Back from the Euro-bubble

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The parade of nations — a new feature — at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest final. Photo: Dennis Stachel/EBU

These past two weeks found me inhabiting a very particular space, physically and experientially far away from my everyday life. For the ninth year running, I attended the Eurovision Song Contest, a venerable cultural tradition based on the fabulously frivolous premise of choosing Europe’s favourite pop song.

I go to the contest as an academic researcher, and as a journalist (covering for the Irish Times). I also go because I love it.

I love to watch it the contest come together as a live performance (press accreditation provides access to rehearsals leading up to the two semifinals and grand final). While Eurovision music is often critiqued as out-of-date and market-unfriendly, as live entertainment broadcasting, the contest is state of the art, and it’s fascinating to see what innovations are experimented with each year. This time around, the Swedish organisers — in keeping with the larger European and global austerity agenda, and the stated desires of the contest producers, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) — were trying to bring budgets in check after the unprecedented extravagances of last year’s hosts, Azerbaijan (which included custom-building an arena for the occasion). Thus the innovations were low-tech, and focused on audience engagement.

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The Netherlands’ Anouk sang ‘Birds’ on the forestage, surrounded on three sides by audience members.                                    Photo: Dennis Stachan/EBU

For the first time, Eurovision had a mosh pit — there was no seating on the auditorium floor and the audience surrounded a runway leading off the front of the stage, enabling performers to interact directly with the crowds, and adding new opportunities for camera angles shot through waving flags and arms wearing illuminated wristbands. (Funny thing, wearing an illuminated wristband: I was part of the floor audience at one performance and found myself dutifully flapping my arm in the air when my wristband lit up, even when I didn’t like the song. The ideological European multi-state apparatus at work?)

uber fansI love Eurovision fans, who get into the spirit of the contest through dress-up, flag-waving, and general good-spirited carrying-on, like these three chaps (right) who didn’t previously know each other, and who posed for a photo in Malmö Central Station as we all headed to the contest final.

I love the intense micro-culture that is the Eurovision fan/press corps, a group of some 1,500 professionals and dedicated amateurs from across Europe and beyond, who pack into the media centre for up to two weeks before the contest. I intend amateur in the French sense, meaning ‘fan,’ ‘lover,’ or ‘aficionado’; as Brian Singleton, Elena Moreo, and I discovered in our research, many of those accredited to the press corps are not journalists by trade, but rather enthusiasts who come to the contest under their own steam, and blog and social network for their own or existing fan sites, sometimes alongside reporting for mainstream outlets. Fans blog about every rehearsal and about the parties and other promo activities that go on during the contest weeks. They adopt a few songs and acts each year as favourites, and are then heartbroken when the public and juries don’t share their enthusiasm (this year in my experience the fan faves were San Marino and Georgia). They start and extend rumours and conspiracy theories; they bitch about and compete with each other; and they bestow adoration and attention upon the ESC and its artists with a generous abandon that kept the contest vibrant even in the dark days of the 1980s and early ’90s when no one else was giving it much love.

The media centre on the night of the 2013 final

The media centre on the night of the 2013 final

And sometimes, fans do important work in pushing stories into the spotlight that may otherwise have gone ignored by a mainstream media conditioned only to pay attention to the contest for one week a year — as is happening at the moment with wiwibloggs.com and 12points.tv‘s investigations into accusations of vote-rigging in this year’s contest, which are now being addressed by the EBU and reported in the New York Times and the BBC. Escinsight.com was also ahead of the curve in querying the split voting system which appears to be contributing to the voting controversies (I’m still trying to parse the relationship between the vote-rigging thing and the split-voting thing; journalist/fan Dave Goodman does a good job trying to connect the dots here.)

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Phil Jackson, Brian Singleton, me,
and Paul ‘Dr. Eurovision’ Jordan

Most of the people I hang with at the contest are scholar/fans (right); and we have our certain rituals, the most cherished of which is the ‘Napkin of Death’ (a tradition we borrowed from Irish blogger Keith Mills and his posse) — a poll of who we think will and won’t qualify for each semi-final, assembled and debated at pre-show suppers at which a bit of wine might just also flow.

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The 2013 first semi-final ‘Napkin of Death’

Funny thing is, I never check the napkin once the real qualifiers are announced — I’m not invested in how right or wrong I was. It’s the ritual, and the fellowship, that I love.

Mainly what I love about Eurovision is its complexity. I love how the simple thing it seems to be on the surface — a European pop song competition – is in fact underpinned by layers of broadcast history and politics; European history and politics; performances of national, regional, ethnic, gender, sexual and other identities; and a profound capacity to produce affects among those who know about it (such as the love I am now professing). It’s this complexity that has made it an increasingly popular object of study in the academy, as was evidenced in a conference held during the contest last week at the University of Malmö, this year’s host city.

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Bob and Ivan

Karen and Milija launch book

Me and Milija

Several generations of Eurovision scholars (a classification I invoke in terms of lineage, not age!) assembled for a the 3-day event, from American co-editors of the first academic volume in English about the contest, Bob Tobin and Ivan Raykoff; to Milija Gluhovic and myself, who launched our new co-edited volume at the conference, to undergraduate and postgrad students looking at aspects of the contest ranging from the ESC’s place in the history of Antwerp’s gay subcultures; to the engagement of the former-Yugoslavian diaspora in Nordic countries with the ESC; to the ways in which certain Eurovision performances from Eastern European countries including Romania, Russia and Montenegro connect to nation-branding agendas.

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Dean Vuletic (New York University) presents on ‘Eurovision and Democracy’ at the contest-week conference

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Albert Meijer, Saara Mero, and Robbe Herreman at the conference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The contest’s socio-political complexity — and its importance as a forum for larger issues being played out in the European and global public sphere — is underlined by the ways in which current hot-button issues end up being played out on the contest’s stages and in media coverage. This year one of the talking points became same-sex marriage, an issue at the top of the news round in the USA and around Europe — including, as we discover, Finland, where a citizen-led initiative is attempting to gather the 50,000 signatures necessary to bring a gay marriage bill to a vote in Finnish Parliament, in protest against the failure of that Parliament’s legal affairs committee to table the bill (Finland currently recognises same-sex civil partnerships but is the only Nordic country not to have legalised gay marriage).

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The famous Finnish lesbian kiss. Photo: AP

In the run-up to this year’s contest, Finland’s Eurovision singer Krista Siegfrids declared that her act was in support of the gay marriage lobby, though, were we just to consider the music and lyrics, the song ‘Marry Me’ doesn’t communicate particularly progressive gender and sexual politics: it’s a Katy Perry-esque bit of boppy fluff in which the female singer enumerates the lengths she’ll go to get her man, including ‘skipping dinner to get thinner.’ The live performance, however, queers the song: Siegfrids, wearing wedding minidress and hot pink platform shoes, mugs and pouts, backed by three female dancers in half-masks and male drag, who transform into female bridesmaids at the end of the song. The big finish is Siegfrids kissing one of the female dancers.

This may have been a sincere attempt on Siegfrids’ part to do her part to move gender and sexual politics forward in her country. It certainly did effective work in garnering her publicity, but this started to turn when rumours started to circulate during the contest week that Turkey — which was already not participating in the contest as a protest at changes in voting rules — was not going to broadcast the contest because it objected to the lesbian kiss. These rumours appear to have been based on a single news story on the website gaystarnews.com. On the day before the contest final, the New York-based LGBTQ advocacy organisation All Out circulated an online petition claiming that ‘there is pressure on Eurovision to cancel the kiss before Saturday’s final. Eurovision organisers are worried other Eastern European countries might ban the contest too,’ though it includes no links or further references to press reports in question. Several days after the contest has ended, I could only find scattered reports in mainstream Anglophone news sources indicating that Turkey did not broadcast the contest, and no evidence that, if they did not show it, this was because of anti-gay sentiment and/or the Finnish performance.

 This is worrysome, and seems to feed into a larger problematic my co-editor Milija writes about in his chapter in our book, which treats LGBTQ politics and human rights in ESC host countries Azerbaijan and Serbia: that by circulating what appears to be speculative information about a potential Turkish ban — at the same time wrongly classing Turkey as an ‘Eastern European country’, a descriptive that is itself homogenising — such well-meaning campaigns can contribute to stereotypical portraits of non-Western countries as repressive and sexually backward, without adequately considering local contexts and realities for sexual and other minorities. Given its large gay fan base and its important history as a platform for the performance of non-normative gender identities and alternative sexualities, it absolutely makes sense for Eurovision to be used as a site of advocacy for LGBTQ rights and greater acceptance of difference. But there is a danger, in the heat of the Eurovision moment, in buying so quickly into a perceived incidence of prejudice that other prejudices are fostered along the way. In the end, the Finnish act scored unexpectedly poorly in the contest final, finishing 24th out of 26, but as with any Eurovision result, what motivated individuals and juries to vote (or not vote) for any act will always remain at the level of speculation.

Enough with the politics. Time for a big Eurovision finish (Cue key change! Wind machine! Pyrotechnics!)

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The fan-beloved Georgians and their pyro ‘Waterfall.’ Photo: Sander Hesterman/EBU

Denmark’s win this year, with the song ‘Only Teardrops’ sung by Emmelie de Forest, came of little surprise to anyone — smug signincluding, it seems, the Danish broadcaster itself, which somehow mysteriously had this sign fully prepared and ready to display outside Malmö Arena immediately after Saturday night’s final (Copenhagen, the presumed next host city, is only a short jaunt over the Øresund bridge from Malmö). Certainly, having the contest produced by DR, the TV hit factory responsible for Forbrydelsen, The Bridge, and Borgen bodes well for a classy show in 2014 (and my campaign begins here: let’s keep the momentum of fierce and fab female Eurovision hosts started by Anke Engelke (2011) and this year’s Petra Mede going — Forbrydelsen and Borgen stars Sofie Gråbøl and Sidse Babbet Knudsen must co-host next year’s contest).

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Photo: Thomas Hanses/EBU

It also seems likely that the Danish hosts will, as did the Swedes, slip nicely into the EBU’s cost-cutting agenda, given the current executive supervisor of Eurovision for the EBU is a Dane, Jon Ola Sand (but mustn’t his blood pressure have been doing the loop-the-loop Saturday night as the hunky Azeri Farid Mammadov and his slickly staged act [right] nipped at pretty Emmelie’s heels throughout the voting period, eventually finishing second? Given their extravagances last year, we can be pretty certain that toeing the break-even-budget EBU party line would not have been high on Azerbaijan’s second-time-hosting agenda).

For Eurovision researchers, it’s great news that a 2014 conference is in the works, capitalising on the momentum generated by this year’s Malmö gathering (keep an eye at the Eurovision Research Network site for more information on upcoming Eurovision research events). And for the moment, those of who feel the love are nursing our P.E.D. (Post-Eurovision Depression) and counting the months until the madness starts again.

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Eurovision performers Ryan Dolan (Ireland, right) and Robin Stjernberg (Sweden) agree: The best cure for P.E.D. may be reading a fine academic collection about the contest. Photo: Lisa WIkstrand

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Toronto: take one

This is War by Hannah Moscovitch
Tarragon Theatre, 28 Dec. 2012-3 Feb. 2013; Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg, 21 Feb-10 Mar. Dir. Richard Rose. Viewed 26 Jan.

Someone Else by Kristen Thomson
Canadian Stage in co-production with Crow’s Theatre, 7 Jan.-2 Feb. 2013. Dir. Chris Abraham. Viewed 30 Jan.

This bodes well.

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well, near-ish.

I’ve just moved near to Toronto, and set out in January to start to get to know my new theatre scene. My first experience was of two complex, excellent, edgy plays by women, in superb productions. They made me want to write about them. So, here we go…

(Requisite warning: this blog is full of spoilers.)

Hannah Moscovitch is a prolific young playwright whose work has been produced across Canada; she has won multiple Dora Mavor Moore awards (Toronto’s major theatre prizes), and has been nominated for the Canadian Governor General’s Award and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. She is currently writer in residence at the Tarragon and a double bill of two further short plays is opening there next week. She was a writer on the award-winning CBC radio drama Afghanada, ‘a grunts-eye perspective on the war in Afghanistan’, and the experience of interviewing soldiers and war correspondents for that programme was part of what led her to write This is War. It’s set in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan sometime around 2007-2008, a period when Canadian forces were holding the area for the NATO-led coalition.

This is War, Tarragon Theatre

Cohen, Berry, Lake, and Di Zio.
Photos of This is War: Cylia von Tiedemann

The scenography (by Camellia Koo) and pre-show soundscape (by Thomas Ryder Payne) establish an intense, claustrophobic atmosphere:  a web of corrugated beige streamers covers the walls and ceiling making the audience feel as if they’re in a flimsy tent, as gunfire and explosions sound all around them. The action starts abruptly as three servicepeople appear in spotlights answering questions of an unseen, unheard journalist. The caginess in their interaction with the interviewer is (Moscovitch tells us in a stage direction) typical of Canadian Forces soldiers’ attitude to journalists. Depicting this is also part of Moscovitch’s smart dramaturgical strategy to keep audiences intrigued, as we start to piece together the story the journalist is pursuing: Something very bad went down in a joint operation with the Afghan National Army, something the soldiers don’t want to talk about, and in which they were implicated.

Getting to the bottom of this military intrigue is the ostensible narrative driver of This is War, but there is another set of incidents around which the play obsessively circles. The action flashes back and forth between the interviews and previous events in Panjwaii, and within the first ten minutes, the story goes somewhere very risky — to a sexual encounter between Master Corporal Tanya Young (Lisa Berry) and her commanding officer, Captain Stephen Hughes (Ari Cohen), in the days before the joint op.

This is War, Tarragon Theatre

Cohen and Berry

He makes the first move and she initially resists, but it is clear we are meant to see the act as consensual. Things get more fraught as the jagged, fragmented scenes accumulate and we find out that 20-year-old Private Jonny Henderson (Ian Lake) is infatuated with Young, and that she has been sexually involved with him, too (Moscovitch beautifully evokes how vulnerable and immature Henderson is via his inarticulacy: ‘girls suck’ is all he can muster when he finds out that Young is fooling around with someone else). The unfolding affiliations, desires, regrets, and jealousies complicate an already intense environment and render the soldiers’ reticence to talk to the journalist more ambiguous. Not only are there questions about how the unit may be implicated in the horrible turn the joint op takes; but the choices Young, Hughes, Henderson, and the medic Anders (Sergio Di Zio) made may have been affected by these interpersonal issues, with life-shattering implications for all of them, particularly Henderson.

This is hot-potato stuff, on many levels. The female character is presented as sexually active while serving in a combat situation; we’re let know this is against the rules, but tolerated if kept under wraps (don’t ask, don’t tell, basically). The fact that she’s promiscuous raises further questions, and initially I was concerned that Moscovitch was reinforcing the woman-as-whore stereotype. As another critic worried, the play might ‘even be used by misogynists as an argument against having women in the military.’ But such a snap judgment would discredit the complexity of Moscovitch’s project. Hughes, for example, is also presented as promiscuous: having just split up from his wife he brags about visiting prostitutes; Anders has just treated him for chlamydia; and in another daring, complex turn, Hughes and Anders, who is gay, share an erotically-charged moment on the same night as Hughes’ and Young’s tryst.

That Anders, depicted as dependable, humane, Christian, and in a committed relationship at home, reveals himself willing for a sexual encounter with the sexist (and STD-bearing) Hughes — and that Hughes, who is so uncomfortable with homosexuality that he stumbles repeatedly over how to refer to Anders’ partner (finally settling on ‘your guy’) would broach the encounter in the first place — communicates an extreme situation in which human connection becomes a survival tactic. In a further telling detail, we discover that Hughes’ personal shorthand for wanting sex is ‘needing a drink’ (alcohol is forbidden in the camp): sex is equated with escape, loss of self, recreation — with anything-but-this. I don’t want to suggest that the play irons over gender and sexual difference, but rather that it encourages us to think beyond our civilian assumptions to consider how the extraordinary pressures of combat must push those experiencing them to the edges of their experience and their understanding of self.

Given this, it is surprising that the play exhibits some uncertainty about its presentation of Young’s behaviour, several times directly tying it to a previous traumatic combat experience from which she has not fully recovered. Such a linear, causal explanation feels reductive of the psychosexual complexities play and production communicate. The play’s ending also doesn’t quite land solidly. The woman we understood as the centre of the story, Young, all but disappears from the action, as the focus shifts to what went wrong in the joint op: the Afghan National Army submitted members of the Taliban to a horrible, slow death while the Canadian forces (on Hughes’ order) occupied themselves with trying to save their own, an activity complicated by the questionable, subjective actions of the play’s characters. Thus the play, perhaps, offers a critique of the geopolitics underlying this specific situation: in Hughes’ defensive final statement to the interviewer — ‘Hey/this is war’ — we might read a comment on the continued Western presence in Afghanistan: we’re there, but we’re always going to look after our own interests first, even in the face of Geneva Convention-defying atrocity. This is suggested but not further commented on; while the play never promised a direct statement on with the Western presence in Afghanistan, this narrative turn ends up feeling somewhat lateral and anticlimactic, in part because it’s positioned as the payoff — the big reveal — when it was the interpersonal relations that really held audience attention.

Rose’s production, for its part, never wobbles: cohesive, stripped-down production values and brilliantly focused performances create a compelling atmosphere of heat, dust, and restless anxiety. All four performers are superb and have top-line Canadian theatre credits: this felt like the beginning of a great crash course for me in who’s who in the Toronto acting corps. One element of the casting requires special note: Moscovitch says in her script that the actors can be of any ethnic and cultural background; in this production, Young is played by a black woman, Lisa Berry, and the other three characters are white. Because the performers deliver highly affecting, credible performances that invite audiences to believe in the extreme situations depicted, the characters and their relationships successfully come across as individualized rather than as representative or allegorical. It’s not that the actors’ ethnicities disappear, but rather that they signify only as themselves. I found this progressive, though others with different investments might see it differently.

Kristen Thomson in Someone Else (photo- Guntar Kravis)_0

Kristen Thomson. Photos of Someone Else: Guntar Kravis.

From war abroad to the battleground of the domestic: Kristen Thomson is a Toronto-based actress who is best known for I, Claudia, her 2002 one-woman play about a pre-adolescent girl dealing with her parents’ divorce, which she and director Chris Abraham turned into a well-received film. Someone Else is Thomson and Abraham’s latest collaboration, a multi-character play about a middle-aged couple in individual and marital crises. This is an unusual piece of dramaturgy that, in a lesser production, might have come off feeling uneven: the story ends up going in directions not signalled at the outset; there is a revelation about two-thirds of the way through that’s so major it could have felt out of nowhere; and there’s another character you’d expect to figure centrally — the couple’s 14-year-old daughter (Nina Taylor) — who appears only briefly and peripherally.

There is, however, a dense emotional logic that holds the play together. The first moments present Cathy (Thomson), a stand-up comedienne, practicing new material for her act. She doesn’t play to the audience; it’s as if we’re eavesdropping on an at-home rehearsal session. The action is launched when Cathy invites her husband Peter (Tom Rooney) onstage: he sidles in, hands in pockets, bearded and uneasy. ‘Peter, you’d better plug your ears because I am going to talk about you quite a bit,’ she says. ‘I’m going to talk about our relationship.’

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Watson and Rooney

What follows is a mixture of therapy sessions (couples and individual) played directly to the audience; enacted scenes; and one of Cathy’s stand-up routines. All of these advance the story of Peter’s unlikely, ambiguous entanglement with April (Bahia Watson), a troubled 19-year-old he (an M.D.) treats in his community clinic, and its fallout in all their lives. So, ostensibly, this is a play about Peter being involved with someone else; but on deeper levels it’s about all three of the central characters’ struggles with intimacy — with letting someone else past their defenses; and, eventually it’s about Peter finally facing up to a life-changing event that happened when he was 19 (exactly April’s age), which was when ‘I stopped being me. And I became someone else. This. And I pretend that this is me.’

Julie Fox’s set and Kimberly Purtell’s lighting design immediately communicate that we are not in naturalism-land. In fact, I felt transported to somewhere in Germany, or perhaps to London’s Royal Court: the stark, unadorned white rectangle flooded with clear, harsh light signals a postdramatic aesthetic that for me prompts associations with continental European and English new-writing theatres. These choices, along with Abraham and his ensemble’s approach to performance, suit the play beautifully: the scenes are played for raw emotional truth, in an environment that feels clinical, almost scientific. This aesthetic world creates a perfect crucible for the play’s unusual form, letting its internal logic and momentum drive the stage event, as opposed to traditional plot conventions.

In Thomson’s writing, and Thomson and Rooney’s performances, the play offers a believable, sad portrait of a couple whose relationship has calcified into self-perpetuating roles. The more Cathy hectors, the more Peter blocks and seethes. Here’s how they talk to each other on the morning after their 18th wedding anniversary:

Cathy: I actually went to sleep last night wondering how you managed not to look at your phone all night. And I thought — you know, when you were getting irritable — I thought it must partly be the stress of having to listen to full sentences without checking for messages.
Peter: I’m not biting.
Cathy: But you want to.
Peter: I’m not.
Cathy: You’re right, you mustn’t. You must wield the blood-spattered dagger of indifference.
Peter: I don’t even know what that means.

The dialogue throughout, as here, is brilliantly observed: Thomson captures the way smart, angry middle-aged people talk (and, for that matter, the way smart, angry 19- and 14-year-olds talk, too). The details she comes up with to illustrate character and relationship are wonderfully original (there’s an anecdote about a Spirograph drawing and a potato gun that’s too long to go into here — but it’s fantastic).

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Watson and Rooney

The performances are remarkable, and this (as with This is War) felt like a privileged opportunity to start to acquaint myself with performers who Toronto-area spectators already know well. Rooney has appeared in many major Canadian theatres and has played leading roles at the Stratford Festival for the past five years; he’s apparently known for the emotional restraint of his stage appearances. Indeed this is a very understated performance, but one in which there are a wealth of suppressed ideas and emotions going on under his surface. This calm is so studied, so controlled, that we become closely attuned to any chinks in that armour, such as the first tiny bit of self-revelation he offers to April (‘my life doesn’t match my thoughts, like yours does’). Thomson describes April in the playscript as ‘one of a kind’ and this is exactly what she and Abraham have found in Bahia Watson; the combination of streetwise bravado and puppyish vulnerability she brings to the role suits it perfectly. April is a tough girl from a difficult background who self-harms because it’s a way to ‘say the real truth.’ She latches onto Peter because he is sympathetic and takes her seriously; he is drawn to her candour and to her habits: their intimacy is forged by her teaching him to cut himself — a narrative gesture that in lesser hands might have stretched credibility, but here comes across as moving, a bit scary, and extremely intimate, thanks to Rooney and Watson’s quiet chemistry and intense focus.

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Rooney and Thomson

The trickiest role here is Cathy. Throughout it’s as if not just her husband but the play itself is always pulling away from her: while it starts out driven by Cathy’s desire to get to the bottom of her marital problems, it ends up a dissection of Peter’s psyche (this does help us, eventually, understand why Cathy is so bitter). Her paradoxical condition, if we diagnose her via her behaviour and Peter’s comments about it, is that of performative, narcissistic self-loathing: she hates what’s happening to her life and she hates how she reacts to it, but she keeps on reacting that way, not least because it becomes material for her next stand-up act. Thomson attacks the role with full emotional and physical commitment: costuming choices (baggy sweats, a shapeless nightgown/cardigan/sleeper socks combo) underline the impression of someone just about giving up on self-care. While her scenes with Rooney are intensely, sadly credible, there are points in her solo playing when Thomson’s playing feels forced, as if she can’t quite deliver the level of intensity she’s written for herself.

The most risky representational gesture in play and production is its portrayal of a disabled character, David, by an able-bodied actor (Damien Atkins). The introduction of the character is surprising: he rolls onstage in a motorized wheelchair and sits there, silently, for a full four scenes before his moment comes to speak. We discover that 20 years ago Peter inadvertently gave David the head injury that disabled him, and their one-on-one meeting is the first time that Peter has had the courage to see him since. Their 10-minute-long encounter is very difficult: David angrily (lots of anger in this play!) rails on Peter’s attempts to apologize (‘You get your head kicked in by some asshole and next thing you know, he’s the doctor and you’re the liability’) and then exits, not to be seen again. Thomson leaves open in her script how David’s disability manifests itself, and Abraham and Atkins make a strong choice: he speaks with extreme difficulty, screwing up his face and sometimes mangling words beyond recognition; his hands are twisted on his lap. It’s an extremely skilled, effective performance of a plum cameo, but it did make me wonder about local casting conventions and expectations: were attempts made to cast a disabled actor before opting for an able-bodied one?

What then, after all this pain and truth-telling? Of all unexpected things, a happy ending, a final twist in this strange and implausibly affecting journey of a play. Having revealed just about everything else, it’s probably unfair for me not to tell by what delicately executed means the play leaves the audience full of hope — but somehow that feels like a secret gift that only we who were there in person get to take away. Let this be my resistant gesture calling for a revival: more people deserve to see this beautiful show.

So, keep it coming, Toronto. These two excellent productions have set the bar high.

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About the title

I (respectfully) poached the title of this blog from Elinor Fuchs’ The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism, which is one of those books that I’ve returned to again and again for inspiration and provocation since I first read it at the beginning of my PhD studies. Fuchs, now professor at Yale, was a theatre critic for the Village Voice in the late 1970s and early ’80s when non-representational, fragmentary, meta-theatrical, multi-media practices was starting to appear in downtown New York theatre. Fuchs describes the experience of seeing these innovative productions as profoundly destabilising, but also thrilling: ‘… as if my basic ontological security had suddenly become a false memory or the latest disposable product. I had fallen into the mental swoon of postmodernism’ (1).

What I love about this statement — and her book — is the excitement and the challenge that Fuchs captures of trying to write about rapidly-evolving theatre practices, of being in the middle of a new artistic scene and working in her writing to find the best words to describe, explore, and analyse the work she’s seeing. That sense of immersion in a theatrical landscape, and of working alongside theatre artists to shape critical vocabularies for emerging and existing practices, are for me the best possible conditions for rewarding critical practice.

I’m not suggesting that postmodern theatre will be the exclusive subject of this blog (though I’m sure I’ll write about it); rather, what’s compelling to me is this notion of thinking and feeling at the same time while seeing theatre (and writing about it afterwards), so that’s what I want to set up as a governing principle of what I write here.

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