Photo credit: lspuhall.ca
Delight, tender, stroke.
Each word evokes two completely contradictory meanings. We all know this. We are aware that delight can mean both great pleasure and to extinguish light, that tender can mean to be gentle and soft but also a wound that is in pain, and that stroke means to caress someone slowly and yet also refers to the deadly burst of a blood vessel in the brain. We know this, yet we rarely pay attention to the meaning these words hold at the moment that they are said.
‘Solastalgia’ presented by RCAT and Sonderlust, is a play written and performed by Kristin Shepherd and directed and produced by Nicole Smith. It has recently been adapted from its original outdoor venue and reworked to be performed onstage at the LSPU Hall in downtown St. John’s. The play was initially created and performed amid the pandemic in southern Ontario. It was one of the first live theatre performances post-pandemic where an audience could be together with people outside their bubbles.
This is where their choice of an outdoor setting came into play. Performing to an audience only a few feet from your face, at eye level, no less, creates an entirely new level of vulnerability. One that can be very difficult to then replicate onstage. Through the lighting direction, acting approach, and overall atmosphere, the audience could experience that same intimate interaction from a theatre seat. By no means did this play follow the standard etiquette of a theatrical performance, but the realness, humanity, and lack of a fourth wall left each audience member listening intently to every spoken word.
It was uncomfortable,
The audience chattering before the start of the play came to a sudden lull as the woman onstage spoke into her headset. It felt like a classroom going abruptly quiet as they realized the teacher was standing there, watching at the front of the room. A conversation was initiated, and we were there to listen and absorb the angst, hurt, and longing thrown our way. We were forced to connect.
The lights stayed on. The director, Nicole Smith, and stage manager, Hannah Briggs, were able to stray away from the typical theatre model just enough to create unease without completely crossing the line. The sets and lighting opened up the stage, creating an environment resembling that of someone’s home, of someone’s mind. It was almost as if we, the audience, had walked into their safe space but that they had also stepped into ours.
The play was presented as a one-woman show. Shepherd’s initial thought was to create a play with an entirely unpalatable character; what better way than to place a 60-something-year-old woman in front of an audience and have her talk at them? Simple, and yet entirely effective. Shepherd’s character recounts multiple stories provoking laughter, tears, and unease, at times simultaneously. We were given the opportunity to feel like a community while witnessing the human condition through a spectator’s lens.
Solastalgia is the homesickness for something that no longer exists.
Or, by direct definition, “a form of emotional or existential distress caused by environmental change.” A term coined by Austrian philosopher Glenn Albrecht, combining sōlācium ‘solace’ and -algia ‘pain.’ With references to the melting glaciers releasing untouched feelings and undertones encapsulated within the ice from a different time, Shepherd draws a direct link between the current climate collapse and the overwhelming distress being felt globally. It is a word that can encompass many things; drawing from that, Shepherd’s character pushes herself to accept what is uncertain, to accept her humanity and to hope.
The longing for what no longer exists can resonate with people in very different ways. With reference to the pandemic, there is a universal longing for what we once had and how we once lived before Covid-19. But what’s more interesting is the longing that even young children feel for something they don’t know ever existed. The direct connection created between Shepherd and the audience feels uncomfortable because the pandemic made a lack of human connection the norm. There is a sense of awareness that Shepherd’s character and her direct dialogue is able to give back to the audience.
Two words repeated multiple times by Shepherd throughout the piece. Each word she utters holds meaning; nothing is empty, and everything is said with intent. We are often coasting, unable to pay attention to even the smallest of words or moments and the great value they can hold. Ultimately, we are left with one final double-edged offering cloaked in the words, love left. Once again, we have two potential meanings, that love has left the room or that love is the one thing we will always have left when everything is gone. We get to choose our own interpretations. We just have to pay attention.
‘Solastalgia’ will be performed at the LSPU hall for the remainder of the weekend, at 8 pm on the 20th and 21st and 2 pm on the 22nd. The 21st will include a live stream and live audio description. It is an immersive experience you won’t want to miss.
**As well, it is important to note that all RCAT shows have a student discount.**
It is so important that we continue to support our local artists and community. Make sure to check out lspuhall.ca for any upcoming performances that may peak your interest.