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Theatre Beyond the Walls, With a Door

"Backspace until it's...blank."

Until about 5 years ago, I'd back away from showing anything that didn't feel whole, complete or ready.

The problem there is...well, nothing's ever truly complete. There is no complete, whole stage to get to. The process and doubts are as whole as we are. So, showing all of that matters. Because if you don't show that... you back away from ever showing anything. That is exactly what I did for a very long time. It escalated until I truly could not face showing myself. At all.

I was writing a play about self-isolation... and then March came and 'self isolation' became the way of the world. I'm working to tell my story about learning to be open, even when I felt impossibly distanced. The process of finding words is messy and scary but it's all a part of the beautiful signs of growth- the kind that battles to be seen through harsh conditions and sprouts. When we see it, we know "there's a sign of life". Being strong enough to show the truth of the struggle reminds us we're alive and brings us closer, letting our humanity overpower whatever screen, doubt or wall that attempts to separate us.

After 8 months where I can count the in-person conversations I’ve had, but can't count the number of days when I haven't spoken out loud at all…

I had the gift of what was very likely the best week of my life.

A week workshopping my play at Theatre Passe Muraille.

This week called upon every ounce of strength in me. There were moments when I felt paralyzed in panic, thinking that it might require more strength than I have in me. Classic "best week of my life" material, right!? :-)

But the fears and doubts existed in the company of trust. Even amidst uncertainty, my doubt had the chance to be present, but not in power with trust's reassuring presence leading the way.

In this brilliant workshopping week, I was offered the chance to jump just a liiiitle beyond my abilities with the safety net of creative support that comes with a caring team. This revitalizing energy of collaboration is theatre's link that connects us all over the distance and establishes new possibilities. Whether the distance of that fourth wall is a seat away, or a city away. We care. We listen. We keep telling and creating stories. We keep connecting our minds and hearts.

Here's a look through my view of the week with some in-progress thoughts I had while working through the in-progress telling of my story:

After 8 months of isolation, I was gifted the best week of my life.

It led up to Toronto's second complete lockdown. It had been too long since I'd been with people in a place where I could care and feel cared for. I know that what I got to experience this week was a boost of energy and love that will be helping me through the Winter. I also know it was an immense priviledge to experience being in a real space with real people. If reading this is feeling a little annoying at this point because, "YES, we all get it! Being with people feels a little bit magic and we MISS it!"...Well, I'm already there with ya again. It's been over a week since I've spoken to anyone in person and, what I hope this show can eventually do, is address how we can find pieces of that magic of closeness even from a distance.

As best as we can, through the current barriers that hold us back.

I do hold onto the belief that, over a distance, we can feel together through the depths of loneliness and into a shared space of hope. To get closer when there's a screen in the way, we have to bring who we are inside right out into the open as much as we possibly can. We have to bring our experiences of our isolation right to the surface. When we are thoughtful together, we exist in company.

TPM created a place of safety and thoughtfulness and everyone seemed to feel it. COVID protocols were carefully followed and check ins were frequent and open. As we sought to explore themes of distance and connection, we felt the genuine presence of our designer, Lindsay, who helped our space find its visuals all through zoom and from the distance of Stratford.

True accessibility is about having your abilities met where they already are.

In our team debrief meeting, Indrit noted that, we've been putting lots of focus on how to make Lindsay more present in the room when the question is how do we make the room more present for her.

Working with a team that thinks this way creates hope and strength in absolutely everyone involved. It's a place where you know you will be heard and valued for the way you see and think and what you can offer, matters. What you can't offer, well that doesn't matter quite so much. When I was struggling, trying to scramble an ability to force re-writes when I only write in tiny moments of energy spurts, I knew I could be open and truthful about it to my director/dramaturge, Marjorie. She responded with, "we continue at your pace". Marjorie and Indrit have created this BUZZ Development framework to "place the art and artist at the centre". I heard them speak this in their introduction seconds before walking into view of a livestream where I would voice some of my most vulnerable moments to three cameras and to whoever had the link. After hearing them phrase it this way, I felt a sense of home, safety and very strong connection. Beyond the walls.

This week helped me see, by example, what I struggle with and where I need extra help. While researching NVLD for the show this Neurodevelop.com article phrased the importance of people for those with NVLD this way:

A pretty drastic and grim prognosis, but it indicates the sense of the impossibility I face when the only way I learn is around people.

With nvld I only learn with example.

I imitate based on all the versions of reaction and interaction that I have stored in my database.

This week gave me the chance to tangibly hold and sort information that was tangling conceptually in my head.

The most important thing for anyone who has NVLD, is being able to voice the process.

I need to talk it out (...and out and out). Neurodevelop.com also has a rather good description of this too -->

Every day I was handed a mic, and I was offred the space to talk it out as well as the space to be unsure of how to talk it out. The week was essential for the way I think, letting verbal problem-solving pair with the support to try linking the non-verbal, physical reality of my play. By the end of the week, I started understanding what works and making those edits to get right into the action. The care and consideration shown to me and my story by every member of this team has helped me to go far beyond the place I was straining from alone. Where my abilities end, theirs come in and create follow through. It was a way through to the other side, after over a year staring down the same wall. Beyond the walls, there's a door.

Everyone sharing their thoughts has helped me to extend my thinking. Everyone.

Thank you Marjorie, Rinchen, Merlin, Nicole, Lindsay, Echo, Christopher, David, Eric, Indrit, Emily, Ceridwen, and Kourtney

This week, I got to extend my hope and thoughts further than I thought possible.

Thank you for helping my ideas and confidence grow.

Thank you Passe Muraille for making this exploration possible.

And thank you to Toronto Arts Council - Open Door Strategic Funding, Tangled Arts, and Ontario Arts Council for their additional support.

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