Louise Moyes has a rare ability to connect with perfect strangers and she does so frequently on her journeys to St. John’s from Montreal, taking in the scenery and the people along Newfoundland’s isolated south coast via the Lower North Shore of Quebec and into Labrador, and turns those conversations along the way into pieces of art for the stage.
Her show, Taking in Strangers, Quebec & Newfoundland Stories, gives us a peek into remote regions of Canada few of us would ever get a chance to see and is based on interviews with residents of those towns en route to her native home in Newfoundland. Told through a series of monologues, linked with maps and photos, the resulting performance touches on sociopolitical and environmental issues related to “rural development, homelessness, mental health”, and “everything from quitting smoking and how to have fun in an ice storm, to the tragedy of losing one’s child”.
She preserves a piece of east-coast regional culture and presents it to the world, dialects, accents, language, tone and mannerisms intact. It is more than a spoken-word, one-woman show; it is oral history and a reflection on Canadian identity with dashes of people’s lives. “Taking in Strangers is an early docu-dance,” a Moyes-pioneered, documentary-style performance art series presented through storytelling and movement.
“It is mostly monologues from the interviews – I play over 20 people. But there is a lot of movement in the pieces. I would say it is a mix of contemporary improvisation and mime in this show”.
One very intriguing character, who Moyes captures in Taking in Strangers is famous for her sharp, accented tongue, wise-cracks, rapidly changing personality, her fur-coats and high heels, and for standing on streets corners taking in strangers herself. She was a transient known as Marilyn or Trixie or various other names, but mainly Marilyn. Moyes saw her often – she would just “pop up” – she began to wonder if they were living parallel lives, being in cities at the same time, on the same streets. In her short story that she includes in Taking In Strangers, she writes, “I’m heading for the corner of St. Laurent and Ste Catherine, and who’s out there with her garbage bags…?” Marilyn would usually be asking, “Have ya got a quarter?” – her panhandler’s catchphrase.
This story gets autobiographical and personal when Moyes realizes they both even sported similar “platinum” hair for a while, except Marilyn “rarely had a “roots” problem. When I asked her who Marilyn was and what her relationship is to the show, Moyes says, “Marilyn was a wonderful, majestic “bag lady” here in St. John’s, for lack of a better word. She died last year (she means 2013) and is sorely missed.”
Their paths crossed so often that they developed a connection. “We had a friendship for over 15 years on the road from St, John’s to Montreal. She appears in the show in stories I tell, and in photos.”
The duality of this character/real person is interesting, Moyes says “Sometimes I feel as if she’s a guardian,” despite the suggestion that Marilyn/Trixie would pull tricks from street corners, exchanging sexual pleasure for a ride from one town to another. She is foul-mouthed and rude but switches back to being friendly and nice at the drop of a dime. She was homeless, drifting on the road, but apparently had a home in St. John’s. She was isolated but also had many friends in strangers in many places. And although, she had financial struggles, she always dressed to the hilt; the glamorous “bag lady”.
The show runs from March 17-21 and Moyes collects proceeds from each night for a special charity called the Gathering Place. All profits from the Thursday night performance go to them as well. “The Gathering Place is an important multi-purpose centre in St. John’s that helps those in need. They provide a soup kitchen, clothing boutique, showers, computer room, a women’s room…And Marilyn received a lot of support there.”
All the stories borrow from Moyes’ travels across the eastern coast except for one, which was based on the book Island Maid: Voices of Outport Women by author Rhonda Pelley and photographer Sheilagh O’Leary.
In this production, she is alone onstage but over the past 30 years Moyes has worked with a lot of Newfoundland artists too. She collaborates with her dad John Moyes, Valerie Dean and Lisa Porter as the directors, at different times and phases over the four years it took to create the piece. “It is amazing to have that long a time with the same dance, film, theatre and music artists. We are very lucky.”
Taking in Strangers is a revisited and updated piece that sold out at the LSPU Hall in Resource Centre for the Arts, the same venue in which it was shown 15 years ago. It has since been performed in Quebec, Vancouver, Germany, Brazil, and on tour at schools throughout Newfoundland.
Moyes draws from her training in contemporary dance and related arts, particularly in Limon technique, Improvisation, Bartenieff and Body-Mind Centering, which she developed at Studio 303 in Montreal.
She is a dancer, storyteller, and choreographer, and people may not know this but Moyes is a self-professed sociologist. That is not far-fetched, as she does what any ethnocultural sociologist in this subspecialty backed by a PhD would. She says she is “self-taught”. She conducts very valid field research through her interviews. She documents the lives and history of peoples and communities on Canada’s eastern coast, along with their hardships and realities.
For tickets and information, call 709-753-4531 or visit rca.nf.ca.
by Cherryl Bird
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Rev.: Maps and Marilyn photo added to piece on Aug. 29, 2015