The funny thing is, I never felt unsafe. I felt that this discussion, this demand for interrogation of censorship, of what censorship even means, was and is so urgently necessary. Who gets the commissions? Whose voice is heard? Whose perspective is excluded.
Sook-Yin Lee’s Unsafe is an exploration of these topics, using her skills and notoriety as a journalist and provocateur to delve into a series of interviews. The interviews are clearly edited; we see the cuts, the fast forwards in the video. She speaks of things that happen that she can’t share the details of, because permission was taken away, or never granted in the first place. The meta-journey through the creation of the piece, through the relationship of these two artists to the work and to each other, is familiar. Initially set up as a quiz show or ted talk, the play worked best, when it veered from that format of a staged discussion and into a representative world, one where theatricality was the most important, and if drama happened, so be it.
The ingenious staging from Sarah Garton Stanley served to amplify the right moments, and to highlight for us that the performance was self-aware. The images and movement about the stage were delightful, using the space in the Berkeley Street Theatre to its utmost potential to shape-shift into different worlds that were all a part of Lee’s intellect.
The conversation about censorship has moved underground, so to speak; it isn’t overt, in shutting down shows, but rather in the very funding models and commissioning models and support models that exist in this country for making new work. Lee’s interrogation really underscored (for me, anyway) the frustration that the topic, although a worthy one, was first offered to one White Guy, and then to Another. I’m grateful that the second one accepted, and brought in a new perspective…and then stepped back at just the right moment to let this work shine in the way it needed to. No offence to Zack Russell, but this isn’t a topic for a traditional play.
It was certainly interesting to watch this highly theatrical interpretation, right on the heels of watching the Forced Entertainment “Speak Bitterness” livestream, which was on the very opposite end of the theatricality spectrum, vehemently and insistently un-theatrical.
Again, I didn’t feel unsafe, perhaps because I’m the very generation of artist who grew up watching Sook-Yin Lee on Much Music. Exploring, provoking, experimenting…and just existing as a wonderfully quirky and unapologetic artist in space, with a lot of questions. Who, at least in some part, was inspired (or provoked) by Lee’s edgy and demanding nature, to make the work I do. Unsafe just reminded me that the teen in someone’s basement in suburban Winnipeg, watching Much Music with her friends, isn’t too far away. And she hopes that the people who needed to see this, and needed to think about these things, did. And will continue to do so.