Category Archives: Culture

Montreal stories reverberate in The History of Sexuality

Erika Rosenbaum Photography

Erika Rosenbaum Photography

It doesn’t matter if it’s a classroom or a strip club or a bus stop or a Mile End apartment—you can think about sex wherever you are. And not just sex as an act or a symbol but sex as sexuality, as its ascriptions and prescriptions. You can think about sexuality in relation to yourself, you can wonder about it in relation to another. The fictionalized verbatim play The History of Sexuality commands that you think about it, theoretically, relationally and personally, for its duration.

Writer, director and producer Dane Stewart is a Montreal-based, multidisciplinary queer artist and academic. Stewart’s method stemmed in part from his question, “How do you ethically write someone outside of your own life experience?” He interviewed queer folks in Montreal, transcribed their discussions, and worked their words, experiences and edit suggestions into the fictional narrative that is The History of Sexuality, shown at MainLine Theatre this September. The result is an ensemble of dynamic and dimensional characters that appear to possess real histories. Stewart’s well-timed punches through the fourth wall of theatre are facilitated by these respectful stand-ins for real experience.

The ‘quirky lesbian professor’ figure of Marie guides five on-stage students and the audience, Greek-chorus-like, through Michel Foucault’s three-volume tome charting sexuality in the western world. Between drags on her vape and jokes about Cinéma l’Amour, Marie asks her class of Concordia Master’s students to define sex, to explain power, to critique the French philosopher. They do so through the spotlight’s sudden flicker onto their own scenes of interiority.

Marie (Renée Hodgins) and Gayle (Annette Marmen) experiment with their relationship following a challenge to Gayle's physical ability. Photo: Peter Ryaux-Larsen.

Marie (Renée Hodgins) and Gayle (Annette Marmen) experiment with their relationship following a challenge to Gayle’s physical ability. Photo: Peter Ryaux-Larsen.

It is the knowledge of Stewart’s innovation that makes the production. Reminding ourselves that the characters are based on people we live with in this city (and, for some of us, on people we live with in this city’s queer community), the stories gain a heaviness. Knowledge of ‘the real’ legitimizes, and without it the characters may be read as simplified clichés: the submissive twink, the hot virgin, the ignorant straight white male who wears white button-downs and confusing shoes (compliments to the costume designer; straight white men often wear confusing shoes). The characters’ ridges and bumps of individuality protrude in the important conversations they hold between themselves. A crash course on stripping is narrated in synchronicity with an exposition of escorting. The multiple, distinctly individual modes of sexuality and approach are made visible, as are the points of intersection. While these interactions play out under the spotlight, it feels as though the characters stilled in darkness are listening in, just like us. Acknowledging that nothing happens in a vacuum is rare for theatre. Why shouldn’t the painful, pacing anxiety attack of Madeleine impact the refusal of definition made by ‘boy-girl’ Darr? And then there is the collective orgasm, characters alone and coupled in their corners of pleasure on stage, to capture that feeling of ‘everyone is fucking on a Friday night.’

While a range of lived experiences is made visible (to our voyeuristic delight and pedagogical benefit), what is unfortunately invisibilized is racial difference. Save for one character, who must carry the impossible weight of racialized sexuality all on her own back, the cast is white. This is not representative of the queer experience. Representation is a widespread problem in the Montreal arts, but The History of Sexuality is another reminder that we are not changing, or not changing enough. In Foucault’s words, revolution does not always lead to social upheaval.

But it is also Foucauldian to say that a challenge to power comes from detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic, and cultural. The play possesses an academic bent that is ultimately humorous (“Don’t try to second-wave me, Alissa,” mocks Darr). In such a context, The History of Sexuality is productive because it imbues the conversation with lived experience. Lived experience is not hegemonic.

“Think about all of the people in your life,” requests Madeleine (or actor Natalie Liconti, or an anonymous interview Liconti represents—here these lines are unclear and interwoven) before the second act. “Who do you think is the happiest?” Foucault didn’t think happiness existed; it is not truly thinkable. But sometimes Marie steps off her professorial podium and offers her students tequila, and sometimes we revel in a time, or a person, or ourselves, and we see that experience as happy.

Talia (Katharine King) drags the mattress off stage after describing her experience of sexual assault. Photo: Peter Ryaux-Larsen.

Talia (Katharine King) drags the mattress off stage after describing her experience of sexual assault. Photo: Peter Ryaux-Larsen.

Watching the interplay of stories in The History of Sexuality, the individual empathizes with some more than others. Recognizing the points of puncture elucidates something about one’s own sexuality. Ask, ‘What am I focusing on the most in this kaleidoscope?’ It could be Craig’s request to see more of his polyamorous, dominant partner whom he calls ‘Sir,’ or Talia’s account of her rape. The latter is particularly powerful. Overhead audio of the interviewee echoes the words she gave Talia, and Talia drags the mattress from the bed to off-stage (a nod to Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance at Columbia University?)

The play is an echo not only during Talia’s account or Marie’s libidinous recitations of Foucault’s name (“Foo-CAULT…Fooooo-cault”). It echoes us.

Stewart acknowledges that, “antithetical to its title, the play by no means offers a comprehensive history of sexuality.” If an echo, The History of Sexuality is a story anthology carrying the voices of a few real, queer lives, reverberating off the walls and hitting us so we understand.

Meg Hunter presented by Agora de la Danse at Usine C (Oct.13-15)

Hunter / Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods © Iris Janke

Hunter / Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods © Iris Janke

Discovering traces in the land of small things that linger around her body….a cartoonesque body, a shamanist chanting ritual…” Meg Stuart, Damaged Goods Website

Stretched onto different surfaces and ricocheting across media, interior states refract and resonate in a shared world…” Meg Stuart, Damaged Goods Website

Cette masse de souvenirs, elle la lance en vrac sur le plateau, les retaillant ensuite un par un. Elle souffle : « Ces actions m’ont donné le sentiment d’influencer à la source même de ces blessures ». DFDANSE

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About Town: August 2016

August Listings!
Learn about the latest events taking place in Montreal:
(This list is constantly updated throughout the month)

//Under Pressure XXI
//Blues du Centre-Sud : Hommage à Josée Yvon
//Ho Tam: Artist as Publisher
//Sommet Noir
//Salon du livre Queer entre les couvertures
//Fierté Afro Pride : Come make your statement
//Art Hives Summer Institute
//Writing While Black
//City Farm Market
//Workshop: Beekeeping!
//TransHackFeminist 2016
//Collective Culture Montreal
//Marché au troc 2016
//South Boogie – Vernissage des oeuvres de Sentwo Figueroa
//Buy & Sell Used Textbooks Consignment Style! [Fall 2016 Edition!]
//Festival des savoirs partagés
//Charmaine A. Nelson Book Launch
//TOTUM Zine Exhibition No.2
//Painting Meet-U

*** EVENTS BELOW ***

under the pressure

Under Pressure XXI
August 10 to 14

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Phi Center’s Sensory Stories & DHC Gallery’s Joan Jonas’ From Away

4_Joan-Jonas

Joan Jonas. They Come to Us without a Word, 2015. Installation view, Wind (2014-2015), Room 3, multimedia installation. United States Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale, Italy. Photo: Moira Ricci, courtesy of the artist

Julian Jaynes’ 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral mind, put forward the hypothesis of  “the loss” (former existence) of a particular function one part of the brain, formerly had. Jaynes hypothesized a brain split in half, one half “speaking”, actively outwardly doing, and the second half receiving, as it were, “listening” and obeying. That in this lost way our brain formerly worked, lateralized into two halves, the one that received “messages”, would then send those messages to the other half of the brain to then act out those messages. Sound vaguely familiar? Yes, ‘hearing voices’, “the bicameral mind was experienced as a different, non conscious mental scheme wherein volition in the face of novel stimuli was mediated through linguistic control mechanism and experienced a auditory verbal hallucination”(Wiki).

But hang on, don’t jump off the wagon of Jaynes’ theory just yet, because it might have some weight when one thinks that before our secular age, hearing godly voices was a (normal) thing. “Rather than making conscious evaluations in a novel or unexpected ways situations, the person would hallucinate a voice or “god” giving admonitory advice or commands and obey without question. “(Wiki). “One would not be at all conscious of one’s own thought processes per se. “ (Wiki)
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Dragonroot Radio: Collective Culture Montreal (Aug. 19 – 21)

CC MTLOn the last episode of Dragonroot Media, the hosts talked with Keesha Chung & NèNè Myriam Konaté about the upcoming CC: MTL!

CC:MTL is an all access weekend that celebrates the voices of innovative BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) in Canada. CC:MTL brings creatives together for conversations, hang outs, performances and parties.

Dragonroot Media is a weekly radio magazine that focuses on gender issues. It airs every week on the Tuesday Morning After show from 8h30am to 9am on CKUT 90.3FM

LISTEN >> Tuesday Morning After – Dragonroot Media – CC: MTL

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Follow The Morning After //Lendemain de la Veille on Facebook!

About Town: July 2016

July Listings!
Learn about the latest events taking place in Montreal:
(This list is constantly updated throughout the month)

//Série d’animations sur l’accrochage ethnographique des musulmans dans les institutions culturelles canadiennes
//Feminist Book Club meeting
//Picnic Social for game lovers and lady game-makers
//Steelpan Festival
//Screening: Profiled
//Fund-raising night of queer women of colour poetry & song
//Sound of the Mountain
//Café l’Artère fête ses 5 ans
//Drawing series commemorating female, trans and gender non-conforming iconic musicians.
//Festival d’expression de la rue

*** EVENTS BELOW ***

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[About Town] Portraying Heterodoxy: Love U Lovecraft at Théatre de La Chapelle March 22- April 2

A gruesome stage with distressed walls. The inside of a manor of past great glory. A “great house”, as it were. This great house has something of a rootedness, something of an invasiveness especially after the incident. The house with the vines that will soon overrun it, the detritus state it will soon be in also being the detritus state its two inhabitants will live with it.

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[About Town] Softmachines at the End of Time: A Review of Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors, on display at Montreal’s Musée D’Art Contemporain, February 11- May 22, 2016

Stones only, the disjecta membra of this Great House,

Whose moth-like girls are mixed with candledust,

Remain to file the lizard’s dragonish claws.

The mouths of those gate cherubs shriek with stain;

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