As part of Vancouver’s PUSH Festival, Cynthia Hopkin’s one woman show, A Living Documentary, immediately hooks the audience in with just her mere presence on stage. She begins, in character, as an old man telling his version of how to make it in this world as an artist.
Hopkins’ humorous yet unavoidably truthful play is centred around the dream of earning a living in the performing arts. Hopkins shifts effortlessly into various characters through which she tells her stories of failed employment, drowning in debt from performing for free because “you’re doing it for the art”, how to stand up for what you deserve as an artist, and how to just plain follow your dreams. From the old man singing about how “you girls need to find a rich boyfriend,” to the failed waitress rapping about all of the plastic behaviours we have to portray in our jobs just to get by, every single depiction of the “employee” and the employee vs boss relationship is relatable to any artist or creative person struggling to make it while hula -hooping through multiple jobs at the same time.
What really worked for me was Hopkins’ use of humour, song, and what seemed to me like mini poetic inner thoughts in the form of pre-recorded monologues, that she played on an old tape recorder in between her real-time, on stage costume changes. From talk of role-playing-sex-shop workers, to orphans and inheriting money, these mini poetic confessionals were beautiful and essential to the well deserved tonal shifts that occur with each character change.
Hopkins voice is dominant and strong, while her well thought out facial expressions add up to one stellar performance. The pivotal scene where Hopkins’ sheds her clothing spoke to me in the voice of the eternal employee finally breaking free of the day to day grind. I found this scene incredibly pure and essential to depicting that image of truly being free and what that can look and feel like to others because of how truly exposed we all are.
I admire the way Hopkins links the idea of perfection as a gift, to how “failure was the best thing to happen” to her, a true underdog story, done right.
The show in itself is the freedom. The freedom all artists want to achieve while still doing what they love and getting paid well for it. This is one of those performances where audiences will keep certain lines, phrases, and visions permanently lined in their pockets because you just won’t be able to shake how close to home Hopkins voice hits. What will stick around for me is the simple idea that, according to Hopkins, all any artist really needs is “a room of ones own.”