patricia Gomis, actress, author, director, puppeteer, is director of the Djaram'art Cultural Center, Djarama Association, which she founded in Ndayane, a fishing village 50 km from Dakar in Senegal: 1.5 hectares of land marked by agro-ecology where more than 150 trees have been planted, a cultural center that houses an elementary school and an international research and production center for theatrical performances.

"At the age of twenty I realized that I had a choice. From that moment on I changed my life. I chose to do children's theater, I chose my husband. I chose my profession because it is not a profession that I do it to earn money, but to fulfill myself as a human being. "

Hélène Ducharme, author, director, actress and puppeteer, she founded the Théâtre Motus based in Longueuil, in the Montréal region, Québec, Canada, creating shows in which explored the marriage of marionette, acting, live music, black and colored shadow theater and any other theatrical form that could potentially complement the puppets art.

Her respect for children leads her to work closely with them throughout the creative process.

Patricia and Hélène are currently in creation for the show Word of Water in which they offer a cross look at the different daily realities in West Africa and North America around the theme of water, an essential element for life, be it very scarce or infinite abundance ...

The show will debut in March at the Djaram'art International Festival and as part of the World Water Forum to be held in Dakar from 21 to 26 March 2022.

YOU COME FROM DIFFERENT GEOGRAPHICAL CONTEXTS, TOGETHER YOU ARE EXPLORING THE THEME OF WATER IN AN ARTISTIC WAY. WHAT ARE YOUR EXPERIENCES AROUND WATER?

PATRICIA
 
Being African, the relationship with water is something that was missing in my childhood.
 
We always had to be careful with water, they always told us: "Don't run out of water! You're wasting water! Take little water!".
 
It has always been like this, from an early age: "Go get water!".
 
When we were children, we had no water in the house, we had to fetch water from the cistern or wells.
 
And since women are responsible for this task, I remember, I must have been eleven, twelve years old, I filled the jars with water and I had to think about how to preserve this water, so as not to go and get it the next day.

I put water in amphorae, in huge containers, earthenware jugs, and I had to fill three of them.
 
One day, after filling the containers, I took a piece of cloth with a string and tied them, so that people would not empty this water from me.
 
The next day of course I found my three empty jugs, and I quarreled with my aunt who used this water to wash her children: it was I who had to go back to get the water again, a fight to preserve my water!

As Africans, the lack of water pushes us to have the reflex of using little water, because in any case, since we have to fetch it, to cook or wash the dishes or wash ourselves, it is necessary not to waste water.

The other relationship I have with water is that of the sensation of cold water in the morning, when you could not heat it: when you are small and you are in a house with many people, you cannot afford to heat water for everyone to wash, therefore, we children washed ourselves with cold water that slept in jugs: a very fresh water in the morning, before going to school, we poured this water on the body… It was all a preparation! 

We started with the feet, then we went up slowly, and sometimes, to show that we had washed, we would take some water, we would wash our feet well, and then we would take the dress, I would rub the body with the wet clothes to show that we had washed, the water was so cold ...

For me water is women, all these women have to find the solution to have water, they are the ones who have to think about the water we use at home.

I feel a sense of revolt: why is it only women who have to solve this problem, and not just that?
 

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Photo by Malcolm Manners, Senegal River, the river forms the eastern border of the country. 

HELENE
 
I am Canadian, for me the relationship with water is infinite abundance, I live constantly in the water.

The memories I have are mostly related to snow, ice, cold, water that freezes if left in a bucket outside, on the surface of the lake: the province of Quebec where I live is mostly the surface of a the needle.

Peoples have always settled on the banks of rivers, we are fortunate that in all rivers there is still drinking water today: we live in the water, we live on the water, we always live with boats.

The tradition of bathing children is crazy: twice a day, there is so much water, we don't even ask ourselves the question, the number of bathrooms, showers and the duration of the showers.
 
We don't pay for water, we pay to heat it, but we produce electricity with water, and our electricity is so cheap that we never say to ourselves: "We have to take a short shower"; we always take a very hot and very long shower, it's amazing, it's a waste.
 
In this moment we are starting to hear about all this waste, and this awareness that we do not have, of the importance of conserving resources.

For me, swimming, getting into the water, having running water in the house, always having hot water, is normal, I have never felt the responsibility for water as a woman.
 
Then of course, if I think of my grandmother, if I go back two or three generations, maybe there were responsibilities there.

Here in winter you have to shovel the snow, you have to remove it regularly and this is something that mostly men do; I used to do it with my mother, there are a lot of women who do it, I would never say that women don't, but since it's a very hard job, which requires a lot of physical energy, mostly men do it.

I was very surprised when Patricia told me about the physical effort required by women in Africa to carry water, the weight she had on her head when she was little.
 
I remember my father telling me: "No, no, your brothers are coming, you can't force yourself!", Because you can really shovel for two or three hours to free up space, it's not five minutes ...
 
A storm is about 30cm of snow, it doesn't seem like much, but it is the accumulation of one storm after another.
 
When I was little they didn't collect snow in the cities to take it elsewhere, now we do, because we realized it was an incredible accumulation: there was a truck passing by, which we call the blower, collecting snow in the road where the vehicles passed, but to push it to the side, then the snow quickly rose up to the level of the roofs, you could no longer see through the windows, everything was obstructed, with a big snowstorm the snowplow passed two or three times ...

One memory I have is to open the door in the morning, and there is a wall of snow, you can't go out, you have to shovel the snow in the house to make a tunnel to get out, then after you go out, you have to shovel everything to get out there. 'car, because the blower cleared the road but not the parking lot where the car is ...
 
The amount of snow that can fall is unimaginable ...

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Photo by Hélène Ducharme, creek in Quebec, Canada

PATRICIA
 
When there is no water in the house, as soon as the rain falls, we have to put basins to collect rainwater, which we heat for cooking, or sometimes we drink.

We have to find potable water, because the water we have in the tap is not, the pipes are old, the water is reddish, many families drink it.

You must know that in a river here, you can see animals drinking water and next to see a mother who draws on this same water, which is not drinkable.

There are different forms of water that we need, many do not know that it can make you sick, that you can have diarrhea.

We see water as a rare commodity.
 
This thing brings conflicts in the Sahel: the ponds where there is water, the animals go to drink there, and the inhabitants take it out on the shepherds, because the shepherds are nomads, so sometimes they travel miles to find water for animals, and when they find water, they don't try to figure out if this water needs to be shared, animals have to drink, so lack of water can lead to conflict.

Water is widely used for rituals.

For example in my ethnicity, like many other ethnicities in Africa, we use water when we want to ward off the evil eye.

We can pour water in a place where we trade: you will see that often, in certain countries in Africa, when a woman or someone comes to open her shop, she sprays water everywhere; many families, in the morning, when they wake up, pour water in front of their door to thank the night and the spirits: the evil eye can be removed using water with spells.

In the south of Senegal and as far as Mali, haunting spirits can be found inhabiting the waters.

There is Mamie Wata, who is the spirit of water, who appears to some people from time to time: they are legends that are told slightly differently from country to country, but they are things that connect human beings to each other.

When I hear certain stories in Europe that have a similarity to the stories of home, in my reflection I tell myself that they are facts that show that human beings started from the same root, because we bring the same stories that started from different places on the continent.

Mamie Wata has never appeared to me, I would not like to see her!
 
I would be afraid of her, even though I live in the bush, I talk to the trees, the baobabs and towards the water every morning to thank all the spirits that live in the bush here ...
 
The human being believes himself to be the most important on earth and for him others do not count, but for me a snake, a mouse, do matter: so I thank them for sharing the same environment with me, my family and my community.

So every morning towards the water, I thank the trees, the snakes, the mice, the spiders, the bees, everyone, for the coexistence.
 

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Photo: Jean-Christophe Pouget, animals drinking in a pond near Lake Guiers, a freshwater lake located north of Senegal, in the upper delta of the Senegal River. November 2014.

HELENE
 
For us, fears come more from the cold, from this danger.

We have people who die, freeze, lose pieces.

I had a great-uncle who was a missionary to the Inuit, then he got caught in a blizzard, then even though he was with friends who built an igloo, his toes froze: I remember he showed me that 'were cuts to his toes, he had had to cut them.

For us, it is more at this level that we hear about danger: it is floods, overflowing rivers, disasters, it is not because the pipes are not working well, it has more to do with rivers that overflow, that rise, with ice that forms a layer on the ground that does not absorb water.

Our problems are on the side of abundance, it's really special.

When I think of ablutions, in our indigenous cultures rituals are done a lot with smoke, with fire, probably in relation to the importance of heat, the importance of getting warm: we do the same movements as when we wash, but we do it with smoking.

The views are amazing, opposites.

I find it important to listen to what is happening elsewhere, the daily reality of a tribe or someone in particular.

Sometimes we hear too much about water, the environment, trees in general: it seems to be too generic.
 
When we manage to attribute these things to someone's everyday life, in relation to our reality, I find that this parallel helps us to make the problem more concrete, more precise: our action, our solutions, our point of view change.

It is the sensitivity that we must develop, get out of the big themes, bring it back to us as human beings, as people with our emotions.
 

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Photo by Hélène Ducharme, lake in Quebec, Canada

PATRICIA
 
Why did we choose this theme?
 
It has to be said that I, with all this relationship I have with water, living in Africa - in a village where water is still a problem, and where in the neighbouring village, 1 km away, there is no water in the houses, the women still go to get water, they queue from morning to night to find water - I always told myself that one day I had to tell about water.

The shows I do are always inspired by what is happening, by what surrounds us in our immediate environment, by all the problems we experience, by everything that is true, that is truly tangible: the question of children's rights, of women, access to school, excision, access to water.

I told myself that one day I had to do a show, this water issue will have to be addressed on stage.

Hélène and I have known each other for a long time, I saw Hélène in Burkina, in a festival where I was doing my show Petit bout de bois, she was performing in a show, a very big project as she is used to doing with different continents and many artists, a magnificent project.

We met in this festival, and then talking to her I said: "Listen, with a friend, we will work on the theme of water".

We both, Hélène and I, always said that one day we would work together, when we talked together, the topic resurfaced, and Hélène said: "Yes, we have to do something on the water!".

I think the strongest thing for her and me was meeting on stage, acting together, and I think on any subject we would have ended up doing it.

HELENE
 
Absolutely, the idea came from Patricia.

The theme is magnificent, of course I immediately said yes.

We started exploring together.
 
Patricia and I have a taste for words, she has a very committed approach which I liked.

I have often collaborated with different artists from West Africa, also from Mexico, in Europe.

I like to marry people, I like to create teams.

Patricia and I met when we were 25, we each have a daughter who is more or less the same age, we met at an international meeting organized by the CITF, which is the International Commission of Francophone Theaters, an organization that has existed for years, which allows international collaborations and co-productions, where it is necessary to be three structures or partners from French-speaking countries from different continents.
 
So we have been able to bring people together and it is thanks to this organization that we are now taking this project forward.

PATRICIA
 
We allowed ourselves to make some residences thanks to CITF, research phases in which we explored different streets, first on stage, exploring many streets with many objects, water containers, pipes, watering cans, anything that could contain water.

When we are on stage we are really proactive, we listen to each other, we feel that it can go well between us.

At the beginning we didn't want to talk, we wanted a few words, to show more situations, feelings, but we still had to talk about this element that has been present on the whole earth since the dawn of time.

We had to talk about water, we couldn't just take actions, so we started writing, and then Covid came.

The first residence of exploration was in Rome, in the church of my husband's town, in Santa Marinella, where I have already created two shows in a church that has a magnificent room, underground, closed but cool and truly silent.

So we made our first stop of two weeks there, exploring, then we went to the sea with our buckets and everyone was looking at us, we stood in a corner, we did our explorations, we tried to build a well, you remember Hélène, with the sea, the sand of the sea, people looked at us: "But what are these two great people doing who come to play with the sand ...?", and people came to look at us and said to us: "What are you doing?".

And I said: “We are two artists, we are doing an experimental work with water…”, and: “Ah! Very interesting!”, do you remember, Hélène…?

We went back to our room, under the church, and then we started writing.

It must be known that this is a process that I have practiced only once, in all these years of career, it was the second time that I started writing something before creating it, writing the story and then creating, it is an approach that is not I have, that I don't master much, I always start from an idea and I improvise on stage, I rather write a scene script, before putting it on paper, and in any case we have chosen to adopt this approach to writing.

HÉLÈNE
 
At the beginning we explored a lot, then we wanted to give voice to the elements, the title Parole d'eau arrived quite quickly, but it was Covid that put us in the situation: we could no longer improvise together.

I have a friend, Jennifer Tremblay, who had some writing exercises, I said, "Send them, we'll see if that helps", and there, for hours, for days, we met with our five hours of different time zone, we we gave exercises, we talked a little, then we closed Zoom, we wrote for half an hour, then we went back, we read to each other: we made the sea talk, the water of the wells, we wrote, wrote, wrote...

If we had to publish everything we we wrote, it would be a novel…! 
 

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Photos of Hélène Ducharme, Patricia and Hélène during a writing residency.

PATRICIA

It is a very laborious job, we wrote on scraps of paper pieces of scenes, then we had to put everything together, take the sheets, take the stories that approached, we went through the fairy tales, the legends, the myths with water, we started writing about the water goddess, Walangane, we had about forty pages, and then, in the end, we had to make choices about all of this.

As we progressed we began to abandon the legends to get closer to ourselves, to our childhood memories, to what is happening, to what we want to say, to defend, how the elements could speak, if they could speak.

Thus we have preserved the words of the elements, of the water, of the earth, of the sea.

HELENE
 
Our opposing life experiences have a dramatic force.

Giving a voice to water in general, to all forms of water: dirty water, the drop of water, the birth of water, the sea full of the plastic continent: it is a universe!
 
We could have continued indefinitely.

PATRICIA

 

Shape comes naturally, if you are in Senegal and work around water, everyday life takes over, we use everyday elements.

How to make our two worlds meet on the stage, on the one hand the ice, the cold, the pure water and on the other the lack of water, the containers, the basin.

And then enter into our memories of water: I have many memories of rain, of torrents of water that suddenly fall, yes, there is no water in the house, but when it rains they are gusts of water that fall on the house, and I, from little girl, I got inside the containers, followed the flow of the water.

HELENE

 

The parallel was easy to draw: with the blizzards we have here, the amount of snow that falls, we who take refuge, tunnel, hide, the snow that rises, is really interesting.

We want the show to be as suitable for West African children as it is for Canadian children; they are different worlds, there is all the difference in the world of snow, of cold, but there is also a visual understanding for children to come into contact with these new things, it is the same thing here, when we do it in Canada.

The whole perception that people have of Africa is interesting to question.

 

For a child in Senegal, what is the reality? We are too used to images that quickly fall into stereotypes.

PATRICIA
 
For us it was important that there was this balance, the words of these two women are important for what allows us to find: what link is there between our worlds, how to become aware of the common good, how children will understand history, whether it is here or there, without giving lessons, but questioning our behavior, about this world, seeing how close we are, seeing that we are so vulnerable, all of us, wherever we are, and that through these themes the child from Senegal watching this show in his village, he may realize that we are really all on the same planet, that we have the same needs, the same fears, fear of lack of water on one side, fear of water ripping out houses somewhere else, and that we all have this DNA that we share, of human beings on earth, and which is very beautiful, it is an adventure.

We are very involved, we are happy to be able to bring all this to life. 

At the beginning we asked ourselves: will there be puppets or will there be objects?

And the more we talked, the more we proceeded in our memories, the more we had this desire.
 
We said to ourselves: "If we talk about us when we were little, it would be really nice if we had our two puppets of us when we were little".

So we have two puppets that are the only humanoid puppets in the show, representing Hélène as a child and me as a child, in our daily life.
 

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Patricia and Hélène during a residency for Parole d'eau.

HELENE
 
It is interesting to develop humanoid puppets, it raises questions.

I find it important to say that in the process there was a manufacturer, here in Canada, who made little heads saying: "Here is a prototype, I made it neutral ...".

Then Patricia: "It's not neutral! The face isn't neutral, it's European, it's American, that face isn't African ...".

These are things we take for granted, as if this being there were something neutral, and that's not true.

It is the same basis as our approach between me and Patricia: we redefine the neutral, we redefine what we believe to be a neutral base and we question all of this.

Even though I had worked with other creators in West Africa before, it suddenly became clear that we needed to get back on track with this one.

At the beginning we did a lot of research at the level of objects, the approach remained of using basins that transform: all the basins we see every day at the market to transport water, to transport things, transform, become a cave, they become a river, they become a tube, inside there are other puppets, other sets, the well, like the well becomes a great face ...

PATRICIA
 
... How the water comes out of the well, how can it speak ...

There is a scene that I love very much in our show.
 
In the story, we start with the difficulty of digging a well, what do you have to dig to make a well!
 
We need resources and people, we must be sure that we will find water, and from there we created the story of the well and the water that comes out of this well.

HELENE

It is the marriage between the well and the water ...

PATRICIA

They are things like that, characters like that, that enrich the show and give strength to the elements.

HÉLÈNE

We wondered a lot, Patricia and I, if we were going to put real water on stage.

Then at a certain moment we said to ourselves: perhaps at certain precise moments, perhaps in a ritual, or when we drink it, or when it transforms and becomes drinkable water, but, from the puppet point of view, we rather look for all the forms that water can take ...

PATRICIA
 
How to represent water? With what support, what materials? In this show it is the main element.

For me it was important that we would not waste water, make a show on the water and suddenly throw water all over the place, wasting it ...
 
It would have shocked me to take this direction. 

We tried to find how to talk about water, how to represent water without having water, and so we went in search of textures of fabric, to be able to play with water without having to pour water.
 
Water is  present only in rituals. 

I think we challenged ourselves, we didn't look for the easy way out, because we could have played on the water, because the sound is so beautiful, it's true ...
 
We are in the water, but also in the respect, in sharing, in the game, in respect of this element.

In our show we end up like this: we ask ourselves what we can change, if we were magicians, what would we do?
 
The audience is asked, after all they have seen, if you were a magician, what would you change?
 
For me there is this question of the common good, I think that we human beings, in order for the world to be better, we must realize that we do not live in several continents, that we all share the earth together, and that there is this imbalance because from one on the other hand there is too much abundance, on the other very little, this fact is to be questioned, the politics of politicians that bases everything on the economy, on power: we must question all this, return to ourselves, return to being human wherever we are, and realize that we all need each other.
 
If I have something it is not for me, if I have it it is because there are others, I cannot have everything myself. 

For example, I realize that with Covid, there are powerful countries that create vaccines and prohibit other countries from doing the same thing, saying: "No, this vaccine is not good, ours is fine ... But ours, we don't share it with you. "

We really need to question power, through everything we have on earth.

HELENE
 
I think balance is important.

In North America, probably also in Europe, many have the perception that we will help Africa, we will do something for them, there is a kind of miserability: the poor little Africans ...

I dare to name this thing because it is an idea that persists.

In the show we want to bring back a balance.

There is a lot to gain, to share, to understand, to give strength to the action, to recognize autonomy, which is a strength in itself.

It is important to ask about this with children.

It is not true that they are poor in human resources, they have all the strength, all the ability, all the imagination, all the ability to implement.

If we talk about water, water is the same and we all need it the same way.

We are able to rethink our relationship with water, our relationship with the elements, our relationship with the environment, to say to ourselves: "What is this big world?".

To question this globalization here, instead of saying that in the North there are countries that are doing well and in the South there are countries that are not doing well ... 

It's really interesting to question these things with children and give them a voice.

At the beginning of the show we give a glass of water to some spectators, we offer water to say that it is something we share.

Then we talk about it at the end: "What can we do together?".

I think this will bring out all different kinds of viewpoints, discussions, changes, so the show will definitely evolve with these exchanges as well.
 

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Parole d'eau, puppet prototype

ESSENTIAL LINKOGRAPHY OF PATRICIA GOMIS AND HELENE DUCHARME