Writing
Notes on a High Tea

“I’m not sure where any of this is going but don’t throw any of it out.”
~Shannon Cochrane (heavily paraphrased)


Gallerist Paul Petro refers to my new association with Jeanne Randolph as a “forced mentorship.” He might be right. I’m not sure myself what this new relationship is. Given that Jeanne Randolph has been on my mind so much (I just mailed her a Christmas card) I started to think that I need to do a hard think and ask myself ‘what is it?’ Finally, a decent thought came into my head:

Performance as Lecture
Lecture as Performance

Not a new idea but I think my association to Jeanne / with Jeanne is a desire to move into 

Performance as Lecture
Lecture as Performance

I have tried. In 2015 The Belljar Café in Toronto gave me the opportunity to present a campy, one-off lecture / performance using the 1985 film “Desperately Seeking Susan” as a reference point. I decide to take it all very seriously. My Performance Lecture was entitled “States of Confusion, Amnesia and Loss of Control.” It went “okay”. Not great. Not bad. Certainly something worth re visiting one day. But I haven’t tried or been inspired to try another Performance Lecture

Lecture Performance since.

Moving into 2020 and 2021 I have been slightly re inspired to try my skills again—using Jeanne Randolph and her Performance Lecture style as a reference. In March 2021 I received a $4,000 grant from The Ontario Arts Council to reach out to Jeanne Randolph and use her as a catalyst for  my possible upcoming Performance work, ideas and inspiration. Ideas were tossed around with friends and the concept of a High Tea was decided upon.

On Sunday September 26th, 2021 from 11:30am–1:30pm at The Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto, twenty-six artists gathered in The Purple Tea Room for a High Tea. Jeanne Randolph was the catalyst for this memorable event. For those who know me well—tea and sweets are not my thing. I probably had one or two sips of the stuff and foolishly ate too many sweets not fully remembering that I do not like cakes and things like that.

Looking back, was The High Tea a performance (maybe). Was I super pleased—yes. Would I organize another one? Probably not—one was enough. 

But rethinking The High Tea: was it a Performance? We as artists gathered not in a bar, not in a gallery, not in a performance space but we gathered in a formal room designated for and famous for a High Tea.

What have I been doing since The High Tea? 

Investigating psychoanalysis (and treading very lightly into the unknown). I find that once I sensitize myself to something (in this case psychoanalysis) it seems to be everywhere. People are talking about psychoanalysis, going back to school to become a psychoanalyst, seeing a psychoanalyst and on it goes….

The High Tea for me was thrilling. Thrilling? For me to be able to treat 26 people to something different, special and certainly not every day is thrilling.

Back to the Shannon Cochrane quote from above: I haven’t thrown any of this experience out and it is very true that I have no idea where any of this investigation (High Tea, Jeanne Randolph, Psychoanalysis) will take me but hopefully I will move the idea of Performance as Lecture

Lecture as Performance

forward.

Again, not a new idea but an idea worth pursuing in my own way.

December 5, 2021

Artist
Keith Cole

Canada

Keith Cole is a Toronto-based artist, performer and writer. He holds a BFA from York University (1989) and an MFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design (2012). His interdisciplinary artistic practice is a collision of the forms of theatre, dance, film and performance, and the intersections they create. Cole has appeared in films, television and performance events worldwide and is a recipient of a Harold Award (1999) a National Tap Dance Award (2004), the Roberto Ariganello Award (2007) a Dora Award Nomination for Outstanding Male Performance in a Musical (2008) a Pink Triangle Award (2000), XTRA! Magazine Mouthiest Queer Activist Award (2010). In 2010 Keith Cole was a leading contender in Toronto’s Mayoral Election. He placed 8th in the overall election putting him in the top 10 of well over 80 candidates. He has written for FUSE Magazine, KAPSULA Magazine, The Dance Current, XTRA! dailyxtra.com, Fab Magazine, The BUZZ and has contributed writing to three academic anthologies. In 2014 and 2015 NOW Magazine readers voted him Toronto’s Best Performance Artist. As an independent scholar his research work explores gossip, hearsay, rumours, theft, speculation and appropriation within the contemporary art world. 

Performance
High Tea with Keith Cole and Jeanne Randolph

On September 26, 2021, twenty-six Toronto artists (of a certain generation), on the invitation of Keith Cole, assembled at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto for a High Tea. The guest of honour? Dr. Jeanne Randolph. One of Canada’s foremost cultural thinkers, Randolph is a mercurial character. She is a psychoanalyst, curator, critic, writer, musician, and a performance artist. HIGH TEA with Keith Cole and Jeanne Randolph was, what some theorists or academics might call a work of “social engagement.” For Cole, Randolph and the audience / participants assembled, the jury is out still on whether or not it was even a performance. Perhaps it would be more accurate to think of that afternoon as an event of community (rather than a ‘community event’). The people gathered in the room formed a snapshot of the Toronto arts community from a particular moment, a bit out of focus and dispersed, but collectively felt. Being in the room meant acknowledging the performance of time, of memory and of community. Pinkies up!

Image (above) © Keith Cole, High Tea, 2021. Photo Henry Chan.
Image (below) © Keith Cole, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.

Performance
Valley of the Dolls by Keith Cole

You’ve go to climb to the top of Mount Everest
to reach the Valley of the Dolls.
It’s a brutal climb to reach that peak
which so few have seen.
You never knew what was really up there,
but the last thing you expected to find
was the Valley of the Dolls.
You stand there, waiting for
the rush of exhilaration
you though you’d feel–but
it doesn’t come.
You’re too far away to hear the applause
and take your bows.
And there’s no place left to climb.


Fifty years ago, Jacqueline Susann wrote these opening lines in The Valley of the Dolls, what would become one of the most successful books of its time (with over 31 million copies sold, and counting) making Susann a household name (even if many still read her book under the covers in secret) and bestowing her with the honour of being the first author in history to have three consecutive books in the #1 position on the New York Times bestsellers list. Some might remember the Valley of the Dolls best as the cinematic vehicle for a pill and booze soaked cautionary tale of female ambition, fame, fortune and failure. Despite this, fifty years later the story is still relevant, telling us as much about celebrity culture today and it forewarned us then.

You’re got to climb to the top of Mount Everest to see the Valley of the Dolls, and you’re invited to take this journey with Toronto’s very own performance provocateur Keith Cole in a 5-session book club-cum-academic master class. The first 4 sessions take place in a sprawling hotel room. In Session 5, book club attendees gather with audience to watch a screening of the 1967 film directed by Mark Robson, listen to a key note speech by a secret special guest, and receive their “V of the D” diplomas.

This Performance Club 2 provides participants with a survey of a range of theories and opinions about how we engage, understand and re-evaluate, literary works of art from the past. How do we talk about, feel and learn from a work of art that is still celebrated fifty years after its first release? Our lives are increasingly dominated by visual images on screens but what about the act of reading? The act of discussion? The act of listening? The act of offering up opinions? Have we globally lost the inter-personal understanding of the importance of ideas, the circulation of information and the importance of coming together to identify, contextualize and analyze literary works of art?

The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann refers to many performance and non-performance outlets. Namely popular entertainment and academic forms ranging from fine art, television, Hollywood, cabaret, camp, feminism, fashion, musical theatre, drug culture, power dynamics and gender politics. All of which will be analyzed in this participant lead Performance Club.

In order to reach a greater understanding of how meaning circulates through our diverse and hectic lives Performance Club participants must first come to terms with 4 items of importance:

  • reading is crucial
  • participation is mandatory
  • attendance counts
  • opinions matter


There is limited enrolment to attend all 4 sessions. The first eight participants to enrol for all sessions will receive a FREE softcover copy of the book. Each week, there will be a limited number of audited spots to attend a single session. These spots also require registration. These spots are PWYC. Auditors attend single sessions and BYOB (Bring Your Own Book).

EVENT & SCREENING
February 27, 2018
The Commons @ 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto
7:00pm: Keynote by Kristyn Dunnion & Graduation
8:00pm: Screening of The Valley of the Dolls

Performance
Vivência Poética curated by Erika DeFreitas

FADO Performance Art Centre’s 2008 Emerging Artists Series, Vivência Poética, pairs established artists with emerging artists in the creation of a collaborative performance work.

ARTISTS
Diane Borsato & Stacey Sproule
Keith Cole & Diana Lopez Soto
John Marriott & Suzanne Caines

“The curatorial premise of this project required an emerging and an established performance artist to collaborate jointly, and in turn with participants within the space in which they work/present. I am interested in the relational aspects within the collaborative process between artists, and how it specifically pertains to questions of authorship, communication, tension, and pedagogy. I am certain that these collaborations will challenge the concept of relational aesthetics as it is outlined by Nicolas Bourriaud in his text Relational Aesthetics.”

~Erika DeFreitas, curator

Performance Yellow

This fragrance opens us to the question, has the show started? It's winter, the theatre is colder than the street and the room is filled with people and all their winter smells: wet faux leather, down, too much shampoo, and beer breath. The atmosphere is a trickster. Am I late, am I early?

Top Notes

yellow mandarin, mimosa

Middle Notes

honey, chamomile, salt

Base Notes

narcissus, guaiac wood, piss, beer