Willow White previews Docile Bodies by Wig in a Box, coming soon to the Montreal Fringe
Docile Bodies premiered at La Chapelle Scènes Contemporaines, Montréal, from May 11-13 2016; Produced by Natalie Liconti
Directors: Natalie Liconti and Lisa Saban
Stage manager/collaborator: Michelle Soicher
Sound designer/ collaborator: Joseph Browne
Dramaturge: Noah Witte-Winnette
Performers: Lucy Fandel, Beata Groves, Emilie Slotine, Sarah Foulkes, Emily Sirota, Natalie Liconti
Set, props, costumes: Holly Hilts
Lighting designer: Darah Miah
Photographer/ Videographer: Lola Ertel
Adapted from Michel Foucault’s seminal text Discipline and Punish, the collaboratively-written and devised performance Docile Bodies—by performance company Wig in a Box—explores how institutional power shapes the lives and minds of soldiers and, in turn, ourselves. Structured around the monologues of six soldiers— ranging from the twisted diatribes of a drone pilot to the painful recollections of a soldier suffering from PTSD—Docile Bodies explores how the machine of institutional power invades the unconscious psyche and body. While each soldier speaks, the others watch from the peripheries of the stage in homage to Foucault’s panopticon and as a reminder to the audience that the machine is always monitoring and listening. The various monologues are woven together with dance, music, sound, and movement to create a sense of cohesion and purpose. Gender and queerness complicate the issues at hand as the all female-identifying cast tackles issues of toxic masculinity, misogyny, and homophobia.
Docile Bodies was made through a process of collective creation. All six performers as well as a team of collaborators were involved in the writing process over a period of five months. Each performer drew from their own experiences and conducted their own extensive research on military life in order to create raw and intensely personal characters. In group rehearsals, the team undertook various collaborative writing exercises and creation activities in order to generate content not from a script but rather from the creative expression of the group. Michelle Soicher, stage manager of Docile Bodies, explains the complexity of managing the unscripted territory of a devised performance: “Sometimes these discussions and emotional sharing moments were really beautiful and really important and really productive, but there’s no guidebook for what percentage of rehearsal is discussion, what percentage of rehearsal is exploration, and what percentage of rehearsal is creation of stuff to be shared.” It was Soicher’s job to guide the group, not as an author but as a collaborator. “It’s wonderful and it’s a great challenge,” she explains.
Co-director Lisa Saban and co-director Natalie Liconti, who also produced and performed in the piece, describe where inspiration for the project came from. Starting with Foucault’s text, and particularly the chapter entitled “Discipline,” the team wanted to explore how discipline shapes social life. While Foucault offers a productive jumping-off point, Liconti points out that the text’s theoretical density also posed a barrier: “We felt that we could only talk about some of the [topics] from our quite privileged position and we did a lot of research to make sure we were doing justice to what we were talking about,” she says. Saban goes on to explain that “we as performers and people who are involved in the theatre found the discipline of the theatre really interesting.” Consequently, Docile Bodies not only deals with the topic of institutionalized power and discipline in the lives of soldiers, but questions how the theatre itself might become an extension of such forces. By creating the play collaboratively, the team hoped to deconstruct the hierarchies of the theatre: there is no script, no single author, and no star performer. Thus, the process of creating the play challenged the content of the play itself. Military structures of power, obedience, and repetition are cast into doubt by the practice of collective creation.
As a member of the audience, I found Docile Bodies to be a demanding performance to watch both in terms of subject matter and staging. Performers spoke directly to the audience, and I often felt as though they were looking straight at me. Lighting contributed to this sensation as bright streams of light often spilled over onto the audience itself, blurring the line between performer and spectator. Consequently, I felt implicated in each soldier’s story. After all, if the military is an extension of society, aren’t we all responsible for their actions?
Throughout Docile Bodies the performers pelt the audience with tough questions—is toxic masculinity attractive? is easier better? is the military a metaphor? But for those interested in performance art as activism, their most interesting question may just be what is more important, the process or the product?
Docile Bodies will be performed at the Montreal Fringe Festival (May 29 – June 18) on the following dates:
Fri June 9 @ 24:00
Sun June 11 @ 18:30
Tue June 13 @ 24:00
Wed June 14 @ 21:45
Thu June 15 @ 19:00
Sat June 17 @ 17:15
Length: 60 minutes
Venue: MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels)
Tickets: $10.00, www.montrealfringe.ca
Willow White is a Ph.D. student at McGill University in the Department of English with a research focus on eighteenth-century English theatre. A recipient of the Joseph Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholarship, Willow’s dissertation explores the work of comic women playwrights of the period. Willow is currently working on a project that considers the impact of mentorship on women playwrights at the end of the eighteenth century.
By Rachel Offer
Collaboration for theatre artists across borders may become a little easier thanks to an innovative new digital tool. Launched this week, CdnStudio is a web platform that uses basic green screen technology to overlay video feeds and make it appear as though artists in different studios are in the same room, enabling them to create and rehearse work from remote locations. Co-creator Sarah Stanley, co-founder and creative catalyst of SpiderWebShow, calls it “Skype on steroids.”
CdnStudio held its official launch on Monday afternoon at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, with theatre practitioners present to test it out in person and online across the country. Stanley and her co-creator Michael Wheeler, SpiderWebShow’s co-founder and artistic director, demonstrated the website with technical designer Joel Adria, who was present from Edmonton through the use of CdnStudio.
“For SpiderWebShow as a performance company, this is an amazing day, because it’s the day that we jump to being able to actually say that we create work in a shared digital space for a national community,” Wheeler said. “And that raises really crazy questions about theatre, because obviously one of the core definitions of theatre itself is that people come together into a place and then communally experience, in that physical space, a performance. Now with CdnStudio, the place where people come together is a digital, virtual one.”
Stanley says she was inspired by artists like Iqaluit-based Laakkuluk Williamson-Bathory, who in a session at the Banff Centre outlined the challenges of creating work in the North. “She said, ‘I’m in Iqaluit [and] I want to work with someone in Pine Inlet; it’ll cost $3,000 for me to get to Pine Inlet or for them to get to me.’” For artists in remote areas of Canada, costs associated with travelling to meet with collaborators or tour a production can be prohibitive and impede the development of new work. Stanley sees CdnStudio as a way to overcome these barriers.
Stanley continues, “I thought, well, what if we could somehow change time and space in terms of values? What if we were able to somehow bring different parts of the country together into a space so that people could develop work, could rehearse work, could create work over a period of time and then come together for a shorter time to present to an audience?” It was from this vision that CdnStudio was born.
The tool is the product of a partnership between SpiderWebShow and the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) Community Investment Program. Stanley and Wheeler first introduced the technology at the LMDA Conference at Portland State University in July 2016 on a closed network, and further developed it with students in the Stage and Film Department at Queen’s University in Kingston this past December.
SpiderWebShow is testing the full capacity of this iteration of CdnStudio by creating, rehearsing and performing a production in September called The Revolutions. The live show will be in Kingston with other performers participating remotely from Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
While this technology is impressive, it has some limitations. Users will experience a slight time delay, and although a background created by a simple image gives participants the illusion they are in the same room, they cannot physically interact with their surroundings. Additionally, for a theatre artist, creating with someone who is not physically present in the space with you may feel a bit strange. But these limitations could also provide opportunity for further creativity, and I can testify, with only a couple of hours exposure to CdnStudio, that I am inspired to contact other theatre artists and see how it could work in my own creative practice.
Wheeler and the rest of SpiderWebShow stress that they want people to try out the software and give feedback so that they can make improvements. “We’re learning also as a company,” he said. As of right now, CdnStudio offers two options for use, both of them accessible to anyone with Internet: “basic’, which is totally free of charge, and ‘plus’ for $9.99/month, which provides more hours of use per month.
Rachel Offer is alt.theatre‘s new editorial assistant. Born and raised in a small town in Ontario, she is cultivating her passion for theatre by going into her third year of the BFA – Acting program at the University of Windsor.
The Hottentot Venus- Untold
Written and performed by Jacqui du Toit
Reviewed by Brie McFarlane
Season 3 of Ottawa’s TACTICS (Theatre Artists Collective: The Independent Series) opened with The Hottentot Venus- Untold, created and performed by Jacqui du Toit. This is a work of incredible storytelling; du Toit’s words and performance dominate the space at Arts Court Theatre and the play delivers a powerful message so necessary in these conflicted times.
The piece itself is du Toit’s creative retelling of the extraordinary life and death of Sarah Baartman, known as the Hottentot Venus, while also simultaneously portraying du Toit’s own life as a performer of colour in Canada who continues to experience racism and the legacy of colonization. Du Toit uses a handful of colourful, and expertly executed, characters to weave the tragic tale of Baartman who was taken from her home near Cape Town, South Africa and put on display as a “freak” show in 19th century London, England. The infamy of the “African savage’s” features- namely her prominent posterior- eventually brought Baartman to France where, after her death in 1815, she was to be dissected and have her body parts displayed at the Museum of Man in Paris. It took 187 years for France, at the behest of then President Nelson Mandela, to reluctantly return Baartman’s remains for a proper burial in her homeland.
Though Baartman was not the only one taken from the indigenous Khoisan clan, her story only the first of many, she has nonetheless come to symbolize for many people the tragic exploitation of indigenous people at the hands of Western colonizers. In a definitive scene, du Toit embodies a genteel British lady who, while at tea with her friends, discusses the “lurid” and “grotesque” details of Baartman’s body. The tension in the theatre was palpable as the character, practically hypnotized by her memory of Baartman at the freak show, admits how she couldn’t help but be the one to volunteer to touch Baartman’s behind.
White people’s fascination with African features (in the play Baartman is described as “rather large breasted” with “beestung lips” and “large buttocks”) did not stop with these “ethnological expositions” of the 19th century. When Kim Kardashian “broke the internet” with her now famous Paper magazine cover, many were quick to criticize the image’s similarities to those of Baartman, which in contrast with Kardashian’s calculated PR, were displayed against her will for all to see. However, the criticism did not outweigh the praise and attention lavished on Kardashian. The ‘tea party’ scene in The Hottentot Venus- Untold highlights this very hypocrisy embedded within Western culture where we often celebrate African features on white-passing individuals, like the Kardashians, while ignoring the culturally exploitative treatment of those same features on black individuals (for example, the sexualized positioning of the wax figure of Nicki Minaj at Madame Tussaud’s). Du Toit’s piece should be required viewing for anyone interested in deepening their understanding of cultural appropriation and the consequences of cultural appropriation on racialized bodies.
The piece ends with a beautiful funeral and dedication to the spirit of Baartman and a call to remember that Baartman’s story is only one of many and du Toit urges the audience to consider our own treatment of African and indigenous cultures here in North America. The conclusion is a powerful combination of dance and ritual that emphasizes du Toit’s technical skill as well as her great vulnerability and emotional rawness as a peformer. The conclusion is the perfect bookend to the play which opens with du Toit’s portrait of a dynamic contemporary circus performer. The conclusion gives the audience a moment of much needed catharsis in the play’s final moments.
The Hottentot Venus- Untold is not only an exceptional piece of theatre that turns a historical lens to the treatment of black and indigenous individuals and the continued fascination/exploitation of these cultures by the white gaze, but also an incredibly humanizing portrait of a woman who was presented to the world as a “freak” and a “savage”. More importantly, however, this show is a call to action against the colonial structures and the exploitative attitudes that still exist in 2017. While we have seen a renewed engagement with discourse surrounding cultural appropriation, there’s still a long way for us to go. The show had a short four-show run at TACTICS, but deserves a longer life. Any producers out there want to take up du Toit’s call to action?
For more information about the 3rd season of TACTICS, Ottawa’s indie theatre series, please visit the website https://tacticsottawa.com
Brie McFarlane attended the University of Ottawa where she completed her Bachelor of Arts with a Specialization in Theatre Studies.
Brie has been a correspondent for Herd Magazine and her work has been featured in Canadian Theatre Review. Currently manages the New Ottawa Critics (https://newottawacritics.com) and teaches theatre criticism workshops with youth theatre companies.
Performance scholar Megan MacDonald leads us along artist Leah Garnett’s journey
through space and time
Leah Garnett: When One Space Meets Another
Confederation Centre of the Arts, Art Gallery
March 4 – June 4
Leah Garnett’s installation When One Space Meets Another invites visitors to the gallery to engage with objects that reference four different spaces in three countries: Canada, the US and Ireland. Garnett used the dimensions of a room in a gallery in Sackville, NB to stage a space in the woods in Maine. Using the tools of the construction trade she learned from her father, and the actual materials and scraps available from his business in Maine, the first version of the room was created amongst trees. Subsequent residencies in Ireland added created objects that reference elements of the forest, as well as drawings that enact other vantage points of the installation.
The floor and walls of the Confederation Centre of the Arts Art Gallery in Charlottetown are marked with the dimensions of the Owens Gallery in Sackville, the placement of trees in Maine, and gridlines representing the two residency studios in Ireland. Within each of these re-staged spaces we find structural remnants of the other spaces: pieces of shingles from the scrap heaps in Maine that are now sculptural elements; a workbench from one of the studios in Ireland; and the suggestion of a doorway from the gallery in New Brunswick. While aspects of the staging are incredibly detailed in their fidelity, there is slippage – the table cannot sit exactly where it would have been in the studio in Ireland as that would interrupt the reference to the wood pathway from Maine that has been laid out on the floor with thick tape. The spaces are all there, but they have begun to merge with and transform each other. Each space merges with the previous ones to create the current installation inside a fifth space – the Confederation Centre.
At first glance the installation is quite porous with no clear beginning or end. The participant can choose to focus on any item that catches their eye or observe the whole. The largest piece is reminiscent of a stage set with its slightly raised floor and unfinished walls. The emphasis of the space is performative – it enacts the layered realities of each space Garnett engaged with and invites an interactive and reflective response from the participant who consciously or unconsciously chooses a path through the space, performing some elements and not others, and thereby making the story their own. While the spaces have personal significance for Garnett the viewer is challenged to become aware of how his/her own spaces and memories influence his/her engagement with it and to gain a new perspective into how space and place merge with lived experience.
The implications of the piece are manifold. With worldwide travel possible at a faster rate than ever before, with millions of displaced people, and millions more who move yearly from rural to urban areas, it is not uncommon for contemporary people to move between locations and spaces. Garnett’s piece highlights how with each move a certain amount of information is brought forward. What does this mean for those who have been forced from their homes and now try to build a life in a new country? How does the added change of radically different architecture affect the merging of space and place? As humans move through life and accumulate experience, how does this layering happen and when does a space truly meet and interact with another space, instead of being subjugated, subsumed, forgotten or otherwise imagined? Whether conscious or unconscious, each space only makes sense in relation to the first and preceding ones, the layers informing each other along the way.
The piece made me conscious of my own layered spaces, accumulated over time, distance, and in various cultures. I cannot help but perform the spaces of my present through the layers of the past. The installation also illuminates the ways in which we each edit and construct these experiences of space. This is a gift of the installation: Garnett reminds us that each experience does not stand alone, that the sum of the performed experience of space and place is cumulative and that we take it with us into each future opportunity.
Megan Macdonald is an independent performance scholar, researcher, and yoga teacher. She received her PhD from Queen Mary, University of London and has published articles on performance practice, the body in performance, belief and ritual, and contemporary performance artists. After living and working in Germany, England and other Canadian provinces, she is now based in Prince Edward Island.