Time and The Afterparty

poster for Afterparty

The Afterparty was presented at the Bricks and Glitter Festival in Toronto from September 16 to 26, 2020. Creator/performer Jordan Campbell recovers and reminisces.

Creating and performing The Afterparty taught me a lot about Time — slowing down, catching up, playing with time, taking my time, syncing up and disconnecting.

This piece was inspired by the COVID restrictions. It was designed for a single audience member, standing in a two-metre radius chalk circle in a public park. The audience member is listening to a track through their earphones, which is synced up with the track playing in my earphones. It’s a solo performance, but also a one-on-one interactive journey of dance, drag, outfits, reveals and surprises all around the parkette. The piece is about two queers meeting each other in a park. It’s 30 minutes long and it’s very intimate.

Nothing about making this show was easy. We had to negotiate with the weather, strangers walking through the park, and the necessary public focus on the Black Lives Matter movement. On a personal level, this piece saw me through a partner moving across the country, a death in my family and the closing of my favourite queer bar slash all-in-one community refuge. The theatre community in Toronto has been mourning, cancelling, re-inventing and reckoning with their own structural shortcomings. And my friends have each been going through their own personal crises. All of this against the backdrop of an ongoing global pandemic, unpredictable and strange.

And yet, the creative process was incredible. Amidst all of this uncertainty, time slooooooowed down. I worked with my dear friend and collaborator Elizabeth Staples, who co-created and directed the show. We were originally creating this project as a Pride event in June, but when that no longer felt appropriate, we just started working on our own timeline. We worked on the piece when we were inspired, and without a deadline. The piece got so much deeper, darker and weirder. It was able to hold all of our feelings. We worked on the piece out of a need to express ourselves, and a desire to create a moment of face-to-face connection for the public. This felt really important.

I’ve never felt so free and unhurried in a creative process. I can imagine a world where every project was on its own timeline; where artists were just paid to work on their stuff, and they shared it when it was ready to be shared. Really great stuff can’t be rushed; slowing down is at the core of my creativity. This is a difficult model to monetize, but that’s the point.

When we finished creating the show and it felt right for this moment in time, the last piece of the puzzle was finding a reliable way to sync up the audience’s track and my track. We were able to use the Cohort app to do this very elegantly. It may seem quite simple, to have two iPods play the same thing at the exact same time, but for us it was the last bit of magic we needed. All of our low-fi tricks became so theatrical. The audience was asked to close their eyes, then when they opened them, I appeared in a new outfit. The strangers in the park also got a silent show, but the one audience member was in on the secret.

As we got closer to syncing up our tracks, I started to play with time even more. Could I slow down certain moments in the performance, or speed up the choreography to hit certain marks in the track? How could I make sure I wasn’t getting ahead of my own track? If the track was half a second out of sync, did the audience’s brain sync it up anyway? Again, Time became very subjective and fluid.

I loved performing this piece. I could feel all the joy and pain of the audience. It was deeply cathartic. We found our own timeline together for each performance. As we develop new technologies for live performance, we can’t forget that live art isn’t technical and precise; it’s subjective and abstract. For technologies to be truly creative, they have to be malleable. They have to have their own Time. It wasn’t about syncing up our tracks, it was about syncing up our human energies.

We did eight shows at the Bricks and Glitter Festival, which means eight audience members experienced The Afterparty. People kept asking me, “isn’t it disappointing to do all this work, only to have it seen by a small handful of people?” That wasn’t the purpose of this. We really invested deeply in those eight people and gave them each a really special evening. I could not have gone as deep as I went if there had been more people. I didn’t have Time.

Now I am resting. After all of that vulnerability in public, I need a week alone in my bedroom. I am so grateful to have gotten to create this show in these tumultuous times. I’m deeply thankful to my generous collaborator Liz, to Cohort for the technical support, to the legendary Bricks and Glitter Festival for the production support, and to all the people who walked through the Brandon Avenue Parkette and held the space for us. It was the Time of my life.

headshot of Jordan Campbell

Jord Camp is a queer performance artist working in dance, drag and theatre. He is half of the POP ART performance duo xLq with Maddie Bautista — together they create interactive theatrical playgrounds with a queer pop aesthetic. Jordan also teaches inclusive drama classes with Purple Carrots Studio, specializing in neurodiverse programming.

Director Elizabeth Staples writes about her Afterparty experience here.