In the aftermath of a collective melancholy, a physical and mental depression, an emotion which has united us all, it seems I have to fight even harder to justify what I do as a ‘joy-maker’ in my arts community.
I am a performance maker whose practice is dedicated to laughter. Stating that so simply makes me feel almost vulgar, or kind of not smart enough, and definitely not contemporary enough. I worry that a pursuit of a radically joyful theatre is not meaningful enough. Though I cling, with a steady pulse to the notion that joy, as frivolous and fleeting as it may seem, is crucial to survival. So with the naivety of the fool I hope that my grant applications dedicated to inviting joy back into public space will be accepted.
But they aren’t.
Foolishly I write applications where I believe radical joy will be enough.
Foolishly I write with passion, bordering daringly on poetry.
Foolishly I reject making my applications sterile and clinical.
Because joy doesn’t want to enter the clinic. She does not want to boxed in. She does not want to be analyzed down to her finest fingernail. She appears in our chest, in our bellies and in that three millimetre relaxation of our shoulders. She appears when someone transforms from stony faced to smiling. Right now, this transformation is profound.
Joy wants to be invited back into the public sphere. She wants to return so badly. I am in her court fighting for her. Joy must be allowed to appear in our ever greying, square, tightly concreted urban landscape. She told me she can still exist even in the worst, downtrodden, saddest of places. She is resilient. I stand with her in rejecting the anti-sensuous design of things. Joy and I, we don’t want public space to simply function. We crave jubilation. Joy cares about how it feels to be in a particular place at a particular time. Joy wants to breathe, to sing and to dance.
Should I hire someone to collect data on the smiles?
So that my grant applications can be supported with statistics to prove that we are liked.
Shall I try to profile each smiler so as to work out exactly who they are, who they could be, what they eat for breakfast?
Should I interview them after they smile and say ‘Excuse me, but why exactly did you seem to impulsively express delight just then?’
Should I tally the laughter?
To prove the work I do has an impact?
Should I video record the chain reaction?
Little kid smiles, makes old person smile, makes us smile, which makes punk smile, which makes shop owner smile, which makes customer smile, which makes passer by smile, which makes car driver smile...
Proof that people still trade on emotions!
Proof that emotion is infectious!
But I know confidently that Joy refuses to appear when she is being critiqued.
I ask her.
What can be achieved when humans feel JOY collectively?
What changes in the community?
What is replenished?
What pressure, maybe even unbeknownst to them is alleviated?
What edge, what sharpness of a place is deactivated?
Do people feel safer?
Is there a new flicker of curiosity to leave the house?
Do people feel part of something unique?
What prejudices can be overridden by a moment of collective joy?
Physically, when someone laughs they breathe. When they open their mouth to smile, they breathe. Playful, joyful work actually tricks people into a state of shared breath! Our city has been stripped of its breath in fear of a real contagion. We spent months guarding our mouths and clenching our jaws. A remedy is in order, an infection of joy. To evoke a smile or laughter, is, for a second to invite the wild, festive, impulsive body back into public space.
Joy is not reserved for only those who can afford a ticket.
Joy is not reserved just for the kids.
Joy is an essential service.
The Fool must be present to compliment the meaningful, the intellectual and the contemporary.
By Kimberley Twiner
Wishing you all a very happy joy attack.
Image by Theresa Harrison.