Dr. Barry T. Brodie copyIf you’ve been to virtually any arts event in Windsor-Essex, or visited any local theatre or gallery or studio space, you’ve probably run into Dr. Barry T. Brodie more than once. The prolific multi-disciplinary artist contributes to the local arts industry in diverse capacities and is well respected as a resolute supporter and patron of the arts. Perhaps most importantly Brodie is an organizer who creates events and projects that bring together artists from multiple disciplines – the sorts of events that create unforgettably unique and surprising experiences. Brodie describes himself as an “art yenta, a matchmaker – I bring things like poetry and music and visual art and theatre together”.

Some time ago Brodie witnessed an event at the Art Gallery of Ontario that invited performing artists to create short musicals based on works in the gallery’s permanent collection then perform their creations in the gallery itself. Brodie was moved by what he witnessed. “It was exciting because it brought a performative frequency into a space that is generally not that way and created a bridge between the arts.” He found that the event transformed how he was able to appreciate both the visual art and the performance art – “like the difference between colour and black-and-white”.

 

This transformative experience inspired Brodie to create something similar in Windsor. He approached Art Windsor-Essex (AWE) and Post Productions with an idea: local playwrights would be invited to write thirty-minute one-act plays inspired by art from AWE’s permanent collection that had been selected for curated exhibits. The plays would be performed in the exhibition space, where patrons could enjoy the visual art and performance art more-or-less simultaneously. Playwrights would be given the opportunity to direct and/or act in their creations if they wished, hire their own actors or directors, or take advantage of support offered by Post Productions.

The result of Brodie’s efforts is a two-part multi-faceted event called Reframed, co-produced with Post Productions and AWE. The first Reframed event will take place at AWE on November 16, 18 and 19, 2023 – featuring two brand-new one-act plays by local male playwrights, each of which is inspired by art in Chris McNamara’s exhibition, “It Don’t Exist – Imagining the City Within and Beyond the Archive”.

McNamara is a Windsor-based artist, who explains that, “My work in film, video, photography and installation often visits real or imagined city sites”. McNamara’s art is focused on all aspects of urban life, from the concrete to the abstract. Cities are a theme deeply rooted in McNamara’s identity and relationship to the world; in his words, “I am drawn to conversations about cities and about how we have come to understand them and navigate them. I find energy in cities and I feel a bit isolated and lonely when I am not able to walk around places that are densely populated”.

Given McNamara’s artistic focus, it’s no surprise that he drew from works in AWE’s permanent collection that reflected and explored his interest in diverse ways. “Some of the work is deeply personal while other works offer sober and incisive takes on the conditions of the city,” he expounds. Some of the art he selected has autobiographical importance, such as Billy Box by Yosef Drenters – which he remembers as one of the first works of art that captured his attention in youth.

Indeed, Billy Box serves as the inspiration for one of the new plays featured in Reframed: Daydreams in Low Fidelity by prolific Windsor-based playwright Matt St. Amand, who also directs the play and chose its actors, Fay Lynn and Michael K. Potter. In Daydreams in Low Fidelity, AWE representative Daphne Highlighter brings art to the remote Finton Hobart Polar Station where lonely misanthrope Dr. Farron rules his colleagues – the “mole people” – like an autocrat. Can a work of art help humanize Farron and, in doing so, help him appreciate the humanity of others?

The second play featured in November’s Reframed event is City Lifes by John Conlon, directed by Barry T. Brodie, and starring actors Shayla Hudson and Heath Camlis. City Lifes tells four stories that take place on a single city block from the 1920s to the 1990s. In each of the stories, Hudson and Camlis play a different couple whose lives unfold in a manner that is affect by both their location within the city and their location in time.
It’s clear from these summaries alone that the playwrights responded differently to McNamara’s exhibition – which for Brodie is exactly what ought to happen. Brodie thinks of art in terms of ingredients. “One of these is inspiration – an idea, an experience, something that prompts someone to create. And then there’s a soul, a creative response to that; that’s the ignition. So, if you’re a musician that spark will ignite into a song, or an opera. If you’re a visual artist that spark could ignite into a sculpture, or a painting. If you’re a playwright – maybe a one-act play, or even a three-play trilogy.”

Whatever the artistic intent of each of the works in “It Don’t Exist – Imagining the City Within and Beyond the Archive” – and whatever the intent of the exhibit itself, which could also be thought of as a work of art – the experience of art is subjective. It’s a process that begins when someone views or hears a work of art and is affected by it in some way.

“One of the things that’s bothered me all of my life is that people are afraid of art,” Brodie reveals. “They’re afraid that they’re not going to understand it. You find this certainly in poetry. People are afraid of poetry because they think they have to understand it in a certain way. The playwrights have responded to the art in their way – with story, which fleshes out the art” in a way that’s unique to how it affected them. From that point, the director and actors respond to the play, the work of art inspired by the work of art, in ways that are unique to them. And when these plays are performed at AWE in the presence of McNamara’s exhibit, each patron will respond to the various arts they’re witnessing in their own unique way, making them meaningful within the framework provided by their own thoughts, emotions, and histories. For Brodie, this is what we should be focusing on when appreciating (or not appreciating) art: “What am I feeling? What is this work giving off that’s reaching me? Or not. If someone says ‘this work doesn’t speak to me’, that’s perfectly fine”.

Many people say, about certain works of art, “I don’t get it” – and either worry that this means there’s something wrong with them, or decide there’s something wrong with art itself. “My mother used to say this about things I’d written – ‘I just don’t get it’,” Brodie clarifies. “This begs the question: what is there to get? Are we prescribing a response?” People should never be led to believe there’s one appropriate response to a work of art, and that anything other than that one approved response, or approved reaction or meaning, is somehow “wrong”. This way of thinking misrepresents the purposes of art – and unfortunately it drives many people away from art at a young age.

I’ve been trying to keep my own views out of this article, but I feel compelled to admit something here. A lot of what is considered great art has no affect on me other than a vague admiration of the skill involved. I can look at the Mona Lisa and admit that a skilled painter created it – but it has no affect on me so I find it personally meaningless. Same goes for the film Citizen Kane; I understand why people admire it, and I appreciate all of the technical creativity that went into its production and therefore changed the way filmmakers approached their art. But it bores me to tears. I’m okay with that because I can accept that a work of art can be a work of art whether or not it affects me, as long as it affects someone. I can also accept that it’s okay if the artist’s intended affect is very very different from the affect their work has on me. Brodie would agree, about the general point I’m making (probably not the specific examples I used). As he told me, “Even if some tragic experience in the artist’s life prompted this work, and if that doesn’t come out in the final version and people don’t weep and wail and gnash their teeth when they see it, that doesn’t mean that the art hasn’t communicated anything. Viewers may find it joyous”.

Both Brodie and McNamara see art as a community good, something for everyone, something that can offer all of us an experience that affects us deeply and even changes our perspectives and the ways we relate to the world around us. McNamara spells this out: “We move around city spaces every day. And for many of us, we take this experience and all that we encounter for granted. We are fish swimming in the water – unaware that it’s even water. Sometimes it’s the job of the artist to ask us to spend a bit more time absorbing what it means to be human in these collective spaces. How do we connect with one another? What makes a community work?”

Regarding the potential impact of the Reframed project on the Windsor-Essex community, McNamara muses, “I like the idea of creating a site that becomes a setting for interventions and performances. It is a way to activate the work and space and to create new models of understanding“. Brodie’s hopes are simpler and more succinct — “I would love to see the theatre patrons go back to AWE, and I’d like to see the gallery’s patrons come to see a live play”.

The second Reframed event will take place at AWE on January 18, 20 and 21, 2024 – also featuring two brand-new one-act plays, this time by local female playwrights inspired by art in Emily McKibbon’s exhibition, “The Once and Future City”.

In addition to being a collaboration between Brodie, AWE (in particular curators Chris McNamara and Emily McKibbon) and Post Productions, Reframed is partially funded by an Arts, Culture and Heritage Fund (ACHF) grant from the City of Windsor, which covers some of its expenses. All parties involved hope that the public will be inspired to support the project through donations when they come to view the exhibits and plays, and through potential sponsorship. If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor, please contact Post Productions at postproductionswindsor@gmail.com.

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