Thought Residency: Susanna Fournier

Thought Residency: Susanna Fournier


I’m currently pan frying eggs because to be an independent artist means multi-tasking every minute of the day, or at least it does for me, and I’m thinking of the old proverb …when the student is ready the teacher arrives. When I think about the massive, total upheaval just about every aspect of my life is going through right now: personal risk, artistic risk, family upheaval, sense of self, emotional stability – all that pretty up in the air I think about how right now my two greatest teachers are fear and faith.


When was the last time you saw a dangerous piece of art? ted witzel, a long-time collaborator of mine, was asked this yesterday and then he asked me. It’s pretty rare in my experience. I want processes of making art to be safe but I don’t want art to be “safe”. A lot of people have called my work triggering. I write about power and its abuses, so this comes with the territory. I write towards reclamation. Part of healing is confronting the wound. I try to make artistic containers where we can be braver together. Safe art doesn’t ask me to confront anything – it doesn’t invite me to remember how brave I can be. And bravery, like hope, is something – I think – we have to practice.


Capacity. What is it, where do you find it, and how much do you have? What do you do when you need more? What do you do when you blow out the gas tank? What’s the connection between capacity and forgiveness? Capacity and sustainability? Capacity and self awareness? Capacity and threshold? Capacity and adrenaline? I’ve lived most of my life (and all of my career) over capacity. I know my reasons, I’m curious about yours. What’s the cost? The reward? Is it “worth” it? What are you looking for? How will you know when you’ve “found” it?


I’m thinking about how one way or another pain must find a way to express. I just spent 7 and a half hours in a psychiatric emergency ward with someone I love very much who is currently experiencing psychosis. His pain …forced its way to the surface. He needed to go somewhere where he could scream and rant in order to birth this pain, and I realize that’s why I make theatre.


I’m thinking about feeling feelings. I became displaced this summer — I lost my home & most of my possessions over a 3 month period of …well…hell. I haven’t had time to feel the feelings that come with this – grief and rage – the way I normally would…by writing.  Looking back, I think I became a writer because I didn’t know how to feel my feelings and writing created a space where I could experience them in the imagined bodies of others. But then again I come from WASPS – we feel safer experiencing our feelings as long as someone else is feeling them for us.


I’m currently rehearsing a text I began 8 years ago after marathon watching dog training shows. What struck me was that the people needed more training that the dogs. Anxious people, anxious dogs. Inactive people, hyper-active dogs. I watched the owner’s discomfort when told they’d need to assert themselves and create a social hierarchy so the dogs know who is in charge. Dogs don’t want democracy – it makes them panic, get depressed, or become violent. Whereas people seem to feel this way with or without democracy.


Like many people, most of my life I wanted to believe I was taking risks without having to experience any of the pretty horrifying emotions that come with actual risk. I was a full blown perfectionist til I was 29 and perfectionism doesn’t allow for risk because it doesn’t allow for failure. Like mass culture, I was all about the rhetoric of risk, but not the practice. Lately there’s a lot of counter rhetoric around permitting failure – and I wonder how much, like risk, we talk about this while furiously making sure it never happens to us.


There was a textile work on the ceiling of the drama room at my highschool that showed a group of people encircling the words “THE KEY IS RISK”. I remember staring at that wanting to be really good at taking risks – especially if they were KEY — but not really knowing what that meant or if I was. Right now I’m currently taking the biggest artistic and personal risks of my life – and what I’m thinking about is not that motto but the circle of people surrounding it. The more I risk the more I need people around me willing to risk holding space for risk.  



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About the Author

Susanna Fournier is an award-winning Canadian theatre-maker and the artistic producer of PARADIGM productions. She is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada and the Artist Producer Training program at Generator, where PARADIGM is a resident company. She works in various performance mediums, primarily constructing new texts for theatre. Her work is feminist, expressionist, and anti-imperial. Her writing interrogates socio-economic-gender power relations and their perversions. She has made and presented work in Toronto, Montreal, Banff, Calgary, London, Berlin, Munich, and Dublin, Ireland. In 2018/19, PARADIGM is producing Susanna’s trilogy of performance texts, The Empire, in Toronto and online as serially released podcasts. The Empire, comprised of 'The Philosopher’s Wife', 'The Scavenger’s Daughter', and 'Four Sisters', abstracts over 500 years of modern history, tracing the ramifications of Imperialism as it pervades into every aspect of life from global empire building to the colonization of the body and psyche. Susanna’s work is supported by The Canada Council for the Arts, the Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils, The National Arts Centre, The Banff Centre for the Arts, The Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition, The Patrick Conner Award, and The Cayle Chernin Award. When she isn’t writing she is dancing. /