The Power of Human Presence

Blog Post by Sophie Gee, April 14, 2019

This is an entry as a part of Imago Theatre’s Daring Feminist Artistic Practice blog series.

Recently I was talking to someone about protests. This person was of the opinion that protests do not achieve anything. And while I actually agree that in most cases change through protest is rare, nonetheless it is still important to protest, to be present. I believe in the power of human presence and if one is strongly opposed to something, it is important to physically stand up and be present to say, I, with all my body, do not agree with this.

I was living in London during the 7/7 attacks, and the two minutes of silence a week later, where many people in London stopped what they were doing at just before noon on a sunny Thursday and went and stood still and silently outside, was one of the most powerful gatherings of humans I have been a part of. I believe in the power of human presence and because of this, I believe in theatre, where (for the most part) we gather together, human bodies that perform for other human bodies that witness.

So – what does it mean to have a “daring feminist artistic theatre practice”?

First of all the word daring makes me feel uncomfortable, as what counts as daring is shifting, unpindownable, but. For me at this moment it’s about:

embodying, fleshiness, being present, sharing oxygen

not having one way of doing things

being like a wholly unreasonable toddler and always asking why, and asking why to the answer you get

seeing the bigger picture – trying to zoom out, changing angles, being aware of the invisible systems behind the who, what, where, why and hows of what we do and how we interact.

being inclusive in who we welcome into creating work and who we ask to share the work with, accessibility. Whose stories are not being told? Who is not part of our audience? If certain demographics are not included in our creative team and our audience, ask why.

Imago posted an image on Facebook a while ago that I thought was apt. It said, “expand the story/expand the story/expand the story…”

breaking existing structures, ways of working, breaking boundaries, between disciplines, what we consider good/bad. I think of how dance, theatre, performance is merging into the creature that we can call live art and that excites me.

being changeable – a hand in a river. Or that whole you cannot step in the same river twice thing. A constant flow.

related to that: flexibility, changeable, shapeshifting, agility, a softness that allows adaptation

vulnerability, open heart, honesty, rage, inquisitiveness, lust. I used to think of theatre as a combination of resonances from the mind, the heart, the gut and the crotch. So I guess that goes back to embodiment and fleshiness.

valuing craft and technique but also realizing that that is not the only important thing/respecting different forms of knowledge – recently I was introduced to a visual artist and I said to him that I do theatre and some performance. He asked if I had visual art training. For some reason, I felt ashamed. No, I said, I didn’t train in visual arts. This kind of hierarchy needs to stop. And I need to stop being ashamed of this. Training in an academy does not give anyone artistic legitimacy. For this reason, I’ve always been drawn to working with amateur performers, experts in other fields, “outsider” and auto-didact artists,  much as I love working with professionals.

unlearning and relearning

everything flows/overflows – separating your life and politics from the work feels pointless to me at this moment.

wonder – that whole wholly unreasonable toddler thing.

continuity – we are a link in the chain, there are those who have come before us and there will be those who come after. Keep moving forward while honouring the past.

related to this: I read this article recently and I love what Stefanie Ybarra, Artistic Director of Baltimore Centre Stage said: “When I’m at the end of whatever time I have here, all I want behind me is a trail of open doors and shattered glass.” I don’t know this woman’s work but I like what she says.

So: I do not consider myself to have a daring feminist artistic practice but I aspire to one. I hope to be courageous, innovative, honest, and free to practice the points I wrote about.

Back to the two-minute moment of silence. I’m wondering myself why I mention that specific event…most likely because it could be considered one of the most theatrical moments I’ve experienced, and in some ways when I think of daring, feminist theatre, this experience came up immediately – it was intergenerational, inclusive, profound, political, ecological, elegantly simple, questioning, embodied.