“I Love Machines”: VISCOSITY by Theatre Yes

“I love machines” was one of the opening lines of a monologue at VISCOSITY by Theatre Yes.

Just Powers was proud to be one of the sponsors of VISCOSITY, and on Tuesday, November 13th we went to check it out along with many members of our team, joining them (Dr. Mark Simpson, Dr. Angele Alook, Jordan Kinder, and Adam Carlson) at a panel where they presented afterward.

We weren’t really sure what to expect going in. When we arrived we were asked to read an artist’s statement projected on a wall, and then we were encouraged to explore the darkened theatre space, interacting with each performance by occupying a marked “X.”

Several vignettes were set up: A mechanic working on a truck; an electrician sitting at a diner table; a luggage driver on a bus seat; an architect from Buenos Aires working the front desk of a camp; a Filipino man who paid $6000 to work in Fort McMurray, only to be turned away shortly after his arrival; and a heavy equipment operator sitting in front of her RV, drinking wine. When you stood on the “X,” the actor began performing their monologue as if engaged with you. We all felt compelled to nod, to smile encouragingly, and to otherwise respond. Some of the “X’s” were posted on seats, so you were sometimes invited to sit across from an actor, deepening the intimacy of the experience.

On the Theatre Yes website, they note that VISCOSITY was “created from transcriptions of interviews with real Albertans in 2018,” making VISCOSITY “part exhibition, part journalism, and part performance.” The “real life” stories, recorded and then reenacted, were achingly familiar; Many of us commented that they evoked our family members and acquaintances.

However, there were also new stories. Each vignette complicated the oil and gas workers’ experiences, commenting on labour, gender, family life, money, power, and race.

In the panel afterward, Dr. Mark Simpson defined viscosity for us as “the state of being thick, sticky, and semifluid in consistency, due to internal friction.” The performances highlighted the “stickiness” of energy transition — our dependence on fossil fuels, yet the health and safety of the future(s) we make for ourselves. Our need to feed and clothe our families, and our desire to provide for future generations. “Internal friction” indeed — being at odds with our desires, our wants, our needs.

The woman who began with “I love machines” — the heavy duty mechanic in front of her RV — spoke about being a woman working in the industry. She loved her job, but she felt the loneliness of her position. She liked her colleagues, for the most part, but also experienced gender discrimination and harassment. Without offering any clear way forward, any simple “solutions” or easy answers, VISCOSITY invites us to really listen, to move beyond our assumptions and biases, and to confront the “messiness” of our lives in this petroculture.

VISCOSITY ends tonight, but you can drop by after 7:30 in the ATB Arts Barns if you want to check it out.

* A special thank-you to Ian Wilson of Iron & Earth, who inspired one of the performances and was also one of the panelists .