Nearing Perfection: A workshop in progress

Workshop presentations are exciting ways for an audience to take part in the development of a new work! We love offering artists the chance to develop something truly unique and the opportunity to test it out in front of an audience at FemFest. This year, Monique Marcker and Andraea Sartison will workshop an ongoing project called #perfect, about the prevalence of social media in the lives of teens. Andraea is our guest blogger this week, as she tells us about the rewards and challenges of putting together a community-generated multi-media performance.

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By Andraea Sartison

The seed of new work is fear. Perhaps not terror: but an unnerving-uneasiness that sits in the pit of your stomach. Maybe you’re afraid of the story, or the characters, or yourself, or your ability, or your future… or your mortgage. Maybe it’s a fear of what other people will think, or what they won’t get to think if no one ever sees your play. In 2010 Monique Marcker and I sat in the Inn at The Forks Restaurant (then the Current, now the overpriced and underwhelming Smith) with Leslee Silverman (then the AD of MTYP, now and always the champion for Theatre for Young Audiences) and she said “you’re going to write a play”. Monique and I said “we don’t write plays”. And in her infinite wisdom Leslee said something like “not yet”. For some reason that evening she knighted us: the voices for a generation of teenagers, and experts on young women’s relationships to technology. There were a few holes in her plan:

• When I was a teenager we had msn messenger and dial up internet. As we sat in the Current I realized I still had a flip phone, couldn’t text and had sworn never to get facebook.

• Monique on the other hand used mail pigeons when she was a teenager… and she referred to her personal computer as the personified: “Computer” not “The Computer” or “Our Computer” just “Computer”. It wasn’t until a month ago when I pointed this out to her that she realized how odd this was. It was as if her computer was a masked stranger in her household wrapping its hands tighter every day around her pre-teen son. “He’s on Computer” she’d say with some mystery in her voice “Why does he like Computer so much?”.

Technology was the enemy. We knew nothing. But Leslee wasn’t asking us. She was telling us we would write. So write we did… well at least we started out with the intention of sitting down to write one day, and the hope that before that day came the thing would just “write itself”. We began with research. We spent hours traveling the city and meeting with groups of 12-19 year old girls to talk about what was going on their lives. It wasn’t all sunshine and S Club 7. Some day we’ll write a fringe show with all the lines the weird kids threw us:

• “My Dad likes my friends because he chooses them for me. They have to do a survey and then they pee in a cup so he can see if they are drug addicts”

• “Ya, we’d call you crazy white bitches. If we didn’t like you.”

• “Usually I just pull up a picture of a dead relative on my computer and tell them my secrets…cause like… they’re not gonna tell anyone”.

Ya, this didn’t help us with the fear factor. But mostly, what we found was hundreds of very sweet, young women who toed the line between conformity and unique eccentricities, all desperately wanting to be noticed, valued, respected, and the chance to find who they are/who they wanted to be. After the interviews we were so inspired that we chose to keep working with the girls (this also helped with prolonging the time till we actually had to start writing). We had an open call for a workshop series; we expected 5- 10 girls and over 30 showed up. We spent a few weeks talking, improvising, writing, drawing and sharing stories. We realized that although a huge percentage of their time was completely devoured by texting and social media, what most were after were honest, face-to-face relationships. Good! We thought. We get that. That’s pretty normal. And it’s not scary! But how do we write the damn thing? We have spent the last three years trying to answer that question. We co-wrote, sometimes with great inspiration, sometimes battling it out, sometimes crying, most often laughing. We learned our own and one another’s skills sets, preferred way of working and communicating. Monique’s background is in acting and she is always an advocate for true characters that would be interesting to play. She also has an incredibly keen sense of dramaturgy. I cracked the whip, pushing the show forward at all costs, as well as filled the script with stage directions of storytelling/design concepts and images that I couldn’t wait to try when we could finally get on our feet. This has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. But it has also been one of the most rewarding. We have stumbled onward, always, because we want to honour the girls who inspired us. We also believe in the importance of the story. When we began writing the play we would google “internet addiction” and maybe get one hit. Now there are pages and pages, and the stories seem to get more tragic. #perfect is a current story exploring how social media has completely redefined human relationships (the core of our society for thousands of years) in a mere decade. It is also a timeless story of a mother and child discovering who each other are. There is always fear at the beginning, but over time a passion for the project overwhelms this feeling. That’s when I know I’m on the right track.

The workshop presentation of #perfect will be the final day of FemFest on Saturday, September 19th at 2pm. You won’t want to miss it!

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