Sook-Yin Lee on the Critic-Free Environment

We knew we wanted someone to talk about what it means to perform in a critic-free space, and after chatting with her we knew that [color]Sook-Yin Lee[/color] would probably have some very interesting thoughts. And we were right. Here’s what she had to say

A Critic-Free Environment

For the last few years SummerWorks and The Rhubarb Festival have urged me to create a performance for theatre, the thought of which is terrifying, so I declined.

The one and only time I made an original work for theatre was when I was fourteen.  Inspired by my discovery of Samuel Beckett, I wrote a teen absurdist one-act play, Achieving Cosmic Awareness Through the Examination of an Eggplant.  Enough said. I’d had one other theatre experience, as an actor performing a hermaphrodite Mephistopheles in an experimental dance opera of Faust in Vancouver. But that was long ago, before I moved to Toronto.  Since then, I’ve delved into storytelling through music, making movies and broadcasting from inside the safety of a TV or on the radio.

When stalwart Rhubarb Festival artistic director Laura Nanni asked me to participate again this year, the anxiety returned. What the heck am I supposed to do with three dimensions?!  I tried to resist her, but I’d been wrestling with an idea I thought might just work in the context of a live performance. What really sealed the deal was when Laura told me that critics aren’t allowed to cover Rhubarb.

In a festival dedicated to experimentation, she has created a critic-free zone so creators feel free to pursue their interests without the fear of being judged by cultural scribes. I like it!  So I signed up for the task.

The idea of being protected from criticism gave me just enough courage to rise to the challenge of creating the multimedia experience, How Can I Forget?  There are many firsts for me in this meditation on forgetting and remembering. It marks the beginning of my creative relationship with dancer, choreographer, and performance artist Benjamin Kamino. How Can I Forget? debuts new video, photography and music in a not-so-normal narrative I’m writing, directing and performing. It is also a dance duet. That’s right, I’m dancing–a discipline I’m completely untrained in.

Rhubarb has partnered with Hub14, who are providing rehearsal space, and it’s been so vital a process playing and working hard together. We are well underway. There’s no turning back.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this notion of a critic-free environment and it occurs to me that it’s a utopian ideal. In a climate where mainstream media, especially newspapers, languish in obsolescence, cultural criticism flourishes online and anywhere you can upload a comment and share your thoughts. Even though it was a critic-free promise that lured me in, it’s impossible to bar critics when everyone’s a critic!  Besides, criticism is crucial and there’s no way of getting around it.

This morning I received a tweet from popular local blogger who’s excited to see the show. He says he’ll be reviewing it.  I urge anyone else to too.


A Multimedia Dream written, directed and performed by Sook-Yin Lee
with Performance Co-Operator Benjamin Kamino
and the assistance of Adam Litovitz

How Can I Forget? is on stage February 22-23. Click here for more info.
For more on Sook-Yin, you can find here on Facebook and Twitter.

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