Updated: Aug 21, 2021
I am preparing for my upcoming performance creation residency of "Cruising at 30 km/s and Attempting Not To Crash". Anxiety has set in based on my inability to make decisions about what the show will look like. Ever since the development of The End, the show I created last year, I have been attempting to embrace a certain level of unknowing. I feel I have made some terrible work in the past because the audience, artistic programmers and marketing staff demand a certain level of what I call 'arrival' (this attempt at knowing what the show is about before you've even made the show; removing the true liveness from the live art), I am compelled to stay in this state of unknowing and move through a performance creation residency without making a firm plan, but this doesn't always work when audiences, programmers and marketing staff require this level of knowledge.
I've been examining this tyranny of planning for over 7 years now. Last year I was invited to participate in a queer performance residency as part of CANdance (a partnership between Springboard Performance (Calgary) and Studio 303 (Montreal)). The residency was titled This Is Actively Built and featured 4 queer Canadian artists (Kevin Jesuino, Melina Stinson, Winnie Superhova and Nuiboi). The residency was the idea of contemporary dance artist Nate Yaffe. Nate had established similar residencies in the past with other queer artists. At the beginning of the residency he reminded me of queer theory texts such as Jose Esteban Muñoz' "Queer Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity" and Jake Halberstram's "The Queer Art of Failure". Both of these texts provided me with a strong inspiration towards the unravelling of these expectations on me as a performance creator to know what I will do in a performance before I even know what the show is. Munoz suggests that the future relies on the queering of systems (very similar to offerings suggested by Afro-Futurism); an idea that is grounded in examining pluralistic, diverse and anti-fragile systems or ways of being that come when we open a system up to all future possibilities once the mainstream has dissolved. Halberstam, in The Queer Art of Failure, suggests that anyone born queer (or marginalized in any way) is destined to fail from the onset. This is best exemplified in the online videos that have been coming out around the game of privilege. Certain folks, based on their privileges (and this is always intersectional) have a head start in what society calls 'success in life'. However, those with less privilege start the race further back and, in many circumstances, are destined to fail or lose the race. Halberstam suggests that queer folks are destined to fail. It is in this failure that we can find resilience, opportunity and a difference we can offer the world. In this 'failing' we, queer humans of this Earth, can offer up different ways of knowing thus leading to a pluralistic future of possibilities.
Both of these texts grounded me in developing a show that never arrives at a complete finish. By 'finish', I mean that is never overly planned that the sense of liveness is removed from the performance. I am interested in the bits of the show that provide opportunities for failure. It's in this failure that the show breaths life and true liveness. And, when examining the role that queer performance makers have in this world, I am interested in examining this failure towards possibilities within my queer lived experience, exploring where I, the ensemble, and the show go when we remove the veil of planned cues and set choreography/blocking, and use the space of live performance to offer a laboratory to explore difference, failure and anti-fragility for the real world outside of the performance.
And so, I sit here, attempting to make decisions about my upcoming show that requires me to be courageous in not knowing what will happen, but also requires a certain level of planning when it comes to casting an ensemble, describing my ideas to the artistic programmer and providing material upfront for any marketing and promotion that is needed; it is a constant internal tug-of-war and often the mainstream can't see any other path then the planned path.
I offer up the question to any performance makers and programmers out there -- what is liveness if we don't allow for failure or unknowing?