Thursday, January 9, 2014

jackDawe, January, 2014

I Wonder What You're Thinking
by TJ Dawe

I like it when the definition of "theatre" gets stretched. 

That's what Sara Bynoe's doing.

I've participated in two of her events in the last few months.

Teen Angst Night features people reading material they wrote between the ages of 10 and 19. Journals, poems, notes, songs - anything goes, as long as you wrote it, as a teenager. And when going through your old stuff, Sara recommends noticing which bits make you cringe. Those'll be good. 

Sara hosts the event, which happens every few months in Vancouver. She gives the audience a rundown on what they're about to experience, providing examples from her own teenage poetry:

I wonder what you're thinking
So I ask
Are you contemplating things in your past
I don't care about who you were 
I don't care about your games
To me you are only James

You're kind caring and fun
The list goes on until I am done
You are more than words can say
I don't think your modelling is gay

If you must know I do like you
But it's more than like
It's not quite love
But it's more than like

I gut laughed the whole evening. So did the rest of the audience. It was a full house. It always is. 

One by one, that evening's performers go up to the microphone and read their material. Each person gets five minutes. 

I read jokes I wrote in the style of Steven Wright one night. The next I read journal entries about unrequited love, and how I did a strip tease to You Shook Me All Night Long at a dance in grade 11. 

One woman read from a note she wrote to a friend talking about how this other girl "must curl her bangs with a soup can." 

One guy read the gangsta rap he wrote in grade 10. 

I gut laughed the whole evening. So did the rest of the audience. It was a full house. It always is. 

The readers usually aren't professional performers. The first readers were Sara's friends. Then friends of friends. Now, after most performances she gets a few messages from people asking if they can read. My first night, one woman said it was her first time performing in any way at all, ever. She gave one of the best readings of all. 

The audience isn't regular theatre-goers. Some might hesitate to label this event "theatre," but the material engages the audience directly, and vividly. You can't help but be brought back to those years, when you had such powerful feelings, but no ability to express them with subtlety or grace. We all cringe hearing this stuff, and wonder that we ever survived. It's a group catharsis, just like theatre is supposed to provide. 

Her other event is Say Wha?!, in which people read from really bad books. The night I did it, most of the other performers were stand-up comedians - which is handy, as a great deal of the comedy comes from the performer commenting on the material as he reads it. 

Sara encourages the audience to exclaim "say wha?!!!" (the inflection sharply rising into falsetto on the second word) whenever they hear something particularly outrageous. (you can  hear this on the podcast she puts out of it)

Sara read from psychic Sylvia Brown's book Afterlives of the Rich and Famous - detailing the heavenly activities of Bob Marley, Albert Einstein, Chris Farley and Michael Jackson. 

I read from Steven Tyler's autobiography:

The blues, man, the blues... the blooze! That achin' ol' heart disease and joker in the heartbreak pack, demon engine of rock, matrix of uber-amped Aerosmith, and the soul-sound of me, Steven Tyler, peripheral visionary of the tribe of Oh Yeaah!

The whole book is like that. And there's a co-writer credited. It's possible he just talks like that, and dictated that passage. 

Jim Miller read from Revelations Of: Unexplained Mysteries by Dr. Elnour Bey Iskander, a woman purporting to have lived thousands of lives, to have witnessed the creation of the earth, as well as the rise and fall of countless kingdoms. In 1978, she laments that traditional gender roles are dissolving. "Many women are becoming lesbians, and men are becoming faggies."

I almost pissed my pants. Which is its own kind of catharsis. 

These are regular events. There will never be an end to the supply of angsty youth writing, or terrible books. 

Sign up for her mailing list if you'd like to keep abreast of the events she puts on. And she's been branching out. She recently put on Say Wha?! in Toronto. Maybe she'll do more cities. Maybe she'll franchise her ideas. If you get a chance to attend one, or participate - take it. It's a healing experience.  

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