Great ideas find new ways to be reinterpreted and understood. French philosopher, literary critic, and social theorist Michael Foucault’s work Discipline and Punish includes a chapter, The Gentle Art of Punishment, that focuses on how criminal behavior can be deterred through the use of punishment and what components are necessary for that punishment to work. From the team that brought Docile Bodies, another chapter in Discipline and PUnish, to the Montreal Fringe Festival comes a new piece, The Gentle Art of Punishment, which examines the ideas of Foucault’s work on how best to achieve the desired result of controlling others. The team behind the work talked about the production’s inspiration and goals.
Rachel Levine (RL): First off, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and your collective, Wig in a Box. What is your purpose and how did you get to know each other?
Wig in a Box (WB): The five of us had been working on Docile Bodies together since January (La Chapelle Scènes Contemporaines, St Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival) within a much larger collective. Joe Browne (Sound Design) had worked with Natalie Liconti (Performer) on Nuclear Sky: The Experiment (Title 66 Productions), and with Darah Miah (Lighting) on Antigone (dir. Andreas Apergis). The rest of us (Natalie Liconti, Lucy Fandel, Emily Sirota) met on Docile Bodies. Natalie founded WIG IN A BOX (a feminist, queer theatre collective) last winter because she wanted to work with smart and powerful femmes.
RL: Why did you decide to adapt Foucault’s text? What does his text mean to you?
WB: We were drawn to Foucault as an icon of deviance, rebellion and sometimes hopelessness.
RL: “The Gentle Art of Punishment” sounds as if it comes from the world of kink or is an ironic title. What does title mean in relation to the concepts of the show?
WB: Yes to kink and irony! We are working through sadomasochism as care with this piece. We’re also rolling our eyes at the rules that don’t serve us. We’re also blowing kisses to nastiness, resentment, and structure-as-comfort.
RL: You mention female violence, self-discipline, and care are major themes. How does your work address these themes?
WB: We’re interested in discipline (both external and internal) as pleasure. S/M is a clear theme here, but we’re also thinking about it in a more quotidian way – the relief of forging a bearable relationship to the systems and structures you find yourself caught in. We look at the discipline of care – or care as a corrective means of training, for instance within familial relationships or sexual ones. We touch on the mechanics of emotional and feminized labour.
We also think through discipline in relationship to trauma – an abused child faced with the choice of either submitting to the unfair rules they’re caught in or resisting violently and feeling guilty for it. We’re curious about how people, and particularly women, form a coherent sense of self and futurity by engaging creatively with the brutal sides of ourselves.
RL: How did you collective develop the show – was it a collaborative creation?
WB: After Docile Bodies, we sat down and decided to make a piece that was everything we wanted to say but didn’t get the chance to in Docile Bodies. We all agreed that our first show was safe and sterile, so presenting this new work at Zone Homa was our chance to get grittier and present more personal and unresolved issues. We feel that the specificity of Gentle Art makes it, hopefully, a more universal piece.
As with Docile Bodies, this piece was devised and collaborative (but this time in two months), and again, we didn’t begin from an established script. Our process is unique because it’s uncommon that the tech team and designers are as essential to a theatre project as the writers and directors are, but for us everyone is in the room from the beginning of the process. It is truly multidisciplinary because you feel the presence of the designers as creators just as much as the performers onstage.
RL: Why do you think this work is important?
WB: It’s kind of a love letter to fucked-up ways of living, the sort of vulgarity and striving and resistance that isn’t obviously healthy, but can be totally vital to crafting a livable life.
RL: Who would this work most appeal to?
WB:Femmes who read trauma theory, David Lynch fans, kink practitioners, people who like watching re-runs, goth grad students, and anyone who’s ever had a crush on their therapist.
The Gentle Art of Punishment takes place on August 1st at 8 p.m. at Maison de la Culture Maisonneuve (4200 Ontario E) as part of the Zone Homa Festival. Tickets $14. Info HERE.