When was the last time you really did nothing? What does that even look like?
Maybe it looks something like plastic orchid factory’s tenth anniversary performance, I Miss Doing Nothing, a work that was born through a very not-nothing experience.
“We started this work almost a year ago,” says Natalie Lefebvre Gnam, half of the creative force behind plastic orchid factory, alongside her husband James Gnam. With an infant and a ten year old, the two creators trouped their family down to the studio to try to figure out what they wanted this performance to be.
“We were working in these spurts between diaper changes and trips to the park and food and this stuff, and in these moments of work, we thought to ourselves, ‘it’s our tenth anniversary next year, maybe we should do something with our old work?’”
Instead of a straightforward retrospective, they started by trying to remember the movements of their past work, seeing what would come back to them without referencing any past archives or videos.
What they found was not simply that they could remember much more than they might have expected, but something else: the surprising experience of doing nothing. Moments of spaciousness, amidst what an outsider would undoubtedly dub a chaotic time.
The source of that spaciousness? The moments of stillness in between movements, when they were trying to remember what came next.
“What became instantly really interesting to us was how the spaces in between the memories was really rich. That space of waiting and doing nothing. Those moments when we were waiting was amazing,” says Lefebvre Gnam. “Because of how memory works and that uneven rhythm that it has… we couldn’t get caught up in activity. There are moments of genuine space because you’re waiting for how you’re going to move again next.”
These fits and starts and moments of stillness between memories has given the two creators a new appreciation for the experience of time. Lefebvre Gnam refers to the sense that, these days, time feels like it’s more compressed; that more is expected of us in smaller spaces.
While she recognizes that the experience and demands of parenthood may be a large part of that sense of time requiring so much of her, that’s not just it — it was too universal an experience, shared by many people, whether or not they had parents.
The duo credits, or perhaps blames, technology as well, discussing the very real pressure that comes from carrying a computer in your pocket that can receive a message that requires a response at any moment.
“We thought at one point about having some kind of lock box or fishbowl for people to put their phones into, like actually asking people to sever themselves from their devices when they came in, but then we decided against that… maybe people won’t feel the need to look at their phones, but if they want to take a picture and post it on Instagram we don’t want to deter that either because that is the way world functions now.”
More than a resignation of the way things are, however, Lefebvre Gnam discusses the desire to give the audience of I Miss Doing Nothing “a tremendous amount of agency, removing a lot of the obligations that are about traditional live performance.”
This empowerment of the audience shows up in multiple ways: audiences are invited to come and go as much as they like during the three hour performance, sit or stand, wander about, or even “check out and read a book,” if they feel so inclined. Where traditional performances strictly prohibit the use of phones, taking photos, or really any activity besides looking at the stage, audiences of I Miss Doing Nothing always have a choice in what they will do.
Any concern that audiences may wind up feeling bored, not engaging, or leaving is met with genuine curiosity from Lefebvre Gnam: “where will you go instead? If you leave because you don’t want to be here because you’re bored, then where are you going instead? What are you doing?”
Maybe you’ll go off and do nothing. Doesn’t that sound nice?
I Miss Doing Nothing opens at Left of Main (211 Keefer St, Vancouver) on July 11 and continues until July 14. Visit plasticorchidfactory.com for tickets and information.