The Standing Nation – At the Speed of Tree – Part 2
Island Voices, Uncategorized

The Standing Nation – At the Speed of Tree – Part 2

By Jane Valencia

This article concludes our interview with Mik Kuhlman regarding her remarkable one-woman show, “The Standing Nation – Remembering Our Kinship with Trees.” In these performances, the audience journeys to a special tree in nature. The tree serves as setting and co-star, bringing surprise and wonder into the experience.

In addition to working with Tess Clark on the script, Mik collaborated with many others in presenting the show.

“Aside from my creative consultant, Meg McHutchison, I have two longtime muses. Mik Kuhlman Productions has been Sally Sykes Wiley, Patricia Toovey, and me.” Patricia Toovey, a visual and textile artist, and Mik have worked together for many years, with Patricia creating big visuals, such as a silk house, a giant coat, and even a giant swab to accompany a nose in Mik’s other productions. For “The Standing Nation,” Mik needed to wear clothing strong enough to protect her from the elements.

“I’m working with bugs. I get bit up. Sometimes, a mosquito will land at times when I’m supposed to be really still. Or right before I begin, I put my hand down and it’s full of sap, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, now my fingers are stuck together.’ Good canvas coveralls have helped mitigate the inevitable intrusions that come with performing in the forest. Because I’m rolling in it!” Mik laughs.

Patricia is also a master of detail, such as providing pine essential oil to scent the room when MIk presented “The Standing Nation” in its earliest stage at Snapdragon as a concept workshop. Or, in later versions of the show, a small detail of glass test tubes filled with tips of pine cones to highlight a character’s scientific perspective. “I adore working with her because she provides a non-verbal language in the storytelling.”

Dancer and choreographer, Sally Sykes Wiley, contributes movement.

“It’s not choreography like one would think of dance moves. Sally is a master of very nuanced movement.” The nuance contributes to how Mik portrays the women in the show. “I’m trying to capture the essence of these three women without imitating them. I want to get to their heart and give a flavor of who they are. Because one comes from Japan, one comes from Ireland, and one comes from Canada, those are three different kinds of women just from their cultures. So, that’s another nuanced level to work in.”

Mik also brought in director, Samantha Sherman, to give details to the verbal storytelling and bring all the collaborations into a whole. “It’s not easy to slip into a trifecta of collaborators, but she was in beautiful alignment with us, and worked detailing moments even into the last performance.”

Regarding the work with collaborators, Mik explains: “It’s just me playing ball with somebody. I absolutely love the dialogue. You can hit a ball against the wall, and that’s fine. You can learn some technique with that. But when you hit a ball with somebody else, they bring the velocity of that ball back at you in a new speed. Or they put it in a direction that you’re not expecting, and it opens up a whole other world because you bounced this ball with another human.”

Another collaborator is musician and composer Max Sarkowski, who grew up on the Island, and was a student of Mik’s. He played live music in many performances of “The Standing Nation.” But because Max is not always available, they had to record his compositions. Now. Mik can bring a computer and a speaker into the woods to provide the music.

And of course her biggest collaborator is the community. Mik Kuhlman Productions could not exist without its supporters. Mik shares,”I’m so amazed and grateful for the community that we have here, that the piece got supported and developed. And during a pandemic. Because art absolutely needs financial support. It’s been really beautiful who gave money to support the project. And beautiful how many people came to see the show so far. (475!)

“I’m a solo artist who works with a huge number of people, because I, too, am like the forest. And lucky me, I get to live among trees. The Island has been a great teacher. We get to intersect here the way a forest does. We’re not on our own. We’re interdependent.

“What I love about Vashon is that there is value in the woods we have, and the forest we have on this Island, and the work that’s being done to preserve them and to manage them, to cultivate them. People donating their land to our Land Trust, the volunteers that are working the forests, the Vashon Wilderness Program that is educating the children about these forests, and many others. The forest is what we have that is right up there, with our farmers as our most valued treasure on this Island. Hands down.”

What’s next for “The Standing Nation?”

“My plan this summer is to present the show again. I know a lot of people haven’t seen it yet that have wanted to, and I know there are people who saw the first few shows, and I would love them to see it again. The show reveals itself more and more.”

Mik wants to invite people from Land Trusts and nature conservancies from the area and across the nation. “It’s not a show I’m selling,” she notes. “It’s an experience.”

“So now I am creating the experience to be able to tour it anywhere,” Mik says. “I’d love to take it into Central Park or Prospect Park in New York. I might try to see if there’s a place in Seattle’s Discovery Park or Volunteer Park to do a show. You see Shakespeare in the Park, you see comedies or musicals or something like that. But it’s just seeing theater outdoors. This is theater about trees, with trees, for trees. So it has a different quality to it.”

She’s also open to additional private showings in backyards or orchards.

“I’m not trying to bring the people out to nature, because we are nature. We’re not separate from it. We must remember that. And that will change the way that we interact with it. We’re lucky because here on the Island we know what it is to be a part of nature, we remember our kinship.”

Find out more about The Standing Nation at .

March 7, 2024

About Author

jane Jane writes about what it means to be an Islander, and how we can nourish healthy community. A harper, storyteller, and herbalist, she also shares tales and art that she is sure the Island told her. Having lived with her family on Vashon for 20+ years, she is convinced of the Island's magic.