Hand2Mouth Theatre presents 'My Mind is Like an Open Meadow' at 7 p.m. Jan 20 in the Estacada Auditorium
For Erin Leddy, radio recordings were a source of inspiration. After graduating from Emerson College in Boston with a degree in radio, Leddy, 35, bounced around the country before getting an idea that would have a huge impact on her life and ultimately bring her to Estacada.
With no real plans in place, Leddy decided to go to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in hopes of recording her grandmother's memoirs.
'She was a performer and was a huge source of inspiration for me; it's like we're kindred spirits,' she said. 'I wanted to record her life, and since I was drawn to radio, I wanted well-recorded digital recordings.'
So Leddy stayed in Saratoga Springs for an entire year before leaving with more than 20 hours of her grandmother's oral history.
'Once we began I realized it was a pretty delicate process, so we took it really slowly, and I was able to become roommates with her and we became dear friends,' she said.
As her time in Saratoga Springs came to an end, Leddy continued to bounce around the country before landing in Portland. Four months after moving here, Leddy attended an open audition for a new, little-known theater company in town called Hand2Mouth, and she was ultimately asked to join.
Hand2Mouth is a unique group of performers based in Portland that makes entirely original ensemble performances.
'We start with an idea, and over the course of 12-18 months we create a show from the ground up,' she said. 'We use a lot of music and movement, but our work isn't script based.
'The script is the last piece of the puzzle, so we use a lot of improvisation to make our shows, but by the time you're in the audience everything is very set.'
Since coming on board 12 years ago, Leddy has participated in 14 different performances, but it's her latest performance that is most interesting.
Since arriving in Portland, those tapes of her grandmother sat in her attic collecting dust as Leddy was overwhelmed with the prospect of opening them up.
'I was daunted by the prospect of turning them into something, and I had no intention of them becoming a theater piece,' she said. 'But after working here for 10 years it was a beautiful realization that the type of work we were making and the ideas I had about her and her life could become married.'
With the support of her co-workers, Leddy returned to Saratoga Springs one more time with the help of Yaddo, an artists' community in Saratoga Springs that accepted her into its residency program.
The goal of the trip was to develop a show based on her grandmother's memoirs, as she was able to work free of distractions while also getting to visit her grandmother once a week.
'I had the 20 hours of tape, and I began pulling out stories and little bits, and so I started to work with these little pieces and piecing them together into a performance,' she said. 'That took about a year, but it was a very beautiful process, and (my grandmother) was my collaborator.'
Leddy would spend her time in a studio writing a script, and on visits with her grandmother she would record her reading the script. Those recordings would in turn become the basis for Leddy's next performance.
The idea was that Leddy would create a solo show centered on these new recordings in which she was essentially interacting with her grandmother's voice.
'Her voice is very much a presence on stage, and it doesn't even feel like a solo performance but more like a duet,' she said. 'She feels like she's there with us, and it's like she's on stage with me, which is very exciting.'
The show, 'My Mind is Like an Open Meadow,' began performance in December 2011 in Portland but has since traveled all over the Pacific Northwest. As part of that tour, the show is coming to Estacada on Friday, Jan. 20, presented by Estacada Together.
'It is so wonderful to perform for contemporary art crowds, but there is something really exciting about presenting a work that a lot of people haven't been exposed to where there may not be a huge history of abstract work in smaller towns,' Leddy said. 'A performance like this shook up my ideas of what live performance could be and opened my mind to the greater concept to contemporary art and live performance.'
In addition to the upcoming performance in Estacada, the show is also slated to travel to New York City and 59E59 Theater later this year.
As for the show itself, Leddy recalls certain aspects of the story that jump out at her.
'I was very drawn to the idea of remembering and forgetting,' she said. 'There is one act in the show where she's trying to recall the names of her cats, and it is funny because the names are ridiculous but also heartbreaking because she is aging, and we end up losing things we never think we'll forget.
'There is something beautiful about that scene because she is so open that she may forget something, and she doesn't become disturbed by it because it is just another experience for her,' she said.
While Leddy's grandmother has gotten to see the show on tape, the upcoming trip to New York will allow her the chance to see it in person at age 93.
'My grandmother told me that she felt like she was watching her own soul when she saw the video, and that was the greatest compliment I could ever have received,' she said.
The show is designed for viewers aged high school and above.
'We take a look and read some reviews and this seemed like a really great, artistic production,' said Mary Ann Bugni of Estacada Together. 'The show came to us free of charge, which is wonderful because they have sponsors who make it possible for us to be able to increase our coffers a little bit while keeping prices low and bringing as professional of performances as possible.'