Truthteller, presented by Lady Janitor at the 2018 SummerWorks Festival, is one of the final two shows in a series of works (the other, also at SummerWorks, is The Reckoning). This was my first Lady Janitor experience, and I believe the work stands alone. It’s Performance Art, with a capital P.A., that walks the edge of taking itself too seriously, but doesn’t quite fall off the cliff.
Part salon, part physical trust exercise, part crystals and glitter and part singalong, it succeeds or fails primarily on how willing you are to go with it and participate in the experience. If you want and are prepared for that, it’s a good time. If you’re looking for cohesion and structure instead of vignettes and moments, you may have a rough trip.
We start in a stuffy, hot stairwell, where lucky volunteers get single-digit manicures and the rest of us get our “forest drag,” essentially green ghost costumes complete with eyeholes. When we enter, we form a randomized sort of growth. It’s a funny but slow start, as we hit about 20 minutes in without anything much happening (save an awesomely twisted backing track), leading to some nervous giggles and casting about.
The ghost gear is a concept that’s super cute but a little suffocating after a bit, but it’s not required to keep it on. In fact, Truthteller (Eroca Nicols), ably assisted by Lady Janitor (Madeleine Shen), places great importance on the concept of consent, as well as telling the audience what’s about to happen.
They’ve devised a solution to the audience-participation problem that’s quite elegant; simply sit on the side of the room that delineates the amount of your desire to participate and be touched. You can switch at any time. If you sit in the top two sections, which I recommend, you will be climbed on, flopped over, hugged or clutched – with your express consent – as Truthteller acrobatically makes her way across the room with her eyes closed, painted lids staring (amazingly, she keeps them shut the entire time). This protracted negotiation of audience connection and comfort was probably my favourite portion of the performance.
And there are many portions, indeed, from a communal water-pouring to a visually appealing, veritable flood of glitter that builds in hilarity the longer it goes on, to a dance with crystals and a rest period. It all appears to be about connection and consumption between audience and artist, as well as a digression into art and the economy (spoiler alert: it’s not economical to be an artist).
I admit that I wasn’t sure whether the program was ironic or serious for much of it, but by the time Truthteller was answering questions about the body while being permanently tattooed (by artist Carly Boyce), I had settled on the latter. It frustrated me to take some of the moments seriously, while also making me question why I felt a need for this all to be ironic; when Truthteller put her face to mine and blew a gentle raspberry, wasn’t that enough?
One thing that is essential to know about Truthteller is that it is not a performance that cares about time limits. The one-hour show had run 95 minutes by the time staff pulled the plug and we were rushed into the final moment. I respect the need to give the artists space, but in a festival where many have booked tickets to other performances, it’s the one area of consent I wish hadn’t been waived.
- Saturday August 11th, 3:30pm – 4:30pm
SummerWorks tickets are now Pay What You Decide at $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level. Tickets are available at the performance venue (cash only), online, by calling 416-732-4116, and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West), open August 9-19 from 12pm-8pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 4 shows.
Media image provided by the company