On a summer afternoon, as I was driving on 101, the voice of Jessica Fechtor came up on KQED. She was discussing finding a way back to herself after suffering from a brain aneurysm and mentioned: “Home is a not a noun, it is a verb. It is not about where you live, but about how you live.” Fechtor’s definition of home echoed the questions laid out in Emily Johnson’s SHORE, which was to happen at ODC in the following weeks. With its four parts, which unfold in and outside of the theater, SHORE questions the nature of performance and attempts to expand its traditional definition. At the core of its unfolding lay the promise and mystery of communal creative making. It then seemed fit to ask some of SHORE participants to reflect on their experience of SHORE. For today’s guest blog, I asked dancer Megan Wright, who performed in SHORE movement choir, to share her thoughts.
Marie asked me to write about Emily Johnson’s SHORE for you and I thought yes, okay, I can do this. Writing about SHORE feels like an extension of, not a reflection on, SHORE, because SHORE feels ongoing within me. And a thing with so many parts and aspects (storytelling, volunteerism, performance, feast) hands you many access points for an unintimidated response.
Here’s something I’m thinking about: SHORE is not a work (object) of art but the work (action) of art. And it turns out that the work of art can look very much like the work of pulling invasive mustard weed off the slopes of Candlestick Point and planting native yarrow and hollyleaf cherry in its place. The work of art can be slicing cucumbers for a salad that will feed fifty people gathered on those slopes or holding on to the small hand of a toddler whose grandfather, rehearsing a Pomo healing song, hadn’t seen him wander off towards the rocks that led down to the ocean. The work of art can be the work of going back for seconds. The work of art can be the work of listening to someone else tell a story that serves no purpose but to open up the plurality of experience. Indeed the good work of art can be work that is quietly, unreservedly, entirely not about you.
It is difficult to square this “not about you” with the directed proscenium frame of a performance, in which something very much you (if you are a performer, as I was, albeit in limited capacity) is all about abundantly. This is where the work runs into a work. This is not unique: art makers all over the Bay grapple with the relationship of process to performance. But SHORE’s multifaceted construct threw that difficulty into especially sharp relief.
So why perform at all? It’s practical to say that the capitalist device of arts funding in this country is built to understand and support works and not the work, so if you want to keep the community you care for employed and engaged, making a work is a good way to go. It’s the commodifiable thing in a way that the taste of a new tomato or the feel of dirt on your shins is not — even though those things were for me as integral to SHORE as the performance was.
But I also think that the apparatus of performance has great capacity to heighten a given moment in time. You can use that height for many ends. In SHORE, all customary rituals of showtime nailed down a particular hour in order to say: life spreads in all directions from this point. Past the rafters of the ceiling, the sky is darkening at its own pace. Out on the shore the seedlings we planted are growing themselves. A creek used to run under this theater and maybe many years from now it will return. The stories we tell are inherited from older tales and will create new ones or fade from memory, as stories do. You’re just riding the wave of this present moment. It will swiftly be not about you again.
The comfort I found in this is ongoing, and so SHORE is ongoing within me, because SHORE is comfort and the smell of smoke and seawater as much as it was anything.
Thank you to the Ohlone Profiles Project and Literacy for Environmental Justice for joining SHORE. If you are interested in continuing the projects and seeds planted by SHORE, visit these organizations’ website.
Megan Wright is a contemporary dancer based in San Francisco. She is a current member of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, a founding member of Maurya Kerr’s tinypistol, and a frequent collaborator with Katharine Hawthorne. Megan has toured both nationally and internationally as a member of the MJDC and with other work. In 2014 she served as choreographic assistant to Katharine Hawthorne at Springboard Danse Montréal, and assisted the New York-based collective I AM A BOYS CHOIR with their production at La MaMa Experimental Theatre. In 2015 she was awarded an ODC Administrative Fellowship to work with Hope Mohr Dance. Megan graduated cum laude from the Walnut Hill School for the Arts and is also a graduate of the Lines Ballet Training Program.