Ottawa Fringe Reviews: The Sum of Ourselves

Reviews: Totem Figures, Teaching the Fringe

As I was walking to the SAW Gallery this evening, I was thinking to myself that I was feeling a little bit of Fringe burnout. Yes, I’ve seen some great shows, and no, I can’t feel nearly as burnt out as the Fringe staff and volunteers or certainly the performers, directors, and stage managers. But still, feeling a bit tired all the same. However, (and yes, a nod to those who’ve seen Cutler’s show), the shows I saw this evening may very well have rung the truest for me for the entire Fringe (Circumference excepted). And I love the fact that there is a CHUO ad on the SAW page in the program guide.

One final note before my thoughts on tonight’s shows, I have given a couple of “bad reviews” this last week. I know many people feel this is part of the reviewer’s job, that they owe it to their audience to tell them to not go see this show and to avoid that show at all costs, etc. But honestly, and as someone who has been on the receiving end of bad reviews, I’m deciding to not buy into that. I’ve removed the “bad review” portions I posted on this blog and have replaced them with different thoughts. Because ultimately, who am I to be doling out critiques of someone else? Does it make me feel good about myself? It certainly can’t help those I’m writing about. It’s not that I think my reviews were even particularly that bad, but just that I wonder what good are they doing anyone anyway? And whose to say that my opinion really matters in the grand scheme of things. Art is art, and it is most definitely subjective. So if you enjoy reading what I am writing, then great. But whether you agree or not, please take it all with a grain of salt.

Totem Figures by TJ Dawe (Big Sandwich Productions, Vancouver): I loved the show. If I have the chance to see it again, I will. A lot went through my mind during this performance, and much more will continue afterwards. It wasn’t that TJ Dawe was saying anything I didn’t already know, it’s just that he put it in a way that made me listen. To both him and myself. You should go listen to what he has to say, and in the meantime, here is what I was thinking.

We are the sum of our experiences and the creators of our own meaning. Great words to live by that I’ve been saying for quite a few years now. But what do they mean? I sometimes feel that I am simply going through the motions — I get up, feed my cats, go to work, clean the litter, play guitar, watch TV, go to sleep, get up, feed the cats, . . . and the routine continues. I often talk about how I believe the journey is the destination, like it is my life mantra. But then I somehow forget to believe in it.

I don’t believe in many things. When I remember to, I do believe in the journey. I believe in energy, that it is us, it is life. I believe in trees, the earth, rocks and what they tell. But why? This play reminds me that maybe I just need to stop and take a look back, to see my own patters of my life. What are my influences? What were past influences that aren’t there now? What has always been there? Indeed, what are the faces on my Mt. Rushmore?

I highly recommend “Totem Figures.” TJ Dawe is a wonderful storyteller. From Luke Skywalker to George Carlin to high school pep rallies, Dawe may help you draw your own connections, too.

Teaching the Fringe by Keir Cutler (Doctor Keir Co., Westmount, QC): Definitely one of my favourites to date. What a great story, although maybe not so great for Cutler to experience at the time. He has such a great way of telling it, too. Aside from Totem Figures, this is the only show I’ve seen all Fringe where the actor is really acting as themselves with no other characters joining them along the way. Oh, I’m sure there are true autobiographical elements to almost all of the shows, some more than others, but to me both Totem Figures and Teaching the Fringe push my notion of what a play really is. It’s kind of like a spoken word performance meets a play, do you know what I mean? I mean, Cutler was acting, but as himself. As for the show, I don’t want to say a whole lot as I really enjoyed watching it all unfold. But I will say I am really curious to see how this show is met in Winnipeg. Keep us posted, Keir Cutler!

Some thoughts on beliefs

My friend Leah had asked me about my beliefs a little while back, and I’m curious if anyone else has any thoughts on how I responded to her. Does any of this ring true with you?

Hey Melissa, I’d be interested in hearing more about your ‘beliefs’ as written in your notes. I myself spent a few years reading about Wicca and interviewing wiccans for some university courses in anthropology, sociology and religious studies.I suspect that my beliefs may be very similar to yours… so I’d like to hear more (if you don’t mind, that is):)

I’m not really sure where to start. I’m not really Wiccan, but there seems to be a connection there.

Basically, I believe in energy. All life is energy, whether it be inanimate or living and breathing. Solid, liquid, gas, whatever. It goes back to atomic theory a bit I guess. Because even this computer I am typing on being solid is really not solid. It is comprised of very small things moving very fast. And I believe that that energy can be “manipulated”. If I knew how to communicate with the energy driving the atoms, then I could theoretically “pass my hand” through my computer.

That’s not so much a stretch. But here is where I lose some people. And maybe it is because I really haven’t made the connection in my head yet. But I believe that the energy is, in some respects, sentient. Not in the way people are sentient, but still, there is a consciousness there. Perhaps some people might think of it as “Mother Nature”, and maybe to some degree I do as well. But I’m still unsure that that is what I would call it.

I often picture the planet in my head against a black universe backdrop. The mass of the Earth being solid, I picture a sort of aura surrounding the planet. Almost like the magnetic energy of the motor that is the Earth. Living and non-living life existing creates the energy, and in turn, life needs that energy to exist. so a symbiotic relationship, I guess.

I came up with this image thanks to an A&E special about a guy in the 1920’s who could predict people’s future. He would do this twice per day as it was quite exhausting. He would lay down and meditate, and then reach out through the cosmos kind of thing. But the way A&E showed it, they made it look like an out-of-body experience. So when the guy laid down, they floated a ghostly image above his body. And the way he described his experience, I started thinking about this out-of-body image communicating with everyone else’s out-of-body image. And if you translate this into either people’s souls or simply their thoughts, you can almost imagine a sort of spiritual network, connecting everyone. So, I started thinking of this image of a network covering the planet almost like a power grid, but because there are so many entities connecting, it would look more like an aura.

So when you combine this notion with the fact that everything has and creates energy, the energy comes from and goes to this energy aura field. And then everything is connected. And when all things die, and their physical body ceases to produce the same energy as before, their energy goes into the field. If you think of it as our souls returning to this field, which I’m still not sure about, I don’t think the souls stay intact. But of course, I believe this energy gets re-used in other ways.

This way of thinking has led me to the point where I celebrate the processes of the earth. The solstices and equinoxes became natural points for me because they are acknowledging/celebrating/fearing/honoring the sun and its natural process, and of course, the sun provides massive amounts of energy to the planet.

I have also found that I have become strangely connected to rocks and trees. My house is full of rocks. I collect them, gather them from places I go to, etc. I give them as gifts to people. For me, each rock is its own entity, and I would even go so far as to say a “spirit” or at least “essence”. Again, the sentient nature of this essence is not the same that you and I know of. But I do believe it is there. and when it comes time to pick a rock from my collection as a gift, it is never just any rock. It is the rock that is meant for that person. Sometimes it is about the actual look of the rock, like the patterns or colours. But sometimes I see something in the rock, almost like faces. Faces of people (sometimes they look like the person I am giving the rock to), faces of animals, etc. And it is not always a clear visual impression. Sometimes it is about a gut feeling I have. But the rocks do have an energy for me, and ultimately, I am passing along that energy to others.

As to trees, well, they are a metaphor for so many things for me. But ultimately, they are a symbol of life. From their roots in the ground, in their history, to the many branches of where life take them, that happen to also look a lot like veins. They are a strong image for me.

That’s it in a large-sized nutshell.