The Pivot Theatre Festival – Nakai Theatre’s annual performance showcase – begins a seven-night run this weekend in multiple Whitehorse venues. In addition to smaller-scale offerings such as a theatrical pub walk, an evening of spoken word material and a “speed-friending” event called Stranger Connections, the festival will feature the three major pieces, including:
A Brimful of Asha: charm and humour ensue when cultures and generations collide
Whitehorse artistic collaborators Selene Vakharia and Chelsea Jeffery will make a return appearance at Pivot Fest with an immersive piece that addresses one of the most uncomfortable subjects of all: human mortality.
Last year, the duo presented the Death Sex Money Salon, which Vakharia terms “an exploration of the three most taboo and most fascinating topics” of everyday life.
“This one’s going to be the next iteration of it. As we were having more conversations with people about it, the death, dying and afterlife part of it really stood out, so we decided to focus entirely on that and really dive as deep as we could into it.”
The new work, called Public Secret, ramps up both the site specific nature of its predecessor, and the level of interactivity with the audience.
“That’s the kind of performance that we really are passionate about, and when we started collaborating, we were really interested in that idea of having something where the audience was participating, and not just observing.”
Rather than unfolding in a traditional performance space, the work will take place in three heritage buildings in Shipyards Park, the old Pioneer and the Chambers and Jenni houses.
“Each of the buildings contains installations that people can physically interact with. Those are combined with audio elements that reflect the kind of conversations that we’ been having with people around death and dying,” Jeffery explains.
“There are also performance components, so people will be kind of interacting with the performers as well.”
Vakharia picks up the narrative.
“The way it’s structured is very much a ‘choose your own adventure’ for the audience. While there’s some structure to it, in the sense that there are scripted performances, there are also unscripted performances that adapt to the audience’s needs,” she says.
“The audience can follow the path that they find most interesting, so no two shows are really alike, and even if an audience member went back for a second time, it would be a different experience for them.”
The collaborators say the piece has evolved from what was originally conceived as a fairly light look at a sombre topic to something more meaningful as they talked with other people and explored their own beliefs and thoughts about death and dying.
The result, they say, retains an uplifting and hopeful element, but is aimed more at the kind of discussion they hope to stimulate.
“I don’t think it became darker, but there are definitely some moments that are heavier, or sad, and it does reflect people’s feelings of grief,” Jeffery says.
“There are also moments that are very hopeful, and all the parts that were pretty heavy have been paired with something that brings in that element of hope and support.”
Jeffrey says the people who were interested in talking with them tended to be those who had had really deep and meaningful experiences with death.
“Maybe they’ve had someone very close to them die and that was obviously a very difficult experience, but they’ve come out of it with some kind of understanding, or some kind of different perspective on life, so there’s always that element as well.”
Parts of some of those conversation will be available in audio form. Others have been incorporated into scripts that will be read by actors. The program will also include a number of non-actors sharing their own perspectives on the subject.
Audience members are free to participate, or just observe.
“It (death) is kind of the biggest public secret, where everyone’s going to go through it and everyone’s thinking about it, but no one want to talk about it,” Vakharia says.
The intention behind the piece, she adds, is to help provide people with the beginning of a framework for thinking and talking about mortality.
With that, they can “really deal with and feel supported about their own death that’s going to happen, but also about others in their lives who are going to pass away. So they don’t have to go through as rough a time, or as terrible a grief as you would feel when you don’t ever face it.”
Performances of Public Secret will take place Monday, January 23 at 6:15 and 8:15 p.m., and Wednesday, January 25 at the same times. The final performance will be Friday, January 27 at 9:30 p.m.
Only 20 tickets are available for each show.