Thought Residency: Robert Chafe

Thought Residency: Robert Chafe


So a guy on the highway got really angry with me because I couldn’t, wouldn’t, let him into the lane if his choosing at the time of his choosing and so he angrily swerved around me and got in front of me and then slammed on his brakes forcing me to slam on my brakes, very dangerously, all to teach me some sort of lesson and then a full five minutes later when he was exiting the freeway he rolled down his window and gave me the finger, and it just got me thinking about emotional energy and how we expend it and choose to expend it or how it expends itself through us and it also made me realize that I didn’t have a terribly big emotional reaction to him, which is also uncommon because I used to kinda have road rage and frustration with people and that I wasn’t feeling that and I think it was because I just completed a day of dramaturgy and dramaturgy is really really hard and then I started to think about maybe that’s where all of my emotional energy is going to these days is into the work and is that a good thing or a bad thing it’s certainly leveling out the spikes of emotion good or bad in my day to day living, and…yeah. Emotional energy. And theatre. And road rage.


Today I am thinking about Larry Dohey. I woke up this morning and checked Facebook as I am wont to do, and saw that Larry passed away suddenly yesterday. Larry was an archivist, but a bit of a celebrity at least within in our community, the creative community in Newfoundland and Labrador. He worked at the archives of the Basilica, the Roman Catholic Diocese for many years, and then at the Rooms provincial archives, and he was an endless resource to so many people in our community on so many fronts, and watching the reaction to his passing this morning on social media is just kind of a testament to the effect that a person can have even in jobs that sometimes quietly go unnoticed such as an archivist. Larry kind of elevated – I’ll use that word – elevated the importance and the public impact of a position like that. And yeah, so I’m sad, and I’m reflective, and I’m thinking of Larry, and I’m grateful to have known him, and I’m grateful to have been touched by his brilliance a bit. And I’m thinking about community, and I’m thinking about impact, and I’m thinking about…all kinds of things.


Today I am in Avondale Newfoundland, in a beautiful little house overlooking the bay, working with Evalyn and Leah on The Dialysis Project in the capacity of a dramaturge, key collaborator. And so I’m thinking about coming to other people’s work, other people’s stories, and how to bring what I do to those stories in an attempt to elevate them without intruding upon them, and how to honour trauma and complexity in people’s stories without dramaturgically simplifying them or erasing them or any of the other things that too heavy a hand could do. And also thinking about how every project is a completely new learning experience even after all of these years.


I’m just about to hop in a car and drive three hours from St John’s to the Bonavista peninsula to take in the second instalment of the Bonavista Biennale, a project that started back in 2017 and it’s having its second iteration this year. An incredible, ambitious, beautiful art site-seeing tour across the Bonavista peninsula, where you dip into these little buildings, and some not so little, along that road that I’ve driven many many times in my life but I’ve never noticed these buildings before, and now you walk in and there’s magical…almost as if by magic there are these incredible art displays. It’s an incredible way to encounter some fantastic contemporary visual art while at the same time getting to know an area intimately, and it’s my new favourite thing in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. So I’m thinking a lot about vision and ambition and thinking outside the box and ways of transforming space and that’s what I’m thinking about today.


It’s my birthday today and so I’m thinking a lot about aging. I’m thinking a lot about aging this entire summer actually. We just moved my parents into a brand new accessible house that my brothers built for them, with a little assistance from me. And it’s just got me thinking about my fate as I age, as a queer man with no kids, as an artist with, you know…skeptical about my financial future, to say the least. Yeah, so just thinking about aging and thinking about what awaits. Oh god that’s so depressing, sorry for the depressing thought today.


Had a great meeting with Brian and Sarah today about my new show and our upcoming workshop, which got me thinking about how lucky I am to have amazing collaborators in my life, which got me thinking about the whole reason I got into theatre in the first place. It was, what I called once, like organized sports for the geeky kid. I didn’t play organized sports when I was a kid; three failed years of hockey, but we don’t talk about that. And, yeah…just collaboration. And gratitude. And just being really thankful that whatever I’ve done in my creative career, it has garnered me the great privilege of working with some really really tremendous people, and sometimes my heart just bursts with gratitude for that.


I’m walking around the lake and there’s a guy riding his bike on the walking trail and following him is his dog off leash and suddenly I’m filled with such, like, intense annoyance. And in that moment, I realize that I’m inherently in my life a really strict follower of rules. And then I start to wonder about how much of that naturally, innately, presents itself in my work, and if there’s any way to break that.

And he was wearing too much cologne too.


Today Greta Thunberg departs on a two-week journey across the Atlantic in a zero emissions yacht to attend a climate conference. Today I head to my office to work on more details of sending 10-12 people on a six-month tour across Canada via car, plane, bus. Something’s gotta give.


So I was sitting in the park yesterday and watching some skateboarders and kind of marvelling at the inherent engagement with failure that comes with skateboarding. It’s really admirable. They – usually a bunch of guys – they usually get together, and fail, try things that they know are beyond their capacity but they know they’ll only get to if they repeat repeat repeat. And unlike most endeavours that practice doesn’t happen in solitude, it happens in congregation, seemingly only happens in congregation with people that are also failing. At best, I guess, that’s what rehearsal should be like but so often isn’t. And, yeah, I just find it really admirable.


My name is Robert Chafe, and this is my thought residency, day 2.

So, I composed a rather eloquent thing detailing a conversation I had with a friend of mine about the very fuzzy line between confidence and arrogance and how I sometimes trip on that line and don’t quite know how to proceed. And just as I was about to send it in, I was looking at Facebook and a friend of mine’s status update simply read “get over yourself.” And so I erased my thought. And replaced it with this.


So as with all things with regards to my career, I’m going back to basic principles with this thought residency and rooting it in honesty. And my first thought rooted in honesty is that this thought residency is stressing me out. Because I feel the weight and need to be poignant and smart. And I don’t operate well under pressure to be anything. So that’s my thought today. It’s going to be an interesting month.

(Note: there is an eerily appropriate distant siren wailing in the background of this )