Today I visited the Toronto Writers’ Centre, a sanctuary of seclusion for serious writers. In exchange for a monthly fee, membership offers a haven where you can work without interruption, a hideaway where no one can find you, a cubicle so free from distraction you can’t even disturb yourself.
The Toronto Writers’ Centre quiet room allows for nothing extraneous. At all. The quiet, climate-controlled atmosphere resembles a sensory deprivation tank with no phone, no color, no smells, no kids, no pets, no spouses, no tv, no household chores, no comfy couches, and no espresso machines. There may be other writers there, but these dedicated professionals haven’t come to bother you. They’ve come to produce. And because you’ve done what it takes to make the necessary sacrifices in order to commit yourself to your writing vocation, you’re sure to produce, too.
TWC’s quiet room is ideal for easily distracted creative types, renaissance souls and other slow learners who find themselves distracted by the fascinating details the world has to offer. Cubicles have been arranged with care, offering the writers the greatest privacy and protection from sensory input. Quiet room rules protect against vibrating cell phones, food chomping, and loud headsets.
For those who seek community the lounge allows for “quiet discussion” and–I love this–a phone that permits outgoing calls only. TWC offers occasional writing workshops, readings, and is open 24/7. If you worked there non-stop without snoring, you could even live there.
It’s really just a matter of preference, I suppose. And when it comes to art, participation is what I’m really after. I’m weary of watching, of listening, of reading, of the taking-in-all the-time. I want to interact, to do, to sweat, to work, to play, to invent, to make messes. I want to be on the creation side of things. When I do create, I want others to mess with my stuff. I want to engage others to the extent that their participation alters the work itself. I want unpredictable results and I want results that matter.
I’m inspired by the potential of performance art to blur the boundary between audience and performer. I see the possibility for transformation through participation and then nothing much seems to happen. Even when the piece calls itself “interactive” or “participatory,” the distinction between audience and performer seems even more significant, and the result is often confusing at best, and sometimes simply humiliates the participating audience with no lessons learned.
I admit that my disappointment has more to do with my own misunderstanding and distorted expectation of what is possible than the result of anything wrong with the form itself.
On what else can I blame my confusion? Maybe it’s that much of performance art takes place in intimate settings, or that performance is live, or performers often look like they have no special talent and are doing what anybody could do, or that performance often demands imaginative interpretation. Maybe it’s because so many of us still don’t know what performance art is.
I’m not blaming performance art. It’s all my fault. I should know better. Maybe if I had gone to art school…