wasteAWAY: A Performance About Talking Trash – Kim Renders

Renders Photo by: Hilbert Bluist

“The topic is waste? Is this about the environment?”

I have been asked this question by almost everyone I’ve approached to be involved in wasteAWAY, an artist-and-community performance collaboration on the topic of waste that I am devising and directing for presentation in June.

My response to this question is the same as the response I received from Dr. Myra Hird when she invited me to participate in the genera Research Group (gRG)[1], and I asked her the very same thing.

“Waste is whatever you think it is.”

 

In September 2013, Myra emailed me to ask if I could meet her to talk about a project. Knowing that she was from the School of Environmental Studies at Queen’s University, I was curious. I was doubly curious knowing that my friend Dr. Christine Overall from the Queen’s Philosophy Department had also been approached by Myra about this project. What kind of a project was this, I wondered, and I couldn’t help thinking that there was potential for a joke here: “An environmentalist, a philosopher, and an actor walked into a bar….”

I am with the Queen’s University Drama Faculty where I teach acting. Normally, when someone from another department approaches me, it is to ask if I could create a fun “skit” as part of a year-end event (um, probably not), or if I could give a workshop on Public Speaking for their students (okay, maybe).

This was different. Over tea, Myra told me about the gRG and her hopes to foster an ongoing discussion about waste from a diversity of perspectives – not just environmental. She already had confirmation from over a dozen scholars, PhD and Masters students eager to contribute to the conversation. Would I be interested? And, of course, I was.

Since coming to Queen’s in 2006, I have endeavored to engage with diverse Kingston communities to create original theatre that strives to give voice to the disadvantaged, marginalized, and hidden. To that end, I created Chipped Off Performance Collective with Dan Vena and Robin McDonald. Together we believe in the power of art and performance to surprise, enlighten, provoke, astonish, challenge, and change. We embrace a feminist and queer perspective in all we do and work to grow and diversify the range of local artistic, cultural, and theatrical production available to Kingston audiences. Our hope is to infuse a sense of joy and celebration through collaborative artistic practice.

Last year, Chipped Off’s artist/community performance collaboration was inspired by the topic of hair. Hair Lines, incorporated musical numbers, personal monologues, original visual art pieces, and performance art, and it explored cultural, social, and political perspectives on hair by bringing together community members and organizations of diverse ages and backgrounds. Close to 40 community members performed in Hair Lines, with over a dozen more contributing back stage – all under the mentorship of a team of professional artists, and musicians with myself as animateur and director.

Doing a project about waste seemed to be a perfect compliment to Myra’s vision of an unrestricted and multi-faceted examination of the topic as well as a performance project that would fit our mandate.

In February, with a grant from the City of Kingston Arts Fund and financial support from Myra’s Canada’s Waste Flow research program[2], we sent out an open invitation to participate via Facebook, Kingston’s Queer listserve, and the Kingston Arts Council’s newsletter. With another five weeks to go at the time of writing, this collaboration has already exceeded last years’ Hair Lines in terms of community outreach and participation. The response to our call for performers, musicians, poets, and dancers was immediate with almost everyone wondering if their take on the topic had to embrace an environmental/political perspective. When I assured people that they could interpret and express their feelings about waste freely, personally, poetically or visually, the storm sewers overflowed. Soon, over 50 participants were talking trash.

With performances still in development, the variety of responses and interpretations of “waste” are already awe-inspiring.

One woman is writing a monologue about what we do with our wedding clothes after the big event, asking if this is a metaphor for how we live in our marriages. In her case, she threw her dress out (wasted), while her husband still has his (saved) hanging in a closet. She concludes that, after 40 years of marriage, clearly she must be very particular about what is and isn’t worth saving.

Another group is using dance and projections to interpret T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men. “This is the way the world ends…”

A poet will recite, with chorus, her piece about animal extinction due to human interference. While another poet is going to perform her poem about the harm of drug therapy used to treat mental illnesses. For the latter piece, the chorus of six actors will respond to her text with movement and sound.

A performance artist will be performing, without words, an original piece about digestion.

An ex-offender has become part of our devising team. “Carl” (not his real name) saw this performance as an opportunity for him to articulate the notion of what he has called pushing time. Over a coffee he told me about how he had always lived his life for the future, spending to get ahead, working for the weekend, scrambling to make payments. “We had a big screen TV in every bedroom of the house,” he told me, “though for the life of me I could never figure out why a baby needed a big screen TV.” But during his time in prison, with every moment of his day scheduled by someone else, he discovered mindfulness. He let go of the stress of “pushing time” and embraced living for the present. He stopped wasting time when he started living in time, aware of the moment, being mindful of the now. He’s agreed to let us film an interview with him.

Another woman, a drama therapist, said she wanted to participate because she wanted a creative way to vent her anger. She had an 8-year-old washing machine that was broken down and, according to the service person, apparently beyond repair. The advice given to her was to “get another one.” She is now working on writing a poem in the style of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s Casey at the Bat, with hers titled, All Washed Up: The Final (Spin) Cycle.

A 55-year old man will be performing a monologue about witnessing the death of his aged mother, where he grapples with the question – is death a waste?

A 22-year old is wondering (in song), “What do I need to do in my life so that when I die, it won’t all have been a waste?”

A woman confined to a wheelchair will be part of a pre-show performance making dozens of cardboard toilet roll puppets in the lobby of the theatre.

While we are still four weeks away from performance, and the ideas and requests to participate are still pouring in. There are garbage puppets and garbage instruments still to be made, a Waste Parade being developed to lead the audience to the theatre (and pick up garbage along the way), paintings from local artists being donated for the lobby, a set installation, a photo show, and, of course, a trash can band.

The process so far has been inspirational. And, indeed, it’s the process that is always the most worthwhile for a project like this. The conversation has begun, with often-shy participants determined to face their fears and become a part of the show. For many, this is why they take part – to have the chance to step out, go beyond their comfort zones and dare to do something they’d never before imagined themselves doing. Although many of these performances have been inspired by sadness, or anger, or loss, the process of building, devising, and imagining, has been joyful and fulfilling.

From the gRG to wasteAWAY, it is possible to imagine that something good can come from waste.

As a final note, I’d like to mention that Professor Christine Overall will be performing her own original monologue in wasteAWAY and I dare say that I think I may have detected Professor Hird’s clear talent for juggling. I still have five weeks to convince her to bring her skills to the performance. It would be a shame to waste such talent. We shall see!

[1]The gRG derives its name from the root word ‘gen’, used by disciplines as a combining form (for instance in biology, ‘genus’ denotes a taxonomic unit of organisms; in chemistry, it denotes a substance that produces something, as in oxygen). The major aim of the gRG is to generate and synthesize new and innovative transdisciplinary research on waste, and to mobilize this knowledge to benefit Canadians and the global community. gRG members traverse a wide range of disciplines at Queen’s University, synthesizing knowledge from the natural and applied sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

[2]Hird is the Principal Investigator of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant entitled Canada’s Waste Future: Uncertainty, Futurity, and Democratic Engagement. Hird’s co-investigators are Dr. R. Kerry Rowe (Civil Engineering, Queen’s University) and Dr. Peter van Wyck (Communication Studies, Concordia University). The overarching aim of the research program is to explore techno-scientific conceptions of waste, and waste as a socio-ethical category.

*Special thanks to Myra Hird

*Photo taken by Hilbert Bluist

Kim Renders has been making theatre in Canada for over thirty years.  She is a founding member of Nightwood Theatre, Canada’s preeminent feminist theatre company, and was an original member of Toronto’s Theatre Centre.  She has performed in theatres across Canada including The Belfry in Victoria, The Manitoba Theatre Centre, Tarragon Theatre and Volcano in T.O., the Centaur in Montreal and LSPU Hall in St. John’s. She has twice been nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for acting. She has directed over a dozen large-scale artist/community collaboration projects and an equal number of plays for children. She was the Artistic Director of Theatre Kingston from 2007- 2011 and has been the A.D. and playwright for the Barefoot Players (a Queen’s University student young company) since 2007. She is currently a member of Chipped Off Performance Collective, the only Queer/feminist performance group in Kingston dedicated to working with local artists to create community-engaged performances. Kim has extensive experience in designing for the theatre, especially in the areas of costuming and puppets.  She has also authored and co-authored numerous innovative works for the stage. She continues to teach in the Drama Department at Queen’s University.