A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

July 19, 2022

An excerpt from Authenticity is a Feeling in tribute to Sven Åge Birkeland.


[An excerpt from Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART. In tribute to Sven Åge Birkeland, who was the first person ever to invite me to perform in Europe in 1996. Rest in Power Sven. You did so much.]


When the run ended I had to return to Toronto, but made it back to Montreal for the end of the festival (which, as its name suggests, lasted twenty days). I had a specific reason for returning: I wanted to meet Sven Åge Birkeland and Knut Ove Arntzen. That year Les 20 jours du théâtre à risque had been part of an exchange with Norway. Norwegian artists Finn Iunker and Lisbeth J. Bodd had come to Montreal to stage a reading of Finn’s play The Answering Machine. For the second part of the exchange, Quebec artists Carole Nadeau and Gilles Arteau were supposed to go to Bergen to stage a Norwegian translation of a text by Gilles. Sven and Knut Ove had gone to Quebec City to meet with Gilles about the project, but Gilles had for some reason stood them up. (Sylvie tells me she later learned the reason was a significant crisis in his professional life: the artist-run centre he had founded was closing down.) When Sven and Knut Ove returned to Montreal they were furious, they had travelled all the way from Norway to meet him and he hadn’t bothered to show up. They were thinking of cancelling the second part of the exchange. Quick on her feet, Sylvie said that if they didn’t want Gilles to be part of the project then she had another writer in mind and that other writer was me. I had never been to Europe. I don’t think I had ever even met anyone who had been to Norway, and I had certainly never met anyone who ran a theatre in Europe (Sven ran the BIT Teatergarasjen in Bergen).

At that time I was strongly feeling that my possibilities for making and presenting work in Toronto were running out. My work was getting steadily more experimental and Toronto theatre was getting steadily more conservative. People who liked my work were starting to feel they could no longer present it, that it would alienate viewers and funders alike, that it was a risk for them. (The name of Sylvie’s festival in Montreal was starting to seem more important to me every day.) A new conservative, provincial government – Mike Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution” – was cutting everything, and therefore arts funding cuts could, at times, feel like the least of our worries. I remember reading that Harris had said: let them keep protesting until all the grass in front of City Hall has been completely stomped away. He didn’t care, protests or no protests he intended to cut. I remember complaining about the situation to a playwright I knew, and him carefully explaining to me that ‘hard times are good for artists.’ It was only years later I read a similar sentiment expressed in a different way by Roger Fry:
And here we touch on a curious economic accident, the importance of which as a determining condition of art production has never been properly emphasized. In modern life, great works of art generally have been, and I suspect, almost must be, produced in defiance of the tastes and predilections of society at large. The artist, therefore, except in those cases where he possesses inherited means, must be able to live and function on an extremely small sum. He must exist almost as sparrows do, by picking up the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. What wonder, then, that periods of artistic creation and impotence are as hard to predict or account for as the weather itself! And yet there is a certain irony in the fact that every civilization is ultimately judged by what of spiritual value it has contributed to the human patrimony. It is only at each present moment that this appears to be of so little consequence as to be negligible.
As I was sitting on the train, on my way to Montreal to meet Sven and Knut Ove for the first time, I wondered about my situation: if I could no longer continue to make and present work in Toronto, was it really possible that I could begin to do so in Europe. I believe at that time, in my mind, the answer was probably not. I found it hard to imagine anything more far-fetched.

+ + + +

Marie Nerland picked us up at he airport. Marie visited Montreal recently and when I met her for coffee I had the thought – a thought I’ve had more than a few times before – that she was the very first person I met in Europe. Bergen looks a bit like a town from a storybook: small clapboard houses, winding paths and hills surrounding a small lake, never-ending rain (I was told Norwegians call it ‘the shower’). The BIT Teatergarasjen was located in a former garage, a cavernous space that had barely been renovated for maximum coolness. The show that had ended just before we arrived was called Everybody Goes to Disco, from Moscow to San Francisco – by the Macedonian company Montažstroj – which I thought was pretty much the best title for a show ever. I was there with Carole Nadeau to stage a reading of the Norwegian translation of the text they had commissioned me to write: Unrehearsed Beauty. And to participate in the conference TheatreTextContext, which I was told was about innovative approaches to making text for experimental theatre. The example given was Gertrude Stein’s Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights, which had recently been staged by Robert Wilson. For Unrehearsed Beauty I had the idea to write a text that could be used in absolutely any way, as described in the subtitle: A series of theatrical proposals – to be repeated, discarded, performed simultaneously and/or recombined in any and all of the many possible combinations – all vaguely relating to the topic of the author’s considerable moral ambivalence. (Numbers 1-49 in a continuing series.)

I had started as a playwright but didn’t want to be a playwright anymore, didn’t want to put words in other people’s mouths, wanted instead to create situations that provided everyone involved with maximum autonomy. It somehow seemed more ethical to me if performers said and did things they could take full responsibility for. At the conference, Finn Iunker, who basically still wanted to be a playwright, said that he particularly didn’t like the term. As an example of why he found it inaccurate, he asked the room: have you ever heard of a shipwright? He preferred the term theatre worker, someone who makes something, someone who builds theatre piece by piece. TheatreTextContext was the first time I had been around so many people who explicitly wanted to see theatre change. But over the course of the conference I came to understand something I hadn’t understood before, that simply because we all wanted to see theatre change didn’t mean we were searching for even remotely the same things.

+ + + +

Knut Ove Arntzen is a theorist who teaches at the University of Bergen. His influence on Norwegian and international theatre has been considerable. One of the terms that Knut Ove coined, and introduced me to during that first visit to Bergen, was post-mainstream. If I understand it correctly, it has to do with the fact that there were many companies making successful large-scale, experimental work in the eighties; this was the work he referred to as the experimental mainstream (for example, some of the same companies I had seen growing up in Toronto: the Wooster Group, Needcompany, etc.). These were shows for large stages and large audiences, that played at international festivals and often combined challenging ways of approaching dance and theatre with spectacular stagings and performer virtuosity. The work that came after, that was still just emerging in the mid-nineties, and that I was apparently a part of, was what he referred to as post-mainstream. This work was often smaller or ambient, privileging an engaged amateurism over clear virtuosity, and was often made by groups or collectives as opposed to one genius director or choreographer.

The term post-mainstream continued to follow me around for many years. When we performed in Zagreb, at the Eurokaz Festival, it was one of the key words in the program, along with the term iconoclastic. Then, much later, we were invited to Tokyo to perform at the Tokyo Post-Mainstream Performing Arts Festival, run by Hiromi Maruoka, who had picked up the term when she performed at Eurokaz with the Japanese company Gekidan Kaitaisha. A term that had travelled from Norway to Croatia to Japan, and then with me back to Canada. There was a moment when I even thought post-mainstream might succeed and become a key performance-related art historical term or movement – like postmodernism, surrealism, conceptual art, or relational aesthetics – but it seems within the kinds of performance worlds I inhabit that no single term can ever fully stick, no name for it ever become dominant. Years later there was Hans-Thies Lehmann’s book Postdramatic Theatre, named for a category that, it seems to me, encapsulated both the experimental mainstream and the post mainstream and, in Germany at least, this term might now be the one most widely used.

I was in Europe for the first time with a desire to place my work within some larger international context, and I was finding it, but as I was discovering it bit by bit I was also discovering how deep my dissatisfaction with theatre and the world were. Post-mainstream was an idea that more or less described what I was trying to do – and it was even a term that I liked, I actually liked the sound of it – but, like that old joke about not wanting to be part of any club that would have me as a member, I couldn’t quite imagine how all this new information could someday become a part of my artistic life. There was now a term that accurately described what I did, but how did that help me or what else did it suggest? I wanted it just as strongly as I didn’t.

+ + + +

One or two days before our staged reading of the Norwegian translation of Unrehearsed Beauty, Mads Ousdal decided to drop out of the project. The BIT Teatergarasjen had hired three actors from the Theatre Academy, and as we rehearsed I felt everything was going well, until we were told that Mads was leaving. Later, there was some speculation as to why he quit: that the work was too experimental, that he was worried it would make him look bad, that he was famous, or at least his father was a famous actor, but we weren’t treating him like he was famous, we were treating him like a normal collaborator. At any rate, we needed a solution and the solution was that I would play Mads’s role. (I was originally not supposed to perform at all.) Goril Mauseth and Elin Sogn would speak their already-memorized text in Norwegian translation and I would read the words I had written in English, since there was no time for me to memorize the text (and I obviously wasn’t able to read or speak Norwegian).

Carole created Unrehearsed Beauty with the audience sitting on the stage at small café tables, transforming it all into a more intimate space. Goril, Elin, and I would alternate between sitting at different tables, speaking our text in a quiet casual manner directly to the two or three audience members who surrounded us, and standing up, addressing the entire room. The show ended with the three of us sitting side by side in the normal audience seating, watching the actual audience, who were still all seated onstage, listening as Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche” played on a record player at 78 instead of 33 1⁄3, Leonard’s chipmunk voice bringing another off-kilter aspect of Canada into Norway. Afterwards, I was surprised to learn one of the aspects people liked most was how they interpreted my being onstage with the two Norwegians, and the mixing of our respective languages, as a kind of thematic staging of the artistic collaboration between Canada and Norway. This was of course the furthest thing from my mind – I was only filling in for a performer who had quit, but in doing so it seems the thematic territory had shifted more than we thought.

+ + + +

I sometimes think of these two coincidences that in many ways got me started (or, more accurately, got me started for a second time, since I had already been making work for almost ten years in Toronto). If Gilles had shown up for the meeting in Quebec City, it is likely he would have gone to Norway instead of me. If Mads had stayed in the project, it is likely those who saw it would have understood the work differently, and my role within the project would have felt considerably less prominent. Twice someone dropped out and each time I stepped in to replace them. If these replacements hadn’t happened, it is a distinct possibility I would have never gotten off the ground in Europe, or it would have all happened much later, or more gradually, or in some different way.

I don’t know if I should think of such occurrences as luck, chance, or opportunism. In a way they are examples of what I have always tried to do: take something negative or unexpected and turn it around so it might resemble a possibility. Anything that goes wrong might be also a chance for something nice to happen. At the very least it is unexpected, and therefore can shift us, even slightly, out of our routines and routine ways of thinking. I’m not sure I exactly like what I’m writing here. It feels to me too much like a motivational speech, an inspirational message, all that bullshit that can so easily devolve into capitalism insisting the individual must make the best of each and every situation, whatever hardships arise along the way. But if there’s anything I still like about performance, it’s that the unexpected might happen at any time, live in front of an audience or at any point during the process. It is a place where surprises can most productively occur, and it is still somewhat shocking to me that most shows are set up to ensure they so rarely do.


July 10, 2022

Kim Stanley Robinson Quote


"To get anywhere in this world you must hitch your tiger to your chariot."
– Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future

[For some reason this quote really struck me. I seem to keep thinking about it.]


June 29, 2022

I don't really know why I do many of the things I do.


I guess I started as a poet. But I haven't really published any poetry in a long time now. The other day someone asked me if I was someday thinking of doing another poetry collection and I guess I realized that I wasn't. At least not for the time being. Though I do write the occasional poem and there is a word file that I put all of these poems into, which does make up some sort of poetry manuscript (currently at 127 pages.) So I started wondering: is there any reason I don't want to publish these poems in the form of a book?

I'm not sure there's a reason. Maybe I will publish them someday. Keep adding more and more poems to the word file and then, eventually, just do it all as one book. Maybe just doing one book of poetry makes more sense to me and for that it would be better to wait as long as possible. Not several books but just one book when I'm old (or posthumously.) In general, I can't really imagine very many people reading it. And most of the poems are already on this blog if anyone wants to see them:


Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that I don't read so many poetry books anymore. Every once and a while I'll take a look at one. Or if it's someone I know. But I guess I read a lot of poetry books when I was younger and now mostly read other things. I still like reading poetry. And I do read poems online. Whenever there's a poem in any of my feeds I always click on it.

But, as is mostly the case with me, the reason is probably there's not much of a reason at all. I don't really know why I do many of the things I do.

[The word document full of my poems is called: Loneliness Must Be Recruited In The Fight Against Capitalism.]

[And, of course, I will continue to write other kinds of books.]


June 25, 2022

a photo of me lying under the table


A photo of me lying under the table during a rehearsal for Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la répétition.


June 24, 2022

two books that really depressed me (draft-in-progress)


During the pandemic I read two books that really depressed me:

The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism by Katherine Stewart


Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean.

Both books made it abundantly clear how well-organized, well-funded, strategic and insanely determined the people I think of as evil actually are. They know what they are against and continue - again and again, with ever-shifting tactics - to work toward the overwhelmingly destructive changes they envision. They are hypocrites but that doesn't stop them, they just keep fighting for what they want. The means justify the end, all strategies are considered. They work to short circuit all the ways mass movements are able to activate change. And they know the way for them to change things is by changing laws. If they weren't so sickeningly well-funded it wouldn't work. When you have the money to keep trying and trying, hiring as many people as necessary to brainstorm and implement, eventually you can find the things that work.

This isn't to suggest it's time for despair. It's probably never really time for despair. But an understanding of what we're up again is really difficult to stomach. Reading these books made me wonder: what would it mean for the left (however you wish to define it) to devote the same amount of time and energy to changing laws. But without the same amount of billionaire money backing such endeavours I find it hard to feel confident it would work. Yet I know there must be way. I keep coming back to the question of strategy and tactics.

This is the passage from The Power Worshippers I posted when I first read it.

And then, thinking about this post some more, I also find myself thinking that things continually change, the situation is never quite the same as it was in the past. The christian nationalists, libertarians and so many other parts of the far right have been fighting in this way for such a long time now. Perhaps their victories are in the present and their failures are in the future. The fact that they've been so successful in destroying society must also create some sort of opening. We can now so clearly see the world they are making and how few people it serves, how many lives it destroys, how it destroys the natural world we depend on for our very survival. Can their victories also mark the beginning of their end? I keep coming back to the question of strategy and tactics.


May 22, 2022

PME-ART at Festival TransAmériques


PME-ART will be performing at Festival TransAmériques in Montréal with our performance-installation Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la répétition.

“Seated around a large table, a group of artists apply themselves to the task of rewriting the journals and notebooks of the U.S author and activist Susan Sontag. They reappropriate her words and unpack their possibilities, altering the substance of the text by projecting themselves into it. Each fragment is read, shared, exhibited. Through this ceaseless communal labour, the performers produce a new, collective work that’s closer to us.”

With Burcu Emeç, Marie Claire Forté, Nadège Grebmeier Forget, Adam Kinner, Catherine Lalonde, Ashlea Watkin and Jacob Wren. Artistic contribution Claudia Fancello.

At Galerie Leonard & Bina Ellen, June 1st to 8th, from noon to 6pm and June 9th from 3pm to 9pm (for the making of the "monster book.") Free entrance, no RSVP required. Masks are mandatory. Note that June 6th is off.

Find out more on the Facebook Event or on the FTA website.

You can also read this article: Concordia's Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery hosts the PME-ART group

(And, if perhaps you'd like to explore further, you can also check out the new PME-ART website and the PME-ART Facebook page.)  

   Photos by Nadège Grebmeier Forget

April 28, 2022

New PME-ART Website


We've been working hard over the course of the past couple years to create a new PME-ART website, documenting over twenty years of unexpected and innovative work:


This is where you can watch the online conference Vulnerable Paradoxes, download the related free PDF publication In response to Vulnerable Paradoxes, listen to Jacob’s teenage songs from Every Song I’ve Ever Written, as well as many other experiences. We are excited, since this is the first time PME-ART has really had a full website, casting new light on our history and practice.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who made it happen: Development and writing by Fabien Marcil, Jacob Wren, Kamissa Ma Koïta, Sylvie Lachance and Burcu Emeç / Translation and editing by Marie Claire Forté / Graphic design by Kamissa Ma Koïta / Video editing by Muhammad El Khairy and Kamissa Ma Koïta / Web integration and additional design by Andi Hernandez

(We worked so long and hard on this thing and, for much of the time we were doing so, I kept thinking to myself: everyone has a website. No one is suddently going to get excited that we have a website now. It just sort of brings us up to speed with everyone else. Why are we working so hard on this thing? And I still don't really know the answer to that question. But, nonetheless, that's what we did and here it is.)

(Looking over all the projects we've done since 1998 gives me such a strange feeling. What exactly do all these projects have in common? Would it be better if they had more in common with each other? Or less? I've been doing PME-ART for about twenty-five years. I'm now fifty, so that's half my natural life. What to make of it all. I actually wrote a book trying to understand it better. But doing the website somehow opened up what I previously understood and now I find myself wondering about it all, all over again. So many decisions about what to make were made in the heat of the moment. Or for reasons that then changed before the thing was made, or that changed as we were making it, as they should. A twisting path. An emotional rollercoaster. A story that now seems to have been told mostly in retrospect. PME-ART: a mix of non-dance, non-theatre and non-performance.)


April 14, 2022

Three Spring Poems Written Rather Quickly



I’ve perhaps written enough for one person in one lifetime.

If someone were to read the entirety of my published works, depending on how fast they read, it would probably take them a few months. This seems to me a good amount of time to spend on a single author, because of course it is much more important to read many authors, as many as possible.

But of course I can’t stop. Can’t stop writing.

Will I write something in the future that is different or better than everything that came before?

And, if I do, will I or anyone else notice?

I don’t know if I ever really thought art was important. But I suspect there was once at least some small part of me that thought art was at least a little bit important.

However, in our current predicament, what seems important is: air, water, soil.

(Not necessarily in that order.)

(Not so much art.)

What seems important versus what I spend my time doing.

So many different shades of climate grief.

Will what I write in the future be any different than what I have written in the past?

Is there a future? (But this question is a dead end. We make the future one day at a time.)

What will I write today? / What will I write tomorrow?



I was young and wanted to write poems.

I thought poems would grab the reader by the throat and radiate all meaning that words and thoughts and feelings could contain.

But I did not want to write poemy poems. I wanted to get to the point. As sharply and precisely and quickly as possible.

I was young and wanted everything to happen now.

It was the eighties.

The eighties were already almost done.

I couldn’t find the poems I wanted to read so I wanted to write them myself.

And I did. So many fucking poems.

That were published. And read aloud at reading after reading.

And I learned that poems were almost nothing like what I had hoped for or thought possible.

They were something else.

And so was I.


It is so easy to make meaningless art.

You don’t even have to realize you are doing so.


April 5, 2022

Some passages from Sara: Prison Memoir of a Kurdish Revolutionary by Sakine Cansız

Some passages from Sara: Prison Memoir of a Kurdish Revolutionary by Sakine Cansız:


I knew I was right – a prison break would constitute an action taken against the enemy. If I’d been able to use the opportunity it would have been a good hit. Probably I was too optimistic, but this dream was just too beautiful.


It was just too strange. All those guys who supposedly loved me so passionately tended to idolize me. They hardly dared love me, they said, because of my goddess-like nature. But with their clumsy, unbounded, disrespectful, and cheap declarations of love, they essentially smashed an idol that they’d created. Their emotional world contained a drive to dominate others. Where did their woolly feelings begin, where did they end, what were they based on, and what were they good for? On the one hand, these men were secretive, egotistical, and individualistic; on the other, they were crude, exuberant, and absolute. At any moment their supposed love could flip over into a desire for revenge.


The woman friends I’d brough in lost confidence in me, saying my dreams were beautiful but impractical. That was bad. Yes, I lived in an exorbitant fantasy world, but the actions I fantasized about were doable. The question was, should we take risks and allow ourselves to dream, or avoid risks and reject dreams? I always preferred to take risks, and that was the choice I made my whole life.


At the hospital, we sat together in the waiting room for a while. The men wanted to know what had been done to us, and I told them what we’d been through. Fatma was silent. Her coldness was hard to take even in normal times, but now we were sharing our journey to death together. Everything about her was calculated and measured. What a strange person she was. I believe in recognizing life’s beautiful sides. I wanted to die laughing and dancing. I think only those who know how to value life are ready for death. Otherwise, neither life nor death has any particular meaning.


In prison, these events gave us strength and hope – and not just us but prisoners from other political organizations too. Some accused us, once again, of reckless adventurism – we’d heard that a lot when we first got to prison, especially from Kurdish leftists. They said it was madness to wage an armed struggle against the junta, which would then take revenge on the civilian population. But they feared the enemy more than they cared for the people. They thought of the enemy as an invincible, all-powerful force. When things got hot, instead of fighting him, they preferred to take a break. When the enemy proclaimed that he had annihilated all revolutionary thoughts, they believed him. Ultimately they just didn’t believe in revolution.


Her knowledge was of such immeasurable value that we tolerated her sometimes obnoxious behavior. She tended to squabble and interfere in everything. When bickering erupted, and women got angry at her, I tried to calm the waters by emphasizing Mevlüde’s positive qualities. But Mevlüde herself never shied from conflict. Replying to the general criticism of her, she said, “In the past I was worse – sometimes I couldn’t adapt at all. That’s why the friends sent me home. But I’m beginning to change myself and my behavior here.”


I thought of my own escape attempt back in Malatya. What a beautiful night! I’d been overjoyed, as if I’d done some important action. I’d actually succeeded in getting physically outside. I’d told myself, Now I’ve done the hardest part, I’m home free. I thought I’d really escaped. I imagined telling the friends about my successful escape. It was like a movie: August 20, 1980, the only beautiful night in Malatya! But no, I just made it to that point and didn’t know what to do next. I hadn’t done enough planning, and I didn’t know the area, so my success was short-lived. If I could have walked directly into a forest, I would’ve made it. In the mountains you can always hide, they provide protection. It was probably worse to be captured outside than to have not tried at all. If you’re too weak or clumsy, faint-hearted, or otherwise unable to even try something, that’s understandable. But to succeed at the hardest part, and still have enough strength to keep going, yet ultimately fail because you didn’t think far enough ahead or because you are overconfident and drunk with success… Did I enjoy taking risks? Being a victim? Making sacrifices? I had to think more about the concept of sacrifice. It had all started when I got angry. Conventional wisdom has it, “Those who stand up in anger, sit back down damaged.” But of course that was no justification.


In love there should be no lies or roughness. Yes, I was a dreamer, prone to illusions. My attitude toward love was utopian. Meanwhile I thrived on conflict. A moment without struggle was like torture for me. It was struggle that made life worth living and gave me strength.


March 29, 2022

"there are musics that hunt for an exit"


"As Pierre Boulez once remarked of liberal society, “The economy is there to remind us, in case we get lost in this bland utopia: there are musics which bring in money and exist for commercial profit; there are musics that cost something, whose very concept has nothing to do with profit. No liberalism will erase this distinction.” He might have added: in the bland “utopia” of value pluralism, where one thing is as good as the next, there are musics that hunt for an exit."

– S.D. Chrostowska, Utopia in the Age of Survival: Between Myth and History

[I'm especially interested in that last phrase: "there are musics that hunt for an exit."]