Nightwood Theatre has announced that Erin Brubacher & Christine Brubaker are returning for a final pop-up presentation of 7th Cousins in Toronto, as a part of their 2017-18 season, presented in partnership with the Ismaili Centre Toronto.
From July 7 to August 6, 2015, Erin and Christine walked 700 km, from Pennsylvania to Ontario. To find out more about their journey, and how the show has evolved since their initial performances last year, I had the opportunity to ask both Erin and Christine my 5 Questions…
HM: My understanding is you decided to embark on a 32-day, 700km journey through the Bible Belt of Pennsylvania to retrace the migration of your Mennonite ancestors. Depending on the day, walking may be meditative, stressful, or even boring. What were some of the discoveries you made about yourselves (individually) and each other, in terms of how you dealt with the physical aspects of the journey?
Christine Brubaker (CB): Certainly discovered our own coping strategies with the endurance challenge. Generally (and these are generalizations – every day had its own character), we dealt with the pain differently. I found myself needing to rest often, Erin hated stopping. I had bad feet the entire time (blisters that migrated from toe to toe), Erin had aching hips. I needed to crash when we got to our place – nap even. Erin seem to be able to rise to the occasion.
Erin Brubacher (EB): These are of course ‘rules’ with ‘exceptions’ but yes. Generally Christine would be ‘on’ with our hosts in the morning and I would take care of being social in the evening when we arrived. I have to say though, on the walk I was surprised to find that I was never ‘bored’. At least not for the first 25 or so days. There was a day after we crossed the border that was all highway and box stores, and we were so close and still so far away… That felt excruciating because it was the first time I felt overwhelmingly bored and lost my ability to be present.
HM: Walking affects how we perceive time. How do you remember the passing of time during the journey from Pennsylvania to Ontario?
CB: I love this question. I obsessed about time on the road. Fascinated with the length of road in front of us, the speed of the cars around us, where the sun would move, the challenge of either checking out mentally or really feeling each minute and each step. How long a kilometer would take. Each of these is a measurement with different variables. Truly, time became both a mental and physical experience, heightened and clarified by the repetitiveness. Elastic and incessant.
HM: Picking up from the last question, did the two of you at any point discuss how your ancestors might have perceived time during their own journey? I guess I’m curious about your thoughts on how your ancestors’ would have experienced their journey in the 18th century.
CB: I regularly thought about people in that time and what the world was like without cars specifically. Cars seemed to have launched us into a completely different relationship with pace. I love the idea of a world being much slower, more discoverable within our own physical capacities. I think it’s Rebecca Solnit who says that we think at the pace of walking, and my feeling is that we can receive new information at that speed as well. I wondering if the idea of being ‘overwhelmed’ didn’t exist before mechanization.
EB: There was one day when someone said “oh it’s a four hour drive to Ontario” and I was blown away by having two weeks of walking ahead of us. I was also really taken with this idea of going only in one direction and not being about to ‘go back’ at least in the present. If you’re driving, it’s not big thing to turn around, but on foot for that duration, you just have to keep going.
HM: Memory can also be affected by the passage of time. 7th cousins is described as an “automythography” that aims to explore truth and tales of a real and imagined past, present and future. Could you expand on this idea a bit please?
EB: Christine and I became obsessed with how we remember things—differently. We would spend hours on the road recounting the details of experiences we had just had together and find ourselves debating ‘what happened’. We often think about memory like an aptitude for factual recall. But memory is so laced with perception and feelings and the lenses through which we see the world. It has to do with what matters to us and what we want to believe. So we call 7th Cousins an automythography in part because we know that there isn’t one truth or version of our journey to recount. The myths we have made together are as significant as the facts we agree on.
HM: Your journey may have happened a few years ago now. Nonetheless, how does it continue to affect you personally and professionally?
CB: As I read the news, particularly stories of the political happenings in the States, I think often of the people we met, many of them Trump voters, and I suspect who continue to support him and this ideology. It was confusing then and continues to be. But in some ways, I think this trip made me more curious and more empathetic to this point of view, and I think it has shifted me out of me Toronto centric bubble – hilariously, I now live part of the time in Calgary, which has its own version of the conservatism we encountered in Pennsylvania – a religious foundation that I don’t feel in Toronto. I’m trying to get inside this mindset more, park some of my instant judgements.
EB: That political encounter certainly marked me and continues to be a framework for how I enter into conversations about the state of things in North America. But another thing I’ll say about the walk is that it continues to be a reference point for how I understand myself. I carry one tangible sense of my foibles and my strengths that is derived from those 32 days. I also carry Christine with me — her ways of seeing me and her ways of seeing the world.
This instalment of 7th cousins includes three performances June 2-3 at the Ismaili Centre. Audience members will also have the opportunity to experience a special 30-minute tour of the beautiful Ismaili Centre. For performance times and tickets, please visit nightwoodtheatre.net.
Photos courtesy of 7th Cousins.