Catherine Kidd and Jack Beetz
Later that winter, hurrying up Boulevard St-Laurent, I noticed an event bill stuck to a lamppost. The bill boasted an assortment of performers, among them Catherine Kidd and Jack Beetz. I had often heard Kidd’s name, had even seen a photograph of Kidd lounging in a bathtub outside a metro station, but I had never seen her in performance. I was nevertheless curious.
The event was being held at Casa del Popolo, the hub of Montreal’s spoken word scene, and the place was packed. I vividly remember Kidd’s performance. I was first drawn into the piece by her smoky voice and smooth delivery, and held by the sensual richness of her combination of storytelling, music, and performance. Kidd was on stage with Jack Beetz, a deejay who now divides his time between Montreal and New York. Their rapport was like that shown by seasoned jazz musicians. They gave one another subtle signals, smiled, and listened to one another. They also presented many contrasts. Beetz remained for the most part still, while Kidd moved about the stage; Beetz remained silent while Kidd spoke; Beetz focused on his mixing board and on Kidd while Kidd focused on the audience.
The musical composition was sparse. Sound effects complemented the written piece (crows cawed when Kidd mentioned crows). Sound effects also complemented elements of the delivery (the crash of waves on the shore mimicked the smoky smoothness of Kidd’s voice). Further, while Beetz did not neglect to highlight his ability to drop a beat, his compositions were not reliant on beats, and this freed Kidd from having to ride or rock a rhythm. The combination of performance, music, and narrative had an unusual effect on the audience: a number of people said things like “I felt like I was seeing the story.”
Purchasers of Sea Peach, a CD (published by Wired on Words) and book (published by conundrum press) will be interested in how the duo’s work holds up as aural pieces alone. How will the visual element and the live element be translated? Where will the performance go? How different will the experience of simply listening to Kidd and Beetz be from that of seeing and hearing them?
For this listener, the absence of performance allowed for concentration of Kidd’s voice. There is no distraction from those subtle dynamics that characterize the oral expression of emotions like excitement and surprise, which are suddenly recognizable as sounds alone. When we listen to a spoken word artist who knows how people express different sensations – sarcasm, irritability, resignation – we realize that oral traditions borrow heavily from theatre and music.
Sea Peach tells the story of a young woman dealing with loss and love. She remembers and recites stories and bits of wisdom that her father used to tell her: “The past is a garage sale, Agnes, you pick the things which seem to be valuable, you take them home.” She later finds her father’s typewriter – his prized possession – “that spidery old machine” – packed in a storage closet in her mother’s house, and through typing/writing investigates her memory, her relationship to her parents, her faith in herself and in her strength. She later feels love, and meditates on whether acceptance of an immersion in this love will force her to compromise her independence and identity. The text is accompanied by assorted visual images, including some of Kidd in performance, reminding those who have seen her that listening to the work on CD removes the spatial focus the audience has when watching the duo on stage.
When Kidd and Beeetz perform at Casa del Popolo, the narrow room, small stage, and packed house can leave a sense of constraint, of the work pressing against some barrier or boundary. The removal of walls and crowds allows the work some room to recline, to breathe, to expand.
When I spoke to Kidd about the process of memorizing her texts, she told me that she records them, then plays them back to herself until she can speak along with the recording. She refers to this as “eating the text.” Once the text has been eaten (and presumably digested), it can be adapted to the stage. Where performance is concerned, Kidd maintains that the text is fixed, and that the performer, (vulnerable to moods, to situations, to audiences) is unpredictable. The performer must have faith in the text, as a rider has faith in her horse. The performer simply trusts the text to carry her. mRb