The Afterparty was presented at the Bricks and Glitter Festival in Toronto from September 16 to 26, 2020. Director Elizabeth Staples writes about magic in a time of pandemic.
When Jordan and I left that studio on an early March weekday, I remember feeling warm. He had just shown me the first performance draft for a new solo show. My brain was humming with ideas and my body was tingling in the crisp almost spring sunshine. We walked and dreamed; a party, the summer, sequins, our friends, strobe lights, sweat, cheap booze, Lady Gaga. I was full of possibilities. This was the genesis of The Afterparty.
Then Covid Happened.
We were all sent home to wash our hands and read the news and bake bread. Being an artist is precarious at the best of times. Being a Queer artist adds another element to that balancing act. Jordan and I have developed the most creatively Queer bond over the years: the fiercest of friends able to tear up any dancefloor and also dedicated creative colleagues making absurd and fabulous performance art. The nightlife is our community, so we created work with them, for them, and about them.
As June was approaching, a void was starting to form in our little Queer hearts as Pride month was sure to be different this year. We hadn’t been able to see or hug our friends in months. Queer people often find chosen family within their community and friend group. To be isolated from the places and people where you feel the safest is very unsettling. The purpose of all our restless creative energy was starting to unfold: a need for Queer connection.
We waded into the creative process slowly, with lots of communication, caution, and curiosity. The Brandon Avenue Parkette welcomed us beautifully as stage and studio. Jordan and I met in the park, danced at each other, shouted ideas through masks, held eye contact instead of hands, and stayed six feet apart the whole time. The show started to take shape as we realized how much the process was informing us. We took inspiration from The Stranger, a show by DopoLavora Teatrale (DLT) we were in together, had the audience and performer listen to the same track with separate ipods. I have experience in one-on-one performance, and with safety measures in place, it seemed like a great time to explore theatre for one audience member.
The creation of The Afterparty took us on a journey this summer. Pride returned to its revolutionary roots, a spotlight was held to the racial inequalities in our society, a call was made to restructure theatre institutions, and personal pressures were mounting so the piece needed to pause and respond accordingly. The world and the show had a parallel feeling of changing so rapidly daily yet feeling like nothing had changed at all. We talked about how our LGBTQ2S+ spaces were shutting down in the city, due to gentrification or the pandemic. We remembered the origins of gay cruising in parks, and the subsequent arrests and homophobia. We thought about identity and if we had all confused that with proximity to community. Without the hobbies, careers, art, culture, that we had used for so long to define ourselves, there was a feeling of vulnerability. We mourned for the year, opportunities, family members, those who lost their lives due to police and colonial violence, the victims of COVID-19, and our dying climate.
With the many questions raised, some definite answers were also starting to emerge. Our process took shape in rehearsing for one- or two-hour bursts in the park, writing over Google docs and speakerphone, and rehearsing choreography and costume reveals over video chat. We had become experts at hitting the play button on our separate devices to sync the tracks, but only had a small idea on how that could translate to an audience member. I started to understand the personal yet universal need for the possibility of magic. Living in a reality where the future is suspended and days feel stretched out with anxiety, a small moment of joy or surprise is incredibly necessary. In rehearsals, I started to notice so many smiling eyes overtop of masks, curious kids pointing to the dancing person in a wig, dogs racing toward sparkly costumes as owners laughed.
The Afterparty was the perfect container to dream big. With no agenda or particular deadline, a freedom took over the creative process. I remember describing that magic moment when I felt the audience needed to start the piece. Not coming from a design or tech background, I was at a loss how it might happen – until we were connected with Cohort. Having that last piece of technology brought the whole piece together. I was able to cue the track from one source into the app and then into the headphones, hearts, minds, and souls of our audience while it was perfectly in sync with every hair flip, lip sync, and dance move Jord does around the park. The possibilities of adding video or multiple cues to the program was so overwhelmingly brilliant, it makes my mind spin with ideas for growing this piece.
The Afterparty was imbued with fate and possibility for connection. It found a home in the incredible Bricks and Glitter festival, a BIPOC-led activist and arts festival that supported our eight-show run in September. A random draw decided our audience members and each performance was influenced by our feelings and the goings on of the park. As Queer people, it’s not only imperative that we see one another, but that we are seen as exactly who we are. That validation can be lifesaving. Watching each audience member dance with abandon when invited to, or reflect on their relationship to nature and others, was a gift. I was grateful to be grounded in a supported artistic process in such untethered times. It reminded me that community is energy that transcends physical space. And that we all need a little magic in our lives; or at least the possibility.
Elizabeth Staples is a Bi/Queer multidisciplinary theatre creator and arts administrator who was born and raised in Tkarón:to (Toronto). Recent credits include: The Afterparty (Bricks and Glitter Festival), Private Eyes (lemonTree creations), White Girls in Moccasins (manidoons collective). Elizabeth is interested in devised, physical theatre that has a social conscience and is covered in glitter.
Creator/performer Jordan Campbell also wrote about The Afterparty experience. Read his Cohort blog post here.