The New Dead Poets Society

We are first led into a parking garage on Granville Island, a secret location behind the parked cars and unfinished drywalls. Red carpet covers the cement ground. Surrounding the hidden room are tables lit with candles, a bar with wine and beer in the structure of a little house, and benches around a heat lamp littered with books by Jennica Harper, Elizabeth Bachinsky, and Marita Dachsel.

Taryn, my Misfit Lit co-owner, and I are initiated with a simple pink string tied around our wrist. We are then handed a warm blanket to cover our legs as we sit at the table reading the poetry we are about to witness as performance art.

In the first round of the three performances we are led to a back room of some unknown building across the road. The walkway to our seats is curved in the shape of an oval so we can’t see where we were going, only the single person leading us around the bend. After the line halts, a quick glimpse around the dimly lit tunnel reveals the stools in which we take our seats. In front us is a wall with holes to fit our face and peer through like a looking glass. The lights come on and everyone stares at each other’s newly painted bodies surrounding the holes. I had previously read What it Feels Like For a Girl so I knew the narrative beforehand. There are two actors: one girl of fifteen years old and a lady in her thirties. Although the two characters in the poetry book are both in highschool, the main narrator, Jennica,  wrote the poetry book as if looking back on her life. The oldest actor parallels this concept of age; in between the scenes, she narrates her opinions on the new experiences that are thrust into her world. This is an ingenious take of a solid written book where the absence of a fabricated setting and complex props have the most to say.

The second stop of the night is in front of an abandoned warehouse. The rusted white door slides open and we walk into a cluttered garage with biohazard buckets and smog blurring our vision. It’s as if the fog breathes heavy along with us in anticipation. Elizabeth’s performance is not a narrated story like Jennica Harper’s, but a collection of poems strung together to paint a portrait of Ukrainian identity. The three performers instantly catch our attention when they walk up to our row and glare into our eyes only a couple feet away. Sometimes we don’t know whether to keep connecting with the performer or look in another direction. Again the props are simple, but we are able to interact with the tin can photographs handed out to us as we take a seat on one of the biohazard buckets. A couple times we are asked to move around for different settings and videos projected on carpentry plastic.

The final stop before being uninitiated from the night is Marita Dachsel’s house of poetry. There are six rooms, each with a different poem recited in a different setting. The first was simple: head phones, the sound of a frying pan to match the sculpture in front of us, and crushed eggshells litter the floor. Even the stench of rotten eggshells adds to the overall piece in a pleasurable way. My favourite room contains an antique dresser with a mirror. Taryn sits on one side while I sit across from her. We place the black top-hats on our heads and check ourself out in the mirror. Not until the the end of the poem does the mirror turn into a window and we find ourselves staring into each other’s eyes laughing at all the vain things we might have done when we thought the other wasn’t looking. The final room is a white hallway with billowing curtains covering the windows, a place that reminds me of the freedom of childhood.

What becomes of something we typically read on paper under the lamp light in our bedrooms is an interactive performance where we not only listen, but feel, touch, and smell the poetry. Even the second time seeing Initiation Trilogy, the magic still crawls through my veins.

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About marlowgunterman

Marlow Gunterman is a Vancouver-based writer who is heavily influenced by misfits and her family’s historical presence in the Kootney town of Beaton. She is earning her Bachelor of Creative Writing at Kwantlen University where she has been published in The Runner and Pulp Mag. She now belongs on the committee board for Pulp Mag and co-owns her own online literary and art magazine called Misfit Lit. In her outside time she is a dancer and has travelled as far as Russia for ballet workshops.

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