Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
For Raven John, Vancouver-based and two-spirited multi-disciplined artist and activist, live interactive performances and artistic collaboration has always been very important to their process. But like many of us, the need to adapt has recently become crucial.
John says the physical disconnect that has resulted from COVID-19 restrictions has been really difficult, but they have finally decided to accept the inevitable and move toward developing more digital skills to help navigate the ongoing pandemic.
“I'm a pretty stubborn person,” said the member of the Stó:lō Nation from S'olh Temexw. “So it took the most recent lockdown procedures and no longer having our ‘safe six’ for me to really get into doing more digital work. But I'm having fun getting into it. I'm doing some VR-AR slash XR work now, which is pretty fun.”
Part of the development of those new skills will be John’s participation this month in Vancouver’s Zee Zee Theatre’s new adaptation of the company’s long running Human Library project.
The Human Library was a project first initiated in Copenhagen in 2000 by a collective called ‘Stop The Violence’ to encourage more human connection as a way of breaking down barriers with the ultimate goal of transcending prejudice.
The Human Library project was created to shine a light on the value of personal experience and to allow participants to explore the rich life experience of others through personal interaction curated through a borrowing model where real people can be checked out of a library for short investigative conversations.
The concept became so popular that over the past two decades the practice has been adopted by organizations in 70 cities worldwide, including Vancouver, when Zee Zee Theatre decided to spearhead the project in that city eight years ago.
“A great deal of division is created from people not engaging with each other and really listening,” says producer Jordy Matheson in a press release. “What makes this project so powerful— radical, even—is that we’re asked to face our differences straight on, literally. There is no turning a blind eye, no resting in apathy. It’s two people sharing something intimate as a means to incrementally change the world.”
Now here in 2021, with COVID-19 restrictions continuing to keep us physically apart, Zee Zee Theatre and Matheson have also come up with a digital solution to rebrand the Human Library experience this year as Virtual Humanity.
Curated by Bunny (Daisy Joe) and Sam Chimes with a focus on Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) contributors, Virtual Humanity will connect public participants online with more than 30 “virtual human” subjects for a series of one-on-one personal conversations on specific topics.
As a virtual participant, John, 32, will share their insights and life experiences from the perspective of a young two-spirit, Indigenous queer human.
“I'll be giving a (talk) on the difference between gender identities and sexual orientations and those spectrums and how they relate to the term two spirit and where that comes from,” John explains.
“Most people aren't aware that Indigenous cultures were inclusive of gender variance, sexual orientations, as well as different kinds of family buildings. An allowance of polyamorous relationships, of queer relationships and marriages, and of trans identities, and that a lot of those practices had a tie to cultural and traditional values and practices.”
Virtual Humanity will take place on Saturdays beginning March 6 and run until March 28. Participants will be asked to create a WeShowUp account through Zee Zee Theatre’s Virtual Humanity online event page, and then they can go on to purchase tickets for specific dates.
After reserving their day passes, participants will receive an event conformation email containing a link to a booking portal. At 10 a.m. on the day of the event, ticket holders will have the opportunity to reserve two “virtual humans” through the booking portal on a first-come, first-served basis.
Joining a Virtual Humanity Zoom meeting, participants will be greeted by their Virtual Humanity host who will introduce them to their storytellers of choice. Once introduced, they will share a one-on-one conversation that includes a ten-minute storytelling experience followed by a ten-minute question and answer session.
Skilled in jewelry making, sculpture, mold making, set creation, art installation, and performance, John also sits on the advisory boards of a couple of organizations, including the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance, and acts as a cultural consultant for the Vancouver theatre industry as an intersectional person.
The artist and activist also offers “consultations” and “mediations” on their website providing guidance on cultural protocol and how to successfully navigate social and political boundaries, making John an insightful and dynamic human candidate for the Virtual Humanity project.
To get involved in the conversation visit the Virtual Humanity event page at https://zeezeetheatre.ca/production/virtual-humanity/