“It was something I never told anyone about. I must have been about nine years old, on our regular summer holiday to the pine forested little bay of Cala Lleña, in the north-east of Ibiza. We had taken a trip on the ‘glass bottom boat’, a little boat with a glass pane in its base, letting those on board marvel at the underwater world below. We had entered a tiny little bay, and were just leaving it. As I remember, my mother, grandmother and I were at the rear of the boat, they looking ahead whilst I looked behind to the remote, pine-covered hills and honey-coloured rocky mounds meeting the water. I felt like I was gazing at a private, untouched realm, inhabited by no other human being – a place I shouldn’t be in. And then I saw her – high up on a rock, in the middle of nowhere – a woman with bronzed skin, naked and long-haired like a mermaid. She saw me gazing at her from my boat out on the water, raised her hand, smiled a smile I would never forget, and dove into the water. It all happened so quickly it could have been a dream. The memory of that woman and the smile she shared with me always remained – it seems that my nine year old self had filed away her encounter with that apparition on the rock as a meeting with her own destiny.”
Joanna Hruby grew up in South West England where she relished, amongst other things, mushroom picking in the woods with her father, and drawing. When she left school she had little interest in going to university, instead leaving England to explore new lands, living in Vienna for a year, and travelling in Spain, Morocco and Mexico. Now, as an adult, she found herself returning to the little Mediterranean island she had so loved as a child, and discovered its magic to be just as strong as ever, whilst also finding an incredibly free-spirited atmosphere and diverse artistic community.
After several years of living and travelling abroad and developing a relentless hunger for craft traditions, folk arts and marginal ‘outsider’ arts, Joanna finally returned to her home country and embarked on formal study. A Foundation Art and Design diploma taught her that she was, apparently, a ‘craftswoman’ not a fine artist, and she folornly resigned herself to being a devoted craftswoman forever tied to short term, minimum wage jobs. One evening, she was taken to see a performance at The Puppet Barge, a puppet theatre based on a boat moored on the Thames river in London. It was a string marionette rendition of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and its simple, innocent magic on that chilled November night touched her deeply. A fortuitous series of events followed, leading her to discover the existence of a BA(Hons) degree in Puppetry at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
During her degree, Joanna deepened her fascination with folk arts, folk theatre and storytelling, immersing herself in England’s rich folklore and seasonal traditional events, whist also joining the Westcountry School of Myth and Storytelling. During this time she travelled across the Atlantic to do an apprenticeship with anti-capitalist folk theatre activists The Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont, USA, who introduced her to an incredible world of revived arcane theatre crafts, traditions and techniques.
In the years following her degree, Joanna qualified as a Secondary level teacher in Art and Design, returning to Devon to develop herself as a freelance visual theatre artist, performer and workshop facilitator. During these years she was the lead artist for the Westcountry Storytelling Festival 2012, and the Wood Sisters Storytelling Festival 2014, also working with Four of Swords Theatre to create puppetry elements for Gawain and the Green Knight, Faustus and Jason and the Argonauts. She built puppets and toured the UK with Devon-based marionette company Puppetcraft, and delivered workshops in primary and secondary schools, special schools, art colleges, universities and theatre education centres. In 2015 Joanna was awarded an Arts Council England grant to develop The Weeping Tree, a ritualistic performance drawing on paper theatre, automata and ‘pop-up book’ techniques – it was performed later that year at the Little Angel Theatre, London’s historical little puppet theatre – and a special night that was.
But within a week or so, Joanna loaded her bicycle, sewing machine and other belongings into a car and took a boat to Spain, headed for Ibiza. She had some unfinished business with a woman she once saw on a rock.