Photo credit: Andrew Alexander
August 14 – 19, 2013
At the heart of every type of yoga practice is the notion of connection. Through yoga we get the opportunity to become more aware and connected to our bodies. In practice we connect our movement with breath. And if you work really hard at it and believe what the yogis teach us; through yoga our bodies connect spiritually to the world around us. So it’s ironic that Occupy Me, a show touted as interactive yoga theatre, is fundamentally void of the connection one needs to feel engaged to character and narrative.
Co-written by Ottawa natives Sarah Waisvisz and Bronwyn Steinberg and performed by Steinberg, Occupy Me brings the idea of participatory theatre to the yoga studio for a one hour class/confessional monologue. As the audience enters the studio space (in my viewing a cleared living room of a modern condo) they are greeted by Steinberg’s Sarah Lotus Blossom, our yoga instructor for the session. We are asked if we would like to participate in the class (yoga mats are laid out for takers) or if we would like to take a chair and be an observer with the important role of evaluating the instructor via the forms provided.
Right away I found this ability to effectively opt out of the experiential part of the show problematic. Those of us in the chairs (yes I was an observer as I figured I could actually take notes this way) found ourselves awkwardly facing both Ms. Blossom and the yoga-practicing audience with clipboards and forms in hand like some kind of forced jury. Isn’t the whole point of immersive theatre to actually immerse everyone in the action? Especially when the show’s marketing material clearly states that no yoga ability is needed. But while this physical connection seemed silly and unnecessary, it was the far more egregious creative disconnect that marred what was to come next.
Once settled in, Ms. Blossom begins the class. Or rather she hams her way through the start of the class by evoking the stereotypical enthusiastic yoga instructor patter that might have been amusing had it not sounded so utterly delivered in that ‘we can hear the writing behind it’ kind of manner. Steinberg’s stiff and over the top performance continued through the first few rounds of sun salutations accompanied by self-satisfied groaning sounds that fell somewhere between orgasm and eating a really good chocolate chip cookie.
Thankfully her performance does finally settle down and we start to see the theatre amongst the yoga. In between taking the audience through some light and easy yoga moves, Ms. Blossom delivers asides that blur the lines between simple eavesdropping on innermost thoughts and actual non sequitur lines spoken aloud by accident. It is through these that she reveals her angst. While she was obsessed with the Occupy Wall Street movement, Blossom never did join in to the cause and instead went to an ashram in India to try to find her path via a guru she ultimately never really believed in. Now, back in the studio, Ms. Blossom is fraught with panic about why she didn’t chose to make a difference with the protesters and/or why she couldn’t bring herself to give her path over to the guru?
The bigger question is, are we supposed to care? The odd, seemingly cobbled together story aside, at no point is the audience given any reason, to like or relate or root for Ms. Blossom. Sure we can giggle at her occasionally when she gets carried away with her thoughts and ends up frantically leading the group through a set of yoga moves too quickly. And no doubt it is impressive to watch someone carry on with a script while doing a head stand. But a mild chuckle and some physical stunts does not a connection make. And without this feeling of investment in the character, her story becomes one big whine about events that interest us none despite being occasionally forced to sing and dance and stretch with her.
Steinberg and Waisvisz are definitely onto something by wanting to locate an interactive show within the context of a yoga class. It’s a smart idea with so much possibility. But until they figure out how to deliver an experience that all can participate in equally and a story that truly captures our imagination, I will bid them a Namaste and be glad to be on my way.
For yoga buffs – The show is neither a work out for your body or your brain. While you might laugh at some of the yoga references, it won’t be enough to engage you with the character or the story. SKIP IT
For the non-yogis – They say you need no yoga experience to participate and this is the truth. Ability is not a factor in this show. But then neither is interesting entertainment. Sure the setting is unique and it’s nice to experience theatre in a different way, but different in the case doesn’t mean successful. SKIP IT
For the theatre junkies – Immersive theatre is a rarity in Calgary and if you’ve seen t done well you know how exciting it can be. Unfortunately this attempt, while unique in concept, just doesn’t live up to the hype. SKIP IT