Descriptions such as ‘brave’ or ‘thought provoking’ are easily thrown about in relation to deeply personal solo performances (and not always rightly applied); even moreso to those tackling subjects we often try not to think about. In the case of The Birth of Death, however, in sharing her own experiences Joanne Tremarco creates a remarkable space for artist and audience to explore thoughts and feelings around the ultimate ‘taboo’ subject.
And it is a thing of some wonder to observe. Tremarco begins in the audience, asking questions and hearing people’s stories about near-death experience, or how they would like to die. Immediately, she has tapped into something. People want to share and are not afraid to speak openly and honestly. The audience input informs the piece throughout.
Once on stage, the performance draws from Tremarco’s experience of nursing her dying mother, and the quest for meaning once a loved one has gone. Where do they go?
She approaches the event from her mother’s imagined point of view, as well as her own. Some striking scenes of physical theatre, directed by co-creator Yael Karavan, use movement to create a whirlwind of confusion representing the letting go of this life and earthly form (if indeed the spirit lives on); and also examines those left behind, figuring out how to manage the ties that bind us to someone no longer there.
It is rare to see a piece of theatre become such an open, genuine two-way street between performer and audience. While on stage, Tremarco must deal with the structure of the piece, her own very real emotions, and really, truly listen to – and treat with care – the answers to the questions she puts out there as she goes. No easy task; but she makes that connection to create something unusual and quite unique, stylised yet warm.
Staying for the post-show discussion further illustrated the power and the reach of The Birth of Death, as audience members continued to share very personal stories and thoughts. Taken altogether, the unexpectedly collective experience made for a genuinely affecting evening.
Photo: Andrew Ness