Duet with Me: Emergent Devising

Interactive Performance | Creator, Facilitator | Golden Gate Park, San Francisco | April & May 2020

Performance Concept

During the pandemic, chalk art has become a community and family activity in San Francisco. Noticing a wide variety of chalk art on my daily walks and visits to the park with my young nephews, I decided to follow a hunch to enter into an artistic conversation with the chalk artists in the neighborhood (often children). I’d encounter a rainbow, a bit of block text, or a child’s name and would leave a written message for the original artist or add to their drawing. Soon I began drawing my own provocations, taking pictures and sharing them to Instagram, tagging them #duetwithme on both the sidewalk and online. Eventually I the performance became a daily occurrence as I accompanied my nephews to Golden Gate Park.

The Duet with Me Drawings project seeks to engage in passing connectivity with strangers through chalk art. I perceive any chalk etching left on a wall or sidewalk as an open invitation to collaborate and dialogue through drawing. Whether a discernible figure or chicken scratch, I take a few minutes to see the drawings as they exist before my duet begins.

Description of the Experience

While the performance started as a quotidian exercise, it grew into a public performance in May. Given the public health protocols and recommendations in the midst of the pandemic, I initially struggled to conceive of a way to provide chalk (to eliminate this barrier to participation) while maintaining social distancing and ensure audience trust. Solutions came to this challenge came from friends and family. My sister, who happens to have a Masters in Public Health, recommended that I purchase enough chalk to give the participants a piece – and not take it back. This way I could ensure that the chalk was sanitary on my end through my handling of it and I would eliminate any chance for further vectors of infection since no one would be sharing chalk.

One evening after posting some of my personal #duetwithmedrawings creations, I had a friend send me an Instagram story in which she had screenshot my chalk drawing and had added to it through Instagram stories. This launched the idea to host a #duetwithmedrawings event live in real life (IRL) and to embed a virtual engagement through Instagram.

In short order I set in motion the live and virtual event by advertising around the site (Golden Gate Park) through a simple chalk message which I shared on my Instagram Story and in a post (pictured below)

On the day of the event, I set up at the central fountain with three sets of posters explaining the premise of the participatory event. I suited up in gloves and face bandana to set everything up. I laid six pieces of chalkboard chalk around the posters and taped the posters securely to the fountain. Circulating around the fountain, I engaged those who stopped to look at the posters from at least six feet away to invite them to participate in the event.

I really enjoyed connecting, albeit briefly, with the participants. One little boy was so taken with the activity that he drew several images and wanted to make sure that I took pictures of every one. A family took a piece of chalk and then moved to a segment between two of the fountains and created a beautiful and very long train, which provided so many opportunities for duets! I met an art teacher from Spain who told me about his drawing, which comes from a cave painting that is well-known in his hometown and supposedly represents a warrior. While a small, mostly DIY event the few hours of #duetwithmedrawings provided some interpersonal connection with local strangers that brought joy to people’s days and made an impression. In fact, two days later I ran into one participant family on a hike in a different part of San Francisco and said hello!

After the event ended, I uploaded several of the photos I had taken of participants’ work and invited people to duet with them on Instagram. Below are some of the messages and tags that I received online.

As someone who is keen to learn methods for engaging audiences on multiple levels, #duetwithmedrawings provided some important insights into accessibility, layering participation and asynchronous engagement. By including both an IRL and virtual invitation to participate the audience could engage at their own leisure across time and space. Even those who just walked by and saw the chalk drawings engaged in the event despite not actively participating by drawing.

I think COVID-19 has presented a unique opportunity to develop multiple methods of audience engagement outside of the parameters of live performance through asynchronous connections that allow the audience to engage on their own terms and in their own time. This format intrigues me as a potentially effective way to connect with an audience before or after a performance event as a way to extend the experience and allow the audience space to play and explore thematic or conceptual aspects of a show.