Review: What Happens to You, Happens to Me

by Lynn on July 26, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Written by Susanna Fournier

Directed by ted witzel

Voiced by Kristen Thomson

What Happens to You, Happens to Me plays until August 1 at:

Canadian Stage is presenting a fascinating digital production called What Happens to You, Happens to Meby Susanna Fournier. Susanna Fournier is a celebrated, nimble-minded playwright, educator and theatre creator. Her work is always challenging and bracing as is certainly evident in The Empire, a trilogy of plays that spanned 500 years of imagined history, that played last year, live in theatres.   

In April in the throes of the pandemic, Canadian Stage Artistic Director, Brendan Healy reached out to Fournier to ask what she was thinking about. It was a simple question with complex answers.

Fournier created a piece she entitled What Happens to You, Happens to Me.  She describes it as a message in a bottle full of questions and the audience—the people who find the bottle—engage or not in answering the questions.

From the website: What Happens to You, Happens to Me is a unique participatory storytelling experience that captures responses to how people are feeling after months of isolation. Created by Susanna Fournier, this meditative audio experience is a letter, a questionnaire, a thought-experiment, a mindfulness exercise that takes the listener on a journey through grief and loneliness. Voiced by award-winning actor and playwright Kristen Thomson (and directed by ted witzel) the listener is asked to respond to a set of questions that delve into one’s inner self to examine isolation and our innate need for connection.”

Actually the piece is offered in two forms and the explanation is a beautiful reaching out, to comfort and put people at ease. Here is the explanation: “What Happens to You, Happens to Me was originally conceived as an auditory experience, but for those who want or need to engage in the content visually, we have created a lyric video of the piece. Choose which sense mode works best for you and allows your imagination to wander most freely.”  

I did both options to see how the experience varied. The more satisfying to me was the one voiced by Kristen Thomson. The presentation is full of nuance, subtlety and gives depth to the piece. You get the sense of the collaboration between the actress (Thomson) and the director (witzel). The questions are simple: How are you? Will you close your eyes and envision something?  One trusts the voice to do what it asks.

The ‘video’ version is flat, without nuance except for what the audience puts in while reading quickly.   

Susanna Fournier has divided the piece into nine short chapters, each with questions and themes that cover who, when, what where, why and other ideas that engage the imagination. We were also asked to consider what empathy was; what gives you hope; what of the future.

I also found it interesting that there was a component that suggested there be rules for this new situation, as if one was trying to impose the norms of the “pre-pandemic” onto the new world, perhaps to hold on to something familiar that would give us comfort.

What struck me most about the piece, and certainly as read by Kristen Thomson, is the kindness of the tone, the deep respect the speak had for the listener; the effort not to sound demanding or demeaning. These are unsettling times and the tone of this piece didn’t want to unsettle or upset anyone. And of course, there is a reaching out that while the questions are being asked, it’s hoped that the listener will answer by writing to the private e-mail address with thoughts. In true Susanna Fournier style she plays on the words of the title at the end of her piece and with just the inclusion/exclusion of a word and punctuation the meaning changes. It’s wonderfully engaging.   

Again, Fournier has created a thoughtful piece with huge implications that guides us into this time we have for deeper reflection about the world we now live in.

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