Bridget Moser is hard to define, a performance artist incorporating dance, monologue, video and prop comedy. She spins sentence structures around subtle gestures, stripping language only to rebuild it and conjure new notions. A regular performer at the monthly performance/art event Doored, Bridget was my art-neighbour in sequential timeslots at the Rhubarb Festival. Each night I marvelled at her zen-like repose while waiting breathlessly in the wings for her turn to show and tell a story. We chatted via internet from opposite sides of the world.
HENRI FABERGÉ: Was there a performer - actor, dancer, singer - who you remember seeing and thinking for the first time, "Yes. I want to perform."
BRIDGET MOSER: When I was really little I wanted to dance, for sure. That is absolutely the first time I was really very interested in performing. And that was probably just because my sister got to go to dance classes. But I was more like, "no I got this shit on lock, solo performances only."
HF: Did you have an awareness of a performer-audience relationship, or were you dancing in more of a mental bubble?
BM: Oh no, it was for sure all about performing. The very first dance competition I was in as a three year old had a weird stage set up where the judges were on one side and a small audience was on another side. I think you were supposed to perform for the judges, but I technically did the whole thing sideways and performed it for the audience.
HF: Amazing. Did you continue with dance into the awkward teen years, or did some other medium capture your imagination?
BM: No, I took it the limit. Probably past the limit. Definitely into the awkward teen years, very embarrassing song choices.
HF: What style of dance did you pursue?
BM: When I was 13 I did an interpretive contemporary solo to the main piano piece from "Eyes Wide Shut," because I was very into the soundtrack at the time.
HF: Oh my god.
BM: Full black bodysuit like a speedskater, kabuki makeup.
HF: Did you have a supportive dance teacher in that regard? Or did you just do what you wanted?
BM: Really supportive dance teachers all around, actually. Which was very lucky. I grew up in a suburban town, so a kid showing up with a musical selection from a Stanley Kubrick orgy movie was probably a little out of the ordinary. But I did it all. Tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical.
HF: Was there any irony in your early choices like that? Or is the humour inherent in that situation only in hindsight? Was it coming purely from an honest or naive place?
BM: The most honest, absolutely. Especially by the time I was in my teens and probably coming to the realization that I had hit my peak as a child and was aging out of the system, all of my musical choices were extremely close to me. I think I had a lot of big ideas about artistic and emotional expression since those were the things I could excel at, instead of the more technical or physically challenging aspects of dance. Like, I have flat feet and weak muscles, but I can feel the shit out of this Elliott Smith song for you.
I probably still feel that way about most of the music I work with, though I worry the choices come off as ironic.
HF: You certainly seem to incorporate musical elements into your recent work with a humourous intention.
BM: Yeah, I think in a lot of cases I want that to be one possible facet of it. But I also want there to be other things going on as well. Some choices are more successful than others in that regard, but I don't really want to do something only because it's funny.
HF: Of course. Sorry, back to dance...you still incorporate dance into your work; have you retained that idea of movement as a pure expression? Or do you have a different relationship to it now that you're older?
BM: Yeah I think I have a very different relationship to it now. I'm not even sure how I started bringing it back in, I guess maybe as a solution to get from one idea or position to another in a performance. Or sometimes it's just a more intuitive process where it's possible to get away from words but still be working through the same ideas. Sometimes it's just about moving in a way that "feels right", whatever that even means, or sometimes it's like "oh this is a movement that communicates this idea, to me."
HF: Okay, back to the past. Were there other artistic outlets you discovered and explored as a teeny tween teen?
BM: Oh yeah, all the high school hits. Community theatre featuring the deep shame of teen improv, drawing, painting, sculpture stuff. I think the older I got the more I wanted to stop performing, though.
HF: So you were a Renaissance teen. Why did you want to stop, how did your relationship with performance change at that time?
BM: I think that I always kind of felt like I just wasn't that good at it. But bless high school improv for teaching me how to live with that terrible feeling of standing on a stage, knowing how it feels to be doing something absolutely terrible, and finding a way to make it through the next 3 minutes of my life anyhow. I guess it really taught me to sit with embarrassment in a way that nothing else did. And then eventually I think I just figured my identity was more artist teen instead of renaissance teen, and at that time art was very clearly drawing and painting and had nothing to do with performing.
HF: Was there a specific catalyst that reenergized your desire to perform, towards the type of work you do now?
BM: I was doing a residency at The Banff Centre led by Michael Portnoy where we all had to create a 5-minute performance every week and do it for the group on Friday night. That was probably the first time I really thought it was what I actually should have been doing all this time.
HF: Back up a bit, how did you end up at the Banff centre? Were you in art school before that?
BM: I had graduated from art school, where I did Studio Arts. Actually my first year of school was all drawing and painting and it took maybe two months to realize that was not what I wanted to do. And then four years of trying to figure out what I wanted to do. When I left I was doing mostly installation and video things. I guess I was in a lot of the videos and so by necessity still performing in a lot of ways. And I did performance, but it was durational, being in a room, doing a thing for a long time. There wasn't that kind of clear relationship between audience and performer the way there is now, or the way there was when I was a kid.
HF: What was the Banff residency about, and what led you to apply to it?
BM: I had been working an office job for about three years, still making work but feeling kind of frustrated. Then there was a posting about the residency, which was focused on the idea of experimental comedy. And it was led by Michael Portnoy, who is probably most famous in a pop culture sense for the time that he interrupted Bob Dylan's Grammy performance in 1998 by emerging from a group of dancers with the words "SOY BOMB" written across his naked torso. Then he did this kind of excellent convulsive dancing right next to Bob Dylan until security took him away. I remember watching that live when it first aired and feeling so bewildered by it.
HF: Had you already started making work for the Doored shows at that time? Tell me a bit about that (Doored is a monthly performance/comedy night in Toronto; Bridget is a regular performer).
BM: Oh no, Doored comes out of this. This is where Doored is born!
HF: Oh really?
BM: Let me tell you a tale...
HF: Please do!
BM: So I knew who Michael Portnoy was because of that, and also because he's a tremendous artist. Then it turned out Reggie Watts was going to be a guest faculty member, and I had seen him do a comedy set at Just For Laughs and it was probably the funniest thing I had ever seen in real life. And I felt kind of like this had to be the residency for me. When I found out I got in, I sort of had this feeling like, "this is where things change for Bridget Moser!"
HF: Seriously! It sounds amazing.
BM: And then it turned out, yes, very true, because while I was there this relationship I had been in for almost a third of my life ended. I quit my job over email and decided to move to Toronto. So I was kind of having this emotional breakdown, but having to perform every week, and working with Michael and his partner Ieva Misevičiūtė, she was also a faculty member, who gave me probably the most constructive and useful feedback I've ever had. They were really good teachers. All of these things were kind of a perfect storm and I started to really take this kind of performing, I guess the way I do it now, very seriously.
HF: what's something you learned from Michael and Ieva that still resonates strongly with you?
BM: Probably that it's very valuable to work intuitively and to try to do everything you wanted to do in the space of one performance. Or just to have that as a starting point. That you can have a lot of complicated overlapping ideas and you don't have to justify them or pare them down.
HF: Does the tale continue?
BM: Certainly. So, Life of a Craphead (a performance project by Amy Lam & Jon McCurley) were also at that residency, which is where I got to know them. And they kind of have this superhuman level of initiative where if they want something to exist in the world and realize that it doesn't exist yet, they'll just do it. I think they realized that the kind of performing we were doing there wasn't being done a lot of other places, or that there wasn't really room for it anywhere else that we knew of. To solve that, they created Doored. The residency ended at the end of October, and Doored started at the beginning of December. And I mean, without that I don't know if I could have kept doing so many performances.
HF: So, Doored extended this impetus to continue creating new work and to put yourself out there that resonated with you during the residency.
BM: Definitely. There was also something about the work I was doing at the residency that was just working in a way that nothing I had done before did. But it also relied on being in a room with an audience for it to really work, too. Doored was so amazing because it was a venue to present new work, but it also happened so regularly I had to keep creating new things and developing and refining what I was doing.
HF: i seem to remember checking out the residency call, it was labeled as "experimental comedy" or some such thing, is that right? Do you consider your art practice to be within the realm of "comedy", or does it just incorporate humour into some other less defined thing?
BM: Yes, experimental comedy was the residency. I think of what I do as performance art absolutely, but that it uses strategies from all kinds of different performance modes, like dance, or theatre, or prop comedy.
HF: Have you ever performed on a more conventionally "comedy" bill? Or do you generally stick to unconventional programmes like Doored, with your toe dipped into the the contemporary art sea?
BM: We did some open mic nights at a local bar when we were in Banff but that didn't go over too well. I feel like conventional comedy is maybe not the right place for it. I'm still not sure if a theatre is the right place for it, either. I think Doored is a good place for it because it's still presenting work as performance art, but all of the work there tends to defy fairly conventional expectations of what "performance art" looks like. But I also think a gallery is a good place for it because of the same way performance art is a loaded idea in that space. I think it's more interesting to play against those kinds of expectations vs. the expectations someone has when they're going to see a more conventional comedy bill.
HF: Can you tell me about your working process - how you find your starting point, and how you develop your piece from there?
BM: Well I always have a workbook going of notes, things I'm thinking about, general writing, any kind of ideas I don't want to forget even if they're very small or dumb. From there it kind of depends on the performance. For longer performances, sometimes I work out a structure of how I want to organize ideas. I might already have objects in mind, but if I don't then I go to Honest Ed's. I'm going to be crushed when that place is gone. Sometimes I know what I'm looking for, or sometimes I find a really perfect object that I just have a feeling about. Then from there it's kind of a brainstorming and editing process. I have a very clear idea in my head of what it is I'm thinking about or working through, and then it's kind of about organizing all these fragments in a way that makes sense to me. I think sometimes people think I'm doing something because it's arbitrarily weird and therefore I'm just trying to be funny. But it's actually part of this system in my mind that makes sense. I generally assume that people's minds will do some inadvertent work for them and draw associations even if what they're watching doesn't seem to completely make sense. But you never know how someone else will see it.
HF: Do you have a sense of where your practice will develop from here? Or is it a slowly evolving process you're just allowing to grow one performance at a time?
BM: I mostly just want to keep making more work all of the time. I want to keep doing longer and longer things, too, just to kind of test out the reasonable limits. It's kind of the same thing with video work. I don't know where it's going, but the best way to figure that out is to just do it. It might be nice to work with other people someday!