Literate cleansing

I usually like to avoid them whenever possible and find a way to describe a show through the peripheral, ignoring the text and plot development. However, in the case of Literacy, a new solo show by Tatiana Koroleva, what would normally count as peripheral takes center stage, so please be warned….SPOILERS AHEAD!

Tatiana Koroleva during Literacy (photo Jason C. McLean)

The show starts with a bit of audience interaction in the form of a questionnaire. I won’t tell you what happens with the responses, but it does set the tone for the rest of the show. Literacy is a very personal cleansing experience in more ways than one.

It’s clearly personal for Koroleva, as the audience hears her tell of her thoughts on immigrating from her native Russia to Buffalo and then eventually to Montreal. This comes in the form of a recording of her talking which plays throughout the show and that is the only way we get to hear her voice.

What happens in the room, meanwhile, is personal as well, as Koroleva helps to cleans the audience…literally. She washes their feet, one by one, as the recording plays. On this particular evening at the xPression Gallery in Montreal during the infringement Festival, she managed to wash the feet of everyone in attendance.

I’ve never had my feet washed by someone else, let alone during a theatre show, so this was a unique experience to say the least. The show, in general, was a unique experience and not something I have seen before.

The way Koroleva melded her stream of consciousness thoughts that everyone heard with the actions onstage made sense. It gave the impression that we were hearing what someone was actually thinking while performing a particular repetitive mundane task and at the same time it made our own experience as an audience member part of the experience of the play in a very profound way.

While other shows that feature audience interaction at this level may succeed in breaking the fourth wall, this one doesn’t. Instead, the fourth wall does exist, but the audience is clearly behind it along with the performer and the personal experience of performing becomes a shared one.

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