Nina Arsenault’s solo performance work possesses a visceral power that has engaged audiences from New Brunswick to the far North.
Nakai Theatre’s artistic director David Skelton booked The Silicone Diaries for the annual Pivot Festival in Whitehorse last year on the recommendation of a number of Toronto colleagues. He was won over by Arsenault’s ability to articulate what she does, both onstage and off.
“She’s very deliberate, very conscious of all her actions. It’s extraordinary how she can have that continuous scrutiny of everything she does, and what that means in the context of all of her actions. Thinking of her deliberate quality [in performance], that she must [also] have in putting on her makeup and creating herself, is so detailed and so deliberate. I just marvel at it,” he says.
The deliberate quality that Skelton speaks of becomes, in the context of Silicone, an array of performance strategies carefully crafted by Arsenault and director Brendan Healy. Aided by a skilled production team, they have sculpted a beautifully nuanced visual and aural gender/sex landscape. Arsenault’s strength as a performer takes on a Brechtian quality through a direct-address style.
Arsenault is set to return to Yukon in January, this time with her show I Was Barbie. It’s a retelling of Arsenault’s experience as Mattel’s representative for the famed fashion doll during Toronto’s 2009 Fashion Week, coinciding with Barbie’s 50th birthday celebration.
Arsenault has fond memories of her last trip north.
“Everywhere I went men were whistling at me. A lot of lumberjack mentality, in a good way, an outdoorsy man’s man-ness. There were no women there who wore as much makeup. I felt really sexually hot there,” Arsenault says.
Healy describes Arsenault as someone deeply ”interested in the intersection between aesthetics and spirituality.”
Audience reaction has not always been as open to this element of her persona. Skelton recalls a talkback session in Whitehorse in which an audience member told Arsenault that she hoped she would find peace one day, and would be able to stop having surgical procedures. Arsenault responded simply and directly by saying that she had found peace within surgery, and would continue to do so.
Arsenault doesn’t see herself as “the poster girl for transgender experiences.” She is primarily an artist who does not “prioritize art and life.” They are both equally important to her.
I Was Barbie
Nakai Theatre’s Pivot Festival
Thurs, Jan 27, 8pm
Yukon Arts Centre
Whitehorse, Yukon, $23