PuSh at 10: Thoughts from Peter Dickinson
December 26, 2013
Leading up to our 10th Anniversary Festival, PuSh has asked those near and dear to provide a little insight into their PuSh experience and what the Festival has meant to them. It’s a moment to reflect on where we came from and how far we’ve come in 10 years.
Here is Peter Dickinson, PuSh Festival Board President, with his thoughts.
1. In 10 words or less, where you are right now (open to interpretation)?
In transit, physically and philosophically.
2. Share a memory from when you were 10 years old:
January, 1979. Chateauguay, Quebec. I’m in grade five at Julius Richardson Elementary and I’m waiting for the school bus along with all the other Anglo kids on our block. It’s cold, and the streets are slick with several weeks worth of icy packed snow. Underneath my parka I’m wearing my favourite T-shirt, the striped one with the white collar that reminds me of the ones worn by the kids on the Zoom television show. And my feet are nice and warm tucked inside my new snow boots, the ones I begged my parents to get me for Christmas. They’re a ’70s version of UGGs, only squatter and furrier. I look like I’m wearing two small yetis on my feet. Glancing around at the other boys’ footwear—various versions of rubber and canvas lace-ups—I suddenly regret my sartorial choice. But then, in the distance, I spy Joel-from-down-the-street sauntering towards the bus stop. He’s a year older than me, and way cooler. And today, complementing the suede coat with the fringe that I’d been admiring since before the holidays, Joel is sporting a different coloured pair of the boots I have on. I smile to myself and applaud my fashion-forward sense. It hasn’t happened often, but as would also be the case 26 years later when I first discovered the PuSh Festival, for once I was ahead of an aesthetic trend.
3. How were you first PuShed by the Festival? What do you remember about that moment that stood out for you?
It was during a performance of Marie Brassard’s Jimmy, which was programmed as part of PuSh’s first presentation series in 2003. There is a moment in the show—a magical, dream-like work that depends for much of its effect on Brassard’s manipulation of her voice through a vocoder—when everyone in the auditorium (including the guy in the tech booth) comes together as one. It was a moment that brilliantly foregrounded both the contingency of live theatre, and its intimacy. It was, in other words, a quintessential PuSh moment, and it has stayed with me ever since.
4. What is your favourite PuSh memory?
Choosing a favourite PuSh show is like choosing a favourite child—impossible. So instead I’ll relate a Festival memory that intersects with my career as a university professor. In the fall of 2012 I was teaching a large Introduction to Drama lecture course in the English Department at SFU. Among the plays we were studying was Anton Piatigorsky’s Eternal Hydra, then receiving its Vancouver premiere in a Touchstone Theatre production directed by PuSh co-founder Katrina Dunn. I had Katrina in to speak to the class and took the opportunity, in introducing her, to flog the Festival and mention that Eternal Hydra’s original Toronto director, Chris Abraham, would be in town that January to oversee PuSh’s production of Winners and Losers. Three months later, at a reception at John Fluevog Shoes, following the special dress rehearsal performance of Winners and Losers, I handed my coat to one of our smiling volunteers and did a double-take. It was one of the students from my course. She told me that after my impassioned speech in class about PuSh she signed up to be a volunteer. She said she’d seen a lot of wild and wonderful things so far, and thanked me for introducing her to the Festival. For me it was the perfect confluence of pedagogy and performance.
5. Why do you “cross the line” with PuSh?
Because, as PuSh has consistently proven over the past decade, lines—artistic, social, ideological—only exist to be redrawn.