A few months ago, I went to a Meetup Group with the theme, Authentic Relating. Many years ago, on a date, someone told me he was a regular attendee and it changed his life and he was looking to make authentic connections with others. As he tried to ask me questions that seemed far too un-relatable, I thought to myself that this authentic relating stuff with a stranger is my personal hell. At any rate, years later, I challenged myself to see if my long held belief was true. I was surprised that yes, it was a kind of personal hell, but I also enjoyed it. I delight in the stories of others and listening to them. I was surprised how cathartic it felt to share things that haunted me. I left that room feeling love and compassion all 45 participants.
I bring my experience up because Personal Universal reminded me of that Authentic Relating meetup. Audience members are invited to share stories and a team of actors reenacts their emotional essence and most salient points. The stories shared are very human experiences: the conflicted emotions of impostor syndrome, the love one has for family members and pets, the stress of mishaps… I related to all of them. The show did exactly what its title says; it made the personal universal. Granted, no one raised the traumatic moments of their lives. But even these lighter life struggles are common and often moments that go unnoticed and unacknowledged. Giving them a little attention and a positive resolution changes their trajectory in memory.
The diverse group of actresses (Shannon Rzucidlo, Leigh Bulmer, Hilda Coker, Natasha Williot, Christine Lavoie & Vera Kisfalvi), and talented musician, Big Daddy Queen Power, made this drama-therapy style piece work. If you need a bit of TLC, this piece is worth checking out and sharing your story. Or, if you’re feeling a bit disconnected or simply curious about the lives of others, it’ll help you plug back in to the world. Since the work improvises based on suggestions from the audience, every performance is different.
Personal Universal is at the Mainline Theatre on June 11 (16:45), 13 (22:15), 15 (22:15), 16 (20:30), and 18 (14:30). Tickets HERE.
If you thought Parasite (or Succession or Mr Robot or Squid Game) had a surprise twist, Caught’s going to leave you in knots. The posters advertise that a surprise guest will be present at the show – Lin Bo, the subject of the show. The show opens with Bo meditating on a cushion before telling his tale of being put in Chinese prison for his daring protest art commemorating the Tiananmen Square protests that ended in a massacre of hundreds of students. By organizing a viral protest with no location on the day of the massacre, he hopes to call attention to the day. But, on June 3, the day before his selected date, he’s put in Chinese prison and he details the horrors of living in appalling conditions. After telling his tale, we switch to the office of the New Yorker, where Bo is working with his writer and editor on an upcoming piece. They confront him with facts that seem suspiciously lifted from accounts told by others of time in Chinese prison. Is Bo telling the truth, embellishing facts à la Mike Daisey, or outright lying?
A few words about Mike Daisey, a storytelling performance artist who may be unfamiliar. On the weekly radio documentary/storytelling show This American Life, Daisey recounted his visit to the Apple factories in Shenzhen, highlighting the disturbing conditions in which wondrous i-products are made. To this day, it is the piece I remember most from This American Life – emotional and perhaps confirming what I believed true about the world’s workers. But Daisey’s story turned out to be embellished or even just untrue, so This American Life’s host Ira Glass and his team proceeded to take Daisey down in an episode fuelled by blood lust. The correction to Mike Daisey’s story is the show I most want to forget from This American Life. The emotional and vindictive way in which Daisey was shamed and his piece was deconstructed made me feel sorry for him but mostly shocked at the fury of Glass and team. I thought at the time, are they under threat of lawsuit from Apple? from the Chinese government? But, their reaction, however justified, was rage and a desire for vengeance, whereas I simply accepted that Daisey was like a magician and I delighted in how he fooled me. Anyone can be tricked and seeing how the trick was done made it even more fascinating. Oddly enough in this time where truth has been twisted by politicians and news organizations in a way that would make the government of Orwell’s 1984 proud, Caught comes to Daisey’s defense, and I felt somehow a little less alone in my opinion on the wrongness of ostracizing those who don’t fit the paradigm.
At any rate, where Caught goes from there would require watching it and as a complicated piece, it does not end how one expects. Just know that at each layer, you’ll be wondering what is true and what isn’t and it’s hard to know who are we to sympathize with. Let yourself be carried along by the performance art and reflect on its many messages about the West’s view of China, activist artists in China, an activist piece answering a call by an activist, truth vs. the illusion of truth, or none of the above.
Caught is at the Mainline Theatre on June 11 (13:00), 12 (22:15), 13 (17:00), 16 (13:45), and 17 (18:30). Tickets HERE.
23ish-year-old Valerie is packing to move when she stumbles upon her teenage notebook full of fan fiction stories starring her alter ego Sephora. Sephora lives out all the adventures Valerie never could — like being a movie star or attending Hogwarts house Slytherin. The notebook, though, can speak and mediates between the many Sephoras living on its pages and Valerie. Valerie has never finished a single Sephora adventure and they want endings!
Valerie Boisvert is adorable as Valerie, as well as the different Sephoras she plays. The imagined lives of each Sephora seem to come right from real life, and it’s a good prod for the imagination of any writer. Who, Me? is a funny, easy to connect with show. Comedy is a tricky art and Boisvert makes it seem easy with her high energy, excellent timing, and honest reflections.
Who, Me? is at the Mainline Theatre on June 12 (17:30), 15 (20:45), 16 (17:30), and 18 (20:45). Tickets HERE.
The Montreal Fringe Festival continues until June 18. Tickets for all shows available HERE.
Check out our list of Fringe Festival Picks and reviews of Field Zoology 101, I Know You Are But What Am I, Exit 20:20, Civilized, Lush Wanderings, A Mystic’s Journey, and Tales of the Rise of the Fallen.