Have you ever had the experience of the Fringe show that ‘got away’? You know the one people were talking about and debating, but it was sold out or didn’t fit into your schedule? If Gidion’s Knot by Johnna Adams at the 2015 Edmonton International Fringe Festival was the one that got away for you, SkirtsAfire 2016 and Chorus Productions has got you covered with their remount running March 3 – 13 at the Black Box Theatre in the Alberta Avenue Community League.
Liana Shannon, who performed Gidion’s Knot during Fringe, describes the play as being about what happens when, “A parent of a troubled child shows up for a parent-teacher conference with the teacher who didn’t expect the parent to show up. There is a lot of debate and heated discussion around their own personal responsibility, culpability in the child’s actions, freedom of speech, bullying, protecting children. It’s an 80 minute quick, clean, tight play that touches on a lot of big issues that will create a lot of discussion for the audience.” This production of Gidion’s Knot features Liana Shannon, who will be reprising her role as Corryn, Gidion’s mother, and Amber Lewis who plays Heather Clark, Gidion’s teacher.
The play’s title is a reference to the legend of the Gordian Knot, a complex knot Alexander the Great was challenged to untie. Instead of untangling the knot, he thought outside of the box and cut through it. Liana explains her own take on the metaphor of the play’s title as standing for the debate the parent and the teacher are having about how to deal with the complexities of Gidion. “The situation is very complex, there aren’t any easy answers. Are you a ‘black-and-white’ person that says, ‘Let’s just cut it out if someone doesn’t fit the mold,’ like my character’s son? If someone doesn’t fit the mold, do you just ostracize them, get rid of them, put a coating on them or put them in a different school? Or do you try to figure them and their complexities out and work within that? Maybe there isn’t a way to figure it out – the play doesn’t say, ‘Oh yes, here, get this particular thing and that will help.’ Sometimes you can’t figure it out, so which do you go with? Do you say, ‘We can’t figure it out, so we have to cut out the source of the problem, or do we just persevere and try to figure it out, no matter how impossible or complex it is?’ My character is determined to figure out what happened – I go in there and, as much as I’m deflected, I’m not leaving until I get some answers.”
Heather adds, “That’s why I think as you’re watching, the knot unravels very slowly and starts to untangle to the point where you have a clear picture and you understand to the best that can be understood in the situation, but you don’t really know until the end.”
Having performed the show at last year’s Fringe festival, Liana says that the play engages audience members and sticks with them afterwards as they debate out the different views shown in the play with their fellow theatre-goers. “I think there are a lot of universal issues that people relate to. Audience members would come up afterwards and say, ‘Oh, this thing happened to me and I really get that.’ or coming up and saying, ‘One minute I was on your side and the next minute I hated you.’ It really resonates with a lot of people. They didn’t know what to expect and they went away saying it would stay with them for a long time… The audience tends to side with one and then find themselves siding with the other and going back – there’s a lot of grey areas – I think they end up having a good night of debate and discussion with their friends afterwards.”
During the parent-teacher conference in Gidion’s Knot, the characters Heather and Corryn debate their responses to Gidion’s actions and their own responsibility for his ultimate actions. Amber explains her character’s perspective as the teacher, “It’s interesting how much time a teacher spends with a child compared to how much time a parent spends with the child. The bulk of the day is spent with the teacher. In this case, Mom in the play is quite busy and has a lot of demands on her time. So, there’s an aspect that the teacher might know the child a little more than the parent does… I feel for teachers because they have so much responsibility with these young minds.” And so, the argument that Amber’s character makes shows the difficult balancing act of protecting the whole classroom versus allowing each child to protect their individuality, even if that individuality seems dangerous.
Providing the parent’s perspective, Liana adds that the debate is also around moving away from the view of children as innocent – without complex thoughts or feelings – and how parents and teachers should react when they meet a child who is more complex than others. “The complexity of being a human being doesn’t start at 13 – it starts way younger. We kind of forget that and think that kids are all on ‘picnics’, and maybe they get in cute scraps like kids do, but it’s simple. For some kids, they can be pretty complex. The play reminds me of that and how do you manage that? With modern classrooms getting bigger and bigger and teachers having to deal with larger and larger classrooms – how do they manage the individual needs of a kid that is complex? Does that kid fall through the cracks of underfunding? How does a teacher manage that? Even if they have a smaller classroom, you can’t be all things to every kid.”
Although the play is centred around a parent-teacher conference about a child, Liana says that her experience with the play last summer taught her that you don’t need to have kids or be concerned about child development to get invested in the show. “It’s almost less about children than about human issues. Even though the catalyst is to talk about the child, the actual issues are a very adult story… Certainly, if you have children you’ll think about your parenting, but if you don’t have children it’s really about humanity and complex human issues and social and emotional issues. The thing I love about it is there are no easy answers. The playwright doesn’t tie it up in a bow. You walk away going okay, how much of this do I agree with? How much of that do I agree with?”
Gidion’s Knot is presented by SkirtsAfire and Chorus Productions as part of the lead-up to the SkirtsAfire herArts Festival as well as during the four-day festival itself. SkirtsAfire is a multidisciplinary arts festival that supports, encourages, and celebrates female artists of all varieties.
Gidion’s Knot runs March 3 – 13 in the Black Box Theatre at the Alberta Avenue Community League and, while it involves a child, it is not for children. Tickets March 3 – 9 are $16.75 – $22 from Tix on the Square or at the door. During the SkirtsAfire herArts Festival, tickets are by donation.