I went to the theatre tonight. Six months ago that would not have been unusual. But this is 2020. Tonight I went to the Citadel Theatre with my mask on, gave my name to the front-of-house staff instead of handing them a paper ticket, and I was back. I saw some familiar (covered) faces in the audience, including at least two other arts bloggers and many regular theatregoers.
Horizon Lab:Where are your stories is a set of performances celebrating the stories of Albertan BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled artists. Citadel Associate Artists Mieko Ouchi, Helen Belay, and Tai Amy Grauman welcomed the audience, with Grauman giving a moving personal acknowledgement of the land, the Treaty peoples, and her connection to the land. Then there were five ten-minute performances, with a stage crew member rearranging set pieces and mopping anywhere that had been touched, in between. During the third interlude, audience members were actually applauding the stage crew member.
My favourite parts of the performances were the parts where the performers acknowledged pandemic life or acknowledged that something unusual was happening on the stage in this production. “I’m always a consultant here; I didn’t believe you actually wanted me to be a performer now” says Carly Neis in Part of This World, which she created along with Patricia Cerra and Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks. The disabled actor, accompanied by her service dog Oakley, demonstrates some barriers to theatre attendance from the box-office counters to the elevator design, spars with stage-management on God-mic, and concludes by acknowledging that performing on this stage is the start of her happily-ever-after.
In The Boy and The Sun, created by Lady Vanessa Cardona and Todd Houseman, Sheldon Stockdale plays a racist Alberta farm-boy who has died of COVID-19 after hosting a 300-person Big Valley Jamboree on his property (“COVID doesn’t kill people!” he exclaims indignantly) and is being held to account by a Trickster figure (Christina Nguyen). Please Don’t Put Me in a Situation, by creator-performers Elena Belyea and Mohamed Ahmed with Mahalia Carter-Jamerson as an additional creator, was the most non-linear of the pieces, jumping exuberantly between scenes of different stories and then tying them together. The Book of Persephone, performed by Tasana Clarke and created by Clarke and Mac Brock, was a clever retelling of the mythical character Persephone in a country-music context. I liked the performer’s use of a plaid shirt, to represent the men they dated and also their own empowerment. I occasionally had trouble hearing the performer and would like to see this one again to get what I missed.
The last performance, Delay, by Richard Lee Hsi and Morgan Yamada, starts with the two performers, in grey cloth masks, expressing their inner narratives of self-doubt and uncertainty during the pandemic through pre-recorded voice playback. Will I remember what to do with my hands when I get back on stage? Are they hiring me because I’m talented or because of tokenism? How do I learn all those lines and what if I forget? As you would expect from these two performers, the piece also included some lyrical and powerful movement. They walk in the river valley – with untouched snow early in the pandemic, “detouring around a 15-person picnic” more recently – and sit on the edge of the stage evoking the old End of the World viewpoint. At one point the performers touch hands. On August 2020, I found that simple gesture profoundly unsettling, and was reassured that they soon reached for hand sanitizer and did an ostentatious and humorous version of the familiar purifying ritual.
Admission was free, with the Citadel requesting donations to their BIPOC Artistic Fund. Theatre is not really back to normal, but theatre is moving forward, and that’s a good thing.