Bite-sized Q & A with…Elena Skoreyko Wagner on Magic, her Love Bites collaboration at York Theatre Royal

Magic trio Elena Skoreyko Wagner, Bethan Ellis and James Cave

THE Love Season will set hearts pulsing at York Theatre Royal, where the Step 3 reopening from tomorrow will make its mark with Love Bites: a love letter to live performance and a toast to the city’s creative talent.

More than 200 artists from a variety of art forms applied for £1,000 love-letter commissions to be staged tomorrow (17/5/2021) – the first day that theatres can reopen after restrictions are lifted – and on Tuesday.

The 22 short pieces selected will be performed each night at 8pm under the overall direction of Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster. Each “bite” will take hold for five minutes.

In the sixth in a series of CharlesHutchPress Q&As, papercut artist and illustrator Elena Skoreyko Wagner has five minutes to discuss Magic, her Love Bite collaboration with composer and singer James Cave and writer Bethan Ellis.

How did you hear about Love Bites, Elena?

“My collaborator, James Cave, caught wind of the project and got in touch.  We had discussed collaborating before, during one of the intense, hour-long “work” conversations we would have while our daughters took gymnastics together, but I think it was Bethan’s idea to adapt one of my poems.” 

What is your connection with York?

“York is our home! I honestly didn’t know if I would ever have a place that felt as much like home as York does. I am Canadian, and my husband, Achim, is German, and our first child was born in Canada; our second in Germany.

“We spent the first few years of our relationship in Toronto and the next five in Bonn, Germany, but really had no idea where we would settle. Achim ended up getting a job here in York, and we moved here knowing nearly nothing of the place. I had only ever been to the UK once, when I visited London for a weekend!

“But we encountered so much warmth and kindness, we feel like we got very lucky to randomly end up here! We intend to stay for a good while.” 

“These little things. Thank goodness for these things,” says Elena, as she seeks out magic and meaning in the mundane

What will feature in your Love Bite, Magic, and why?

“Our Love Bite is a miniature musical theatre piece, adapted from a poem I wrote during the first lockdown. The poem starts, ‘If ever you worry that magic is not real, remember how music can make you feel’, and continues with a list of little moments, small experiences of wonder and magic. If you are able to see them, recognise them in that way.

“James has composed a piece of music that he’ll be performing live, while I operate a miniature paper theatre I’ve constructed. The theatre is actually a re-creation of our allotment! 

“I think I largely coped with this past year by mining for these small sparkling bits, just catching hold of moments of beauty and connection during a very anxious time. It carried me through in a lot of ways.

“So, this piece is a sort of love letter to that, I suppose. To my allotment, in one sense, but only as a stand-in for that experience anywhere…For the house plant that I was able to propagate after months of trying! For watching my kids develop an entire fantasy world while lying on a hammock together in our tiny backyard for hours upon end…These little things. Thank goodness for these things!”

Your work “seeks to find magic and uncover meaning in the mundane”. What makes York a good place to do that?

“York is a beautiful city, which in many ways makes it easier to find magic. There are snickelways that look straight out of Tolkien, and crumbling walls, climbing with vines, straight from The Secret Garden! But really, York is just as good a place as any.

“I think that’s the discipline of it… It’s an approach to moving through the world. One of the lines in the poem is, ‘how we can have conversations with nothing but glances’. That is magical too, in my mind.

“Just these slow observations; noticing these truly amazing things, allowing ourselves to get caught in them, for just a second even, to help carry us through the rest of life, which can be on the heavier side.”

Elena Skoreyko Wagner will be making her York Open Studios debut at The Drey Studio in July

In lockdown, what have you missed most about theatre?

“I’ve missed that sense of occasion, of all of these people coming together in this perfect storm of creative energy to create something to move and touch others.

“When I go and see a performance, I feel that, and that proximity to people creating, putting this thing out into the world together, it’s inspiring in the most literal sense. I walk away feeling energised to make more, to kind of continue that current of electricity! I have missed that.” 

What’s coming next for you?

“After this, I will be illustrating a book about mums’ having feelings! I’m really excited about that. I also have some animated projects and I’m working up to taking part in York Open Studios in July.

“I opened a small studio on Heslington Road, The Drey Studio, in September and we haven’t really been able to properly get it running yet, given the restrictions, so I’m also looking forward to breathing some life into that space as well!” 

What would be the best way to spend five minutes if you had a choice?

“It’s possible that, over the past year, my vision for an ideal five minutes has gotten smaller, but maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world. The happiest five minutes I’ve had in recent months was digging in my allotment, sun on my face, to the sound of bird song and my kids laughing their way through some make-believe game about a dragon named Tiny, while they shared the swing we hung up in the apple tree. 

“I would like to note, I’m not a good or experienced gardener, but it does not matter. Just being able to find peace and beauty in this small way…I could not have felt happier in that moment.”

Tomorrow’s show has sold out. Tickets for Tuesday cost Pay What You Feel at or on 01904 623568.