Emily Johnson/Catalyst
The Thank-You Bar
Posted by Ariel Frager
It didn’t happen intentionally, but for me at this year’s TBA, the best performance was saved for last. I was an invited guest into Emily Johnson’s inventive little world. One part dance, one part soundscape, one part storytelling, one part quirky otherness brought a wide grin to my face and I didn’t look at my watch even once.
Johnson and musicians James Everest and Joel Pickard played with the space, light and sound, reinventing the traditional performance and surrounding us in the audience with sound and movement in every corner of the theatre. We were a small group, the performance limited audience members to only 30 in number, so before the show, I had already felt like I won the lottery when I was chosen to get in from the waiting list. They brought in us, literally having the audience turn around to face the back of the theatre and then get up off our chairs and sit on the floor while Johnson told us the story about blackfish while sitting in a dry leaf filled kiddy pool bed. As a Native American from Alaska, Johnson played with our stereotypes of her people and wheeled out a Tiny Igloo, made from opaque boxes filled with lights. Each brick/box lit up the darkened theatre space and when Johnson handed me a piece of her igloo, I felt special as if this magic light held the key to something important. From the audience lists, put on “Hello my name is” stickers with each of our names. When I saw her wearing for a split second, the Hello my name is Ariel sticker I knew that this piece was for me and about me. We were important. The stories were for us, about us, even though they were about Johnson. The best parts of The Thank You Bar, were a lot like the best parts of my annual TBA immersion: touching that part of myself where I can see and feel myself reflected in the performance. And the very best pieces are the ones where I walk out of the theatre and say, “I wish I had thought of that.” And so it was. Thank you Emily Johnson.