What’s the trickiest part of volunteering to play a Toronto G20 detainee during the current remount of You Should Have Stayed Home? Donning the plastic zip-tie handcuffs used on those who wound up at the Eastern Avenue Detention Centre three years ago. If you lack nimble fingers, or have a tendency to wear things the wrong way, ask one of your fellow detainees to fix the strips so that they’ll stay on during the performance, and won’t require a pair of scissors for removal.
Finding volunteers for Praxis Theatre and The Original Norwegian’s five-city tour of Tommy Taylor’s account of his detention experience during Toronto’s G20 summit has not been difficult. Some participated in the show’s debut run during Summerworks in 2011. Others were inspired in different ways. “We had a guy in Vancouver come and see the show, not knowing anything about it,” says Aislinn Rose, artistic producer of Praxis Theatre. “He came to see the show with his wife. The words he said to me were, ‘I heard Tommy tell his story and I knew I had to stand up with him.’” He wound up volunteering for most of the remaining performances.
Playing a detainee is simple, as we discovered during a performance this weekend. Email Praxis (email@example.com) to work out the details. Show up for a rehearsal one hour before the performance begins. Your props are a pink wristband akin to those worn by the real detainees, the plastic “handcuffs,” and a Styrofoam cup. During your 12 minutes on stage in the cage, you’ll pose in several tableau positions. You’ll also scream for water, a moment where the cruelty of the situation caused our internal temperature to rise. The trick is not to break character by watching Taylor’s engaging performance.
Those who volunteered at the performance we attended were drawn by the show’s reflections on Toronto’s G20 weekend. All wanted to do their part to publicize what happened to the detainees. One said that if it wasn’t for the fact that she couldn’t find a sitter for her son, she would have checked out the protests and probably would have been arrested. Another volunteer admitted she only knew the basics of what happened during the G20 weekend, and was so appalled and compelled by Taylor’s account that she felt the need to participate.
Rose finds that audiences and participants are drawn by Taylor’s focus on the human damage done during the G20 weekend, rather than the smashed windows and torched police cars. “There’s a lot of people who were traumatized and don’t want to talk about this story,” Rose observes. “The fact he can tell this story opens the door to a larger conversation about the people in our society who experience this kind of behaviour from police on a regular basis.” She finds that audience response has grown more emotional with the passage of time, because, she thinks, people feel little was done to address the mistreatment of detainees. Taylor’s account is one she feels is “so important.”
Images courtesy Praxis Theatre.