I attended the SummerWorks Live Art presentation of Soliloquy in English with some trepidation. After having watched numerous plays this year that either exposed the colonialist history behind the spread of the English language or advocated for the inclusion of non-English languages in Canadian theatre, I wondered if we really needed a piece that explored “the dreams it [learning English] makes possible.” Fortunately, the insightful content of Soliloquy in English exceeded my expectations and encouraged me to examine my own feelings towards the English language.
The premise is simple: we sat in a circle with creator Patrick Blenkarn on the Theatre Centre’s Green Roof and took turns reading aloud from a book he had made entitled “Soliloquy in English.” The book is a collection of stories compiled and edited by Blenkarn from interviews conducted with friends about their relationship with the English language.
Most of the experiences in the book came from speakers for whom English was a second language, and the close relationship Blenkarn had with his interviewees was apparent in the quality of the quotes he received. Sometimes the stories struck so close to my own experiences as a bilingual immigrant that I was almost moved to tears. The stories we heard seemed to convey the message that, while sharing a common language may open up opportunities, the resulting linguistic hierarchy runs the risk of encouraging cultural myopia.
The reading circle we had to participate in also reminded me of the experience of attending language classes and the difficulties of learning a new language. Even though everyone was fluent in English, we all spoke differently from each other, and everyone still stumbled at one point or another in their reading.
While I quite enjoyed the experience, I did wish Blenkarn had a program to give out. I was only able to learn about his interesting creative process for Soliloquy in English by asking him directly after the performance. I also felt that Blenkarn should acknowledge the interviewees that provided him with his material. While he was the creator of the piece, the content relied so heavily on the experiences of others that I think it is important for him to recognize his sources.
I would really encourage everyone — especially non-primary English speakers — to experience Soliloquy in English. All of the stories are eye-opening, and I really think the process could benefit from a greater variety of participants.
Soliloquy in English plays at The Theatre Centre Green Roof (1115 Queen Street West).
- Wednesday August 10th, 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM
- Thursday August 11th, 6:45 PM – 7:45 PM
- Saturday August 13th, 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM and 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM
- Sunday August 14th, 2:15 PM – 3:15 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone at 416-320-5779 and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St). Open August 2-14 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted. (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee.)
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Warnings: Audience Participation.
Image provided by SummerWorks.