I invite responses from my audience and usually really enjoy the conversations which follow my shows... they are along the lines of "loved that bit..." and "did you know..." and "how do you...?"
And then there are the more difficult ones...
While I was running my one-man show, “Assassinating Thomson” at the 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, Ontario I received an email from a patron which said,
Saw your performance last night and it was truly amazing. I wanted to ask you a favour. My friend is coming to your show on Sat. July 16. She is going to be starting radiation and chemo soon. Could you please leave out the part of you not wanting to draw your father after he had chemo and radiation on that night? She just found out about her cancer and that would be very upsetting to hear.
I would really appreciate it if you could do this.”
I believe that it takes a great deal of bravery to contact a performer and make his kind of request. There is a side of me, the egotistical side I’ll admit, which wanted to rage about being asked to change and censorship and the old “how dare you!!!” - but the more compassionate side sees the beauty in this request… it took me a couple of days to respond....
I must add a note of gratitude to Carmen Grant, Chris Oldfield, Rebecca Northan, and Ashlie Corcoran who all listened to my ramblings and gave such gentle, compassionate advice.
Here’s what I wrote:
First of all, please let me thank you for your kind words about the show, and to express how grateful I am that you came out to support the Playhouse. It really means the world to me.
I’ve been carefully considering your email request to alter my show on Saturday evening. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked to change a piece of a show, and it’s not a request which I take lightly.
“Assassinating Thomson” is a labour of love and gets to the very heart of my work as an artist which is to open dialogue and conversation. I hope that people will talk - not only to me - but also to each other. I think of it as an expanding circle…. This of course begs the question: “what will we talk about”. My grand hope is to try and focus on the beauty in the world (as I believe there is more than enough of the other stuff…).
Your request comes from a beautiful place: the care of your friend who is becoming what my family refer to as “cancer alumni”. If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re worried that when your friend hears me say that I was unable to paint my father’s portrait while he was so sick will trigger your friend to have an emotional response. You believe this emotional response will be difficult for her, and you would rather not subject her to any more difficulty and pain.
I can certainly empathize with this response.
When my father was sick, I wanted to spare him any pain that I could. I even went so far as to not want to paint his portrait which he would see and perhaps get upset over. The care of my father, mixed with my own fear, stopped me from painting.
It was a mistake.
That said, I am also immeasurably grateful that my father and I fixed that mistake.
The day I was leaving, and the very last time I would see him, he sat me down in his study and told me this story:
“My father, John - your Grandfather - died when you were very young. You were about three or so - you probably don’t remember much about him.
“I can tell you that he was a very hard man. He didn’t talk to my brother and I unless it was to get angry. When he got sick - cancer - he became closed. He shut down. He wouldn’t talk. It was like the closing of a door. He went very quickly.
“I regret that I never spoke to him. I never really said anything at all. He scared me his whole life. And, he never told me that he loved me.
“I don’t want to be that way - and I’ve lived my life in what I hope is the opposite direction.
I love you, son.”
That was not the first time he told me that he loved me. It would not be the last. Even after he was gone, he told me in other ways. He left me his shoes to wear to his funeral. He left me my brothers and my Mother and the love they have for me. He left me with %9 eyesight to see the beauty of the world. He left me with a need and a desire and a passion to open to the world, and to try and express it as often as I can.
I implore you, ______- open to your friend. If you’re worried about her - tell her. Talk to her. Let the circle expand.
In the end, what you’re asking me to do is change an integral piece of the story. “Marking time” with my father (painting his portrait) and the fear to do that under a series of the most trying circumstances is a HUGE motivator for me not only in my life but also in the story which is “Assassinating Thomson”. In the story, when I finally face the fear and try to paint from memory I am lead to the discovery of “beautiful hauntings”, which permeates right up to the final moment when I theorize that Winnie Trainor has hidden some of Tom Thomson’s artwork in the metal casket in Leith…. Thomson lives on in the story, and so does my father. It is a beautiful haunting by both of these men who had such an influence on me.
So you see, it’s much more complicated than just leaving out a bit… it’s about changing the life I’ve lived, the mistakes I’ve made, and the lessons I’ve learned. It would be asking me to leave my father’s ghost out of the journey.
I have close friends and family coming to the show on Saturday evening, and I feel I owe them the truth of my journey. I simply can’t let them down.
And so…If, in the very least, you explain to your friend what she may see and hear during “Assassinating Thomson” and she still doesn’t want to come, you can contact the theatre to get a refund.
I thank you for your time in reading this rather verbose response. I sincerely hope you can understand my position. I also wish you and your friend all the very best on your journey together.
“May there be Love and Light” - John Turner, clown.
This patron did speak to her friend who decided not to attend the show. I respect that.
I must also say how grateful I am that the conversation continues to expand.
Let us continue to go into the darkness with a flashlight.