by Gail M. Burns
“This piece is not Zoom Theater, but a work made especially for the web commissioned and presented by KoFest,” Artistic Director Sabrina Hamilton explained. Canary… was to be part of the live 2020 Ko season before the pandemic changed things. “There is something very sweet about this work, which I love. It is an intimate story told with amazingly interesting camera work in a format that is appropriate for it. The small screen is very personal – you really feel that Jonathan is speaking directly to you. It doesn’t look like he’s in a theatre performing a show that we videotaped.”
Locked down during COVID and desperate to make theatre, Mirin turns the camera on…himself, telling the story of the mysterious symptoms his life and production partner, Swiss choreographer/designer Godeliève Richard, began experiencing in 2010. Increasingly unable to leave the house and take care of their new baby, the couple contends with the growing likelihood that her illness is environmental – and inescapable.
Richard suffers from electro-hypersensitivity (EHS), a.k.a. “microwave sickness.” Severe neurological symptoms are triggered by exposure to EMFs, the wireless radiation that the rest of society is passionately embracing to connect phones, devices, and upload cat videos. As his wife’s condition worsens, Mirin finds himself compelled to become a public health advocate, activist, and petitioner in a landmark legal case against the FCC.
This issue was in the news in the Berkshire Eagle on February 3 because the Pittsfield Board of Health unanimously voted to issue an ultimatum to Verizon in the ongoing dispute over their cell tower at 877 South Street. If Verizon doesn’t come to the table within the next two weeks to discuss removing or relocating the tower which neighbors have said for more than a year is the cause of headaches, hives and possibly cancer, then the Board of Health will issue a cease and desist order to have the tower turned off.
“Sometimes people with a financial stake in this issue, or the telecom industry in particular, try to paint those who raise issues about the health and environmental risks of wireless exposure as ‘anti-technology,’ Mirin said. “There have also been attempts to dismiss people suffering from EHS as mentally ill – which is a historically tried and true tactic used against lots of minority groups. But both Piti Theatre and the Ko Festival are organizations that embrace technology for all the ways that it brings people together and makes events like Canary in a Gold Mine more accessible.”
Hamilton adds, “We’ve discovered during the pandemic how much more accessible online and streaming productions are for people with a variety of disabilities, and for people around the world who have never been able to join us for KoFest before. We’re seeing local ticket buyers joined by folks from as far away as Turkey and Hawaii, so we’re very excited that those accessibility barriers seem to have been mitigated by the online nature of this event.”
Hamilton and Mirin have a wide variety of experts booked to comment and answer audience questions after each of the three airings of Canary. Here’s the line-up:
Friday, February 11: Theodora Scarato, Executive Director, Environmental Health Trust; Dr. David Carpenter, SUNY School of Public Health; Jonathan Mirin; and Claudia Alick, BIPOC theatre artist/disability activist
Saturday, February 12: Dr. Magda Havas, Trent University; Courtney Gilardi, Pittsfield mother/activist; Jonathan Mirin; Claudia Alick, BIPOC theatre artist/disability activist
“The post-show discussions will take the issue of EHS back out into the real world,” Hamilton explained. “They will be real-time, online events and the audience will be able to ask questions or comment via Vimeo’s chat function.”
The audience will also have access to an online version of Ko’s lobby displays with readings, images, weblinks, and materials that enrich their experience.
This is the third of Mirin’s comedic solo autobiographic pieces. “My goal is for Canary… to be the most enjoyable, engaging piece of bad news people have ever heard. We are living in a society where environmental impacts on health have reached epidemic proportions and this one, despite it affecting almost everyone, has largely flown ‘under the radar’, pun intended.” Mirin explained. “Canary… takes you into the early days of COVID when we were all feeling very isolated. Speaking directly into the camera, in and around our home, allows for intimate storytelling while film also allows us to zoom out to documentary footage, knitting together raw feelings and current events in a humorous way.”
“At first I was worried that this might be an earnest public health lecture, but I’ve been watching the daily footage, and it’s really entertaining, with wonderfully inventive camera work,” Hamilton said. “Anyone who has experienced chronic illness themselves or helped a loved one in crisis will find comfort and laughter in this show. It’s a fun and compelling dive into the opposing forces of corporate profit vs. public safety.”
Canary in a Gold Mine will be shown online on Friday and Saturday, February 11 and 12 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, February 13 at 3:00 pm. Real-time discussions with MDs, scientists, thought leaders and the creative team will follow each performance. Audience members will be able to ask questions or comment via Vimeo’s chat function. A captioned version will be available. Tickets are $30 Patron Price, $20 Standard Price and $10 Discount Price. For further information and tickets visit kofest.com.