Howdy, y’all! Okay, now that I’ve gotten my stereotypical Texan greeting out of the way, let’s proceed! This past week I contacted Francesca Willow & Madison Mae Parker. Francesca is 22 and originally from Newcastle upon Tyne, England. She studied dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, receiving her B.A. in Contemporary Dance. Francesca also received her M.A. in Theater and Performance Studies from King’s College London. Madi is 24 and originally from Lubbock, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and studied Creative Writing. Together these two people make up “One Thousand Promises.”
What is One Thousand Promises, you ask? Well, OTP is a performance duo that combines spoken word and dance. Amazing, right? This past Sunday, October 25th, One Thousand Promises performed at Mic Check, a weekly spoken word event held at Revolution Cafe & Bar in Bryan, TX. Since they were going to be visiting the Bryan-College Station area, I emailed them to see if they would be down to do an email-based interview (their schedules are crazy, yo). So, let’s begin, shall we?
Q: First thing’s first, how did you two meet?
Fran – We met in London. Madi studied abroad in spring 2012 and we met as she started coming to Hillsong London, the church I’m part of.
Madi – I hadn’t even started doing spoken word poetry then, it’s crazy how it worked out because it wasn’t until the following fall that I started even performing at mic check.
Q: Each of you had to get started on poetry or dancing in one way or another. How did each of you get involved in your respective art form?
Madi – I’ve been writing from a young age and was studying creative writing, in fall of 2012 I discovered mic check and soon started performing my poems on Sunday nights.
Fran – I danced from a young age, but not seriously or doing anything that required technique. I had a friend who was training seriously to go to dance school and he suggested I start training with his teachers (he dances for Cullberg Ballet in Sweden now so it paid off!). So at 15 I convinced them to take me, despite having done no ballet or proper contemporary, and I essentially had two years working my butt off to get into dance school but it worked!
Q: Your art project is called “One Thousand Promises.” Where did this name come from?
One Thousand Promises (OTP) – We had like a three hour skype meeting trying to decide on a name. Francesca had already started choreographing to my poem ‘To Be Woman Is To Be Water’ and in the poem I have a line about women being seen as ‘origami skin being expected to bend ourselves into what we need to be’. We were both really interested in origami and when we started looking into it we discovered the Japanese legend that if you make one thousand paper cranes you have a wish granted. Something about that really captured our attention, and it came from there.
Q: You’re currently on tour. How did you decide you wanted to go on tour together?
OTP – Francesca was already coming to Texas as her and another dancer had been funded to come perform at Texas Grand Slam. She was planning to stick around for a while longer, and the start date of the writing residency I will be attending soon had just been pushed back to January so I had a spare few months too. The idea just kinda popped into our heads: we’re both here, we both perform, why not do it together?!
Q: Where do each of you get your inspiration to write poetry or choreograph dance?
Madi – personal experiences first and foremost, it’s a way for me to communicate what’s inside to the outside world. I often say in workshops with students that if you can put the chaos around you on page, it doesn’t seem so big any more. I’m also inspired by strong visual images that pull the readers/audience in that hopefully makes them think about something tangible in their lives in a new way.
Fran – For me it really differs piece to piece, as I’ve been involved in quite a variety of projects! In general when I’m choreographing I tend to have a concept I want to work with, and I spend a lot of time improvising and setting myself tasks to make movement, shaping the thing properly comes later on in the process. With choreographing to poetry I tend to pick out certain lines that resonate with me and play around with how that can be represented physically without being too literal, or how it prompts my body to move.
Q :What does a typical day look like for y’all on this tour?
OTP – There really is no typical day!! Some shows are a couple hours from the last venue, some are twelve hours away. Shows end quite late, so most days involve getting up a bit later and doing a hefty amount of driving straight away. Then as much as possible we look around the city before we head to our venue for the night to set up.
Q: What do each of you hope to convey to the audience? What do you expect from the audience in return?
OTP – That’s a big question, but I think we’re just hoping to use our stories and experiences to convey a sense of hope, whilst still acknowledging how hard life can be sometimes. It’s about not pretending everything is perfect, but recognising the darkness that can occur in life, and still finding a sense of empowerment, and the belief that you can overcome, despite that. In terms of the audience we just want to create a dialogue, an open space for conversation. After a lot of our shows people have come up to us and told us how our work related to their story and their lives, and I think if we’re encouraging others to share and talk about their own challenges by addressing ours, that’s a healthy and good thing.
Q: Your tour is set to go to Louisiana, Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Illinois. Which location has been your favorite to go to? Which location are you most excited for (and it better be Bryan for Mic Check–kidding)?
OTP – Every venue has something different to offer, and each space and audience has been so different that it’s almost impossible to compare! That being said, Fran is pretty stoked to perform in LA and Chicago because she has some really great friends there. Madi hasn’t been to any of the cities outside of the Louisiana/Texas shows, so she’s just excited to see cities she hasn’t seen before
Q: What has been your biggest challenge on tour so far?
OTP- Driving. It’s not necessarily a challenge but it’s more tiring than you expect it to be.
Q: What do each of you do to pass the time when travelling from performance to performance?
Fran – Poor Madi has to do all the driving because I can’t drive! In England it’s not a necessity like America, but luckily our musician joins us next week and he does drive so then they can share. I make origami cranes! We’ve been selling them on tour; each one has a little poem inside so they take a while to make. We’ve also been listening to a lot of This American Life; Ira Glass is a storytelling genius.
Q: Did you think you’d ever be where you are today–on tour, performing for many people, and traveling around the U.S.?
Madi – Hell no! It still seems unimaginable that we are doing this. The fact that people from various states and cities want to come and see our work is truly humbling. Still unsure how I stumbled into such a worthwhile and meaningful profession.
Fran – Funnily enough I’ve already travelled the US before, so it’s so weird now doing it for work! It’s my first time performing in America so the difference in audiences has been really cool.
Q: When did you realize you wanted to do poetry & dance?
OTP – Basically when we decided to do a tour haha. I think we just realised no one else was doing it, and to us it seemed so obvious, and collaborating is so fun! So, we just decided we should do it.
Q: Do you have any advice for those just getting into poetry or dance? Any personal experience you want to use to teach an important lesson?
Madi – constantly put yourself out there. It can be scary but the more experiences and tried you give yourself the more you will learn and grow, and the more opportunities will fall into your lap.
Fran – don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it. I’m not saying you’ll become famous or anything, but I believe anyone can dance if you work hard enough. I had the odds stacked against me. Also, as much as you have to be talented, I always say you have to be able to hustle in this industry. And I don’t mean stabbing someone in the back to get to the top, I just mean if you have an idea, or something you want to share, you don’t have to wait for someone to hand you the opportunities. You can make it happen, you can put on your own shows, you don’t need a huge dance company to employ you. It’s hard work, but it can be done.
Q: Who are each of your favorite performers (poets for Madi & dancers for Fran)?
Madi – Anise Mojgani, Franny Choi, Tanya Ingram and Derrick Brown.
Fran – I really like CandoCo as a whole company because they’re a rep company, which means they get different choreographers in each season and are always showing something different. I also love what they’re doing in terms of inclusivity and displaying different body types. In terms of performance art I also love Richard Dedominici, he’s wildly funny and his work is so intelligent.
Q: Where would be your dream place to perform together?
OTP – The White House if Donald Trump is NOT president! Haha just kidding. We’re really hoping to get out to Asia/Australia/New Zealand at some point in the future. We’ve got friends in Japan and Korea so we would love to get out there.
As you can see, both Francesca and Madi are absolutely wonderful people. You can check out their tour information here. Maybe they’ll be performing near you! You can also follow them on Instagram to keep up with their amazing tour adventures.
Hope you enjoyed the interview & I hope you have a great week!
– Alex Cowan