02 Feb THISISNOTASAFESPACE – INTERVIEW
About a week ago, Guillaume and I sat down with Andrew Jamieson and Laura Bardsley in my living room to talk about THISISNOTASAFESPACE, the DIY series they’ve started together. Andrew is a writer and a filmmaker, while Laura is a poet and musician. Before the iPhone starts recording, Andrew describes the four of us as ‘rival gangs,’ which doesn’t seem true at all. It feels more like a kind of weird double date where no one’s dating.
THISISNOTASAFESPACE is one of our favourite series in Montreal right now. It takes place in alternative ‘venues’ like public parks, parking lots or sketchy alleys, and features local writers, musicians, storytellers, stand up comedians and pretty much everything in between. Andrew and Laura’s endeavours feel very similar to what brought Guillaume and I together in the first place, as we used to run a DIY series together called THIS IS HAPPENING WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. The two series share not only similar names, but also the same spirit and sense of rebelliousness.
Here’s our chat, which was recorded in person and edited for clarity.
Ashley: So I want to start by saying that I feel like your guys’ readings in Montreal really remind me of some of the things we were doing with our own series, This Is Happening Whether You Like It Or Not, a few years ago. We understand the kind of work that goes into putting readings on like this, how important it is for the community and just how it brings people together and makes people feel good. So yeah, we’re excited to talk to you guys.
Guillaume: Can we talk about how THISISNOTASAFESPACE started? Was it always a DIY kind of thing?
Andrew: The first one was accidental. The whole thing was an accident. Laura and I had been friends for a while and we were just spending a lot of time stoned and talking shit together, then we started working together and quickly we decided that we should throw a show.
Laura: Because we both wanted to splice music and poetry together. Both of us had performed in those contexts, so it came naturally to us. We didn’t want to have it at a venue because we couldn’t think of any venues that we really liked.
Andrew: Also, I think we wanted to do something that would kind of piss people off.
Andrew: Then one day we got into a conversation about ‘safe spaces’ and we we’re like, why don’t we just call it ‘THISISNOTASAFESPACE’?
Ashley: So wait, I have a question. Why do you want to piss people off?
Andrew: Because it creates a reaction. Because it’s better than getting nothing from people.
Laura: I think we were kind of upset because we had been to many shows where the same people would say that it was bad [to their friends] and then they would go up and tell the people who were involved, like, “Great show! Really enjoyed it!” What the fuck is this? It was always so positive, but empty. So we were like, we want some, you know, emotion here.
Ashley: Yeah. I feel like that’s similar to when we started putting together readings. We were so bored of readings. We were like, is this really what writers are doing right now, with all of the resources we have access to and all the different performance elements that can go into a reading? And everyone is like, I am reading from a piece of paper and I am not performing this piece of writing at all.
Andrew: Right. And with all of the things that have been done before, it’s not like there are barriers to break down. It’s all been done before us. Why have we regressed?
Ashley: One thing I like about your readings is that it’s completely unrelated to any institutions. I like how it’s outdoors and you can drink beer and just be yourself and chill. It creates a really interesting vibe.
Andrew: Yeah, at the same time, you know that you’re not necessarily supposed to be there.
Laura: When I was waiting outside to get into the Devo cover show at Halloween, I started thinking about how I was outside listening to the music and dancing and I could be inside listening to the music and dancing, but really, there were only walls separating me from the show, like even if I did go inside, I wouldn’t be able to see the band, so does it matter that I am outside or inside? It made me think of the barriers of space.
Guillaume: I had this poetry teacher maybe 5 years ago, her ideal for a reading was to do it in art gallery because she thought that poetry was art and that it should be presented in the context of art, which kind of makes sense, but then the space of an art gallery also creates a kind of mock formality where people are like, oh, I am in an art gallery, maybe I shouldn’t be too loud.
Andrew: It ruins accessibility, too.
Laura: I think we try to shed inhibitions as well, like come, be there. You want to do a thing? Go for it.
Guillaume: Even in the introductions of the performers, and what I am going to say is a compliment, but there’s something wonderfully half-assed about them. Your introductions are so much more fun than someone reading an author bio word for word. Your style is more, like, “Here’s what I remember about this person.”
Laura: At our mountain show, the second one, I was going to introduce Konner [Whitney], but then, he was like, I just met this guy in the crowd and he wants to introduce me, so we just let that random guy introduce Conor.
Ashley: Whenever we do events, I always secretly wish that someone would like, sabotage it, or maybe just go, like, actually, I am hosting tonight. I just like the element of surprise. I like not knowing what’s going to happen.
Laura: That’s definitely what we want to do, too, just, like, support the weirdness. With safe spaces, we always found them slightly constricting in different ways or hypocritical in other ways.
Andrew: Yeah, the name THISISNOTASAFESPACE was very tongue-in-cheek, but also very literal. When we were putting together the reading next to the police station, we knew we were putting it in a place where it’s not safe to be there, but we also wanted everyone to be emitting the same energy and to be stoked to be there, so that there’s no pretense.
Guillaume: But yeah, there’s probably no such thing as a truly safe space to begin with.
Laura: That’s always been my argument. Wherever you are, you could still fall down the stairs or have a brain aneurysm.
Ashley: Are we talking about physical safety or, like, psychological safety?
Andrew: When we talk about safe spaces, in general, we’re talking about a space where we’re safe from one another. When we throw a show, the idea is more, like, a kind of oneness. We have no clue what’s going to happen. We don’t even know who’s performing half the time.
Laura: Well, we do, we have a list, but then we smoke weed and things happen.
Andrew: But it’s like, we try to remove a lot of the restrictions of a show, so that we go in there feeling very loose about it. Everybody shows up not knowing the structure of the show, so everybody is kind of stripped down to their bare minimums, right? “I am just here.”
Ashley: Yeah. And in that way, everyone is operating on a very present level, because there’s no pre-formulated conceptions of what this reading is going to be like. You guys release the location the day of the show, so you can’t mentally prepare yourself.
Guillaume: And since it’s a new space every time, and not one that normally hosts readings, it creates this concept of, well, what do we want to do with this space? Instead of doing the same thing you normally at readings, when you’re reading next to a police station or at the park, you don’t have a definition of what a reading in that space looks like. It can be anything.
Andrew: None of us know.
Laura: Andrew actually has this picture. He took a picture of our last location downtown. It’s completely packed with snow now.
Andrew: It’s amazing to think that we threw a show there, and now it’s just a big snow den.
Ashley: I really love the idea of taking back public space as well.
Laura: Yeah, when you use a public space, you can do a show wherever you want. That’s a space, so why not a throw a show here?
Guillaume: When we were in New York in October, there was this older Spanish man that was reading religious materials outside a CVS. He was talking into a mic with an amp and he had cables going into his truck and I was just like, oh yeah, that’s true, that’s all you need to do a reading. Great reading.
Andrew: That’s our goal. We want to do one in the metro, too. You ride the last cart and tell people, like, we’re starting at the top, and the car will be leaving at this time, and you have to meet up with us.
Ashley: That’s actually such a good idea.
Andrew: Maybe during the entire ride, you’ll see one poet and a band play, like, two songs and that’s it. It’s a travelling version of This Is Not A Safe Space.
Ashley: I am curious, what’s been the process in deciding where you’ll be doing a reading?
Laura: We have rules. Our rules are that, it can’t be an actual venue, and someone can’t live there.
Andrew: We take a lot of suggestions from people, then we just go check it out.
Guillaume: So far, has there been a space that you’ve chickened out from using?
Laura: We were going to do one in St-Henri at, like, this underpass that has a place where you can have fires, but we didn’t chicken out so much as nobody could tell me exactly where it was.
Ashley: What’s the craziest place you guys have thought of?
Andrew: In front of the Eaton Center.
Laura: Yeah, at noon in front of the Eaton Center would be an amazing place to have a show.
Guillaume: Maybe this applies to the metro thing as well, but I love the idea of the accidental audience. With something like the Eaton Center in the middle of the day, you would get a lot of random business people who have never heard of your thing or gone to a poetry reading otherwise.
Andrew: The mountain, oddly enough, that’s the show we’ve done that got the most walk-ups.
Ashley: Really? I didn’t notice! It was so dark there, you could barely see people next to you.
Laura: That anonymity was kind of nice, though.
Ashley: No, I agree. There’s something appealing about being frightened. Whether it’s a piece of art or an event, I love that element of, like, a little bit of fear. Just a little bit. It resonates more.
Laura: Yeah, I like being a little uncomfortable. It makes me feel more present. Andrew and I have been waiting for something wrong to happen, like the cops or something, but no, it never happens. So far, they just leave us alone.
IF YOU LIVE IN MONTREAL, THE NEXT TINASP WILL TAKE PLACE ON THURSDAY FEBRUARY 4TH, AT 8PM.