Emilia Symington Fedy, performer. Photo: Tim Matheson
Have you ever gone in search of yourself only to become lost amidst a sea of self-help literature, West Coast mysticism, wheat grass, and yoga pants? Have you ever wished that you could have a guide in this quest for self, someone who’s tried everything, someone who can help you sift through the affirmations and the crystal healings and maybe, just maybe, answer your most burning, pressing question:
Is this all a bunch of navel gazing?
For a limited time this April, storyteller, theatre artist, and self-proclaimed advice expert Emelia Symington Fedy will be sharing her wisdom in The Chop Theatre’s Through the Gaze of a Navel, presented as part of Boca del Lupo’s Micro Performance Series. Part theatre performance, part yoga class, Through the Gaze of a Navel promises to irreverently but unflinchingly explore the fuzzy line between enlightenment and navel gazing, and ask audiences what it is they are really searching for.
Having watched Symington Fedy perform before and having read some of her writing on her website, Trying to Be Good, I was incredibly excited to hear a show like this existed. I was also incredibly excited that Emelia Symington Fedy agreed to answer some of my questions about the show:
You have been described as a “professional seeker”, who “has been obsessed with making [yourself] better since [you] were a kid”. What made you decide that now was the time to share your experiences?
My co-artistic director Anita Rochon and I were talking one day about how incredible it actually was that I’ve spent so much time and money on “healing” and spiritual pursuits. We realized that I had over the course of 20 years become somewhat of a “professional” at it. Satire is usually a comedic style we like to play with, so considering Vancouver and the overabundance of spiritual practices here, we decided that my personal investment in the material along with living in lotusland made a perfect match and a show began to take shape…
I’m very interested in the shared territory between popular self-help and enlightenment practices and performance. As a theatre student, we did yoga and pilates, we meditated, we had ritualized ways of entering and leaving a performance. What parts of your self-help life have you found performative? What parts of your work as a theatre artist have you found therapeutic?
All of the practices I’ve tried are performative in some way. Searching for an answer is inherently dramatic and the rooms are lit well and the stakes are always high. As well, all of my artistic endeavours have been in some way therapeutic. I make art that I’m personally connected to and means a shit load to me. That’s what makes it good. That doesn’t mean I figure my emotional state out on stage. I’ve figured it out a long time beforehand and now I’m playing around with it; which makes it safe for an audience.
Judging by the almost outrageous amount of self-help literature available on the Internet and on bookstore shelves, and the number of classes, seminars, and gurus advertising paths to wellness, it’s obvious that “self-help” is a lucrative business. Ironically, its success as a business model relies on people not actually finding what they’re looking for. As someone who has explored several different self-help paths, what has been your experience with the “business” side of enlightenment? And why do you think people keep coming back?
I call it “Spiritual Capitalism” and it’s the really disappointing side to a meaningful path. People try to make money of our longing for God and what can I say, it sucks.
There is a part of me that wants to name and shame and blame the folks involved in turning someone’s vulnerable and authentic search into personal gain but then that makes me part of the problem too–so instead we make a play that points satirically at a few of the dark parts in the community. With a light hand we turn the mirror on the audience and laugh together at the struggle of never being satisfied. We are not mean spirited in any way, but I play a character who thinks she knows a lot about yoga and meditation and enlightenment, and really, who can say that they know a lot about that?
In terms of why people keep coming back…we want answers. Why are we here? What is my purpose? Will I get a book deal? And we are willing to pay anything for it.
In grade 8 I studied a pyramid chart called the “Hierarchy of Needs”. At the bottom of the pyramid were needs like food and shelter, and at the very top of the pyramid was a need called “self-actualization”, which could not be sought for until the needs below it were met. With this in mind, do you think the modern journey towards enlightenment is primarily a luxury of wealthier countries, or do you think the quest for inner fulfillment and enlightenment is universal?
You can’t gaze at your navel if you are hungry. Yes, on one hand our ability to focus on “self actualization” is a product of being very lucky and being born in the right country. On the other hand, some people say that humans rising into a higher state of consciousness is our only way to transform and save the earth from extinction. So, like most things, it’s probably not simply good or bad. Folks who have the privilege to study spiritual pursuits are both helping the planet through learning how to raise their awareness and also possibly wasting precious time when they could be digging a well. You know what I mean?
[Yes, I know what you mean, Emelia! Cripes, you’re pithy. And now for a couple of logistical questions…]
I understand Through the Gaze of a Navel will have limited seating. Do you have an additional limit on the number of people who can participate in your yoga class portions of the performance, or are all audience members able to join in?
Everyone is welcome to do yoga. There are seats for folks with mobility issues and anyone who is shy but I have a strong sense that you will be on the mat soon enough when you see that it’s fun and I’m not pointing anyone out. I HATE audience participation when I watch theatre, so I make my shows really friendly and easy to be involved in. The goal is you find yourself saying “I cannot believe I’m doing this, and it’s so. much. fun.” Also, it’s built as a beginner class so everyone can access the poses.
Is there anything the audience members wishing to do the yoga should bring (yoga mats, water bottles, etc.)?
Wear comfy pants.
Having gone swimming with cosmic dolphins and even tried vaginal weightlifting classes, Emelia Symington Fedy is more than qualified to guide you in your search for your centre (whether that centre is spiritual fulfillment or just your own belly button). Remember, spaces are limited so book your ticket early and WEAR COMFY PANTS.
Through the Gaze of a Navel will be performed at various times, April 23 – 27, at The Anderson Street Space (1405 Anderson St., Granville Island). Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online.
Notes: Boca del Lupo contacted me to inquire if I would be interested in writing about this show (and I definitely was). The decision to interview Emelia Symington Fedy, as well as to write this post, was mine. I would like to sincerely thank Emelia Symington Fedy for her time and her thoughtful, eloquent responses.