By Ash McAskill
My name is Ash McAskill and I am in love with slowness. I recently graduated from a PhD in Communication Studies from Concordia University in Montréal, Québec. My doctoral research was with theatre groups and performance programs that work with disabled artists in Montréal, Québec and Vancouver, British Columbia. I participated in their artistic processes exploring how these groups are changing how we understand and make theatre in Canada. One of the ways I learned is through slowness which I define as an important mode of perception of valuing human diversity. Currently, I am working on a postdoc at ReVision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice at the University of Guelph working on a project called “Slow Journeys.”
Ash McAskill is an ally and academic in the disability arts and theatre community and slow theatre practioner.
Image provided by Ash McAskill.
One of my first associations with slowness and fastness was through the story “The Tortoise and the Hare,” which is a tale about a slow-moving Tortoise challenging a speedy and proud Hare to a race. One of Aesop’s Fables (stories that often contain moral lessons),the tale begins with the Hare feeling ever so confident with his soon-to-be win: “A race, indeed a race. Oh! What fun! My, my! A race, of course, Mr. Tortoise, we shall race” (“The Tortoise and the Hare”). When encountering this story, it is easy to assume why the Hare immediately concludes his impending victory: How does such a slow moving creature stand a chance against a quick and agile one? After achieving a big lead over the Tortoise, the Hare decides to take a break. Many variations exist as to what the Hare does during this period. For this version, let us assume he chooses to play in a nearby meadow. Believing he has more time on his hands, he decides to take a nap. Meanwhile, the Tortoise slowly and carefully continues the race. Upon waking up, the Hare dashes to the finish line still believing he has won the race. At this point, the story takes a turn when to the Hare’s surprise, he is greeted by the champion—the patient Tortoise. As a child, I can recall my mother telling me this tale, emphasizing her words, “Remember Ashley, slow and steady wins the race.” Regrettably, few stories have been written in which slowness is projected as a victorious quality. I use this simple fable to bring attention to the importance of slowness, and how temporalities and bodies are set up to compete against one another, for example, as variations of “us vs. them” enter our dialogues—such as those of “the survival of the fittest”—and in which the faster and more athletic species often are represented as the assumed winners. So many bodies, cognitive styles, and cultural practices do not fit into this normative frame. And quite frankly, being in competition is what has left many of us overworked, tired, and constantly stressed.
This is what has led me to think more critically of a theatre movement that includes many bodies, many cognitive styles, and ways of being in spaces. This is what has led me to slow theatre. Lisa Schlesinger (2013)—playwright and theatre activist—defines ‘slow theatre’ as a “way of making theatre and a way of living” that works “towards beautiful solutions” for our current less-than-fulfilling capitalistic lifestyles. Slowness provides the space for artists to feel valued and unrushed to our creative abilities, and to feel unashamed of the ways of we learn and move. The practice of slowness situates our bodies as productive energies versus artistic obstacles and/or merely just bodies in space. Slowness gives artists a kind of acknowledgement and a more emphasized presence that we rarely experience in everyday life.