#LEGACY by Rob Kempson, with Joan, Judith and Donna. Presented by Harbourfront Centre’s Hatch at the Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West). Saturday (April 12), 2 and 8 pm. $15. 416-973-4000. See listing.
This year's Hatch series, which offers residencies to local artists who engage in unique styles of creating, is wired into social media.
Curated by Praxis Theatre's Michael Wheeler and Aislinn Rose, the four works in progress all deal with various ways of interacting via the internet and electronic means of reaching out to others.
First up is Rob Kempson's #legacy, a collectively created exploration of the Twitterverse that focuses on a trio of women over 65.
As the title suggests, the workshop explores the concept of legacy for these women, with the added idea of how social media offers a way to share oneself and one's heritage in a way that has permanence.
"I've worked with the Etobicoke women, Joan, Judith and Donna, in a community arts context and wanted to continue with them in another creation," recalls Kempson. "They come to the process with so much interest in trying new things, in taking risks.
"Just as important is that they have a strong sense of themselves. Unlike teens, who ask questions about identity, their sense of self and their place in the world, these older women engage in different sorts of conversations. They know themselves, their identity, their place in the world. They can reflect on those ideas keenly and are eager to do so."
#legacy takes them to the next level of reflection using Twitter, a means they don't naturally identify with, explains Kempson. The three have been tweeting during the creation process and will continue to do so during the performance, interacting with the audience in the room and the electronic audience outside it.
As part of the workshop, Kempson and designer Beth Kates have created a landscape in which the discussions can exist.
"The words spoken onstage are those of the women, but I've selected, edited and mashed them up in a new. Beth's added another layer by creating a video element that plays off the narrative.
"Then there's a third layer, a tweet script, which involves tweets to the women during the performance. We liken it to pop-up video or a referenced article in a main online entry, since it offers tangential ideas to or additional reflection about what's happening onstage.
"Often this third layer is funny, since the women themselves are, but at time it can be poignant, especially when it reveals an insightful observation."
The audience can participate, too. If they're twitterers, they can sit in designated tweet seats, follow the performers, respond to what's happening and interact with them.
"That last means a tantalizing actual give-and-take between the live performance and the electronic/cyber Twitterverse."
Another aspect of #legacy is questioning the assumption that only the young care about Twitter and other systems of electronic communication.
"I think it has nothing to do with age but more with the capacity and willingness to try new things. Sometimes people understand the electronic world but just don't want to take part in it. I want to explore these women's learning curve, a process that has led them to make articulate decisions about why Twitter does or doesn't, at any given moment, provide a useful means of communicating.
"That's part of their online legacy."
To watch part of the creative process, click here.
Working with grandmothers seems to be Kempson's artistic theme these days. Last January he wrote and performed in the musical The Way Back To Thursday, part of the Theatre Passe Muraille season. In the song cycle, his character interacted with the grandmother (played by Astrid Van Wieren) he'd distanced himself from when he decided he was gay.
"Yes," laughs Kempson, "there's a certain amount of coincidence that both pieces are about the relationship between what's considered young and contemporary and what might be called old. It's involved me as a writer/performer in a relatively traditional theatrical form and as an artist-educator who works in alternative creation.
"Still, the process for creating the two shows couldn't have been more different. And my next writing isn't about grandmothers at all."