“We hope that this is the most enjoyable piece of bad news audience members have ever experienced.”
That’s how writer/performer/musician/clown Jonathan Mirin ended a recent newspaper interview, and it’s a fitting entrée into his latest show, Canary in a Gold Mine. With his wife, Swiss choreographer/designer Godeliève Richard, Jon is co-founder/director of the family-friendly, social-activist Piti Theatre Company, which “creates original performances and community-building events that accelerate local transformation towards joy, sustainability and justice.”
This show, directed by Deanna Fleysher, is a co-production with Ko Festival of Performance, whose summertime live performances have been suspended for the past two years – because, y’know – but has streamed a number of productions and co-produced the hybrid live/video Moving Water last summer with Serious Play Theatre Ensemble.
Canary was created specially for the Web, with Jonathan face-to-face with a camera instead of an in-person audience. He considers this show part of a new genre that’s “like theater … but flatter.”
Here are some thoughts and statements that he and Ko’s founder/director Sabrina Hamilton shared with me.
Jonathan: The show tells the story of Godeliève developing a disabling condition called electrical hyper-sensitivity, aka EHS or “microwave sickness.” People suffering from this condition are essentially refugees from contemporary society because they experience severe neurological symptoms from exposure to the wireless radiation which is now almost everywhere.
Like with any disabling condition, when one person suffers, it impacts the whole family. Canary offers a prism where people who have suffered from environmental illness (or any chronic condition) can experience a feeling of being understood, as in “I’m not alone – my experience is reflected in this piece.” The same goes for their friends and family. My choice personally and artistically is to find as much humor or lightness as possible.
Sabrina: At first I was worried that this show might be an earnest public health lecture, but I’ve been watching the daily footage, and it’s really entertaining, with wonderfully inventive camera work. Anyone who has experienced chronic illness themselves or helped a loved one in crisis will find comfort and laughter in this show. It’s a fun and compelling dive into the opposing forces of corporate profit vs. public safety.
Jonathan: The idea that wireless exposure can have negative health impacts – ranging from cancer to EHS to Alzheimer’s to attention/behavior issues, poor sleep and lowered immunity – is often shocking for people when they hear it for the first time. I know it was for me. Major media outlets tend to downplay or dismiss these risks, due likely in part to their Big Wireless advertising revenue – or literally being owned by the same companies.
Sabrina: Ko tries to present work that’s timely and, my goodness, this one is no exception. Local papers have run multiple stories about current wireless infrastructure controversies in Western Mass. This show takes a complex issue, and instead of a dry scientific lecture, puts a human face on it. Funny, sweet, and entertaining, it’s a 21st-century love letter and eco-justice adventure.
Real-time discussions with physicians, scientists, thought leaders and the creative team will follow each performance. Audience members will be able to ask questions or comment via Vimeo’s chat function. A captioned version will be available.
Jonathan: Being able to ask questions and hear the perspectives of MDs and scientists who have devoted their careers to this research can help clarify misunderstandings. There are also quite a few simple things people can do, individually and in their communities, to greatly improve personal and public health.
Sabrina: In a move towards fostering a welcoming atmosphere of trust and accessibility, Ko has adopted a tiered ticketing system, where audience members can decide what’s right for them: Patron Price ($30), Standard Price ($20), or Discount Price ($10). In a time when performing arts organizations have been devastated by Covid, we’ve been thrilled to see our community showing their support by buying tickets at the Patron price or making an additional donation. That allows us to welcome community members who might be in a different financial situation to participate at the discount price, while still paying artists and crew.
Canary in a Gold Mine will be shown online Fri.-Sat., Feb. 11-12 at 7:30 pm and Sun. Feb. 13 at 3:00 pm. Information and tickets at kofest.com. Tickets must be purchased in advance; the weblink will be sent two hours before the event begins.
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