I’m holding a hand-drawn map and standing with eight or so other audience members, also holding maps, in front of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. We are waiting for a performance of Dancing in the Streets. “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, . . . . 0.” The organizers start the same sound track on multiple iPod nanos. Each audience member receives an iPod. I put in the ear buds, and the performance has begun. The dancers we are to meet shortly are listening to the same sound track. Each audience member is paired with a dancer, but first we have to find our dancer, hence the maps. The directions are slightly different on each map, so when the organizer signs, I follow the arrows on my map, down the street, then across the street to the grounds of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). I’m walking to the X where I will meet my dancer. As I walk along Queen West, I hear the narrator on my iPod track tell of walking along a street and having homeless man approach her saying that he wanted to die. She kept walking, he kept following and talking, and she was upset. The narrator told us about coming with young people from Eva’s Phoenix to observe individuals on the grounds or parks around the CAMH Queen Street site who appeared to be mentally ill. Eva’s Phoenix provides housing, employment and apprenticeship opportunities for homeless or at risk youth. One young man commented on how frightened he was that he could end up like to be like the individuals he was seeing around CAMH.
Under the trees outside of a CAMH building, I meet the dancer whom I follow for the rest of the performance. This young man beckons and dances and walks. I love watching and being with him. I walk further and further into the CAMH grounds with my dancer as the narrator talks about mental health, the history of caring for individuals with mental illness at this site, and recent developments. She mentions how she had been suicidal herself once, had feared saying anything to anyone, but got help that made a difference for her. Towards the end of the performance, my dancer and I join the other dancers and audience members at the Sunshine Garden on the CAMH grounds. The dancers were delightful, and the narrator is saying more things about mental health, but I can’t recall exactly what. The garden is lovely, though the building to the east opens onto an outdoor area completely enclosed by a very high chain link fence, a somewhat unnerving indication that not all are free to come and go from CAMH grounds.
The Queen Street West Project, Dancing in the Streets, is intended to explore the area’s relationship to homelessness, mental health, and regeneration. Homeless people are presented as mentally ill, somewhat scary, and, like the narrator, me and many others, having had moments of feeling suicidal. It’s interesting to be drawn deeper and deeper into the CAMH grounds physically as well as through dance and music as I hear this narrative. CAMH is undergoing major physical renovations, which are apparent as I walk outside, and even more striking later when, on my way back to Queen Street, I walk inside a building housing a large swimming pool, cafés, a spacious, light-filled courtyard, and large TV sets. The physical changes are appealing. Do these attractive new buildings house an institution that supports regeneration or healing for the individuals who are homeless or mentally ill? I couldn’t tell from this production.
Production: Dancing in the Streets, the Queen Street West Project organized as part of the Theatre Passe Muraille fall season, Theatre Beyond Walls, September 12-23, 2012, Toronto. Financial support from the Metcalf Foundation.
Now on or upcoming: Being Scene, November 9-17, 2012, Workman Arts, 651 Dufferin Street, Toronto; 20th Annual Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival, November 9-17, 2012, Toronto; Transformation by Fire, February 7-April 8, 2013, 111 Queen’s Park, Gardiner Museum, Toronto.