There is a back-story to this piece that informs its content without requiring knowledge of its particulars. I’ll include this back-story later on, because, I’m sure Will Somers is sick to death of explaining this context, and moreover, it isn’t the point. The point is that in this show, Will Somers reveals something truly resonant as he sets out to reclaim his image and “brand” as a performer in the wake of feeling like control over his own name had slipped from his grasp.
Somers is a talented musician and storyteller, and uses these skills to reveal a vibrant core at the heart of this production that has a lot of room to grow. Somers explores themes of identity throughout this piece that, rather than having anything to do with Pierre Brault, is in fact the story of Will Somers that the performer has carved out a space to tell us.
For the record: Pierre Brault performed a show called Will Somers, about a court jester to King Henry VIII, who is a real historical human who has nothing whatever to do with Will Somers, the contemporary Ottawa-based theatre creator, performer, and cabinet maker. Without clear ability to access his name-as-brand, the living Will Somers created this production, Pierre Brault, as a joke-cum-act-of-defiance-cum-shout-in-the-dark as a way to draw attention to the disenfranchisement and removal of agency that this production left him feeling. This is an interesting way into the idea that we ultimately have no control over how people see us.
Somers returns consistently to the motif that “we exist only in the eyes of others.” Despite our best intentions and efforts, the only thing that lives of us in others is their perception of us. We live a reality completely distinct from their understanding, and when faced with a story that bears our name but with which we do not identify, a sense of powerlessness and alienation takes hold. When we do not control the stories that are told about us, a tension manifests wherein we feel like we ought to live up (or down) to the roles in which we’ve been cast. This tension and anxiety extends beyond personal narratives of identity to whole cultures that have had their voices and stories silenced to a point where their identities are irrevocably destroyed.
The show would benefit from a deeper exploration of these themes of identity and lost agency, and some refinement in where and how its motifs crop up throughout the story. With more links drawn between the framing narrative of the existence of Will Somers and the core narrative of the existence of Will Somers, the audience would come to experience a lot of really profound feelings in themselves, rather than merely glimpsing it in the actor’s performance.
By playing to his strengths, and in telling his story aloud, Somers succeeds at reclaiming a sense of agency where his brand is concerned. What’s more, he does it in a way that reveals a piece of the audience to themselves from inside the identity-tension he brings to the fore of our consciousness. We all have an anxiety about how we are perceived; the stories we tell both ourselves and others, and the roles we inhabit through our actions, dress, and tastes constitute our explicit and implicit efforts to control our own images in the eyes of others.
Written and performed by Will Somers
With help from Nick Di Gaetano, Karen Balcome and Gavin Dyke