Sappho on the streets

For the past several days, I have been doing this:

Jessica 2

(Photo credit: David Robertson)

Right in the middle of the Royal Mile, I spell out the word ‘Sappho’ or the word ‘Lesbian’ with the rope we use in the show. And then I park myself behind the word and hold up flyers for the show. When people pass by, many of them reading the word, I smile at them gleefully. If they smile back, I offer them a flyer.

It is most frequently children who read aloud the word, or ask their parents to read it aloud for them. If someone says the word quite loudly, I call back ‘Yay!’ and pump my fist in the air. Sometimes people sit with me and we have a conversation: I tell them that the show is about Sappho, the first love poet, who lived in Ancient Greece on the island of Lesbos (hence Lesbian with a capital ‘L’, as, strictly speaking, Sappho was probably bisexual – not that they ever bothered with those labels). I tell them the show is an ‘acrobatic love story’ and share photos with them.

One man told me he had been to Lesbos and told me I had to visit. Two women holding hands came up to me and told me I had made their day, which, in turn, made my day. Tourists often take photos of me without asking, but I don’t mind; I volunteer to pose for them and encourage them to post their photos on Facebook.

I’m choosing this approach to promoting the show, because I’m finding that people are quickly becoming disillusioned by the Fringe artists who push flyers in their faces, quoting star ratings and reviews, and being generally loud and overwhelming. I’m attempting the quieter method because, this way, people come to me.

Other Fringe artists ask me why I bothered to promote the show so far in advance, since it opens a week into the festival and only plays for three days. I reply that, partly, we haven’t received much media coverage for this run of the show (nobody really wants to cover/review a show that is only playing in Edinburgh for three days, when most shows are playing for a month), so I’m doing what I can to get audiences.

But it’s more than that: for me, this rope thing has become a performance in itself. I engage with people directly: I make eye contact, I smile, I challenge them in my own subtle way. When they stand in front of the word ‘Lesbian’ and raise their eyebrows, I say ‘How’s my handwriting?’ as though my calligraphy skills would be at the forefront of their thoughts.

Even though I don’t identify as a ‘lesbian’ (I’m a ‘date whoever I want’ ‘who needs labels’ kinda girl), I happily play the role for the sake of publicity – especially because I don’t look like a stereotypical lesbian, so that in itself may challenge people’s expectations and make them question their assumptions about queer people. ‘Is she actually gay…?’ they might wonder. Does it matter?

Whether or not these passer-bys decide to see the show, I like to think I’m getting the words ‘Sappho’ and ‘Lesbian’ into their heads, normalizing the words, letting them stand on their own without making any real statement about them. They’re just there. There they are. They exist, and they become part of our vocabulary, if only for a moment.

I wouldn’t be able to do this in Russia. I wouldn’t be able to do this in most countries in the world. But here, I feel safe. I don’t feel threatened or ostracized or uncomfortable. I haven’t experienced even one dirty look about my choice of words. People sometimes laugh or roll their eyes at me, but I just smile back, kindly yet defiantly. And I wouldn’t have this privilege everywhere.

I am very lucky. We are all very lucky.

Sappho…in 9 fragments plays Thursday, August 8th, Friday, August 9th, and Saturday, August 10th at theSpace Venue 45 on Jeffrey Street. For more information and advance tickets: https://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/sappho-in-9-fragments

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ARTICLE: Xtra! Get Ready to Fringe

The Whole Nine Yards: Sappho …in 9 fragments is both seductive and romantic

by SERAFIN LARIVIERE

“Suffering Sappho!”

For those of us comic geeks who grew up adoring a certain star-spangled amazon, this frequently uttered epitaph was our first exposure to history’s most famous Greek lyric poet. But aside from Wonder Woman’s dubious endorsement, Sappho was much more than some vague deity in perpetual torment.

Born some 600 years before the (purported) birth of Christ, Sappho crafted thoughtful melodic poems about love and beauty that survive to this day in the form of fragmented papyrus scrolls and respectful mentions by other writers; even Roman lyric poet Horace was a fan. Her musings on the nature of passion continue to inspire other artists, and to many in the queer community, this woman from the island of Lesbos represents the quintessential lover of women. Her infatuated scribblings about other gals have inspired many of our Sapphic sisters, and she’s often characterized as the mother of lesbianism.

Canadian director Jessica Ruano’s knowledge of Sappho was limited to a few readings of assorted poems before she stumbled upon an interesting one-woman play by Jane Montgomery Griffiths. “I was in London looking for some ancient Greek plays for research when I found this script,” Ruano says.
“I had a very emotional response. I immediately started connecting it to various love affairs I’ve had. You can recognize yourself so easily in the writing.”

Griffiths’s play is taken largely from Sappho’s poetry; the playwright adapted her own translations of the Greek text into a narrative involving a love affair between the ancient muse and a young American chorus girl named Atthis. Sappho has taken on human flesh and is posing as the leading lady in a play, catching the attention of the introverted chorus girl.

“I relate to Atthis a lot,” Ruano says. “She’s insecure a lot of the time, she doesn’t believe in herself, and she’s always in her head, rethinking and rethinking... But she’s not afraid of  falling in love.”

And fall in love she does with the alluring and mercurial leading lady.

“Oh, Sappho is mad, she’s crazy, she’s wonderful,” Ruano says. “She’s so opinionated and very aware and political. But she’s also very emotional and occasionally emotionally violent. Sure she’s a bit of a diva, but she’s also prone to falling head over heels in love. It’s a fictional portrayal, of course, as we
know so little about her.”

One of the director’s favourite scenes between the two is a romantic interlude that leaves Ruano quite weak in the knees. “It’s such a wonderful seduction
scene,” she says. “They’re in Atthis’s apartment, and it’s messy and freezing cold. [Sappho] suddenly tells her to go to the corner and take off all of her clothes. It’s that beautifully awkward moment where someone who is really in charge of their sexuality takes over.”

Actress Victoria Grove portrays both characters in the piece, which Ruano adapts specifically to each venue as the play tours across North America and
Europe.

“What I wanted to do with this piece is use everything we have in the space,” Ruano says. “Let’s not make fixed features obstacles; let’s make them part of the play. It can change the audience’s perspective in powerful ways.”

SAPPHO . . . IN 9 FRAGMENTS, Fri, June 21–Sat, June 29, Arts Court Library, 2 Daly Ave, ottawafringe.com

ARTICLE: uOttawa Gazette

Fringe Festival opens the stage for many uOttawa artists this summer

Posted on Wednesday May 29th, 2013 by , under: AlumniArticleEventsFaculty of ArtsProfessors.

Actor Victoria Grove

Victoria Grove performing in Sappho…in 9 fragments. Photo: Robert Piwko

From directing to performing in plays, University of Ottawa students, staff, professors and alumni are involved in all facets of Ottawa’s Fringe Festival. The Fringe’s impartial selection process makes it an ideal place for experimental theatre…and whether the play succeeds is up to the audience. Among the many people involved in the Festival this year are alumni Jessica Ruano and Nancy Kenny, as well as Department of Theatre professor Kevin Orr, whose productions promise to give audiences a unique experience.

For London-based director Jessica Ruano, theatre is about creating an emotional impact through visual moments on stage. While shopping at a London bookstore, she discovered the play Sappho…in 9 fragments. Based on fragments of writings left behind by Greek poet Sappho, the play explores Sappho being erased from history as well as love between women. When actor Victoria Grove who plays Sappho suggested suspending herself on stage, Ruano, along with Spanish designer Ana Pita, set out to make that happen. “We looked at pictures of ropes, and Ana thought of spiders and came up with all this imagery,” says Ruano. The end result is a scaffolding structure and suspended ropes that serve as Sappho’s lair.

Writers and performers Emily Pearlman and Brad Long

Brad Long and Emily Pearlman, writers and performers of We Glow. Photo: Kevin Orr

Through his company, Theatre 4.669, Kevin Orr showcases original creations from the Ottawa region. “I hope to continue to develop Ottawa as this incredibly unique artistic landscape that I think is still trying to find its own artistic voice,” says Orr.We Glowis a play that grew out of Orr’s summer creative labs, where he invites Ottawa theatre artists to the University to experiment with their craft. An original production by Brad Long and Emily Pearlman, the play examines what happens when two executives are thrown off the “life script,” or the intense expectations put on us by society to get a degree, get married, buy land, find a job, climb the ladder, etc. Orr finds his dual role as teacher and director has helped push him in new directions by bringing what he learns from working with professionals to the classroom and vice versa.

Performers Martine Roquebrune and Nancy Kenny

Martine Roquebrune and Nancy Kenny in a publicity photo for Dolores. Photo: Tania Levy

Writer, performer and producer Nancy Kenny will be debuting her French translation ofDolores, a story about a woman who seeks her sister’s help to escape an abusive husband. Translating the play began as an acting exercise in class when Kenny said the lines in French, her native language, to connect emotionally with the character. Set in the kitchen of St. Paul’s Eastern United Church, the play creates a realistic atmosphere for 15 audience members at a time. While some attendees will sit right in the kitchen with the performers, others will peer in through big serving windows to watch the play unfold. “I like shows that make me feel, as an audience member, like a fly on the wall. I’m there up close, peering in on these private lives,” says Kenny.

The Festival takes place from June 20 to 30, 2013. For more information on shows, times and purchasing tickets, visit the Fringe Festival website.

Q&A: Interview with Jessica Ruano and Victoria Grove

thetrendtube footage of a Live Q&A on May 26th following a performance of ‘Sappho …in 9 fragments’ at The Rose, Bankside, hosted by Jo Webber, featuring director Jessica Ruano and actor Victoria Grove. Focusing on the representation of women in theatre and aspects of this production that tours Canada and plays at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer.