Actors performing alone. A director editing in solitude. And audiences listening at home. Is Alison Wong’s visceral audio production of Cloudless the definitive play of the pandemic era?
In the first weeks of the quarantine efforts in Toronto, I decided to learn how to save the seeds from the fruits and vegetables that came through my house for planting. Inspired by friends and Instagram influencers, I looked up how to dry them, store them, and care for them. Strawberries and raspberries were my first attempt. To say that this was out of character for me would be an understatement. I could say that I didn’t have the time before, in the old world, but the truth was I just wasn’t interested in plants, seeds, or gardening. Or maybe it was that I was barely home – I was out, seeing shows, friends, family. Home was a place I stopped in at, not really a place I inhabited.
If I boiled it down, I suppose it is that I am not a patient person by nature. And plants, tending, caring for plants – that requires patience. In general, I thrive on action and activity (mostly intellectual, not big on the physical stuff). I lived almost entirely in my head in the old world. Working with artists, creators, and collaborators, in my world there was constant movement, constant activity, constant stimulation, travel, shows to see, plays to read, people to meet, and plans to plan.
When we locked down, I was close to burnt out. Or I had been teetering on the precipice of it for some time. The stimulation – I am so grateful to work with so many incredible artists and creators but the stimulation was at times as overwhelming as it was exhilarating.
For a while now I’ve been thinking about joy as an artistic tenet. Joy – not happiness or comedy, but a deep and abiding sensual feeling of hope and lightness. Something that connects to my very core – joy. Joy which lives on the other side of a coin to rage, a feeling that is instinctual and visceral. When I think about joy as part of an artistic goal or process, I am not talking about shying away or minimizing that which is difficult, devastating, challenging. I am suggesting that we as artists, as those who are driven towards exploring often extremely painful personal and societal pressure points, need to use joy as a tool – to give shape to the darkness, to illuminate. In quarantine, I am mercurial, emotionally changing on a whim. My highs are highs, lows are lows, and my middles are abundant. However, this time has forced me to accept changeability - in myself, in my home, in my city and in the world that I live in. And when I think about what art, media, and content has helped me most as a person through this time, it is content that I can connect to my own sense of joy. Maybe it’s an artist talk, a puppy video, a meme, a fast-paced police drama, or a delicately executed piece of poetry. I am on a search in this time for joy in all things, in order to illuminate and revitalize myself for the work ahead.
The first thing that I tried to plant from seedlings was chamomile. A novice, I overwatered them and killed the tiny seedlings. My second attempt is currently underway – raspberry seeds I pulled from fruit, dried for a week, and have planted, watering sparingly. If I keep attentive, restrained, and patient, I might see the fruits of my labour by July or August. At my house, we have a small yard with a plot for a garden. This is my first spring here, and the yard was covered in trash, sticks, rocks, and detritus from months of inattention. Every weekend I would chip away at a small segment, until there was a large pile of sticks and garbage smack in the centre of the plot. As I sat inside, waiting anxiously for the raspberry seeds to flourish, knowing full well they would take weeks, I noticed sprouts popping up from the centre of the trash pile in my garden. At first small, then seemingly overnight bursting forth, askew in between plastic bags and newsprint.
I looked up what these plants were. They were, of course, raspberries.
There is probably a lesson for me there about patience, but I also am thinking about attention. If I spend too much time looking inside myself, I don’t notice that the things I want and need are sprouting up around me all the time.
Out of a pile of trash that I saw as an unfinished chore I got my tiny raspberry plant. A wonderful surprise to me; that’s the best kind of joy.
Associate Artistic Director at Canadian Stage.