After the Call: How do you locate home? at inForming Content

To all who saw my initial call about inForming Content, thanks for reading. To those of you who made it to the performance or other performances, thank you even more. It meant a lot to this artist who because of you is constantly finding reasons to call Toronto and its theatre community home every day.

It’s been weeks since inForming Content closed. But only now that advice from friends, a head cold, and visits from family and friends to Toronto have slowed me down am I able to consider what inForming Content was, how it changed the way I look at the art I want to make, and how to go about talking about that entire process.

When I heard the lectures on the first night, I immediately thought, “As long as I don’t get the one-to-one performance parameter, I’ll be okay. I’ll actually be excited about this.” One-to-one. Meaning one performer, one audience member. Instant recipe for intimacy in a performance setting. It was and is what scares me most about performance art. Well, body art and cutting and lots of other things scare me about performance art, but I wouldn’t consider taking those risks as an amateur performance artist/theatre-maker. Not at this stage. But playing myself with no role and no podium or script to hide behind though . . . that type of vulnerability with a perfect stranger scares me to my core.

So of course that’s the parameter my group was assigned.

What I didn’t count on were the ways our performance location and our group of artists, all strangers, thrown into a room together to collaborate and craft a performance in less than 48 hours would transform that parameter into something still risky, and yet powerful and revealing.

I knew site-specific performance meant an intense relationship between the content and the space (duh), but I’d never seen these principles in action. And we were given a wicked cool space–the 10th floor conference room and balcony of the Jackman Humanities Institute. If I have regrets from this process, not taking pictures of the fantastic view (or any documentation of the performance) is one of them. With translation as our topic, we were finally led to place the audience member on the balcony and the performer on the ground–connected in the intimate one-to-one relationship, but through a phone. In some ways, we bent the rules a little bit . . . but if the goal of the parameter was to test, create, and play with the boundaries between two strangers and the type of intimacy that can be pulled upon or created, then our performance succeeded on this count, too. With a phone and a personal topic, we were able to build oddly intimate connections with just the voices of the strange audience members.

Connecting with strangers.

Connecting with strangers.

I bonded with the audience members who I spoke to on the phone, most of whom I never met in person. I bonded with my group members, our mentor artist from bluemouth inc, and our production manager (a theatre student from York!). I haven’t heard much from them since the performances ended and in some ways that is sad, but in many ways, it has given me a chance to consider the powerful yet transient nature of performance. It radically changed my perspective on home and my relationship to strangers in and around the city. So much of this year, I have felt disconnected and lonely as if I was the only one without a “home” or far away from my home. Of course this isn’t remotely true, especially in such a large, international city, but it’s hard to keep that thought in my mind. After this performance, after hearing about the way home can be a smell or a person or a thought or multiple buildings spread across a country or continent from complete strangers, I began to see all the strangers on the streetcar as kindred spirits looking for and carrying home with them, same as me. I may never see most of these people again, but they changed my view of Toronto and my concept of home and strangers forever.

Which brings me to the biggest challenge this all posed to me: if this is what site-specific performance art can do, what is the point of the “well-made” theatre that I have wanted to make, that I’ve studied and read for years? I don’t want to let go of it; I still want to believe there’s a place for the plays of Noel Coward and George Bernard Shaw beyond the Shaw and Stratford festivals. I believe Shakespeare doesn’t have to be wildly adapted into a modern era to work or that other renaissance and restoration dramas should be dropped for being old, out-dated, historical pieces. Even modern-day plays, such as the ones I’ve written about at Alumnae and Canadian Stage, they have a place in the future of the genre. I want to believe this because it’s the theatre I’ve created thus far as a producer, costume designer, director, and most importantly, as a playwright.

But, inForming Content made me question what it’s purpose is and how I can make that purpose evident in the theater I chose to compose, write, create, and support. In other words, inForming Content has been difficult for me to discuss or wrap up because it didn’t leave me with answers about the future of my career, but questions. I love this, but after such a radically challenging year of studying performances and becoming an independent adult, I didn’t have the energy to really voice those questions and sit with them until now.

Thank you Volcano Theater and Jackman Humanities Institute and my wonderful “How Do You Locate Home?” Team. It may be a few weeks late, but here is a recap of how that experience changed my life and my art.

 

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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