Susanna Fournier wants to know how you’re doing during the COVID-19 pandemic. And you have a chance to tell her.
Like a lot of theatre artists, Fournier is struggling how to make work during this surreal time. The creator of the audacious, ambitious Empire Trilogy was set to premiere her double bill Always Still The Dawn this spring. Like all live performance, it was cancelled a few days into lockdown.
What she’s offering instead is a 25-minute audio experience called What Happens To You, Happens To Me. The guided adventure—or, as Fournier calls it, “message in a bottle”—is available on the Canadian Stage website until August 1. (For those with audio issues, the site also features a video version.)
“You can download it, maybe listen on your phone, tablet or laptop,” says Fournier. “You could go on a walk, choose a nice spot wherever you are. And then enjoy the adventure.”
The piece came out of Canadian Stage’s CS Grid series, an online platform featuring writing, reflection and pandemic initiatives.
How can technology feel intimate?
“I was looking to see how technology could feel intimate rather than disembodied or alienating,” says Fournier.
Early on during lockdown, the playwright was trying to monitor just how she felt.
“Day to day, even hour to hour, I was watching my moods and thoughts,” she says. “I was trying to adjust to this shifting landscape.”
At the same time, however, she felt she had something in common with everyone on the planet.
“Strangely, I felt connected to this group experience but also felt isolated. And I was curious to know what was happening to others, even in a simple, moment-to-moment way. Like snapshots. What is Tuesday at 4:42 pm like? Two hours later it might be different.”
Trying to find a way to engage with audiences was a challenge.
“It’s hard to recreate the energetic exchange that happens with live theatre,” she says. “That’s just not something that Zoom can capture. I also didn’t want to necessarily work with image or digital imagery, because there’s so much of that around now.”
The idea of hearing an anonymous voice, she felt, was very intimate, very human.
“And it also allows you to not have to give all of your attention to the speaker or an image,” she says. “There’s the possibility for your mind to wander, or your heart to take you somewhere you might not expect.”
I, Claudia’s Kristen Thomson is narrator
The casting of playwright-actor Kristen Thomson as the narrator thrilled Fournier.
“I felt really strongly that we needed a performer who was an amazing storyteller, someone who immediately connected with the audience,” she says. “And Kristen is a pro at hosting an audience, from I, Claudia on. She’s also a writer, so it was great to have her dramaturgical eye and her own impulses as a storyteller meet the script.”
Although the work is interactive, Fournier doesn’t want the piece to feel like homework.
“I didn’t want people to just download a questionnaire or answer multiple questions,” she says. “I wanted to offer something more than just data. And I wasn’t really interested in statistics. Early on, we were being overwhelmed with stats, and they were constantly changing. I was looking for something that felt intimate, and made people just check in with themselves.”
The narrator asks you questions during the piece, says Fournier, but you can hit pause, think about them, write things down or just reply in your mind. Fournier encourages people to revisit the work during its run to see if your answers change.
“You can send an email or record a voice memo with your answers,” she says. “I’m so curious to see what we get back. It could be that we’re building a little quarantine time capsule.”