Godberd is very proud to present Andrew Jamieson’s “Who’s Afraid,” May 17, 18, 24, 25. There will be two performances each night, the latter of each followed by a private party. The performances are unlike anything we’ve heard of in theater, so we sat down to talk with him about the whole process.
But first, a summary:
Andrew Jamieson’s Who’s Afraid is an exciting immersive performance, unlike anything you’ve experienced. The entire environment is live throughout the performances. Audience members are encouraged to explore the personal items of the characters, to move throughout the space during the performance, to provide a deeper understanding for the players and the story. The story is centred around LGBTQ characters and speaks to issues of mental health and providing care, both treated with a delicate balance of brutal honesty and lyrical grace.
Conor and Julian have been together for years. They are enmeshed. They were happy. Now they’re changing, they’re growing, they’re separating. Tonight, they come home from a party and spend the rest of the night entertaining, loving, and torturing each other. Can this really be the end? Or is this just another night?
Who’s Afraid is a performance piece and it is installation art. It is discursive and immersive, presented as a single subject which can be experienced from many points of view. Who’s Afraid questions the boundaries between truth and fiction, between power and control, between art and subject, between artist and audience. Accessible, grounded in reality, while also indulging in the characters’ fantasies and imaginations. As the relationship between audience and performance is questioned, so too is the role of the audience itself, culminating in new and enveloping way to experience a story, to experience life.
So this play is interactive in that the audience is part of the set, there’s no division. What do you name this method of theatre and why did you choose it?
The name of this method… I have no fucking idea. I’ve thrown a few names into the ring, but nothing in particular has - well, we’ve just never felt comfortable with one specific definition. I think that’s part of it, creating a metamodern piece, you aren’t bound to any particular definition. The nature of the work means existing in a space without boundaries. I didn’t particularly choose this, I mean, I didn’t set out to do what I’m doing. I’d originally written a film, and wanted to shoot with a voyeuristic style. Because of a lack of funding, I decided to reframe the piece as a live performance, and invite people in, into the space, to experience the show, not just watch. Each step is an exploration, each step is uncharted territory. The timing coincided with a change, a shift in some of my core philosophies. Eventually, after a few workshops, I started to understand what I was attempting to create. This performance, this piece, is attributed to that.
So there is no audience per se? How does this work, the audience is literally part of the set? Do we interact with the actors?
That's a bit of a convoluted answer, because disorientation is an important factor in the piece. The audience is at once interacting with the performance, and completely removed. On one hand, you've got a character that doesn't see the audience at all, he's oblivious to their presence. And yet another character is not only interacting with the audience, but telling them that he wrote what their witnessing. The audience is meant to question their role, their reality, their truth just as much as the two characters, and the actors involved really. That's another thing altogether, though. In a practical sense, the audience is on their feet throughout the piece, continually moving and changing their perspective. Everything on the set is live, so the audience is encouraged to look through notebooks, judge the products they use in the bathroom, see what food they eat, explore character information that in other performance styles is shallow, or completely absent.
That sounds really cool, I can’t wait to experience it! Is the title a reference to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” That play is so wonderfully unbearable! Are there other influences that have inspired you? Are you a theater lover or is this sort of work more a protest against conventional theater? If so, what frustrations do you have with conventional theater? I have an unpopular opinion that musicals were invented by Satan.
Yes. I mean, yes, the title is a reference to the Edward Albee play. There are numerous aspects of the show that are inspired by “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. Both the original text of the play and the film.
An element of metamodernism which becomes a strong factor while I’m writing is the idea of “deep text”, writing with references so abundant that each line becomes a well of information. So much of my work is layered, first reference, second reference, third, fourth, fifth… It’s almost impossible for anyone not myself to read deep enough into each line, but that’s life, to me. I mean, everything is influenced by something else, which is influenced by something else. I am very open about the use of my references, “Who’s Afraid” could come with an appendix to refer to throughout the performance. Bowie. Bowie is all over this show. Mamet, Patrick Marber, Chekov, Dostoevsky, Madonna, Wilde, Patti Smith, I try to make some of my references very visible, and some are so deep within the text they’ll generally go unnoticed. To me, that creates something worth witnessing more than once, or something that will keep your mind working after you’ve experienced it.
I grew up in theatre, really. I am a theatre lover. I’m a lover of good theatre, rather. I came from a background in community theatre where you were rewarded for showing up. That didn’t satisfy me. Then I went to school, where the method became the focus. That didn’t satisfy me either. I’ve always found staged theatre to be limiting, so sterile. I would direct a play and think “I love this, but I want to do more.” I enjoy working with film, too, but I find it to be even more restrictive than theatre, really. To the viewer, the audience, I mean. It’s very controlled. I really didn’t take well to academic theatre training. I rejected a lot of what I was being taught. I was a very arrogant student. I’ve come to realize now that much of the information was very practical. I needed to better understand how to use it for what I want to create. This show is not in protest to theatre, traditional theatre, so much as it’s an attempt to create something entirely different, which happens to be inspired by theatre in the way that I’m inspired by Bowie. To be influenced with respect.
I'll admit something to you: I'm a huge musical theatre nerd. I mean, I really love musical theatre. I've never been able to live that life. So many people I went to school with are doing just that. I admire them. Sometimes I dream about being a Broadway star
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as just one example takes from the everyday - no magic, no bursting into song - and that every day sometimes or often contains in it something uncomfortable or unbearable. This play is so intimate, and so relatable, so uncomfortable it feels like must be somewhat autobiographical in its detail. I’m always bursting at the seams with ideas to write directly from my insane life but to be so exposed frightens me, I already feel exposed enough to others, often unbearably so just being in the world so therefore I always refract, deflect, write through ideas that have the personal in them, but are removed enough from me to feel “safe.” Can you talk about why you went for the everyday, the personal, the intimate for this play?
Yes, alright, yes, it’s definitely-- the central inspiration for this piece was an important event, a series of moments in my life. A specific relationship. What the relationship represented, how it changed us, taught us. I mean, there’s a lot of personal information in this. But in the two years of workshopping “Who’s Afraid”, I’ve found that it’s grown for me. It’s become another thing, something so much more. The story is an intimate story. I didn’t specifically decide to write something close, something contained, rather than a large production. The installation is ultimately as important as the performance itself, and the story being told, whatever I’m trying to say right now, begs to be told in this space. And yet, through the imaginations of the characters, this space becomes so much more than just the intimate setting it is. What the two characters, Conor and Julian, what they see and they dream of, the audience experiences with them, as it transforms the space. So, the level of intimacy of the story, and the space, is continually changing throughout the performance.
It also deals with mental health, right? It’s such an important subject, one still surround by fear and stigma. Are you trying to undo these things?
Yes, yes, yes. An enormous part of "Who's Afraid" deals with the reality of one half of the couple suffering from mental illness and the other half providing support. I didn't want to create a piece that focused solely on this concept, but for the source material this is a very important aspect. I think it's safe to say that a considerable amount of my life has been fucked up by my own mental illness, and my unwillingness to seek treatment for years. I screwed a lot of things up, I made a lot of mistakes. The hardest to swallow, though, is the idea that I hurt people. Providing care for someone with a mental illness isn't easy. It isn't something someone seeks out, something they desire to do. But when you love someone... My intention was not to create another piece which displayed how difficult it is to be the one suffering. I mean, I didn't want to make that my focus. In "Who's Afraid", it's evident that Conor is hurting, that he's struggling. He wants to be understood, he needs to know that he's okay, but I'm not shoving that down your throat. This isn't an HBO drama, we're not so vapid. We're telling a story about the care giver, too. We're telling a story about how difficult it is to be THAT person, how it feels to sacrifice yourself, your own well-being for someone else. We're telling a story about why that would ever happen. We're telling a story about what happens when a care giver can't provide anymore. Eliminating fear or removing stigma surrounding mental illness is no small feat. In my experience, this can only happen with understanding. This piece is that conversation you've never been able to have, it addresses questions you've been too insecure to ask. This is a chance to understand what living on either side feels like.