Revolutionary theatre in Rimouski

I’ve played in many culture-jams, but never as a videographer and never in a city I was visiting for the first time in my life.  That changed last spring, when I was part of a culture-jam at Tim Hortons in Rimouski.

Since 2002, OTL has offered a workshop called Revolutionary Theatre: Culture-Jamming and Theatrical Activism.  It had already been given in places like the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair, the Ottawa, Toronto and Alberta Social Forums, at the Convergence in New Orleans and for THAW (Theaters Against War) in New York City.

A group called the ZoPa, which stands for Zone Piratus Autonomus, had invited us to bring the workshop to Rimouski, a community a little over two hours east of Quebec City by car.  This time it was my turn to give it along with Montreal infringement colleague Anne Boucard.

While I was familiar with all the material, I had never given this workshop before and neither had my colleague, so after seven hours on the road in two different cars (a carpool service to Quebec, then a lift from our hosts), hanging out in an old schoolbus converted into an environmentally-friendly mobile home and a good night’s sleep, we prepared.

I had been expecting a full room of people, as many of our workshops had seen in the past but was pleased to find out that while it was to take place in a classroom on the CEGEP de Rimouski campus, the attendance would be limited to the three members of the ZoPA: Stephanie, Denis and Julie.

Rimouski is a town by the St-Lawrence river, right where it is starting to expand to meet with the Atlantic Ocean, in fact the river at this point is half-ocean, complete with a high and low tide.  The scenery is breathtaking and the community is filled with activists and quite a few ex-pat Montrealers.  We were definitely in the right place.

On our way to the campus, we stopped off in an abandoned circus tent that was set up with chairs and a stage for some sort of conference that evening.  We went inside and took over the space, albeit temporarily, which really set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

us and the ZoPA

us and the ZoPA

The workshop deals with some of the theories behind theatrical activism, historical examples and different types of culture jams.  It has a flexible format and we decided to incorporate performance elements to highlight some of what we were talking about.  After the break we showed videos of some previous OTL culture-jams and talked about some of the jams the ZoPA had performed in Rimouski, namely their sending Stephen Harper to the penalty box outside one of his speeches.

After sharing ideas and discussing techniques, we realized that what this weekend needed was a performance.  One of the easiest jams to put together that still has a strong theatrical element is our adaptation of Reverend Billy‘s Death by Latte.  It involves different groups of people going into a Starbucks one at a time, each arguing a specific problem with Starbucks (unfair business practices, GMO milk, etc.).  Those arguing the anti-Starbucks side aren’t drinking lattes, those arguing pro-Starbucks are and end up simultaneously performing an over-the-top death scene.

Through the activists the ZoPA knew, we had enough players for the scene.  One thing Rimouski didn’t have was a Starbucks to jam (wow, somewhere in the world without a Starbucks!), but they did have a Tim Hortons.  They also have Canadian Armed Forces recruiting center, right on the town’s main street.  Tim Hortons profits off Canadian involvement in Afghanistan with an outlet in Kandahar.  Inspired by (or rather in protest of) this situation, we adapted the scene to the surroundings.

After all the fake dying, someone gets up and starts to explain why we did the jam and then Wendy, the mascot of Wendy’s Restaurants which owns Tim Hortons, rushes in, kicks the jammers out and then tells everyone to keep drinking their coffee and supporting war for profit.  She concludes by saying “du sang, toujours frais” playing on Tim Hortons slogan “always fresh” with a new slogan “always fresh blood.”

The scene went very well and got a reaction, pretty good considering not all of the players had jammed like this before.  The only thing that was a little sloppy was the camera work.  Since we didn’t have a real videographer or a real camera, I agreed to shoot it with my cellphone camera.  Technical glitches and getting too involved with the scene led to me only capturing the very last part:

While it might not have been the best first videography experience, it was a great first time for me giving this workshop and culture-jamming in Rimouski, a community that could clearly benefit from more such actions and already has the people there to do them.

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