Dear Devotion: a process of discovery

The idea for Dear Devotion first came to me sitting in the doorway at the top of the stairs in the hallway that separated this tiny French bistro from my ballet studio. I was probably about thirteen, and I was waiting to be picked up again. My parents were often late to get me if they were fighting which happened a lot lately. So I would bring books to read, but mostly I would write. This one day particularly riddled with angst I wrote a poem called Dear Devotion. I’ve always been highly critical of my work so I knew that objectively the poem wasn’t very good, verging on overtly sentimental and forced tragique, but the idea at the heart of it was fire.

I journaled about it for days, and weeks, and months turning that idea over, never quite satisfied with my conclusions, but I felt like I was starting to unravel a riddle far greater than I was. The poem was simple stanzas that repeat about a woman falling in love, getting married, making a home, and burying a man who can not, or will not, love her. She devotes her life and love to him but it’s never enough, and in the end bitterly rebukes him for all they have lost as he lays dying.

It was around this time that I was introduced to Taming of the Shrew and A Doll’s House. I was struck by how these women resembled the woman of my poem, of my mother, and of what I imagined for myself. Still a young girl I lacked the experience to contend with their noble struggles but I felt a natural affinity for them all the same. Kate’s longing and green sickness, and Nora’s determined naïveté. Somewhere over time these became woven into my tragic aesthetic and I knew I would write a play about them, but I needed a third to round out the comparison, all good things come in three. I read lots looking for the third thinking she would be a more contemporary heroine when I accidentally stumbled across Antigone at university at around age 17. Her fierce loyalty would round out Dear Devotion, and in my mind the three women became inseparable.

I have devoted much of my time since then to what I would call my research to develop this piece. From learning to write grants to training my body to collecting a million snippets and pins of design ideas to coming to a better understanding of my own history and relationship to these women and my femininity I have grown into the piece for over a decade now. The piece becoming more of itself as I have become more of mine.

Last night I presented what I will call my first public exploration of that work at a house party in the Sound & Silence HQ that I put together that very afternoon with the support of my dedicated friend and conspirator Tristan Hills. I took a thousand and one raw ideas I’ve been harvesting for years and wrought them into a shape that resembles the direction the piece is taking.

First we shaved my head, a cleansing as much as an aesthetic task. Then I rolled around in his backyard and marked the beats and transitions that I wanted to play with. After that we retired to the basement where Tristan showed me how to use Audacity to record the rough underscore for the piece in what felt to me like a record breaking time. The record breaking part definitely had to do with Tristan’s ability to intuit my needs as I abstractly explained what I wanted each part to sound like, and he let me muck around recording guttural screams and a hundred tracks of snippets of things that we didn’t end up using, while also fixing audio quirks that I didn’t know were issues, then at the last minute he lay down a beautiful guitar track in one take that cinched the whole thing together. It is no small estimation to say I could not have delivered the performance I did without him. The final step was to prepare the fake blood and paint my face doll white. The performance went off without a hitch, not to say perfectly, but beautifully imperfect and raw.

I can feel it in my bones that this piece is ready to be delivered into the world, and this small step is the first contraction. Just as this has been a long gestation period I intend wrestle with this at great length, but the time is finally right to commit my body to the pains of labour uncovering the gems that have been compounding thus. If ever I were to have a thesis project in my unschooled life this would be it. I look forward to sharing more discoveries as they arise. For now you can listen to the track we recorded for the performance below.

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