Saturday, January 31, 2015

PuSh 2015: 7 Important Things and FUSE

There is a moment in 7 Important Things, on at SFU Woodward's Studio T in a PuSh Festival co-presentation with Neworld Theatre, when performer and co-creator Nadia Ross turns to George Acheson, whose life story the two are telling, and points out a deeply ironic truth. Having been kicked out of his home by his father at age 16 in the 1960s for refusing to cut his hair, George, the quintessential hippie-turned-anarchist-Punk, now makes his living as a barber.

In this exchange two parallel threads explored in this work of documentary theatre from STO Union come together. On the one hand, the play is a moving yet unsentimental account of posthumous forgiveness between father and son, whose different versions of martial versus libertine masculinities set the course for George's restless wanderings. At the same time, Ross, as Acheson's interlocutor and surrogate amanuensis, is interested in casting an equally sober eye on not just how George, but western society as a whole, got from there to here. Given the promise of the 60s counterculture, with its anti-consumerist ethos of peace and love, what went so horribly wrong?

In answering this question, Ross and Acheson, who have been performing this show for eight years now and who have refined its spare and suitably low-tech dramaturgy into a fine conversational art, take care not to romanticize George's decision to drop out--especially where his treatment of women is concerned. At the same time, there is a certain smugness of tone to this piece, not least in the improvisatory bits when, for example, Ross riffs on the price of real estate in Vancouver and the "efficiency" of our post-Olympic city, only to rush to assure us that she hopes she's not offending anyone. Offend away, but don't apologize for it; such a move presumes that the audience is so immersed in and duped by the capitalist "society of the spectacle" that we can't understand let alone appreciate a critique of it.

In the talkback following the show, Ross, in explaining her cynicism about the world in which we live today, said that hope is a drug, offering an illusive promise that things will get better in the future while distracting us from fixing the present. Point taken. However, I would just add, in the context of the overwhelming sense of stasis that pervades this show, that nostalgia is an equally powerful--and paralytic--drug.

Following 7 Important Things, I made my way over to the Vancouver Art Gallery for the PuSh edition of FUSE. Usually FUSE is so packed and I arrive so late that I'm unable to see anything. Last night, however, I did get to bust a few moves on the rooftop deck to Sonic Elder, who played a sold-out show at Club PuSh on Thursday. And, on the fourth floor of the gallery, amid its prized collection of Emily Carr paintings, I was thrilled to be able to watch--and dance with--Emily Johnson. Emily, an Indigenous choreographer and dance artist from Minneapolis, is PuSh's current artist-in-residence. I get to have a conversation with her and Marie Clements (whose The Road Forward opens at the York Theatre next week) at the PuSh offices tomorrow, excerpts of which folks will hopefully get to see next Friday morning should they wish to drop by the York.


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