I’m Kristina Lemieux, Artistic Producer of the Tomorrow Collective Arts Society. Our primary project is Brief Encounters, an interdisciplinary and collaborative performance series where we pair together 2 artists from different practices to create a 5-15 minute performance over 2 weeks.
I didn’t found this company or concept, but I fell in love with it because it places equal value on artists and audiences; process and performance.
Artists and audiences have a lot in common. They both want:
- to know what to expect from their experience
- their time to be valued
- their risk, by participating, to pay off
- to have an amazing experience
Over the past 7 years, the Brief Encounters concept has evolved through a lot of theorizing and experimenting. We have a few guiding principles:
- to create an environment of creative questioning & support
- collaboration is when you embed your practices within one another
- interdisciplinary art is the result of mixing different practices to create a form that could only exist with the others
- success is found in the process not the performance
- there is a direct correlation between risk & success
Brief Encounters can challenge notions of performance. Although it is interdisciplinary art, it presents like theatre. This affects the artistic process and the audience’s experience as ‘the theatre’ has meaning. We try to subvert this meaning by recognizing and playing with it.
We stand apart because of our relationship to our people. Whatever your practice or business, what is your relationship to your audience? Where do they come into your planning processes? Is it an us versus them relationship? We try to work collaboratively with everyone from the start. This happens most successfully by creating permissive states that open one up to interaction with another.
In terms of the stage show, we do this in a few traditional ways:
- we use media to introduce the concept, show & artists in the lead up
- we have paper programs with bios & show order
- we have a host who guides the audience through the show, tells them what to expect & what behaviour is encouraged
- we set up 2 states in the theatre throughout the night: watching & socializing; state changes are orchestrated with lights, music, host & the creation of activity, allowing people a break to process, talk about what they just saw & enjoy each other’s company.
Model the behaviour you want to see. Cultivate and reward those around you who are exhibiting those behaviours.
Food and drink, it gives people something to do with their hands and mouth. It gives them permission to move around the room and offers opportunities to interact with people you didn’t come with.
People see art how it is set up for them to see. I read this great book a while back called ‘Chairs Are Where The People Go’. Where you put chairs says a lot about the kind of experience people will have. They are like punctuation.
We play intro videos before the pairings perform their collaboration. We film the artists in their creation period and ask them to introduce each other and talk about their process. This sets in motion a few things:
- the artists show their vulnerabilities by being themselves & not their stage personas
- they reveal insight into how they worked together
- they are often laughing & smiling
- a bridge is formed
During the artists’ process, we create permissive states much in the same way as we do for the stage show. We give them as much information about the process and show as we can. We explain our views on collaboration and interdisciplinary art. We meet with them individually to ensure they understand the concept and what is expected of them.
We spend a lot of time considering the pairings. We want to create some friction and discomfort so risks have to be taken, but we want to make sure that there is a personality match. And, that they will have fun with each other and be pushed somewhere they may not have chosen to go.
All this being said, no matter what we’ve done, changed, tweaked, altered, in every show there is a pairing who have a really hard time. Interestingly though, these pieces are often audience favourites.
It is my experience that making and watching live art is about making connections. We all want to be part of something, to feel heard, to be missed when we are not there. We want to be listened to. We want to see our lives and experiences reflected back to us.
We also are curious about the unknown and the different. We want to explore things we don’t have access to, but that can be scary and a lot of trust is needed. How do we build that trust? By ensuring there is enough safety to experiment.
We create context and opportunity. When you arrive at Brief Encounters, you are greeted and acknowledged, you have somewhere comfortable to be in the space, welcoming environment, basic information to understand what is happening, there is community around you, food and beverage and an opportunity to experience the fullness of human emotion through the live art in front of you.
I believe art making and art watching are marginal activities. And that we as art makers are lagging behind the changing environment around us. Traditional media is dying, new media is always new. How we learn about our world is so different with each passing year.
There so many options on how, when and why we spend our disposable income. Live art is a disposable activity. Our new world has changed the individual into someone who expects a great deal of agency in how they experience the world around them. They want control and options.
There is an opportunity for us all to be outsider artists. So let’s cultivate outsider audiences. Let’s collaborate in process and product. Let’s forget everything we know about what it means to do and be at live art and dive into the unknown.