A Lesson in Anti-Austerity

Interactive Play Seeks to Inform Community About Anti-Austerity Measures

Directors Connor Spencer and Hannah Kaya, McGill students, have adapted Caytee Lush’s play “What the Fuck am I Doing Here?” Courtesy Fishbowl Collective

Increased budget cuts throughout the city of Montreal’s infrastructure have affected education, public health, and the environment in dramatic ways. And we’re not talking about a few grand here and there.

Well over a million dollars in cuts have contributed to the austerity measures impacting our city right now, and the Fishbowl Collective isn’t happy about it.

“What the Fuck am I Doing Here? — An Anti-Folk Opera,” a play originally written and composed by Caytee Lush as a response to the 2012 student protests, is returning to the stage.

Working together with McGill’s Tuesday Night Café Theatre, student directors Hannah Kaya and Connor Spencer have adapted Lush’s play to reflect the anti-austerity movement happening in Montreal, but especially around McGill campuses.

The play attempts not only to inform its audience of this anti-austerity situation, but also hopefully to get it in the mood to take action and talk about it.

Fishbowl Collective, co-founded by Spencer and Kaya, is a platform for the two artists to create and showcase their work as a duo.

The two began working together at their performing arts high school in Ottawa. “We were given the opportunity to create and perform for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival,” Spencer said. “We were exposed to a certain kind of physical theatre that we hadn’t encountered in Canada that really inspired us.”

Shortly after, they decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the Fishbowl Collective.

Shows put on by Fishbowl in the past focused on women’s stories and the personal experiences of Kaya and Spencer as young, contemporary women.

Their work so far has been original content, but this time they’re working on an adaptation.

With their new project in mind, the two worked to incorporate their intense interest in the idea of the perfomativity of gender onstage with the social and political climates that students often experience.

Lush’s original work encompassed all of that, so the two artists decided to work with and build from it.

“What the Fuck Am I Doing Here?” will deal with explicitly political themes—a first for Fishbowl Collective.

“In the past, our work has toyed with the idea of making a political statement,” Kaya said. “But we really felt that we were ready to engage more with work that interests us outside of what we had previously done.”

Individually, the two artists have worked with TNC before, and as a collective they have performed on campus in the past. However, this will be their first time actually collaborating with TNC as Fishbowl Collective.

“It’s a space that we love for its intimacy and what it can facilitate as an education space during the day and then as a theatre at night,” Spencer explained. “That intersection appeals to us as people who are part-time academics and part-time theatre artists.”

“That intersection appeals to us as people who are part-time academics and part-time theatre artists.”— Connor Spencer, Fishbowl Collective

These kinds of discussions on anti-austerity aren’t uncommon in small settings on the McGill campus, but the artistic duo feels that the conversation isn’t reaching audiences in large groups or community settings.

Fishbowl Collective is aiming to encourage the community of McGill to organize and talk about its past involvement in the anti-austerity movements—or perhaps lack thereof—through its performances.

As serious as the subject matter is, Spencer and Kaya really want their audience to have fun with it. “We wanted to figure out a way to revitalize and revamp these discourses that have been happening over the years,” Kaya said.

To get people feeling comfortable and involved during the show, “What the Fuck Am I Doing Here?” is styled as an “anti-austerity training camp.” The goal for Fishbowl is to make these discourses and dialogues accessible.

The space will be transformed into a potluck jam space where people can discuss the issues freely. They want to create a space where people can actively participate in the storytelling and feel safe. It’s even encouraged that people bring their guitars with them to the show.

“Anti-folk always has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek while dealing with these very prevalent, pressing, and occasionally disorienting themes of our social reality,” Spencer said. “And we love it.”

Kaya and Spencer have been working with their small but interesting cast of women since mid-September. “We’re really lucky to be working with a group that’s so invested in what we’re doing,” Spencer noted.

The two artists made it very clear that they weren’t in the area during the 2012 student riots depicted in Lush’s original work. “We are not Caytee Lush,” Spencer said. “We want to make it clear that this is our interpretation of her experience and our wanting to share that story as a learning tool.”

They will, however, be populating the performance space with voices that were there and the experiences that those individuals had.

_What the Fuck Am I Doing Here? // Nov. 16-19 and 23-26 // Morrice Hall (3485 McTavish St.) Doors open at 7:45 p.m. // PWYC