Small Town Theatre on Big Life Choices – A Curatorial Statement about 7 Important Things by Marcus Youssef
December 19, 2014
When Norman asked me if Neworld Theatre would be interested in working with the PuSh Festival to bring Nadia Ross (Quebec) of STO Union and their production 7 Important Things to Vancouver, I said/exclaimed/jumped: “Yes!”
But here’s the truth: I’d never actually seen the show. Which is likely a stupid thing for a curator to admit, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Many of you may not have heard of Nadia Ross or STO Union. You may not know about her collaborations with the late and brilliant Tracy Wright, or the equally brilliant Jacob Wren, or shows like Revolutions in Therapy, and Recent Experiences. That’s the state of performance touring in our enormously small country. These shows can tour to huge acclaim across Europe and remain largely unknown here because our cities are so far apart, and festivals like PuSh are relatively new to English Canada. It’s mostly new for us to have places where “theatre” doesn’t necessarily mean a “play” but more like an opportunity to investigate our relationships to each other as human beings in a bunch of different ways. Experimental? Ok, sure. But in 7 Important Things, that means two people mostly being themselves, talking simply and transparently about the consequences of their own biggest choices, in their own lives, for real, the way we all do in our heads, but almost never risk in public.
When we told Norman that Neworld would co-present 7 Important Things, I hadn’t seen it, but I had hung out with the show’s subject: the sweet, weathered, Wakefield, Quebec barber George Acheson. I’d heard him sing, which was the beautiful kind of harrowing that brings tears to your eyes before you have time to look down so people won’t see. I’m no music guy, but George’s voice felt like a time-warp to the beating heart of ’60s counterculture, and like one of the roughest, most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.
I’d also spent time with Nadia Ross, listening her talk at Vancouver’s The Chop Theatre/Theatre Replacement dialogue series, Shoptalk, where she spoke about what it means to be middle-aged and still making so-called “experimental” performance – a rarity in this country; trying to make that work truly meaningful, not just to a small group of artists or high-art types, but to the people who live down the street, the ones we maybe don’t talk to; trying to deal with the big, scary questions that define who we are as people, as a culture, and what sometimes feels like the diminishing possibility of making things better.
I’d been to Wakefield, Quebec, where Nadia Ross is based and where STO Union rents a glorious theatre, built in 1870. It’s a little town near the Ontario border, not too far from Ottawa. A couple of thousand people live there. There’s a pretty river, and a really nice old bridge that some government has given a commemorative plaque. Nadia and STO Union make their shows in the theatre, which sits above the town’s local bar. It’s where they also produce a live “TV” show, broadcast 12 feet below them, on a large screen in the bar. The audience? The people of Wakefield, out on a Friday night, drinking, and laughing and hooting at people they know, and participating in the creation of their own culture, which is for and about them, and no one else.
I’ve seen 7 Important Things now. It is simple, direct, beautiful, and funny. Who doesn’t look back at the choices they made in our 20s and wonder, what the hell happened? How did I get here? Like George’s rich singing voice, it is also harrowing. George Acheson was a child of the ’60s. He was part of a generation that actually believed that you could drop out of society, and that doing so might even end war, free love, and change the world.
I also think Nadia and George are pretending. I don’t think their real question is, “How did George get here?” I think their real question is, “How did we get here?” And while I might see fancier shows at PuSh, I doubt I’ll see one that moves me more.
And I’m real glad we said yes.
Catch Nadia Ross & George Acheson in 7 Important Things January 29–31, 2015 at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Or pair your show with a PuSh Feast during Dine Out Festival, at Al Porto Ristorante on January 29. Avoid disappointment, book on the PuSh Pass, Youth Passport, or as single tickets via Tickets Tonight.