We’re going full Frankenstein mode on stories.
Cemeteries are such interesting places to stroll through – this is the first surprising fact that I’ve learned in my first few weeks working at Woodland. There’s something oddly thrilling about walking among the headstones, monuments, and carvings and thinking of all the different lives that have ended up here in this space together.
Woodland’s historic sections are host to an absurdly high number of lives lived. The only caveat to this lived history is that so much of it is dead – by that, I mean that we’re only telling the stories as we read about them in our (mostly logistical) records and secondary sources from places like the London Room or the Western Archives. They live on paper and in digital documents and are only dusted off when we host our public walking tours like our “Lost and Found” tour that took place last Saturday.
Our dead stories don’t have to stay that way. Like Dr. Frankenstein or Herbert West show, dead things don’t necessarily have to stay dead. They can be brought back to life with the help of a little creativity and technology. I’ve been turning this idea around the last few days and have come up with some ideas to help bring Woodland’s stories back to life – hopefully not as chillingly as is done so in horror literature!
Cemetery tour guides at the ready.
Historical walking tours are being done already – my mentor Levi Hord has been putting these together for the last few years, walking the public through the stories of Woodland. The stories of some influential women who rest in the cemetery, for example, are brought back to life in “Women of Woodland” – they live through our interpretations and representations of their lives. We remember and thus reanimate them by sharing their stories with London’s communities. Groups can book these tours, but what if our resident historian isn’t around to deliver or, what if a group prefers to walk through the cemetery at their own speed? That brings us to…
The mechanical voice tells many tales…
Guided walking tours bring Woodland’s stories to life. But we don’t always need a physical body to tell these stories. We can use speakers and headphones to stand in for vocal chords, creating audio walks. These recorded stories can tell a fixed, predetermined version of a grave’s history as many times as needed without getting tired from talking or walking. In short, the listener becomes the tour guide as they follow cues and take themselves through the winding path of the cemetery. Digital recording techniques also allow us to play around with sound effects, music, and special guests who might be otherwise be unable to come to every tour. But how can we make these audio recordings multi-dimensional? How can we interest our community beyond telling them to press play and listen to a drowned-out voice telling a linear history? The solution could be…
Theatre among the graves.
Theatre can take the better sides of both walking and audio tours. They are embodied by a physical person who quite literally brings a historical person back to life through acting them out. But the fact of being a theatre allows for some production values and storytelling ability that audio tours can’t offer. Imagine walking around the cemetery and coming across John Labatt, for instance. Imagine interacting with Mr. Labatt and having him respond back to you! While logistically tricky to organize due to the number of bodies involved, this seems to me to be an incredible way to reanimate history and allow it to exist in the physical world one last time.
What about you? Any ideas?
Can you think of any other ways to animate our cemetery or have you come across any interesting and relevant media pieces? Let me know in the comments below, through our Facebook page, or by email. This list is not extensive and only represents a small fraction of the reanimation possibilities. Thanks for reading!