Building Other Worlds:
The Possibilities of Heterotopia, Ethnobricolage, and Devising Practices
Friday, Juin 25, 2021 | 9:30 - 11:00
Live panel on Zoom; spoken in English. No ASL interpretation or translation will be offered for this event.
(CHAIR: SYLVAIN SCHRYBURT) DENIZ BASAR, ART BABYANTS, CARLA MELO, JIMENA ORTUZAR
Performance Creation During the Pandemic: Labour of Theatre as a Plane of Heterotopia.
DENIZ BAŞAR & ART BABAYANTS
According to Michel Foucault, heterotopia means “of the other space” and refers to a physical reality/space that first intervenes with and then redefines an existing social order. The COVID-19 pandemic can be read as a global heterotopia, which destabilized capitalism and created possibilities for other heterotopias to emerge.
While the pandemic closed down established theatres and limited public gatherings, a group of emerging Montreal artists gathered around X, a first generation Canadian immigrant and playwright from Turkey. The collective, called Sort-of-Productions, in collaboration with director Y, engaged BIPOC, trans, queer performers, who lack opportunities to accumulate social capital in Canada’s theatre world, to work on the play together. The artists attempted to use the unexpectedly available funding resources to experiment with new dramaturgical and ethical approaches to create a socially distanced live performance based on X’s most recent play Wine&Halva. The goal of this creative process was not simply to produce a new play while socially distancing in outdoor public spaces, but also to experience a heterotopia built together in a city seriously hit by both the pandemic and a rising wave of populist politics. The dramaturgy, drawing from Covid-19 health regulations, visualized the two characters of the play who are separated by the world despite the fact that they want to bridge the distance between them.
This presentation will analyse how the production of Wine&Halva aimed to destabilize some conventions of English Canadian theatre by engaging with the avant-garde aesthetics of Istanbul blackbox venues and discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic inadvertently provided material circumstances for an unlikely production of an unlikely play written by an unlikely playwright.
Deniz Başar is a theatre researcher, puppet maker and two-time national award-winning playwright from Turkey. In 2014, she received one of the most prestigious playwriting awards in Turkey (Mitos-Boyut theatre publishing agency’s annual contest) for her play The Itch, which was published in the award winning collection of that year. In 2016, she won the Derbent Playwriting Contest, which was a collaboration project between Iranian and Turkish independent theatre artists, with her play In the Destructible Flow of a Vast Monolithic Moment, and her play was translated into Persian. Living in Canada since August 2014, she took part in multiple productions in Toronto and Montreal as a dramaturge and puppet maker. In the Destructible Flow of a Vast Monolithic Moment was performed as reading theatre in 2019 Revolution They Wrote festival. Her play Wine and Halva, developed in PWM’s 2018-19 Young Creators Unit, was selected by Emma Tibaldo for further literary dramaturgy. Some selected Canadian credits are In Sundry Languages by Toronto Laboratory Theatre (dramaturge for the Caminos Festival 2017 version of the play) and Numbers Increase As We Count in MAI (production assistant).
Art Babayants/ Արտ Բաբայանց is a Canadian-Armenian theatre artist-scholar who has worked with professional, semi-professional and amateur theatre makers in Russia, Malta, Latvia, Bulgaria, the UK, the USA, and Canada. He founded his first theatre company in 2004 and almost reluctantly started a directing career, which eventually comprised musicals such as Share and Share Alike (2007), Seussical. The Musical (2009), Gypsy (2011), Godspell (2014), and Spring Awakening (2019), contemporary Canadian drama Couldn’t We Be (2008), The…Musician: An Etude (2012 and 2014), Wine&Halva (2020), devised performances (In Sundry Languages, 2015-2019) and opera (The Diary of One Who Disappeared by Leoš Janáček). His best-known work, the devised collaborative multilingual production In Sundry Languages was presented at Toronto Fringe (2017) and Caminos (2017) and called by NOW “a compelling critique of Canadian inclusiveness.” In 2019, the show enjoyed a tour of GTA and Ottawa. The script of In Sundry Languages was published by Playwrights Canada in 2019 and by the Canadian Theatre Review (April 2019).
Devising The Pande-Mic Project through a Poetics of the Virtual
Although devised theatre encompasses a wide range of methods, it usually relies upon collaborative processes that mobilize physical and visual modes of generating narrative. As such, this process seems to demand co-presence. Why then, when faced with no other alternative than to stage an annual student production remotely, did I resort to devising?
Moved by a desire to provide a space for students to process the impact of the pandemic upon their lives, I found no existing text that could fulfil that purpose. Conceiving the piece ourselves became the only option. This decision led me to design a devising course titled Poetics of the Virtual, which has served as a laboratory for our upcoming production: The Pande-Mic Project. The pun is intended; it conveys the notion of serving as a platform for students to voice their own narratives.
As we approach the end of what has been a productive endeavour of collective research, I’ve noticed that devising is not only the most suitable means to explore the chosen thematic but also a quite generative mode of creation under the current limitations. Informed by the creative process of the upcoming production, my proposed presentation will address the following questions: What particular methods of devising are most adaptable to online collaboration? In what ways can devising contribute to the reimagining of theatre in a time of social distancing? And what gifts may this pivoting bestow upon us when we’re able to touch each other, breathe and create in the same room again?
Carla Melo is a researcher, theatre artist and educator working at the intersections of performance and activism. Her scholarly and artistic research explore performance practices across the Americas that place corporeality, public space, and collective memory, center-stage. Recent publications include contributions to the Routledge Companion to Butoh Performance (2018) and Sustainable Tools for Precarious Times: Performance Actions in the Americas (Palgrave, 2019). As a director and performer, her solo and ensemble works exploring collective creation, site-specificity and multilingual dramaturgies have been staged in the U.S., Brazil and Canada. She is thrilled to have recently joined the ACM department at UTSC.
Rage Against the ‘New Normal’
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.
Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, adaptability has become key to surviving and enduring a global crisis. But adaptability is always already a feature of flexible capitalism, which demands that we endlessly adapt in response to market fluctuations. Our capacity to adapt is human potentiality mobilized in the service of capital accumulation—potentiality reduced to flexibility (Agamben 2011). The neoliberal imperative to adapt invites us to critically reflect on how, and to what extent, we adapt to the ‘new normal.’ For instance, scholars alarmed by the rapid shift to online teaching after decades of resistance urged those of us in academia to resist “by refusing to pretend that what we do is so easily transferable” (Walcott 2020). What might we learn from the refusal to adapt (or to adapt too easily)? For those engaged in artistic and scholarly labour in theatre and performance, inadaptability could open up new directions for thinking about the value of ‘what we do’ within and beyond the stage or the classroom. Taking account of the turn to ‘refusal’ in contemporary theory, this paper explores the refusal to adapt to the new normal through everyday practice and political performance. What kind of potential might inadaptability hold for the kind of ‘normal’ we want in post-pandemic times?
Jimena Ortuzar is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at Ryerson University’s School of Performance where she is investigating histories of women’s grassroots activism that refused or reorganized reproductive labour under conditions of austerity and political repression. Her writing appears in national and international journals, anthologies of Latinx theatre and performance actions in the Americas as well as forthcoming collections on contemporary plays by women and theatre and migration. She is also a collaborator in Gatherings, a project for the preservation and study of performance histories in Canada.