Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Dis-Ing the Main Drag and Walking toward the Public Good in Here Be Dragons: Mapping Queer, Asian-Canadian Identity in Kitchener, Ontario

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Dis-Ing the Main Drag and Walking toward the Public Good in Here Be Dragons: Mapping Queer, Asian-Canadian Identity in Kitchener, Ontario

Article excerpt

What the map cuts up, the story cuts across.

--Michel de Certeau

A Context for Mapping and Walking

Mapping can be considered a particular kind of text. As a means of representing our relationship to place, mapping can take numerous forms, from drawing on a piece of paper, to a sequence of events etched in someone's memory, to an itinerary generated instantaneously by an online way-finding service, or a map created by professional cartographers. As a performative process, mapping is an attempt to apprehend where we are, who we are, and with whom we share the process. Mapping and walking together articulate an "embodied experience carried out from a particular point of view that 'makes possible both the finiteness of my perception and its opening out upon the complete world as a horizon of every perception'" (Merleau-Ponty, qtd. in O'Rourke xvii-xviii). In the project discussed here, walking and mapping are not just the combined acts of creative-research; they also serve as methodology.

As an approach to defining identity in relation to place, the following account of the site-specific performance Here Be Dragons was inspired by famous walking-mappers in history, such as the Situationists who created maps to highlight the psychogeographical contours and architectural articulations of modern cities. Echoing this tradition, the landscape mapped in Here Be Dragons encompasses the immediate, physical, and urban environment in which many of us walk, the actions and perceptions of pedestrians, and certain cultural and ideological filters through which it is possible to view this experience. The performance charts less the physical distances that separate two parts of a city, and more an experience of walking through this city at street level. Mapping becomes a methodology of identity construction as well as a methodology of performance creation through walking that is entered into collaboratively by both artists and audience.

An Opportunity to Map

About four months before IMPACT'11, (1) the Artistic Director of the festival, Majdi Bou-Matar, asked me if I wanted to contribute a performance. I quickly pondered the factors: I knew the festival was struggling financially, I was an inexpensive local alternative to a more costly international candidate, I am pretty competent with tight deadlines, and Majdi is my friend. Even considering all this, four months isn't much time to produce a show. I was hesitant, but then the festival's theme drew me in. The IMPACT Festival is a biannual international theatre festival, produced by the MT Space; (2) the focus of IMPACT '11 was performing the displacement of immigrants and aboriginals. I'm neither an immigrant nor an aboriginal, but I still feel displaced in Kitchener-Waterloo, my place of residence for the last ten years or so. I immediately envisioned a series of maps detailing the routes, landmarks, guideposts, places of refuge, and other markers for people who for one reason or another feel displaced. Perhaps one person's map could be useful to other people; perhaps these maps might reveal traces, situated knowledge, or other social strata not perceived or navigable by others without the map's assistance. Perhaps these maps might yield something of an inner journey as well; the experience of following someone's lead through an unknown territory of intimacy rarely risked in a public space. Lucy Lippard states that "{t]he 'naturalization' of maps--the myth that maps show the world the way it really is--veils the fact that maps are cultural and even individual creations that embody points of view" (102). Maps author what their makers want to show, and resistance is difficult. In this project, I wanted to challenge the hegemony of authorless, powerful civic maps through the collaborative creation of performative maps that could disidentify with this civic strategy, and in so doing might positively reorient others to do the same.

Despite the tight deadline and a small budget, I was inspired by this project's potential, but I initially had no idea whose map would be revealed. …

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