May 10, 2020

Spotlight on Faculty: Gwenyth Dobie

1. Who are you?

Gwenyth Dobie
Gwenyth Dobie

I am a creator, director, mover, teacher, mentor, student, sister, partner, mother.

With my life and creative partner William Mackwood, we formed Out of the Box Productions in the fall of 2003… where we ponder the agency of humanity in an increasingly digitally mediatized existence. Further, we believe that by combining movement, music and text in unique multidisciplinary works, and presenting in more intimate venues, we have created a powerful way to connect as humans.

In our most recent creations, Is That You?, Chromesthesia, Disrupting Solitude and Rallentando, we have explored diverse methodologies of immersive, digital interactivity; while investigating the ecological and social influence of a natural setting on the creative process.


Rallentando—Hub14, Toronto


2. Tell us about a creative or research project that you have been immersed in recently.

Is that You? (Affectionally called ITY?) was a physical theatre piece that we created for The Incubator Projects in the Dance Department at York University this past winter. The idea was hatched during the first few months of my sabbatical as I researched the effects of corrective surgery and The Secret Language of Doctors by emergency room physician Dr. Brian Goldman. I then researched the long-term implications of Cosmetic and Plastic surgery and complications and risks of Orthopaedic Surgery.

From this research, I based ITY? on the worst fears and nightmares of doctors, hospitals and surgeries, utilizing hyper stylized grotesque gesture. The three dancers I worked with from the York Dance Ensemble (Dr Lee) Sadie Cahill, (Dr. Smith) Bridget D’Orsogna and (Grandma Marg Hansen) Taylor Zeller were very brave and wonderfully creative collaborators. We investigated interactive technology; having them control the sound effects from an iPad they used which was integrated into the choreography, as they moved through the piece.

Most of the video content was manipulated and controlled through the use of Vuo and Qlab. Toy Chainsaws were used to replace body parts (with an overhead video feed, we had digital blood flying everywhere!) and finally a drill was taken to Grandma’s head—while we watched her memories floated away, leaving her unsure of who she was after all the interventions.

While I wished to create a dark comedy with the broadest “Monty Python-esque” style … with Covid-19 hitting us all very hard, it was a trying time to be creating such a piece! We did get one chance to share, before everything was closed down and received some excellent feedback. However, the macabre nature of ITY? seemed “off” with regards to the heroic nature of our outstanding medical community in these unprecedented times.

As they say… timing is everything.

Is That You?
Is That You? (2020)

3. What production or artist or scholar has had the most impact on you over the course of your career?

Ah… there are so many! When creating the new Physical Aspects of Theatre Course, I was able to assemble video viewings of some of my favorite companies. Netherlands Dance Theatre, Crystal Pite, Hofesh Shechter, Batsheva Dance Company, Punchdrunk Theatre Company, Third Rail Projects and of course the one and only Pina Bausch.

As a deaf artist, I most connect with immersive physical theatre. With the intimacy and immediacy of this form, I am able to feel the piece on a visceral level. With my Devised Theatre colleagues Ian Garrett and Laura Levin, I was thrilled to take many Devised Theatre Students to see Sleep No More in New York City (along with many other fantastic shows!)

4. Is there an image or a quotation that inspires you?

I often share this with my students, when they are deep in the creative and learning process; when they are ONLY seeing obstacles, darkness… with no way through the forest:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. —Martha Graham

5. What are some of the projects you undertook during your sabbatical?

During my 6 month Sabbatical, I was able to fully invest in the largest creation project of my life; the creation of an Artist Residency, situated on Salt Spring Island, Canada.

For the past three years, I have been researching the effects of a restorative natural setting, or the removal of interruptions that consume excessive cognitive resources on the creative process. With the assistance of a SSHRC Research Opportunity Grant “Canadian Spaces for Innovation and Creation: fostering expansive thinking through natural settings”, my partner William Mackwood and I were able to attend the Res Artis conference in Rovaniemi, Lapland. Res Artis is an International Association of Artist Residencies of which we are members.

We then made site visits to two outstanding artist residencies situated in natural surroundings.
1. The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts: a multi-disciplinary arts residencies and education centre based in rural Nova Scotia. The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts is a research and development centre for the arts of all disciplines and cultures, and is proud to help facilitate the development of new art from around the world in wonderful facilities on a spectacular farm in rural Nova Scotia.
2. Fogo Island Arts: off the coast of Newfoundland, is a residency-based contemporary art venue, providing support for artistic exploration and production for artists, filmmakers, writers, musicians, curators, designers, and thinkers from around the world. The location descriptors include: the drama of its Atlantic Ocean backdrop, a brilliant night sky, panoramic views of the ocean.

Truss being craned onto the structure.

In May 2019, we began the construction of the Woodland Farm Artist Residency. Situated on Canada’s beautiful west coast, within the territories of the Coast Salish peoples, it is a sanctuary to breathe, dream, experiment, create and play.

I spent all summer and fall continuing to research Artist Residencies, manage, assist, and help construct this new and special space.

Beginning in Spring 2021, Artists in Residency will have 24/hr access to the Creation Barn. The space is approx. 860sqft (83sq Meters) in a completely newly built space with soaring 19ft (6 Meters) gabled ceilings and sprung floors.

The barn includes a conference table, open space with plenty of natural light. William Mackwood has received a grant to buy sound, lighting and Video equipment. In addition, as creators with design and development experience, we will available for feedback and consultation … upon request.

“Patterns observable in nature and society allows us to not only make sense of what we see, but to use a pattern
from one context and scale, to design in another” — Essence of Permaculture, David Holmgren

Drywalling above and below the Catwalk
Drywalling above and below the Catwalk


8. How will you integrate what you learned/discovered during your sabbatical into your teaching?

I hope that what I have learned and discovered in the research, development and creation of this Artist Residencies will provide enormous opportunities to my undergraduate, graduate students and colleagues at York. This sanctuary will provide time and space to develop new works- supporting innovative design ideas, testing of music, movement and text ideas… pondering the effects of nature on art. All while residing in a place of beauty and peace.

If you want to learn more about the Artist Residency—and apply to come here—check out our website

The Woodland Farm Artist Residency close to completion
The Woodland Farm Artist Residency close to completion