Blog Post by Sophie Gee, May 13, 2019
Imago Associate Artist Sophie Gee took a moment to speak with Les Voisines creator Arianna Bardesono after Sophie’s first experience of the piece, an audio walk through the Mile End.
You’re a theatre artist and yet you choose to create this piece as an audio walk. Can you tell me more about this?
When I first started to think about how I could make a project and involve Hasidic women, I thought that making the piece an audio walk would allow me to include the voice of Hasidic women without having them break any of their religious rules, and as voices on an audio track, the women would stay anonymous. Talking to them was my first perceived challenge. I had a shy and respectful attitude towards the members of the community and did not dare addressing them.
Then, when I started walking, I realized what the else this art form brings to the project. There’s a quote from a book titled Walking and Mapping that really resonated with what I’m doing. It’s a definition of walking: “Every time we take a step forward, we start to fall, then by swinging one arm and the opposite leg forward, we regain out balance and catch ourselves from falling. Walking literally embodies the process by which the live being recurrently loses and re-establishes equilibrium with his surroundings”. (John Dewey)
Walking is literally losing your own bearings while you move slowly towards the Other. What I experienced is that this attempt at understanding the Other put me in front of myself. Thanks to the slowness of one step at the time, I could focus in on the process and bring consciousness to what happens when you willingly go towards your perceived Other. There is a good amount of vulnerability involved.
At the genesis of the project there was a desire to understand and connect with Hasidic women. Did this happen?
Throughout this project I learned a lot of things about the Hasidic community in Montreal. And first and foremost, I learned that most of my assumptions were false. It is incredible what judgements are created by ignorance and fear. For example, I very naively thought the Hasidim lived in the past based on their attire. Well, that’s obviously not true. They live in the same Canadian urban contemporary society as I do, in 2019.
I also confirmed that the Hasidic culture, but I’d even say the larger Jewish culture, has a lot in common with my own background. In Italy, religion, although at times void of true felt faith, really regulates our lives (the year for example is broken down by a series of religious festivities). Food is of utmost importance, as is family and a sense of community. These are the things I miss most from my own culture, things I bargained with for more independence and freedom of choice.
About connecting with Hasidic women, I would say that it has happened and it is deepening as we speak. Building relationships takes time. I find this is true even with the people we already know, our family members, our children and friends. When we share time together, a proximity is silently built and increases without us making efforts.
I tried for a long time to find a door that would open, that would let me into the community, but it was difficult. But then I met Mindy Pollak, Projet Montréal councillor for Outremont, and from there I met more people. It’s a question of slowly building up trust.
You mention in the piece several times that you are invisible to the Hasidic community. Having gone through the experience of making this piece, would you say that is still the case?
A few nights ago I heard Mindy Pollak explain why the Hasidim mostly keep to themselves. The first generation came here after the Holocaust. They were very traumatized and so were distrustful of strangers. The second generation still carried some of their parents’ trauma and only now with the third generation is there a willingness and more ease to engage with people outside of the community.
In the piece that sentence “I am invisible to them” is a passing thought in my mind, a manifestation of the need to be seen and the fear of indifference. As I continued making the project I realized that the barrier was more within myself than imposed from the outside.