What Does It Mean to Belong

Intentionally is impossible to deduce conclusively on a stage.

Given the fact that small aspects of a performance are liable to change from night to night — because life is mutable, and living-and-breathing organisms strut across those boards nightly — how can the audience decide if what they’re seeing is a deliberate part of the text, or if it’s an isolated incident on their specific evening?

It’s not easy, because even unscripted diversions can coincidentally resonate with the story’s themes.

Case in point: when I saw Where We Belong at the Public, writer/performer Madeline Sayet was noticeably sick; she periodically took a tissue out of her pocket to blow her nose, even apologizing once for having to do so.

‘Tis the season for maladies, so it’s very possible she just happened to have a cold.

BUT, within the a landscape of the play, it’s almost fitting for her character to be dealing with some sort of disease; it’s about the culture clash between First Nations and colonialists, and anyone familiar with their history will know that illness — literal and figurative — has always been a central part of the exchange.

And this is where clear intentionality can actually limit thoughtful engagement. I found myself sitting there contemplating how the play hits differently based on whether or not her ailing is consciously built into the piece. How would either option alter the play’s meaning? Whether she’s actually sick in real life — and all the connotations and thematic parallels which that brings in 2022 — or if she’s written to be sick?

Separating the purposeful from the accidental: important, yet irresolvable?

Welcome to the human condition of human cognition.

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