Initiation Trilogy explores femininity, sexuality, and cultural identity

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Vancouver’s innovative Electric Company Theatre is at it again as it presents Initiation Trilogy, a three-part theatrical encounter on Granville Island, inspired by three provocative poetry collections touching on themes of femininity, sexuality, and cultural identity.

Marita DachselWritten by Marita Dachsel (pictured right), Initiation Trilogy includes poetry from three Vancouver poets, including Dachsel, and has been designed to include interactions with the material that will put the audience at the centre of the experience.

In Jennica Harper’s What it Feels Like for a Girl, two girls explore sexual awakening through their adolescent years, and the complexities of their intimate friendship.  Elizabeth Bachinsky’s God of Missed Connections takes a wry look at cultural identity, beauty in death, and the dance between cynicism and spiritual curiosity and Dachsel’s Glossolalia slips inside the hearts of six of Joseph Smith’s 34 wives  and exposues their secret thoughts and desires.

Dachesel tells us more about Initiation Trilogy:

Tell us about Initiation Trilogy – where did the idea come from? Why this subject matter?

A few years ago, I was invited to be part of LabCab, a multi-disciplinary festival in Toronto. Aviva Armour-Ostroff, one of the Artist Directors, had heard about the poetry collection I was working on about the polygamous wives of Joseph Smith and thought I’d be a good fit. In the spirit of the festival, I wanted to go beyond on a traditional reading and created a very small installation based on six poems. I was encouraged by the response and wanted to expand the idea to include the work of other poets.

Why did you choose to use poetry?

I’m a poet and I wanted to explore ways of reaching an audience that went beyond the page or the traditional poetry reading.

Art which excites me most blurs the lines between genres and mediums. Poetry and theatre came from the same place; hundreds of years ago they were the same thing but now live in different camps. To me, they seem like a natural pair—distilled images, heightened language.

How did you land on the three pieces that are part of the show?

As soon as I realized that I wanted to adapt three works of poetry, I knew immediately it would be Glossolalia, What it Feels Like for a Girl, and God of Missed Connections.

As a book, What it Feels Like for a Girl is very dramatic—there is dialogue, there is narrative, there is a climax. It’s a piece that lends itself very well to the stage.

God of Missed Connections is very dramatic in a completely different way. Although it has unifying themes, it’s definitely more of a collection of poetry rather than a narrative. That said, I knew this book quite well and like Glossolalia, many of the poems felt like monologues. I knew I could craft something exciting from it as the book itself is so compelling.

How are the three pieces connected?

They deal with themes of identity, the physical and spiritual selves, and rites of passage.

Glossolalia was part of an earlier installation – is Initiation Trilogy an extension of that earlier work?

Almost nothing from the earlier installation remains except for three of the poems. The earlier installation was what launched Initiation Trilogy, but they are definitely very different. The former inspired that latter, but I wouldn’t say it’s an extension.

Jennica Harper’s What it Feels Like for a Girl talks of young sexual exploration between two girls – did you have any hesitation in including the subject matter?

No hesitation at all. I’m excited to see this relationship brought to life, as I think it is much more common than we realize. Almost every woman I’ve spoken with about the friendship in this piece has mentioned being in a relationship like this when she was 12 or 13, either physically or emotionally. I think it’s important to see relationships between women and girls portrayed that aren’t for or about male heterosexual titillation.

God of Missed Connections also deals with AIDS/HIV/homosexuality – can you elaborate?

One thing that God Of Missed Connections touches on is how for every generation, Ukrainians have had to deal with some sort of tragedy/catastrophe whether in Ukraine or abroad—Internment camps, Holodomor, Chernobyl, HIV/AIDS. Ukraine has the largest percentage of HIV/AIDS in Europe, and 25% of those infected are in their teens. The numbers are staggering. In addition, the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s in North America is important to the piece. Elizabeth Bachinsky has this fantastic poem “Young Faggots” that is in Initiation Trilogy that is essentially about choosing to live, really live your life, even when those you love around you are dying. Its sentiment is what underlines this section – the choice to live despite being surrounded by tragedy.

It is being billed as a “theatrical encounter” – can you explain?

It’s a way of preparing the audience so they know they aren’t coming to a kitchen-sink drama. These aren’t traditional plays, more like the centre of a Venn diagram, where theatre, art, and poetry live.

The audience is part of the show as well – can you elaborate?

I don’t want to give anything away, but it is an immersive experience. There will be times when the audience is part of the piece, but they will be safe – my biggest fear when going to a show is that I’ll be called on stage and be made a fool. I promise there will be none of that!

What do you hope an audience will walk away talking about after seeing Initiation Trilogy?

I don’t know. I hope I hear from some of the audience, because I am curious myself. I know what I’ve put into the piece, what I’ve adapted from Jennica Harper and Elizabeth Bachinsky, and I’ve witnessed so many brilliant artists bring their skills and magic to the project – director Anita Rochon, the actors like Colleen Wheeler or Jenny Paterson, the designers like Naomi Sider or Owen Belton. We’ve all contributed, but it’s what the individual audience members bring that truly completes the creative process.

Initiation Trilogy
15 – 28 October 2012
Granville Island

An experiential and physical journey that blends the quality of a mini-festival with the sense of a private performance. Walk through three short theatrical installations inspired by provocative poetry collections which explore themes of feminism, sexuality, and identity.  Visit for tickets and information.

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