How do we sort the blowing straw of place, displacement, identity, loyalty, open arms, suspicion, seasonal and decadal cycles of broke, broker, fed, flush, and broke again that are the framework for life in an outport?
What if that is complicated, as it is, by the reality that it isn’t one life, but many lives in many different homes, different towns, different politics, different languages? What if, on top of the lives lived in place, you could also see the lives lived in transit, traveling through, leaving knotted oral strings of relation and memory; the dislodged, the homeless and the restless unwinding and anchoring these strings, these guide ropes, across a strange and stormy face of rock. How can any one discussion or municipal plan encompass each livyer and each traveler, struggling towards a proper measure of sustainable happiness, of control over environment and brain chemistry, of control over their place.
The answer – the beginning, the framing of an answer – may be Art. This month, LSPU Hall will once again be home to a special form of live performance, “docu-dance,” pioneered by Louise Moyes, which incorporates interpretive and documentary storytelling. “Taking in Strangers” has been an invitation to wrestle with these issues since its first production in 2001. It is the tangle of two travelers and the many inhabitants along two coasts: the Lower North Shore of Quebec into Labrador and the South Coast of Newfoundland. If water was land and land was water, if our map was drawn in negative space, the communities of Northern Quebec and the Southern and Western shores of Newfoundland would be united. These two “forgotten coasts,” with so much in common, though gulfs apart, mirror the two travelers portrayed in all their connectivity and uniqueness.
The inhabitants’ stories, though spoken by Moyes, use their original words/accents/dialects. Most of these stories come from conversations she recorded as she was “going back slowly” to St. John’s from Montreal. One exception is a woman’s story taken from research done by Rhonda Pelley (Author) and Sheilagh O’Leary (Photographer) for their book Island Maid: Voices of Outport Women (which will be on sale at The LSPU hall through the show’s run). Moyes’ own story, incorporated in the show, is of her years in motion between these two cities; homeless in her chosen state of flux, preparing for travel instead of rest at the conclusion of each portion of study and work. The second traveller is Marilyn (aka “Trixie”), the glamorous woman with the clamorous mind, well recognized in her pink, black and leopard print fashion, asking for a quarter on Water Street in St. John’s or a dollar on St Laurent and Ste Catherine in Montreal. These women lived a form of parallel lives, seeing each other over and over again across great geographical distances. The differences in their circumstances, their place, their eventual ends, resolving as they answer the question, “how do you get back and forth?”
The newest edition of this piece (which has played from Brazil to Vancouver and Toronto to Germany and through schools on the south coast of Newfoundland) will benefit from over a decade of concentrated devotion to Moyes’ craft of movement and storytelling, to her ever growing perspective and reflection that allows patterns from her personal journey and from the more recent socio-economic histories of rural Newfoundland and Quebec to emerge. There is more re-weaving and more revelation and, if you needed more reason to come, or to come again, there are updates to Marilyn’s story including “one big event with Marilyn, Pierre Trudeau and Leonard Cohen.” How is that for romance and intrigue? Atmosphere supplied by music from the Black Auks.
If Art is an entrance into complex questions, the continued structure of the conversation is inherently more dimensionally interdisciplinary than even dance-videography-song-storytelling combined. To this end, The Harris Centre (a “hub for public policy and regional development issues” with a mission of “supporting active community engagement” in tandem with MUN research) will host a panel and discussion after the performance on Tuesday March 17th. The panel will feature artist Anne Troake, business leader John Fisher, and academic Tom Gordon, and will connect, via live video, to various outports. And to you. If St. John’s is your home, if any city is your home, then the rural areas beyond your city limits are the very tips of your fingers and your toes. In Newfoundland, the core of our capital and the surrounding Avalon has seen a decade of health, but many areas are still numb from the loss of the fishery and the nerves between city and outport seem to have shut down. A healthy capital is not equivalent to a healthy province. A robust heart will not prevent frostbite in your extremities. Come listen, come be moved, come learn about your fellow humans, your fellow Newfoundlanders, even those who are Quebecois, even those who have already passed out of this world.
March 17 – 21, 8pm, LSPU. Tickets 22$-28$