9/10/21 story no. 1
Preparing for my first live performance since the pandemic has felt like living in a constant state of denial.
I’ve missed this so much. This is something I care about.
Things I care about tend to disappear.
I don’t want it to disappear, so I’m not going to invest in it happening. If I don’t care, I can’t be robbed of it when I am.
Or so my coping strategy guessed.
This late summer has filled me to the brim with transitions rife with uncertainty, and preparing for this show has only been one small piece of that.
When I got my negative COVID test results Friday morning, however, I knew in my heart I was doing it.
I grew nervous as the day progressed. I knew a reviewer was the only reserved ticket.
I replayed tough experiences from grad school over and over in my head. I harshly critiqued my body’s changed shape compared to my video (shot in February 2020). I couldn’t imagine improvising freely for 3 hours, hell I couldn’t imagine improvising for 1. Even though I have. And I did.
I decided to walk the streets of South Philadelphia to get to the gallery in Old City, along a path I associate with romantic late night talks with lovers, with lonely drunken wanderings, with first-moved-to-the-city yearning. I figured it fair this was the space stewing within me for this first night of the piece.
As I began to set up at the gallery at 5:30pm, I realized in my moony nerves I’d forgotten a key adaptor to be able to project my video — which had become a full character of the piece.
I frantically called my friend Tim who is checking vaccine cards & masks at the door, who was almost there, and asked him to drive to my place to get the adaptor. I also called the space’s owner to see if she had one.
5:50pm — I knew I’d have one by 6:30pm. The show was supposed to start at 6pm.
This became a gift.
Seriously, all my nerves disappeared. I began to laugh. Of course, my first live performance is going to start with something that happens with live performances: something goes wrong. Human error.
Tim couldn’t get into my place, I hadn’t latched a lock properly so the code wouldn’t open the door. But the gallery’s owner had the right adaptor, and 5 minutes before my first audience member arrived, we were good to go.
And then they walked in.
They stayed for two hours. I’d expected any audience member to maybe last 40 minutes. I knew I’d run through lots of improvisational score moments or sections, & eventually resort to stillness, to rest.
30 minutes in, they were standing, present. It’s hard to read audiences with masks, but I was able to do it a bit. I could tell they were at least engaged. I made them laugh sometimes. I made them nod as I said things I felt were true.
I found a running joke involving a large branch leaning on the wall that kept falling over when I’d hit the right floor board. Spirits causing disruption in my carefully designed floor sculpture. My clownish desire to fix what wouldn’t be fixed.
30 minutes in a friend and his partner showed up, who I hadn’t expected. They eventually took seats and offered one to the other audience member. They installed for a while.
They left after about an hour and a half. An hour and a half of musings, of singing, of thrashing and jumping. My body felt full and expressive, eager to play, eager to translate what was bubbling within.
Something Meg Foley taught me in improvisations like this called the emotional door came up, where I could feel grief finally welling up in the base of my throat, and I sat at the door for a bit with them, teared up, sharing a memory about my late friend, and my divorce.
I really felt connected to them after I admitted I was stuffing the moment back inside. I wasn’t ready or able to lose it in front of them. Maybe it’s too soon? Maybe I was just too tired? Maybe I wanted to care for them more than my own emotional needs in that moment? Some emotional doors are private. Or just old pain I feel better easing to rest.
Eventually, my friends left, after I named that this piece wasn’t linear, there was no beginning or middle or end, and it won’t add up or make much sense.
And then my first audience member stayed another 30 minutes.
The intimacy felt thick. I was having fun. And also my mind was reeling. I never expected anyone to stay this long.
At two hours, I admitted I was all out.
Not necessarily of the piece, but in life. Out of ideas. Out of energy. Out of belief. It’s probably not true but it felt true in the metaphoric moment. I do not know what I’m doing. I don’t know what this piece is. I don’t know who I am or what I want.
Maybe true, or not, but what felt true at the time.
The audience member took a moment, & left, & I said I was grateful as they did.
Tim floated in and we chatted a bit, knowing it was unlikely another audience member might show tonight. It was helpful to process what it was like. Tim shared with me some photos, which I’ll share here over the coming days.
He drove me home and we chatted a bit more as I barely kept my eyes open. I was exhausted by the experience. Drained. Gutted. And thrilled.
First 3 hours down. 33 more to go.
9/11 story no. 2
The morning of my second performance I found myself gravitating toward 9/11 content. Which makes sense. It was 9/11.
Friends on Facebook who had first hand experience, resharing video footage they’d taken of the first tower crumbling. Writing stories of fearing for loved ones’ lives.
It struck me how before I even conceived much about grief as a 12 year old, grief had swirled around all of us. Dust & debris caking our lungs.
I remembered the confusion I felt, as a Canadian only 2 years into living in this country, to see America convulse so completely. To feel everyone truly lose themselves in response to tragedy, in ways that I feel compassion for and fear, still. I’ve always felt like a secret outsider, but 9/11 in high school wasn’t an experience I was ready yet to process.
No one, it seems, was ready. Is? Ready?
How much do we all refuse to encounter losses out of scale with our lives?
Aren’t I really doing that too?
Nerves re-emerged for my second performance, as the distraction of documentaries and podcasts gave way to actual preparations for the piece. Stretching. Coordinating times of arrival. Checking for that review. Nope, not published yet. Well what if I check again?
Yes, I’ll walk again, that was nice. Yes, sure, that was and is an enormous tragedy, which lead to further enormous tragedies. Hurt people do hurt people.
And, I’m putting on my shoes and walking to do my little art dance grief theatre show for maybe no one.
We had no presales, so I truly did not know what to expect.
I said to Tim if he wanted to come in at some point I’d do it for him alone.
But as I made my way down Passyunk, a friend texted saying they were coming & bringing another friend.
I felt immediate warmth and relief. You build it, they’ll show. Sincerely grateful for that act of showing up.
I set up the space quickly, efficiently. No panic this time, the correct adapter in the correct pocket.
The gallery owner was loading out some audio equipment for their own event so it was a little chaotic, but we got it all done & ready to go by 6pm. I spent the first 20 minutes of the piece in stillness and quiet. Waiting.
And then two strangers showed up. And then three more. Folks I didn’t know, folks who felt like Fringe-goers, who had somehow heard about the piece and took a risk.
Immediately I felt like I was flying.
I was making them laugh.
I was captivating them.
I felt words land, I felt my body stretch & bend & push to communicate through gesture and rhythm and dare.
It was really easy to enjoy performing for strangers.
I of course named that, I even did a little barefoot tap dance. I sang old Irish and Appalachian songs. I cackled about how much this piece was a mess, a literal mess on the floor.
I also found the image of not being able to leave the room. About how this room, the in-between, is the room I’m always in. Every door I leave through brings me back to this room. And so it is for a lot of folks who grieve.
I talked about collapse. Of buildings. Of relationships. Friendships. My own death. Wanting to hold back my anger in front of others so as not to scare or harm them, including these strangers I didn’t know.
The trio left after 20 minutes, the duet after 30. I truly built the piece to hold folks coming and going like that. Felt good & right. All felt the urge as they left to say things to me. “That was beautiful.” “Really wonderful man, thank you.” “Thank you for reminding me I’m not the only one who’s a mess.”
That all made me smile.
Then I was alone for 40 minutes.
Some of it I used to rest. Hydrate. I checked in with Tim. I spent a lot of time listening to the storm sound design, letting my body slow down, my mind quiet. I had such fun with the first group I felt my body thrumming. THIS is what live performance gives me. A sense of aliveness. Connection.
Then, as the sun was setting, my friends came in, and they, and eventually Tim, installed for an hour and a half.
I immediately felt the conundrum of experiencing people I know wearing masks, who normally I see without masks, because we’re neighbours, friends, we last drank together in one of our living rooms.
And they’d never seen me perform before.
God what must they be thinking?
For a while I wrestled with the impulse to name that, and eventually it came up, the creative fiction writing happening in my brain when 60% of their faces were covered by inscrutable medical fabric.
I sang many songs, even one with them. A drinking song that lead to me thrashing around drunkenly wrecking my floor sculpture.
As I rebuilt it, instead of neat spiral lines, I made meandering ones.
I named the ways they were sitting, adjusting, seeing, looking away.
I named the ways I was doing it too.
I allowed myself to get a little lost in the moment. Time melted by.
I nailed a handstand.
I gave each of them seashells, and they put them back when the sculpture was rebuilt.
It felt like I could go on like this forever.
The damn wall branch kept falling over, and one of my friends outright challenged me to let it be. To allow it to be imperfect. Throughout the rest of the night I kept returning to the branch, getting close to touching it. But I didn’t.
In writing this now I’m realizing just how impossible it is to fully capture the experience, there were so many moments already slipping away from memory. I teased Tim about his succulent socks. I didn’t give one of my friends a spiky shell. I showed them a lantern fly still not quite dead, or maybe dead but its legs were still reflexively twitching.
I designed a signal for myself when it is almost 3 hours, a piece of music that is really the only more melodic structured sound in the piece. As it played I gathered a bunch of threads and themes of the time we’d shared, and eventually ended in stillness.
They took a while to shift out of audience mode.
I sat by the door in silence as they got up, stretched, used the restroom. We chatted briefly about maybe hanging out later. The line between performance and post performance blissfully vague.
And then they wandered off into the night.
Tim and I grabbed burgers and cauliflower at the FringeArts restaurant. Another space steeped with memory. I was much more awake than the first night.
But around midnight my body began to drag me down to rest, and even though we were enjoying Andrew Bird music, I told Tim it was time to go.
6 hours down. 30 more to go.
9/12 story no. 3
Walking to the piece has become a bit of a ritual for me.
Because I take the same route and stop in the same places, I don’t really have to think about where my body is going, I just have to go. My mind & heart can wander as my body becomes a walking metronome. Left right left right left right.
Stop at the CVS for a powerbar and a gatorade. Stop at Cherry St Pier to sit for a bit. Stop at FringeArts for a bathroom break.
On my way Sunday afternoon I noticed I was in a really graceful, expansive, quietly happy mood.
Which is sincerely quite rare.
Like, feeling happy & at peace is not a natural state for me. I tend to be frequently consumed by anxious, fear-based thoughts, and when I ruminate it usually is on how I’ve failed in the past, the pain I’ve caused unintentionally, or the pain caused by others to me, the people I’ve lost or missed. My mind mulls over how to do it differently next time, how to avoid pain in the future, what to do to never feel the way I’ve felt again.
So I tried very hard not to jinx my good mood as I walked the hour to the gallery.
I contemplated reconciliation. With all kinds of people who aren’t able to be in my life, who I care for, but have to care for from afar.
It’s a complex feeling, to feel so capable of reconciliation, but no access to it.
It feels quite raw to share that here, actually. But it was actually what was happening.
It felt good to feel so centred, so under my own feet, as to be able to envision people I experience a lot of pain normally thinking about, and feeling: the world is wide enough. One day, we will be okay.
Getting to the space, I saw it was unexpectedly occupied with some kind of religious service. Half a dozen people were in the space. There was a small candelabra, hats, some folks on Zoom. I realized they’d rented the space right up until my show was supposed to start, and so again the accidents of live performance mode took over.
I got everything out of storage and waited for my friends Brit & Steve to get here, who were helping with the door today.
As they shifted out of the space around 1:50pm, I quickly set everything up and gave Brit & Steve the low down. Of course today audience members arrived right at 2pm, as we weren’t quite ready to open. They were gracious to wait.
I was a little knocked off balance, but again, my sense of humor with the universe giving me what I need really just let me laugh with it. Of course, your calm mood would be knocked off by the priorities of others. You are not the only thing happening in the world.
So I started the piece with a pile of sticks and rocks and shells and moss and an egg in the centre of the space, not having time to set up my normal floor spiral. And as my audience finally came in, I worked on setting up the spiral, and then began my movement score.
This time the hours felt like they flew by. I was never alone in the room, as people came and went fairly fluidly. I moved almost the entire time.
I noticed I felt the imagined critical eye I’d learned from grad school when students, current & former, appeared. I had a sneaking suspicion it was all in my head, especially given that with masks I couldn’t really tell how they were receiving me, but I wondered, with much of my piece directly pushing against some of the pedagogy, around personal narrative, emotional expression, saying the thing I was thinking, I wondered if they experienced the piece as it is or as it could be.
And then I wondered about how often I do that.
But then also I felt the gift of a reminder I didn’t always need to be talking.
Bet then I also felt the gift of a reminder to carry my body to its fullest extensions. To breathe into each movement. To pay attention to rhythm.
My body felt really eager to move. Maybe it was from the rushed set up. I pushed myself physically, even tore the spiral structure down several times to give myself more space to run, crawl, jolt. I felt new memories & stories bubble up, especially with some audience members I knew well & felt safe giving to.
I surprised myself talking about mourning the child I’ll never have with my ex-wife.
The folks having finished their service stuck around for a good half hour right outside the door, chatting loudly. It didn’t really distract me but I could feel it as a counterpoint to my more contemplative dialogue within. The party felt like it was outside. I found myself wondering aloud about how often I saw folks having fun on the street, wishing I could just join in.
Soon after they left, the outside world came in as a dance partner again with some sort of building alarm nearby, that rang for what felt like 30 minutes.
It became another metronome, a mechanical beat to move with and against. I dared myself to dance to it for as long as I could, exhausting myself, noticing how we get used to alarm (hello coronavirus) and then get bored with them and then they annoy us again.
When it stopped it felt like an electric moment of release. And then it started again, just for a second. And then it stopped again.
I did something I learned from Dan Rothenberg & Toshiki Okada in Zero Cost House called catching a gesture, when I found myself sort of shrugging and shaking off while saying the phrase “my body is not a problem.”
It happened right as I caught view of my February 2020 body nude on screen in my video, a good 20 lbs lighter than I currently am.
I kept repeating the phrase verbally, and letting the jerking, halting, writhing feeling of needing to remind myself I’m not a problem over & over & over again. It surprised me how long it lasted. I could feel it resonating.
The audience migrated along the brick wall for most of the piece, so I found myself dancing with the video a lot more. Scrapping the spiral, rebuilding it.
I balanced the egg on the branch, and eventually it fell, cracking. It was hardboiled, so it was okay to break, but I played with the broken egg for a while before throwing it out.
At one point I asked a friend what to make next on the floor. They said a boat.
I told a story about fishing for the first time with my ex-father-in-law, and landing a large fish head after wrestling with a shark for it. (True story).
We ended up performing a kind of Viking pyre ritual, putting some objects in the boat to purge away.
Steve wrote my name on a name tag and gave it to me to put in the boat. Another audience member put in the rock I’d given them, to sanctify it, they said.
My friend who suggested the boat gave me a marker.
After singing some verses of the song “And Am I Born to Die?” I imagined setting the boat off to sea, I took the marker and crossed out my name and wore the name tag for a bit.
Oh, maybe that’s how I got to “My body is not a problem.” I kept naming things as if they were not. We are not in this room. We are not in Philadelphia. My feet are not dirty. My friend is not chewing gum.
It’s funny how the piece itself and my memory of it is so circuitous, I really can’t tell the sequence of things soon after they happen. Time eddies in that space.
When the ending song appeared, it took me by surprise.
I got very emotional. I didn’t want the audience to leave. It felt for an instance like I was a little child, and my friends were abandoning me.
Of course I was relieved to be able to rest, of course I was glad the piece arrived. But I was surprisingly full of tears, knowing this was the signal that they would go.
This piece is doing a lot of work on me. Stretching me out. Allowing me to claim what’s inside, and give it, and let it be.
I can never tell how my friends receive it. Awkward small talk after the piece feels sort of sacred. We’re gingerly dancing around the thing we just did together. I think that’s as it should be. There’s a lot to process. And a lot happens. This group that ended the piece with me were there for almost 2 hours.
My friends Brit & Steve helped me clean up, and gave me a ride home. On the way home Brit gave me a star pendant they’d imbued with some magick intention — for creativity, joy, self-confidence, trusting my intuition & guts. It’s a yellow material, I think they said it was calcite, and it immediately felt wonderful to put on.
I was, and am, touched by the gesture.
I got home and collapsed into a bath, suddenly feeling the weight of time on me til the next performance. I’m directing a show that runs on Friday, and have tech Wednesday. My next performance of the in-between isn’t until Saturday.
I did not expect to be so impatient to get back into that room.
9 hours down. 27 to go.
As I shifted back into the mode of someone scrolling through their phone, vegging out in front of the TV, texting my sister, half watching a show, I saw the review for the in-between land on thinkingdance.net.
It’s here, in case you’re interested. It made me feel really good to feel so witnessed & so seen.
9/18 story no. 4
I’m sitting at my kitchen table feeling mildly intimidated by the task I’ve set for myself.
How do I keep writing about this piece?
It feels at this point like the piece is writing me.
I’m checking my phone for distraction.
I’m listening to the soft gentle music of Alexander Turnquist, one of my favourite artists.
It’s hard to write about this show.
Does the show involve what I do before the show? Which prepares me for and influences the show? What about what comes after? What about what’s in-between the in-between?
For one thing unless I write notes directly after the show, I tend to forget what happened. I am so lost in the moment, and when the moment’s gone, so is the memory of it sometimes.
Not really in a sad way, just in a way that flows.
I remember being really happy in the morning before this performance.
We’d had a sold out show of The Case for Invagination #3 the night before at Cannonball Festival, and Nicole did a wonderful job.
I was overwhelmed a bit to socialize in such an open party space and see friends from various artistic communities I’m a part of again.
I danced a bit of an Irish jig with one friend, and was dared to a handstand contest I very much lost.
Another admired my tattooed arm and it felt nice to be casually touched as they got a better view.
I spoke with another friend about how the pandemic has changed their career trajectory, artistic focus, sense of self.
There was some social anxiety too. Threads of past relationships frayed, moments of uncertainty. Should I say hi? Should I give them space?
But I biked home feeling solid, and the morning of the show I was dancing in my kitchen, singing along to Bo Burnham’s Inside and Lil Nas X’s Montero.
Texting with friends new & old. Doing a lot of smiling.
Walking to the space, I felt myself carving out a space for hope.
It’s been a long, dark, suffering year (which it feels so cliche and unnecessary to say, and yet, it feels structurally necessary to reiterate because why else does it feel so mildly terrifying that I feel good, if not because for most of the past four years I’ve felt pretty damn bad), after a few dark suffering years, and there’s a lot of me that doesn’t trust it when I get into good moods. Like a false spring or fall, the walloping cold or heat is right around the corner. Don’t get used to the thaw yet.
I saw Whit MacLaughlin’s 707 Hazardous Moves the afternoon before my evening performance.
I’d come up in Philly theatre under Whit, assisted him on a few productions, worked at the Maas Building space for New Paradise Laboratories, his theatre company, as an office assistant. Whit has offered sage advice and supportive care for me over the years, and he wrote a show processing some chaotic hardships that have truly reshaped his worldview in ways I deeply resonate with.
Bowing down to a trickster god. Terrible things can happen out of nowhere for no reason. And wonderful things, too.
I deeply felt the image and moment of him sharing a barely able to scream exhale. Sometimes that pain is all there is.
I finished my routine pre-show eating my powerbar and drinking gatorade underneath a tree in the park across from my space.
A party of some kind was cleaning up.
I had a luxurious amount of time to set up for this performance, which ended up filling me with the normal low grade pre-performance nerves. I realized how much my brain takes opportunities of waiting and inaction to boil up whatever thoughts it can to change what’s happening.
A thought is a throw of the dice. Another 707 Hazardous Moves quote.
The performance (yes finally getting to it Mark, that IS what I’m supposed to be writing about) (hm well it’s my newsletter I can write about whatever I want) — I immediately had friends in the audience, who I love dearly.
It was nice to perform for them again, and to let beauty and grief and a beautiful mess all roil around in that room.
One friend brought a flower to add to the sculpture. Which really made me smile.
Another trickster (you know who you are) kicked a pinecone through my carefully laid out spiral structure, and I was once again contending with my own Virgo desire to put everything in its precise place.
It was good to practice leaving things incomplete.
Nicole came, and I was very nervous and intimidated for 2.5 seconds. I saw her smiling through her mask pretty quickly, though, and that set me at ease.
I found myself really enjoying making everyone laugh.
Friends came and went throughout the performance, mixing in with strangers. People tended to stay for 20-30 mins, maybe an hour each, so over the course of the evening I found myself returning to songs and stories I’d shared with earlier groups, finding the impulse again to experience anew those moments with new people.
I built a map out of the spiral at one friend’s suggestion. It had been a coffin before.
At one point in the night a couple I didn’t know came in, who warmed quickly to my conversational tone, and really began to earnestly just have a conversation with me.
For a few minutes I wasn’t sure what to do — I hadn’t expected any audience member to truly want to open up a full conversation, but the space (and I) am so open, that it just happened.
I kept moving as I felt the impulse to, but we sprawled in a long conversation about the piece, about Ireland, about fate and life and death and grief. I told them my whole story. Hurricane wedding, death of best friend, divorce.
It felt like they were eating it all up like a sumptuous feast, the imagery, the sound, my performance, and we spoke as if we were around a dinner table with a couple bottles of red wine and an appetite for pontificating on all life’s whims and quandaries.
It was pretty fucking awesome.
As they were deciding to leave, a new person entered, and I had the impulse, since it kinda felt like she was entering the party late, to give her a seashell as a gift, to make her feel welcome.
Later she asked why I’d given her the shell, so I told her. And immediately she laughed and said, well, yeah, it did make me feel welcome!
I was in the middle of singing to her this old Irish song I’d heard at a pub, where I get to the line about a lover leaving, when a motorcycle started up & loudly took off.
My audience of one burst into laughter at the synchronicity of that, and it so abruptly ended the song I started laughing too.
At a certain point in the performance, after a group of my friends left, another couple remained, and I remarked that it was particularly torturous of me to make a piece where the act of leaving me was such a big gesture and moment, each time, and that I truly left it up to them.
I named the feeling of being left.
But I wonder if it’s ultimately been a healingly wise thing to teach myself. To allow for folks to come and go, for whatever reasons they are.
To normalize the feeling. Rub it into the skin and place it in its proper context, a thing in the world, not a big dire scary unimaginable thing.
My friends Ben and Abby ended up leaving sort of accidentally earlier in the evening, by a mixed up communication in the moment they followed through on.
At first I honestly was like, uh oh, did I screw this up? But I also knew if anything had happened to make them leave, we were hanging out for my birthday after the show and I trusted them to tell me if anything needed to be addressed.
Nope, was just sort of touch of the arm misinterpreted as “let’s go” sort of situation, and they committed to it, and we had a lovely time after the show playing a game that made us say wonderfully supportive heartfelt things to each other.
A wonderful way to spend a birthday. It was just right.
Coming and going, all just in its right place.
12 hours down. 24 to go.
9/19 story no. 5
Time is sort of crashing into itself inside me right now.
It’s eddying and pooling and swirling gently.
I’m sitting in the same spot I wrote yesterday’s story. Can’t for the life of me remember my walk to the space.
I remember the air was cool, the sky clear, and I felt like I could trust it.
I was thinking about relationships, I think.
Viktoria (audience attendant and dear friend) and I had a moment battling back a wave of lantern flies trying to invade the space.
I spilled water all over my lap.
I remember seeing my CA-based friend Jana who surprised me from NYC to see the show in its last hour.
I remember suppressing naming the thought that I still find her hair fabulously impressive. I mean, that volume!
I didn’t say it in the show but I have said it to her before.
And the long, warm hug I got from my friend Gabi who saw the show at the beginning and as she was getting up to leave I just asked for a hug.
(We’d done contact improv and danced together during COVID so the risk felt natural.)
It was a really really good hug.
I remember that singing still pitches me in to vulnerable, raw, gravitational pull-of-pain territory, but it’s like gently brushing against the emotional door. I can still balance, and float, amidst it, instead of getting sucked in.
Gabi also essentially dance with me, to ease the awkward tension of having a solo audience experience with the naming of the present. She lightly mirrored my movement at times. Averting her gaze as I named what was happening. It felt playful and light and sweet.
I remember seeing a new person in my life, who I’d been on one very good date with, arriving toward the end, settling in for what we both were probably a little perplexed to be a solo performance (uh are we on our second date now? in the show?), before Jana showed up with a friend.
The awkwardness of showing yourself unvarnished to someone new.
Somewhere in the middle there was a couple, where one person was from the UK, the other had a leg brace. We wandered toward the territory of conversation, too. Which was similarly lovely, like chatting with kind people on the train.
The sweetness of being asked questions unprompted, where you can tell the curiosity and interest is genuine, and kind, and open.
I could feel the UK-born member of the couple resonating with me when I told them a story about visiting the main castle in Edinburgh and being overwhelmed by the history of violence & terror washing over me onto those stones, how it helped me understand the fierce protectiveness and anxiety of my ancestry.
I named another night that white people don’t seem to look at their actual ancestry, and there’s a violence to that.
I’m having a memory now of finding a story of an ancient Scottish Kennedy in a book who was one of three knights standing after a bloody massacre on a glen. The image of blood soaked steel armour.
I remember feeling gently nervous about asking this new person what she thought of the show as we walked away from the gallery.
Who has a second date as watching them perform in a solo experimental dance performance where they talk about their dead best friend and divorce and sing songs that make them almost cry?
“You’re the only person here worried about it I think,” she lightly teased me as we walked to dinner.
The inner smile that comes with a permission to be oneself.
15 hours down. 21 to go.
9/20 story no. 6
Well, I knew it was going to happen eventually.
In fact, I’d kind of expected it to happen more often.
As a producer, thinking about this show as an indoor durational dance art installation experiment in a still raging and uncertain pandemic, my expectation going in to this was that I’d have lots of time where no one would show.
I wondered what I’d do during that time.
Would I dance for myself?
Would I sit still?
Would I rest?
Can I rest?
I imagined there potentially being lots of time where no one would be there. Maybe very few people would come at all. And I’d committed to being in the space regardless, to let this process work its magic on me.
To keep learning how to be alone.
I’ve been blissfully rarely able to work on that practice because so far there’s been a steady stream of intimate connections with people throughout the first 15 hours of this piece. I’ve spent chunks of time waiting, but never even a full hour yet.
Until last night.
Last night, a Monday in now late September, the in-between sat without anyone to perform for.
Well, not entirely.
The first hour of the piece I had hired a photographer, the impeccable Emilie Krause of glass canary photography, to take photos.
It worked out that we didn’t need to worry about an audience, and after a perplexing conversation where I tried to figure out how to do the piece “as if she’s not there” — which was her direction, and impossible for me to do, what I found instead was, I’ll do the piece for myself with her watching and capturing it but not responding or interacting with it, apart from her positioning, what I saw her eye was drawn to, what we found together.
There was more talking than I expected. I think I was nervous.
My tone was also way less gentle with myself. I felt meaner. Or at least harsher. Which was interesting to note.
I still have a fairly critical relationship with my body’s image, with its lines and curves and how beautiful they can be.
I tried hard to believe I was making beautiful or at least real shapes anyway.
Emilie stayed for an hour, catching a couple cycles of the video, while I played with the suspended branch, rearranged the spiral into a triangle — a sort of Celtic (or at least Zelda) symbol I felt drawn to.
I sang Lonesome Valley from O Brother Where Art Thou?
I told her Alan stories and divorce stories and fell in and out of new material and old.
I sank into the moss.
When she left she gave a little applause which felt good to hear, because other than the clicks from the camera I didn’t hear any breath from her, no chuckles, nothing.
I realized after she left how paranoid that’d made me feel. I wasn’t used to performing the show with zero feedback. It’s such a sensitive, conversational piece.
My mind kept being pulled to:
Did she like the show? Do I even want to know?
(There’s a Bo Burnham reference for you.)
After she left I settled briefly into a spiral of self-doubt. I had this suspicion we wouldn’t get anyone else tonight, the streets had felt so quiet.
Walking to the show I’d been slowly siphoning off the stress of the Monday. A key code door lock needing its battery replaced. Zoom events upon Zoom events. A fire in a building not far from me, smoke filling the streets as I walked.
For 45 minutes after Emilie left, I let my body slow down. I let my aching feet sit limp. I watched my video installation closely, I listened to the sound of the ocean and thunderstorm and bells.
I felt myself letting the self-doubt spiraling and stressing about producing and really everything on my mind go. It was an unwilling process for a while. But every so gently I gave in.
After those 45 mins, I began to feel hungry. Thirsty. I didn’t feel like waiting another hour and fifteen minutes to care for myself.
So I got up and grabbed my power bar.
I swept the floor.
I floated out onto the stoop to talk with Vik.
Vik has been a steadfast friend for a while now. She was the first to respond to my call to aid for help with the show.
We were roommates for a few months the summer after Jess & I separated.
We joked about how terribly not morning people we are.
We talked about dogs.
I had this distinct vision, which I didn’t share with Vik at the time but was reminded of while we talked about not being morning people, of the time, on Alan’s death anniversary, of standing in our kitchen, Vik and our friend Ari having informed me earlier in the evening that they were just going to be there with me til I went to bed that night.
That I didn’t have to talk about anything but I could if I wanted to, but they’d just be there til I needed to sleep.
And just that act of showing up had made such a critical core difference to me.
Like, very much down to the fundamental structure of my reality sits that memory and image and impression of three people standing in a softly lit kitchen, abiding.
Tears are streaming down my cheeks right now as I type this, which is ugh just so dramatic but it is what’s really happening. I won’t withhold that.
I am tired.
My bones are weary, my joints cranky.
I remember the cool air while we were outside not really waiting for anyone to show to the show, getting lightly gently nipped at by mosquitos.
Felt like a first true taste of fall.
At 10 minutes til 9pm, I called it, and we packed up.
This too was part of the dance.
The stoop chat. The air. The mosquitos.
Vik dropped me off on the way home to a mutually convenient spot, and I walked the rest of the way, relieved to have a few days off.
The moon, harvest, full, attending over me as I hobbled home.
I grabbed a pizza and some ice cream and settled in to a late night celebratory almost-my-birthday dinner, texting, smiling, centred, calm.
The fall equinox approaches.
At midnight I turned 34.
Here we are halfway.
18 hours down. 18 to go.
9/24 story no. 7
In-between the in-between on Monday and the in-between on Friday was my birthday.
I did all the millennial things: fielded text messages and Facebook notifications, Twitter mentions, Instagram likes, and so many gifs of Snoopy dancing. God I love that little dog dancing.
The definition of neurochemical heartwarming.
I also sometime in the afternoon of my birthday started to feel warm in a less fun way — and soon nauseous and feverish, and ended up having to leave running a virtual event to be sick.
This set off a two-day sleep-and-food-deprived panic in which I prayed to whatever gods I could imagine that I did not have COVID, drank way too much bold gingerale, and wondered if I’d have the strength to continue doing any of this.
I had no respiratory symptoms. It probably wasn’t COVID.
But what if it was?
At this point the COVID scare is already a trite genre of storytelling, but it makes it no easier to live through.
After finally getting my negative COVID PCR rapid test results Wednesday night, almost as that news hit my perception, I went from feeling decently better after one night’s rest, to feeling like myself again.
The excitement of producing live performance in a pandemic.
I’m not sure if ultimately I had food poisoning (maybe I’d undercooked my birthday eve frozen pizza) or flu.
But by Thursday afternoon I felt physically essentially 100%.
Emotionally, however, I was more than a little thrown off.
When my body is not doing well, my mind finds all kinds of ways to double down on the self-punishment.
Losses of friendships, colleagueships, past romances, all bubbling up as I shivered in fever. My fault. My fault. My fault.
It’s easier to control my reality and what’ll happen in the future if I can just blame myself. Why be angry at others? Ultimately they just did what they needed to to survive. You’re the one who didn’t allow them to thrive. Didn’t try hard enough. Didn’t figure out the right way to be with them.
Wasn’t clear enough. Confident enough. Skinny enough. Quiet enough. Loud enough. Shy enough. Deferential enough. Irreverent enough. Brave enough. Afraid enough. Sexual enough. Temperate enough. Straight enough. Queer enough. Truthful enough. Too truthful.
Y’know, fun stuff like that.
As my body began to regulate my temperature again, I couldn’t quite feel the same capacity with my thoughts.
I had distractions. I had work.
But Friday morning I couldn’t quite get into any pre-show rituals I’ve come to use to prepare myself for this work.
I knew my artist friend Rachel was coming to do videography. I didn’t want to repeat the feeling of not having anyone to perform for, while being captured on moving camera. I wanted to be with people.
Would anyone show?
Some friends had messaged, but you know how it goes. Fringe is a wildly unpredictable time.
Walking to the space I was reflecting on the most recent Ted Lasso episode (maybe mild but vague spoilers in the next sentence), which made me ugly ugly cry and had a good line about needing to figure out why you’re terrified of wonderful people on your own, which helped put something into the right framework for me to accept the truth of it in my own life.
There was also lots in there about grief, about wishing you could’ve done or said things differently, to make an impact on someone, to somehow save them, to care for them, to make them feel loved.
Sometimes what breaks my heart the most is the unnecessariness of abandonment. That there are ways to create and build even across difference and fear and impulses to protect. That love ultimately is acceptance, and I have the capacity to give that, freely. But I don’t get to make that call for anyone else but myself.
And, I sort of skirted around this thought while walking but it came up later, the only person who can consistently give me that acceptance back, ultimately, is myself.
I resolved, somewhat mealy-mouthedly, to let what had been worrying me go.
Set-up for the piece was smooth, but I couldn’t get the spiral on the floor looking the way I wanted for the videography.
As we opened, I tried not to fixate on it, but it was too much for me.
No one was there yet, so I distracted myself instead of warming up my body by tweaking the arrangement of sticks and moss and dried flowers and shells, over and over and over and over again.
An hour melted away. No one here.
I felt my mind re-enter the territory of self-punishment. I didn’t do any marketing (a choice), that’s why no one’s coming. My emails were too desperate. I didn’t set a specific time with Rachel, which is totally fine, but also now I don’t know when to expect her. Vik is out there sitting around, I’m wasting her time. I’m wasting MY time. Why do I want to do a show for no one? What’s wrong with me?
You can see where this was headed.
But my vanity ended up saving me.
I knew I didn’t quite feel limber enough and wanted to move a fair amount when recorded. I wanted to lean into the bigness of my body’s expression, I wanted to push myself to extend, to funnel the force of my feeling through breath and gesture and space.
So as the hour turned into an hour and a half, after spending some time chatting with Vik, who perched on the stoop for a time sketching abstractly (and beautifully) on a pad of paper, I dropped in to warming up my body.
Which turned into singing to myself an old Irish song I’d heard while in my residency.
Which turned into just dancing and improvising for myself.
I could feel myself beginning to have fun, moving for the sake of moving.
Finding inspiration, surprise, depth, meaning, in movement, in impulse, in grounding myself into the present moment, focusing on my internal experience.
I stopped thinking about everything I wasn’t. I just started was-ing.
A quarter after eight Rachel appeared with her partner, and she began to wander around the space, capturing details and textures and shots gleefully as I began to perform for/with her partner, and Rachel’s camera.
Her partner was pretty unreadable with their mask, so I did my best not to let my jumped-to-conclusion-based-on-their-posture (oh they haaaate this) lead me too far away from connecting.
I sang the Irish song again.
I danced with the projection, and with my suspended branches.
I gave them a seashell, which they accepted with a delight I found immediately encouraging.
I talked about the 2017 eclipse that felt like a portal to another world moving through us.
I felt totally absorbed by the task. Time had slowed down and stretched out like an old rubber band, and now it was thwacking together with speed.
And as I felt myself really leaning in to material I always found pain and breadth in, imagining my own death, two more audience members appeared.
They’d gotten lost going to the wrong gallery (thanks Google).
But they were friends from school, and I immediately brought them in to this spiraling world of grief, and loss, and hope, and nature, and the infinity of the sky.
Toward the end of moving with them, I found the egg that I nestled in the sculpture, and told them the story of why it kept ending up in each version of this installation.
The feeling of the egg in my hand, like another hand in mine.
Walking on the beach with Jess. Envisioning our potential child.
That story always comes out of my mouth somewhat at a remove from my heart. I think unbeknownst to me I’ve pretty successfully walled that off as a don’t-actually-go-there loss, one that I still have yet to feel the full horror of.
Losing my best friend and wife — my best friend AND my wife who was also my best friend — had been enough to contend with. But a future child she and I had been dreaming up? That started more and more to feel real? Someone I wanted to be a better, truer, growner person for?
I felt it land with all of us.
Especially after, when I sang “I’ll Fly Away” and tossed the egg in the air until I accidentally hit one of the suspended light bulbs with it and the egg cracked and skittered to the floor at one of the audience member’s feet.
A little too on the nose, a cracked egg and a shattered dream. But here we are.
The music signaling to me the piece was over came way too soon.
After they left the space, I let Rachel get some more footage of the sculpture while I padded out the door to say hi. It was lovely to reconnect with these friends who’d braved the wilds of Google and Friday night to be there.
My heart felt so full. Of blood and connection.
In one performance, I’d gone from the worst of my learned coping strategies, to my best. From self-punishment to self-joy, to communal resonance.
It’s hard to understate how much this piece is working on me.
21 hours down. 15 to go.
9/25 story no. 8
It flew so fast I’m only re-collecting impressions.
The glee of someone arriving right as we open the doors.
The glee of a continuous mixture of strangers and friends.
The softness and depth of a voice in a body relaxed, after a day of laundry and dishes and unstructured meandering time.
Reforming the spiral to a crocodile.
The image of swimming upstream, trying to outswim time.
Reforming the spiral into a kite
Flying high up into the air until I disappear into the cosmos.
Conversational tones. Full on conversations. Questions about the intention of the work in the work as the work is happening.
Noticing how all that is too a dance. Maybe between what I think I know and what the dance actually is.
Singing Lonesome Valley with as much emotional heft as I got, my body wedged into a corner, singing into the wall, letting the sound reverberate into my chest.
Letting movement dispel built up emotion around each song or story that always gets me.
Walking on the beach.
Dave, my late best friend’s fun-cle, coming back with gifts of seashells, pinecones, and the chance to sign a baseball he was putting on a grave the next day.
Joanne, my producer, so clearly beaming underneath her mask.
Singing for singing people.
The spiral as debris, as a dam.
Hurricane wedding story.
Pleading the audience never to tell anyone “well you should have known” as if anyone knows how anything happens at all.
The thrill and hum of connection, like water on a wilting flower, now just balls out fully blooming.
Silly voices and noises in the car ride home.
Checking email. Someone wants to unsubscribe.
The feeling of fighting the feeling of being left.
Letting all of it swirl around me, instead of trying to catch and hold it too long.
24 hours down. 12 to go.
9/26 story no. 9
Dear reader, I have a confession to make.
I did not fucking want to do my show yesterday.
I woke up exhausted. Grumpy. In a spiral of a bad mood. No one was going to come to the show, I was convinced. Everyone’s tired of these emails. I’m tired of these emails. Why did I decide to do this for so long? It’s already been a literal DAY of performance hours.
Let’s just be done with it already. Let the fucking sun set.
I think when something happens that recalls deep, old pain, it’s easy to retreat back into the wild animal I was when that hurt happened. Limping to find cover, blood matting fur. Adrenaline spiking. Terror on high alert.
I almost forgot my Zoom acrobatics lesson with the incredible Nicole Burgio, but I decided to stick to it and let her coaching stretch me out.
It was a lovely, forgiving session.
But the wild animal inside me was still pacing in my chest, glaring at me through my rib cage.
I offered advice to someone who has having decision paralysis, a creativity/life hack I’d learned from my advisor and teacher in grad school Adrienne Mackey — to just set your timer for a certain chunk of time, like 10 mins, 20 mins, and do nothing.
Like don’t allow yourself to check your phone, or move around, or futz with anything. Just do nothing. And allow yourself to soften into that. And then after, your choices tend to be much clearer.
I did that and wept for 9 minutes.
It was a lot about rejection for me. I think some of the work this show is doing on me is allowing me to finally process and storytell around my relationship, my marriage, that ended so abruptly — something I haven’t really allowed myself much to do in public, being in survival mode in school and then in pandemic.
I’m very aware it may sound like the show is all ugly crying, but really it’s not. I half expected to be more emotional during the performances than I am. Since I usually am full of very big feelings.
And I definitely am emotional during performances, but more often than not I’m eager, I’m playful, I’m calm, I’m searchingly introspective. The space puts me in a state where harder feelings can creep up the base of my neck and pool at the eyes, but not really need to escape. It’s very gentle. Intentionally so.
I settled into a gentleness on this windy Sunday as I waited for audience members to appear.
For 40 minutes, I rested, as I did when I took my 9 minutes of crying.
My feet relaxed. My heart rate slowed. I watched my mobile move quite actively in the breeze whipping through the space. I almost immediately dehydrated and couldn’t keep up with it as much water as I drank.
As the first couple appeared at the door, I felt ready to perform for them. Another arrived soon after. Strangers to me. I love performing for strangers.
I normally start off by informing new audience members that this piece has no beginning and no end, that as much as I’d like to craft a perfect Disney conflict arc complete with a grand finale dramatic conclusion, I will not be able to do that, and so they can stay for as long or as little as they like, taking with them what they will. But I say that so I actively don’t have to worry about crafting meaning for anyone.
Meaning arrives when and if it does. Nothing has to make sense. It just has to exist.
But as I moved and danced and spoke and sang and shared stories and images from my life, I felt this one couple deeply resonating with it.
The imagery of the cosmos, of the infinite.
At one point I felt the impulse to touch all the highest points I could of visual lines in the room.
Steve, one of the couple, asked if I was affirming the boundaries of the space, or trying to pass beyond them. I basically said some version of I don’t know and also yes.
Towards the end of our time together, they shared their own eclipse story, of taking a plane from Alaskan forests to a glacier, following the history of the lands formation back to its glacial beginnings. And seeing the sky dim on hard packed ice.
It was a lovely image, a gift, as others have brought me flowers or shells for the spiral.
Steve writes reviews of each show he sees, and I want to end by quoting some of what he said here on his Facebook page, which was lovely to read, and also touched on themes I’ve cared about this whole time but not been able to put quite like he did til he did now:
“…shows like "the in-between" …are the sinew, the organs, the soul of Fringe. Productions without which Fringe would be hollow. Standing, moving, but hollow.
I'm not sure how to describe in-between. It is a small room with a few chairs. A mobile of twigs and natural objects. Another mosaic of twigs, leaves, and other natural components, a spiral on the floor. A video of scenes the performer took in Ireland. And the performer Mark Kennedy moving, speaking at times, singing at times, grasping at the image or through the mobile.
To hear the tale, not truly the tale, held us. It is an exposition of personal infinity, of personal finiteness. Of the dichotomy of being bounded and simultaneously unbounded. Death and life.
Most definitely a nontraditional performance. A three hour performance, stop in any time, stay as long as you want. Much like listening to the ocean in all its variety.
If you prefer plot and characters and conflict and climactic resolutions, SKIP THIS! If you've wanted to be in a painting by one of the masters, to feel the environment, what was being felt at the time, I'd definitely recommend it.”
I’m humbled by his experience. And glad I ended up fucking wanting to do this show.
27 hours down. 9 to go.
10/1 story no. 10
Time had stretched out like a cat on the carpet, tail swishing as jaws and little teeth unhinge.
Four days of rest, which really was just work.
And dates. And seeing shows.
But my body retracted into the body-as-related-to-computer, the body-as-related-to-audiences, as-related-to-other-people.
Physical-performer-in-real-space body had a break.
Friday morning I was in and out of virtual events from 7:30am on, and I was in the zone.
Making people laugh. Ending events on time. Jumping on to new ones.
I knew I’d have an hour before walking to the space after my last event. I had the sweetest, juiciest nap planned.
I talk a lot about plans in the in-between. How they spiral. How they fall apart.
About an hour before that deliciously planned nap, I got a text from my audience attendant and sweet friend Tim.
Uh oh, he’s feeling sick. And scrambling to get a rapid COVID test. And can’t make it to the show tonight.
Brit and Vik were unavailable.
So my problem solving mode system set in.
I think normally, without all this expressive exercise and endorphin highs and presence work and feeling all this connection with other humans, I’d react to a moment like this with a kind of nauseous panic.
No one can help me. I’m going to be all alone. I can’t handle that.
What am I going to do??
I’d figure it out, but I wouldn’t be calm about it.
But there’s a grace that comes to me when crises, big or small, pop up.
I develop a soft focus. I scan the horizon.
Okay. Tim’s not coming. I need an audience attendant.
Who can I text to see if I can get last minute coverage?
I thought of friends who’d already seen the show, and those who hadn’t but seemed like they were planning to or wanted to.
I also shared the wildness of my day with my date from the previous night (yes, the same date as last week you nosey people you), mostly just to share the wild experience of unexpected plans breaking down.
Within that hour that I had planned to nap, I fielded regrets and good lucks and I’m coming Saturdays! and though I initially worried asking for help from my date would feel like too much pressure or too soon or too needy, I just asked.
Since, well, I needed help. And I needed to just ask.
She had some plans, but they were flexible.
We had been talking earlier about people pleasing (something we’re both guilty of), so I asked her to help me only if she’d like to spend time together and wanted to help out, if she was doing it because she didn’t want to upset me or make me feel bad, A) that wouldn’t be the case, and B) fuck that, I’d find another way.
She decided to keep her initial plans with her friend, but then support me from 7pm-9pm.
Perfect. I’d just have to make it an hour without an audience attendant.
The way the space is set up, there’s a corridor with signs we direct people through. They show their vaccine cards and put masks on before entering the corridor. It takes them in to the kitchen in the middle of the rowhouse, and then make a left into the gallery space. When they’re ready to leave, they just exit out the open door that puts them right next to the corridor they went through. There’s a circular flow, there’s also a box fan in the kitchen blowing air through the space out the door.
About as COVID mindful as I could get it.
I had this little internal rule for myself, which I’ve kept most of the piece until last night, where I wouldn’t appear outside to interact with audiences. I’d only exist in the room, this room in-between outside and inside, life and death.
I made a clown bit sometimes out of trying to leave, but immediately being flung back in.
But of course right at 6pm last night, visitors began to appear.
So I welcomed them, checked their cards, had them sit in the space taking in the video and objects, and then entered through the exit door.
And then another person came, walked straight through the exit door, and I stopped them to ask for them to put on a mask and show me their card.
The awkwardness of “on-stage” interruption.
No, you’re going in the wrong way, I thought. Well, but there was no one but some signs telling you otherwise. This door was open. There was clearly stuff going on in here.
But that too became a part of the dance.
As performer/audience attendant, I made jokes about trying to do it all as folks continued to arrive. I ended up fielding 8 people in various ways as they wandered in to the first hour of the piece.
Friends I knew (and knew were vaxxed) floated in while I was mid story and I let them sit, and acknowledged to everyone else I knew them and knew their vaccine status.
Other times I’d just have to cut myself off, welcome the new guest warmly, re-explain the situation, and then find myself forgetting where I’d been, laughing at that, and moving on.
Life is full of interruptions. Walking through the wrong doors.
Sometimes you’re alone and you don’t have help. And you make do.
One of the audience members kept writing in their journal. I wasn’t sure if they were a reviewer, but their attention was rapt.
I felt a flow of stories and moments resonating with this ever expanding crew. We felt in it together. Maybe the shift in dynamic had opened me up to another kind of connection. Maybe I just was in the zone.
Either way, toward 7pm I found myself singing a song, a re-improvised version of a half-heard half-recorded song I’d heard in Ireland, where this time I was ending the song with the word “goodbye.”
I could feel everyone’s sort of antsy energy when I started the song. People were grabbing bags. Shifting in their seats. It was time for them to go.
I think I want to make the choice of when to arrive and when to go so significant for each audience member because I want them to feel their presence.
I want them to feel their impact on me, and others, by leaving.
I want everyone to feel aware, of their factness, of their thereness, of their significance. Their leaving is a thing, it’s a moment, it impacts and ripples from the piece.
I think we erase each other too much in our culture now.
As I sang the word “goodbye,” it was like the whole group just decided to stand right up and leave.
They passed their compliments as they left.
“I’m sorry I have to meet someone. This was beautiful.”
“I have to go meet a friend.”
One visitor went to the bathroom and then came back to chat with me while I puttered with my spiral on the floor, taking in the mass departure. It was a little jarring to me, I felt a little guilty, like I’d kept them, somehow, from better things, but I was also laughing about it.
Just another bit of practice at being left.
As this visitor, a professor from grad school, chatted with me a bit about the space, about his favourite part of Fringe being finding new spots in the city he’d never find on his own, I saw my date arrive to save me from audience attendant duties.
He almost literally left as she appeared.
We laughed about it, that of course now that she was here to help no one would show.
But after a few warm kisses in the rapidly darkening cold, I settled in to wait in the space, and she to work on grant writing outside.
I resisted the urge for a while to float back out into the street to distract her from her work.
I noticed not once, during set up, during performing for the hour, during fielding visitors and performing at the same time, did I really feel lonely or alone. Or even stressed or overwhelmed.
I felt focused, I felt mildly mirthful. I felt fine.
I re-set my spiral, and spent some time hydrating, sitting, lying down.
I started to feel my feet ache.
An hour melted by.
I’d check in and flirt with my new audience attendant every so often.
A little after 8pm, as I was noodling around in some movement improvisation in the space to keep myself warm, a couple appeared, wandering to the space to ask about what was going on inside.
I overheard the question: “Can you tell me a bit about the show? What’s it like?”
This has been a difficult question for even my close artist friends to answer, how to describe the show. It likes to squirm, like a fish, in the mind, when you try to pin it down. And this poor date had, the previous night, been asked by my friend Lilli to describe her experience of it, and truly it is tough.
I think she did a good job, on Thursday and last night. She told me later she said things about what elements were in the room, the video, the sculpture, me dancing, it being a place for emotions to come and go, that they could come and go as they pleased.
They gave it a try.
We spent about a half hour together. I connected with them over stories of climbing mountains, only to find that thrill of success at the top fleeting.
Of making plans, and hurricanes.
Of wanting to get wild and naked and dance in the woods.
I made them laugh hard with my clown bit about not being able to leave the room.
They similarly had a gesture of “oop! It’s time to go!” but one of them thanked me profusely as he was leaving for my performance. He generously Venmo’d me later too.
They were new to town and just exploring Old City on a First Friday.
What luck, to find them that night. To have them find me.
Once the final music began to play, signaling the show was wrapping up, my date and I struck and reset the room quickly, laughing about her experience trying to talk about my show.
I dunno, joy felt rich in the air.
I walked her to her next Friday night plan, my legs thrumming, body and mind unraveling as my need for focus mode began to finally drift away. I felt like a radio, bursting into random clips of song, jumping stations, slinging goofs.
I am thinking of Tim, hoping he feels better.
30 hours down. 6 to go.
10/2 & 10/3 stories no. 11 & 12
I feel unready to write these.
I had friends join me from out of town for Saturday night’s performance and celebrate with me after Sunday afternoon’s, so I wrote notes on no. 11 but figured I’d be ready to process and write and conclude with both stories today.
I mean, also I am.
I will tell the story of how cathartic the end of this piece was for me.
And the toast I made alone in my apartment to my late friend Alan afterward.
But sitting down to write these, there’s also a bone-weary resistance.
Do I even have anything left in the tank to say?
story no. 11
Instead of walking from South Philly to Old City on my meditative walk, I hustled down the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and took the parkway and then Vine St most of the way down.
It was hot. My bag was heavy. My feet were bothering me.
I’d shown my friends around the museum, where pre-pandemic I had just made a tour for Museum Hack, the company that is now Teambuilding, which I’ve been working for on & off for over 7 years.
Sharing the museum with my friends was fun, and also I was tired.
Feet botheringly tired.
Did I have anything left in the tank to give tonight?
I quietly ignored answering that question.
I knew there were going to be friends in the audience, several groups of them. I wondered if the space would be able to hold us all.
My friend Brit who was going to audience attend had to cancel (good luck with your move Brit!) but luckily my producer Joanne jumped in to help and I didn’t have to welcome guests in.
My friend John showed up about 15 minutes before the show and I remembered he’d offered to come and take experimental photos that played with the durational element of the piece.
He set up a camera that took a shot every 1-3 minutes, a quiet almost imperceptible click, over the course of the whole 3 hours, and eventually the idea is there’ll be a composite shot of all of the places I am in the room over that time. A ghost trail of movement. A spectral scatterplot of time passing.
He also had a camera with some sort of pinpoint lens and a certain kind of film I didn’t understand, and he waited patiently for shots he could take to gather light through the pinpoint and see what would come from it.
I had been texting him earlier in the day. Right. Yes. He’s here. He’s setting up.
I remembered that I remembered that.
It didn’t land on me until about the second hour of the piece that that meant John was going to see all three hours of the performance.
It struck me as an incredible act of generosity, to sit and be present for it all.
He heard songs many times. Some of the same stories again and again.
I became very aware of my repetition.
And also how fun it was to vary.
My opening remark about the piece having no beginning and no end.
My egg story.
Alan’s memorial song.
I found new ways to imagine my slow disintegration into nothingness.
John is the only person who’s seen all 3 hours of one performance of the in-between. I felt his presence with me just as much as with the cameras.
I had snippets of memories of expansive conversations on trains, at bars over beers, biking the Schyulkill River trail to Norristown.
What a friend. Gathering all that light.
But right, yes, at the beginning. He comes in.
We also have an audience member who’s early, who also doesn’t really know what they’re seeing. They have the Fringe guide open. They ask a lot of questions, don’t make a lot of eye contact. They mention wanting to stay all 3 hours. I worry it won’t really be for them. They’re not picking up on the social cues of “you’re early, we’re not ready to open yet.” I wonder about their needs and if this performance will engage them.
Joanne chats with them while I set up.
As she’s chatting, I’m out in the hallway, and a neighbour to the venue is putting chairs out blocking entry to their apartment in the corridor where we invite audience members to enter. I’ve been doing this for a month, never met anyone next door.
Suddenly they were very concerned about strangers entering their apartment.
Then a beautiful couple wandered in as I was changing in the kitchen bathroom.
“We’re not ready just yet,” I said, and they looked confused.
They were here for an Airbnb experience which was supposedly happening upstairs.
Checked their messages. Oh. It was canceled.
They left, but wished me luck on my show.
Strange off-kilter energy.
I open the doors and the performance begins. Our first visitor lasts about 20 minutes, and after I sing Lonesome Valley to the wall they leave.
They chat outside for a while with Joanne.
John and I settle in to a conversation, processing the strangeness of the beginning. I remember it feeling really nice and good and we were questioning if I was performing, if this was the score, or not, which is a question I’ve already asked, and essentially answered, yes, this is the dance, this is what I want to do in the moment.
I still moved lightly.
I remember as he asked if I share EVERY thought I think while performing, or if I self-edit, and I say I share anything that I feel adds to the moment, adds to the present. That if I was sharing thoughts that would pull an audience member away or out of the experience, break the trust I was building by naming what was happening, I’d not want to stay or experience that.
As I said that, new audience members arrived. And I started over again.
And then arrived. And I began again.
And then arrived. Again.
Friend from DC. Friend from NYC. Friend from masculinity action group. Friend from Tinder. Stranger. Stranger. Staying for a while. Leaving as needed.
Knowing the grief I was bringing up. Letting others self-soothe, leave, as needed.
I imagined the camera capturing the audiences’ exits. How their impressions on the space would linger. As they lingered with me.
I gave folks shells. And pinecones. I disintegrated into the air. I shapeshifted into a raven. I’ll fly away, oh Glory, I’ll fly away. I froze into the ground.
At one point I asked what to reshape my spiral on the floor into, and one stranger said a wave.
I was suddenly in the surf, searching for someone swimming out to sea, feeling the water push at my calves, as the waves got higher and higher and soon flooded the earth.
All the while part of my brain kept trained on what John had already heard, or what this group of friends hadn’t heard yet, what I wanted to share to give them what I wanted to give. This song. That story. Find this physical gesture. Throw in a handstand.
In a way, it felt like the piece was culminating. Penultimating. It felt packed. I danced pretty much for 2 hours straight.
Afterward I melted into a social mode, quietly thrumming with the energy of the piece. Some left in the tank, it seemed.
We wandered through the night to celebrate, gathering and re-gathering each other’s attention and plans.
A spider belayed down toward my water from the light over our table at dinner, and one friend leapt out of the way to safety.
Somehow this, too, for me, was a remnant of the in-between, another trickster.
At any minute, something can descend from somewhere unexpected.
33 hours down, 3 to go.
story no. 12
The morning was cool, overcast.
I took my friend from DC who was staying with me on a walk through South Philly to the Schyulkill River to the Parkway again to the Rodin Museum.
Feet, again, killing me.
For some reason.
As I left her at Reading Terminal Market to make my way to the show, the same thought as yesterday crept back in, a spider dangling from the ceiling of the unexpected.
Did I have anything left in the tank?
What more was there to say?
What I’d felt repeating stories with John watching was that they were starting to disintegrate.
Sort of like all my leaves and moss and twigs — natural materials naturally break down, their particles jostle and loosen and spread. The chaos of entropy. Everything eventually falls apart.
Could I tell those stories again? And again?
Three more hours?
Where would the energy come from?
Where would the play?
I hadn’t needed to bring down the branch from the previous night, so set up was easy. My friend Tim was back, feeling much better, and he had the signs posted and the corridor door unlocked and the natural objects in the space before I even noticed.
I still felt calm.
I am still getting used to trusting calm.
I knew my late friend Alan’s parents were coming to the show again. I figured they’d come toward the end of the hours and stay for closing.
I checked my phone right before the performance began, and Alan’s mom hadn’t been feeling well, so it was just going to be Gary, Alan’s dad.
Mentally I sent her healing energy (as I am now, Deb), and began to stretch.
John offhandedly the night before had wondered if I was ever going to arrange the spiral solely by “type” of natural material.
Like group all the sticks, and the moss, and the leaves, separately. A sort of geometric abstraction of the naturally tangled way I’d been arranging things.
I took inspiration from that notion for the final design of the spiral. I’d been making it differently every time, but I’d never had each arm of the spiral be made of one set of things. One arm of pinecones. One of moss. One of large sticks. One of small. Stones and shells and the egg in the centre with the spiral.
I told Tim I sincerely wished no one would show for the first hour.
My body was tired. I needed to rest.
“Just sleep in front of them, that’s also the dance,” Tim joked.
I considered it.
And the in-between gave me again what I needed. For about 20-30 mins, no one appeared, and I laid in the breeze and the storm and the video and the sticks and rest seeped into my feet.
And then a mother and daughter came.
And for about 40 mins, I banged out the show. Start to finish. Hit all the highlights. Found movement I got into, got carried away with. Sang all the songs.
I reflected with Tim after that it felt like the most linear version of the piece. I started by telling the hurricane story. The egg story. The eclipse story.
For a moment linear time too intruded into the eddying of the piece.
And then I rested again, until Gary arrived.
He brought a tall blade of grass from his garden and a dogwood seed with leaves from the tree they planted after Alan died.
They joined the leaves and moss branch of the spiral.
We settled into conversation, easily, freely.
I still moved a bit as I felt the desire to.
And sang to him songs I didn’t think he’d heard the first time he came to the piece.
I found myself eager to tell Gary new stories, stories I hadn’t told in the piece.
Stories about my own experiences with a medium in Mexico, and hearing Alan’s tone of voice through her mouth.
Stories of discovering self love, of connecting to a universe larger than one body or ego or soul. Building a fire and being proud of myself for cooking with it.
The moment in the jungle giggling and singing with shamans where I knew I had to do this piece.
That it was a healing ritual, and it was okay to want to give it.
Whether it healed or moved or gave permission for anyone else to feel anything, it was a worthy experience to give, and it was okay to want to give it.
I choked up several times telling Gary about it.
And then a couple of strangers arrived. And I began again, to dance and tell stories and sing.
And then more came in.
And then Joanne.
Standing room only.
Suddenly I could tell we were about to run out of time.
I danced with abandon under and in-between the branch and its mobile danglings. I sang snippets of each song, threading them together like a mashup.
I suddenly got very desperate to move, to throw my body into each gesture, each writhing, wrestling impulse, leaping from my feet through my torso out my arms, or head, or back.
I started scrambling up into the doorframe.
I made an observation, about how each of our muscle fibers are actually designed not to fire exactly the same way or at the same time each time, because that would tire the muscles out way too quickly.
That we’re designed to wave slightly differently every time we wave. That we can’t ever recreate exactly what has happened before. We are not machines.
That’s just not how we’re designed.
And it suddenly occurred to me that maybe my grief had me wanting to do that. Recreate exactly the past. Hold on to it. Grasp and claw at it, too much love with nowhere to go.
And telling these stories over and over again, and moving through them, slightly differently, each time, each video shot aligning differently to each movement to each bell toll to each weather variable to each temperature drop to each mosquito to each spiral to each audience member’s arrival and departure, each moment of time had been created anew, slightly changed, or very changed.
I may have been eddying and spiraling but at no point was I going backwards in time.
And as I was waving, as I was saying this, and began to cry, exhausted, overwhelmed suddenly with what felt like Alan’s insight and force in the room, a trickster spider dancing in the air, this new thought hit me — it’s over.
I can’t do it again.
I can’t have Alan back. Or my marriage. Or any of the connections I’ve lost.
I can’t repeat, actually.
Like what I’ve been so afraid of is just not physically physics-ally possible.
I’d been so afraid for the past few years of doing something that would invoke the pain of losing them again.
And here I was telling my audience, which also included myself, that I can’t do that.
There is infinite variability. Infinite variety. Of each moment. Of each person. Of each arrival and departure in time.
And after I said that, I didn’t have anything else to say.
Grief welled up in my chest and throat and eyes and I moved it.
The music that ends the piece began to play. It’s about 4 minutes. I scrambled to destroy the spiral.
I shook and danced with intensity.
Maybe that’s when I climbed up inside the doorframe.
Maybe then I flew.
Maybe then I flew alongside myself, unable to comprehend and at the same time deeply accepting that this was ending.
It was time for this, too, to be unrepeatable.
I arrived at the floor after exhausting myself, lying where the spiral had been.
I waited for the song to conclude, and looked at each visitor for a time, and held the present.
And then the song ended.
I said thank you, and they slowly got up to leave.
Clean up was an easy blur. Gary, Joanne, and Tim did most of the work. I changed my clothes and in a daze told them where to put stuff, what to keep.
I gave each of them long, deep hugs, and thanked them for their support, for making this piece possible.
Tim drove me home. We unloaded his car quickly. I was making a zillion inappropriate jokes and punchily singing random songs. My brain was fried.
I thanked Tim and he left to get to his homework for his music degree.
My friends who were staying with me were busy, so I somehow floated over to a beer shop to get some pumpkin beer.
My goal for celebration.
I ran into my friend’s partner (who’s become my friend too!) at the shop, who had lovely things to say about his experience of the show when he saw it, Friday? I think?
I wandered back home, and opened a beer while I waited for my friends to get to the apartment so we could go eat.
And I raised a glass to Alan.
I toasted to his memory, to all the ways he’d sparked me into this path of inquiry, of healing, of self-belief, of self-love.
I started naming everyone else I loved. There will be too many to list here and I will miss someone. Many of whom I’ve already named over these stories.
But I went for a while. I thought of friends who’d leant me equipment or car rides or a supportive ear when I doubted if I could do this. I thought of friends who made it to see the piece, and friends who couldn’t. Friends who wouldn’t. Mentors and collaborators of the past 12 years I’ve lived here on & off. My family. My teachers. My classmates in grad school, and undergrad.
Later in the night I remarked, as my friends and I stood on the roof looking at the city, that there were 6 million people here, all bumbling around, not knowing what they were doing, searching for connection and love and impacting each other deeply, whether they knew it or not. Wiggling particles in the air. Coming together. Falling apart.
And I felt the lineage of this piece and the arrival of this moment crash over me, another wave, as I sipped this pumpkin beer and thought of the night on my birthday in 2013 when I met up with Alan at a burger place with an outdoor fire pit, sipping a pumpkin beer, excitedly telling him about this new girl I met named Jess who I was really excited about.
And about how we may spiral, and hurricane, and accidents happen and things change and nothing makes sense and everything is really just right now, happening, over and over again, as I type this it’s already over and changed and even knowing that doesn’t prevent happenings from happening again and again.
New, every time.
And I am so grateful to have had 36 hours to practice allowing it. Leaning into it. Dancing with it.
And now, letting it flow.
Dear reader, this is long. I keep not wanting to end it. And here I thought I had nothing left to say.
I suppose I should end this with some final business:
I want to thank the following people for supporting me, financially or through donating time, work, materials, guidance, love:
Joanne Holmes (Producer),
Viktoria Lange & Brit Brennan & Tim Bretschneider & Liberty Britton (Audience Attendants),
Emilie Krause & John Chandler Hawthorne & Rachel Turan (Photography & Videography),
Cindy Penn & Vine Street Gallery (Space Rental)
Nicole Bindler, Ben Bass (Materials & Transport, Feedback, Friendship)
Meg Foley & Carmichael Jones (Rehearsal Space/Mentoring/Feedback),
Gary & Deb Johnson-McNutt, David Kirkwood, Bill & Betsy Kennedy, Laura Kennedy, Kate & Robert Felsted (all the familial love),
Cow House Studios (Artist Residency),
Pig Iron School (Original instigators of elements of the piece, from art installation unit with Jonathan Van Dyke to dance theatre with Nichole Canuso to Dares provoked by Quinn Bauriedel, Sarah Sanford, & Emmanuelle Delpech & originally collaborated with Vanessa Ogbuehi, Christine Shaw, Jacqueline Libby, & Jacinta Yelland, produced by Sam Wend).
Thank you, too.
Yeah, I’m talking to you again.
You’ve read this. This too has been the piece.
Whether you’ve been only able to read from afar, or you’ve not even opened these emails and deleted them every time, I am grateful for you.
If you have reflections for me on what it’s been like to receive these, I’d love to hear them.
If you have questions or thoughts or feelings about the show, and it feels good to share them with me, do.
I’m going to take a nap now.