For singer-songwriter Devon More, live performance offers an invaluable opportunity to plant new ideas.
“I have a very active brain. I love to research, and I love to learn,” said the Vancouver-based artist. “I find that a lot of media and entertainment that we are exposed to is quite hollow, and I think what a shame…because entertainment value is the perfect way to educate or teach someone.”
And with endless information at our fingertips, live performance is more important than ever in this age of Web 2.0, says More.
“It’s amazing if people give you an hour of their time in a world where seven seconds into a Youtube video clip if it’s not entertaining, then you’re onto the next page, right? So, a full hour of time seems like a wasted opportunity to bring people into a room without trying to give them something… [that they] can marinate on later.”
Last month, More premiered her one-woman musical comedy Berlin Waltz at the Calgary Fringe Festival. Through original music and puppetry, More staged Berlin’s history during the Cold War, from the end of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
More felt inspired to develop Berlin Waltz after living in Germany’s capital city for four years.
“Everyone wants to know why I went to Berlin, but it was completely haphazard,” said More. “I had finished my first undergrad in Kamloops at Thompson Rivers University where I did a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Anthropology. So, naturally, I was still working a restaurant managerial job after I finished. And I thought, well I could do this somewhere cooler.”
“I had done a study exchange to the Netherlands years previous, so I already spoke Dutch. My slightly flawed logic was that German would be the next easiest language to pick up after that, and I could get a working holiday visa for Germany.”
With her best friend joining her, More set off for Germany. Upon arriving in Berlin, More and her friend attended an orientation session on how to navigate through German bureaucracy e.g. work permits, tax numbers.
“[We] figured we would probably end up getting seasonal work somewhere else in Germany, like at a ski resort. But when we got to Berlin, it was just…you could feel the energy of the city,” said More. “People are out and contributing to the city, taking part in the city. I just couldn’t think of a good enough reason to leave, even though unemployment at the time was at almost 20%. This was during the 2008/2009 Recession.”
Despite her limited German, More found work at a pub. Working and living in Berlin, More started to recognize something amazing about the city. Even after “witnessing all the extremes, all the worst possible outcomes” just decades before, Berlin still held the arts in high esteem.
“It’s the only place I’ve ever been where if someone asks you what you do, and you say I am an artist, their next question is not “What’s your real job?” It’s a very creative city,” said More. “And it’s a very beautiful thing as a creative person to be in a city that’s been basically slapped in the face by everything that happened in the 20th century and to see the priorities of the city be art and culture.”
More returned to Canada in 2012. Development on Berlin Waltz would begin after More’s 2014 fringe tour.
“The fringe is…I’ve never worked so hard for meager returns, but you know it’s amazing,” said More about the fringe experience. “Professional development pays for itself — so don’t make me seem like I’m money hungry! But you spend so much time on the fringe working, selling, trying to promote, trying to get people excited about your show…I just couldn’t…you really need to care about, at least I do, what you’re trying to sell to be able to maintain that level of involvement with it.”
With this in mind, More searched for a subject that she felt ready to invest all her time and energy into.
“In Berlin, I learned so much just by living there about what the sort of broad political, ideological ideas, terms, and decisions mean when they actually get down to the human level, to one person, to an individual. And it was a really important lesson for me to know that. And so, I thought, well that’s something i could spend a lot of time and energy on and feel good about.”
Although much of the show’s content comes from what she learned while in Berlin, More says research was necessary in order to accurately and properly contextualize the events that shaped Berlin and its people.
“Berlin is a very strange city. It’s contradictory, it’s not like most first-world capital cities,” said More. “If you don’t know why, if you don’t know what happened in history to create that, it’s kind of hard to understand, so I didn’t feel I could give people the broad strokes of Berlin without planting it in its history.”
More’s Berlin Waltz stands as a love letter to a city, an intimate encounter between biography and history, and also, a call for action. In her show, the artist encourages her audience to question actions taken by the Canadian government, specifically the introduction of invasive bills like the controversial Bill C-51.
“I learned a lot about the Cold War living in Berlin,” said More. “And then, I came back to Canada three years ago, and I was kind of astonished by what I felt like were some political mistakes we were making here. What happened in East Germany proved bad for the greater good. So, I was concerned. I thought, we already know this, we learned these lessons from history. We learned about intense surveillance of the population with the Stasi, and now that beast has morphed with online surveillance and all the beautiful implications of technology.”
More fears that the Cold War has become distant in the minds of Canadians, that the high-tension era which saw so much propaganda has “become history, rather than contemporary history.”
“At this vantage point of 25 years down the road after the victory of capitalism…of this quest for unlimited economic growth and what that entails for the environment and resources, it’s only really now that we know what that meant. I think rather than just blazing forward on the same path we’ve been on for 25 years since the wall fell, maybe it’s time to take inventory and say “could it be better?”…I think the answer is absolutely yes. We’re at a point where we don’t have enemies like the Soviets versus the US anymore.”
Looking ahead, More says she will perform Berlin Waltz again. She intends on using all the feedback she received to fine tune and polish the show. Ultimately, More says, she hopes to continue inspiring people to consider the parallels between what happened in East Germany and what is happening here at home.
Devon More’s Berlin Waltz ran July 31 – August 8 as part of the Calgary Fringe Festival.
Visit CBC Music’s profile on Devon More to learn more about the artist: http://music.cbc.ca/#!/artists/Devon-More
Devon More’s Bandcamp Page: http://devonmore.bandcamp.com/