A COMMON EMPTINESS
LOCAL PROJECTS / ANDREW CANTRELL
“A Common Emptiness” was performed as part of the Loneliness Chapel, a performance series organized by Danny Volk. The piece set out to elicit a conversation about social isolation and loneliness—in the workplace, in relatedness and in the private sphere—in the context of the loss of an emancipatory vision of the future, the ruin of a present precarity and the seeming absence of a framework for hope. Drawing on my background in activism and labor organizing, I structured the performance to place maximum control in the hands of participants.
Dim light. Chairs, hot food, drinks, plates and utensils, a table, handouts and blank flip charts and markers, all placed in the performance space and labeled. Adhesive flip chart pages on the walls, each with a prompt written on it. A table with a sign-in sheet and index cards in two piles, each labeled: FACILITATION PROMPTS. DISCUSSION PROMPTS.
The flip chart prompts read: WHAT DO YOU HOPE OR FEAR FROM ISOLATION? WHAT DO YOU HOPE OR FEAR FROM RELATEDNESS? WHAT DO YOU HOPE OR FEAR FROM WORK? WHAT DO YOU HOPE OR FEAR FROM LONELINESS?
The prompts for facilitation and discussion contained questions such as, “DO WE WANT TO SET UP THE ROOM?” “IS THERE A WAY TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE FEELS SAFE?” “DO WE WANT TO ADDRESS THESE QUESTIONS?” “WHAT STORIES DO THESE QUESTIONS MAKE US THINK OF?” and “CAN WE CONNECT THESE THINGS?”
As the organizer, I was simply another participant in the piece. The piece sought to evoke honest self-reflection and exchange, but was deliberately open to participants pushing things off-topic, fabricating or performing. While the piece was structured to invite every participant to help set up, facilitate and talk, it also accepted silence, inaction, appropriation, abandonment or resistance.