Burning Man experience provides fuel for one-woman show
One-woman play premieres at undercurrents festival
On a whim a few years ago, Ottawa’s Norah Paton tried to get a ticket to Burning Man, the annual gathering in the Nevada desert where goggles and a bandana are must-haves to ward off the sand storms.
The tickets weren’t cheap — around $400 US — and quantities were limited. And you had to be quick because so many people were trying to snap them up online at the same time.
To her surprise, the Concordia theatre grad was successful. In 2014, off she went to experience the temporary community of artists, hippies, ravers and freaks for the first time. She came home from Black Rock City in need of a shower, but also with an idea for a play.
After twice more making the journey, the 25-year-old writerperformer is ready to don her protective gear in front of an audience. Her one-woman show, Burnt, premieres at the undercurrents festival of contemporary theatre, which runs Feb. 8-11 at Arts Court.
“My premise is, ‘What is Burning Man all about? ’ ” Paton says, before offering a partial answer.
“It’s everything under the sun. What you think about with it is drugs and sex and electronic music, and there’s all of that, absolutely. There’s also insane fire contraptions and a lot of interactive art installations.”
While there’s no sex or drugs onstage, her piece is based on transcripts of interviews she conducted at the event. It’s also informed by the 10 guiding principles of Burning Man, which include radical self-reliance, communal effort and de-commodification.
“Some of them are totally contradictory, and I definitely do look at those paradoxes,” Paton says. That’s the most interesting thing to me. I’m not necessarily looking at it as this amazing, out-there experience where you have all of these crazy adventures, and do all
It’s really interesting to look at how this temporary city becomes a microcosm of all of the issues or tensions or problems that we see in all of our lives.
of these things you’d never imagine that you’d do.
“For me, it’s really interesting to look at how this temporary city becomes a microcosm of all of the issues or tensions or problems that we see in all of our lives. If it’s only interesting to those who have gone or want to go, it’s not that interesting. There’s got to be something that speaks to us in Ottawa in 2017 in February.”
Undercurrents artistic director Patrick Gauthier never felt the urge to make the pilgrimage to Burning Man. But he was intrigued by the idea, and had heard good things about an early reading of Paton’s play.
“Process-wise, it was fascinating,” he said. “Theatre is so messy and wasteful. How is she going to make a play and not leave any trace, and how is she going to radically include people in a solo show? So we funded it. I have no interest in going to Burning Man, but I wanted to help her make this play because I want to see it.”
Gauthier is also the director of the Ottawa Fringe Festival, which is set for June 8-18 this year. Unlike the Fringe, with its performances selected by lottery, undercurrents is curated by Gauthier, who likes to see emerging artists, especially those in the Ottawa theatre community, take risks. He describes Paton as “fearless” for her willingness to challenge herself.
Paton’s play is one of two world premieres by Ottawa-area artists included in the seventh annual edition of undercurrents. This year’s schedule includes eight works, plus Feb. 14’s New Play Tuesday, which is a night of staged readings of works in progress. For more information on tickets and times, go to undercurrentsfestival.ca [email protected]media.com twitter.com/ lynnsaxberg
Local performer Norah Paton, shown her with undercurrents artistic director Patrick Gauthier, will premiere her one-woman show Burnt at the festival on Thursday.