FRINGE 2016: Extreme States

As part of a special Montreal Fringe edition of Creator's Chorus that first aired June 15th 2016, co-hosts Jess Glavina and Annick MF together discussed issues, the challenges, and the narratives that surround mental health through the lense of the independent theatre.

Guiding you along for this special review that you will read is some contextual and important information regarding this sensitive yet important topic. Included below is an excerpt of the audio from that episode, and a few notes from our author as well.

In the late nineteenth century in Paris, French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot fixed his interest upon the disorder 'hysteria' - seeking to taxonomize what had been neglected for centuries as an incomprehensible jumble of symptoms, described by one historian as “a dramatic medical metaphor for everything that men found mysterious or unmanageable in the opposite sex.”1 Charcot set up shop in the Salpêtrière Hospital, a long time asylum for the most vulnerable members of the Parisian underclass.

At Charcot's Tuesday Lectures, young symptom-presenting women would be paraded onstage to be poked and prodded as live demonstrations for the fashionable elite of Paris, where the women's speech and screams would be described as mere 'vocalization'.

What stories these women might tell were irrelevant- this was science, and with the rise of a secular France, Charcot raced to claim their symptoms in the catalogues of the Enlightenment tradition rather than cede to the Church's dominion of religious ecstasy and states of possession.2

The two plays I saw this week push back on this exploitative theatrical legacy, a not-yet-dead heritage for women and femmes who seek mental health support through institutional avenues. The plays I refer to are Extreme States from Get Fresh Productions (Review coming up soon), by Stephanie Lawrence and Carol Tenbrink, and Part I from Project X, featuring Jacqueline Van de Geer, Lyne Labrie, Ilana Zackon, and Mercedeh Baroque.

In Extreme States, a spoken word piece of alternating monologues, Lawrence courageously details an experience of hospitalization with steady cadence, while Tenbrink leaps into dreamworlds and psychedelic breaks to preach a return to indigenous ways of being (check out the talk spot for a more detailed response to this).

Against the rendering of our most vulnerable moments or breaking points as unspeakable, I encourage folks to really listen to the stories spilling from the lips and rumbling through the bodies of no-longer-’subjects' at the Fringe this year. Extreme States and Part I bravely offer self-articulations of lived experiences in a time where so much stigma around mental health still exists.

For a long-form discussion, catch our extended talk spot on Creators Chorus (Wednesdays 5 - 6pm ET) where Annick MF and I delve more deeply into what we loved and what we took issue with in these two pieces. Because, you know, its not all sunshine and rainbows.

End the stigma!

- JG

Reference: (1)(2) Trauma & Recovery. 2015 By Judith L. Herman

Extreme States is brought to you by Carole Tenbrink and Stephanie Lawrence, and continues to play at the Montreal Improv Theatre, located at 3697 Saint-Laurent, at the following times:

- Friday, June 17 from 19:00
- Sunday, June 19 from 14:30


Jess Glavina and Annick MF are both part of CJLO's Official Fringe Team covering the sights and sounds from the 2016 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. Together, they host Creators Chorus - every Wednesday afternoon from 5 – 6pm ET, only on 1690AM in Montreal and online at