Feature

Catherine Kidd

What was it like spending part of your youth in the Yukon?

The things I remember are melting a bit. When I was about three or four a man gave me a beaded bracelet he had made, with the initials LG on it. They were the initials of a girlfriend he had just broken up with. Beads show up in my work as the way memory is strung together. Also I remember the prancing neon horse above the Whitehorse Inn, that it was the most beautiful thing in the world. Last year, Celia McBride sent me a recent clipping showing the white horse being hoisted from a junk yard, to be remounted over the entrance to South Access Road. Some day I’ll go back and see if it’s there.

Are you a “natural” performer? Were you an attention-seeker as a child?

I was a child who talked a blue streak but feared that I did not make much sense to other humans. So I tried to explain things very carefully. The only way to justify my allegedly disproportionate emotional responses was to put words to why I was weeping at a green jellied salad which looked evil, or enraptured by a white dog who was teaching me canine telepathy. Much of the world seemed invisible to grownups so I tried to act it out. Imaginary objects are just as real as plates and cups, but you have to sort of draw them in the air. There could be an invisible elephant in the room, and often children are the only ones who point it out.

Describe your frame of mind in the moment before going onstage.

Very strange. Like myself and not, heightened. I never quite get over nervousness, but eventually learn to treat this state as free energy. I’ve found that nervousness only comes across as nervousness when I try to repress it. It can also be like a little battery-pack from the gods. My head and ears get very hot, so I try to think about my feet growing roots. I try to sink the rush of extra energy as low as possible, heart-level, pelvis, feet.

How aware are you of audience reaction during a performance.

Very much aware, on some level which feels instinctive, since often I cannot see them. People in the audience are dance partners. The words of the pieces, like dance steps, never change, but the delivery always does, depending largely on the mood of the room. It’s a huge gift when people want to hear a story. You can hear even in the silences when an exchange happens, a bit like volley-balloon. The audience sends you something and you send something back.

How do you account for Montreal being such a spoken word hotbed.

Talking is very important here. Speech itself is a big topic of conversation. Language and how people express themselves is a ubiquitous part of the scenery. The sense of history which comes from telling stories is also very key, perhaps because the city is old, or because many people who live here did not come from here. The diversity of Montreal is implicit encouragement to tell stories and to hear them. There’s also th is famous charisma and passion which infuses things generally. I’ve noticed that the “o” in the Montreal city logo is often depicted as a lipstick kiss.

How do you feel about the term “spoken word”?

It’s never felt right. Maybe because it’s the same phrase used for news or sports content on the radio, or because spoken word is sometimes depicted as this emerging form, this upstart genre, a bandwagon to leap at. When, in fact, aside from scraping shapes in the dirt with a stick, it’s one of the oldest art forms we have. I’m drawn to the older tradition of storytelling, because it seems compatible with what inspires me personally: my mother’s story, her mother’s. My father’s story, his father’s story, etc. It’s the pressure of ghosts at my back which seems to compel stories. A few of us have called it “word/sound” which I quite like. On the other hand, you don’t necessarily get to decide what you get called.

Do you compartmentalize between writing for performance and writing for the page?

These are blending together more and more; genres become more approximate directions than discrete boxes. The stories in Sea Peach are adapted from the novel Bestial Rooms, and most have undergone some transformation toward performance. I’d take a ten-page chapter and crunch it down, maybe make it rhyme, to bring out the imagery and music in the text. I’ve liked rhymes since Dr. Seuss; I acknowledge him in the book. They indulge my inner preschooler and also make the stories easier to memorize.

What’s up with Bestial Rooms? We’ve been expecting it for a while now.

Bestial Rooms will be released through Thomas Allen Publishers some time in the coming year. I was hoping for a spring release, but more recently I’ve switched focus to the CD and show. Both projects are closely related, and it might be better if the novel is released after the show is already out there. I do feel about seven years pregnant, which is a bit excrutiating. But on the other hand a book only comes out once. What can people who go to your show Sea Peach, expect? Sea Peach is seven interlinked performance stories with original soundscapes by Jack Beetz. Virginia Preston will be working with me on some choreography, and Tod Van Dyk will be creating video backdrops to the pieces. With help from Infinitheatre, we’ll be presenting the show at the Piscine St. Michel, an abandoned swimming pool in Mile End. We’re excited about the venue. There are recurrent subaquatic themes in the show, so it suits. This will be the first time we’ve had the opportunity to present all seven pieces as the contiguous series they were meant to be.

Do you have a long-term plan as an artist? Can you guess what you’ll be doing this time next year? Five years from now?

For the next while I’d like to focus on performance-related things. Writing Bestial Rooms took six years, and involved a fair amount of seclusion. I am looking forward to doing shows for awhile. There are more fellow humans in the room, not just a bunch of fictional voices in my head. How a body stores its memories is a theme which shows up frequently in my writing, so the performance medium is related to the message. Five years from now I hope to have another show or two which I can take on tour and perform in different places. mRb

Ian McGillis is books columnist for the Montreal Gazette and author of the novel A Tourist’s Guide to Glengarry. His memoir Higher Ground will be published by Biblioasis in 2017.

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