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Welcome to the dungeon
Philly Fringe 2021: the Cannonball Festival presents Corinna Burns’s Bind
For some, the transition from teenage years into young adulthood can be jarring, especially when parents who held it together for the sake of the kids finally split up. The family home disappears, and as in writer/performer Corinna Burns’s case, new financial obligations can loop adolescents into exhausting cycles of grownup life. That’s the starting point of Bind, Burns’s performance at the Cannonball Festival, a new Fringe satellite produced by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre and Kensington’s MAAS Building.
Apart from subtle lighting shifts, Bind is an hour of storytelling, an autobiographical monologue reckoning with memories and their accompanying traumas. Set in Philadelphia in 1993, the story is full of references to trendy but long-shuttered bars, Tower Records on South Street, pay phones and landlines, and a show by indie band Codeine. When financial issues force Burns to drop out of Swarthmore mid-undergrad, her life as a student and part-time restaurant server is drastically changed after a friend introduces her to cocaine and working as a dominatrix.
Initially amused at the idea of controlling men for money, she quickly learns the way her dungeon functions isn't so cut and dried. Men expect things, and though Burns controls their sessions, the men’s money controls the scenarios she agrees to. Burns compares her unsafe version of domming to working in food service: bossed around by customers, but still in control of the situation. Burns offsets her anxiety about her relative sexual inexperience in a hypersexual workplace with a coke habit that develops into addiction. Stress about this job and other life factors, and just wanting to have a good time, perpetuate the addiction.
As in the lives of many students, initially attractive and somewhat functional cycles of partying and a busy work life look a little ugly in hindsight. This monologue is ambivalent in its reflections: mostly happy with the partying, mostly uncomfortable with the sex work. And it's this treatment of the sex work experience as an anomaly, compared to the innocence of a prior life, that makes the performance a little uncomfortable for me.
Burns’s experiences, including her trauma, are valid, but the perspective is privileged in ways that made me skeptical as a spectator. The artist’s experience of sex work drastically differs from that of others I know who have done sex work as a means of survival. Burns was able to leave her dungeon after six months, and supplement her income with other employment. If all else failed, she could've moved back in with one of her parents, an option not everyone has.
Bind has therapeutic qualities. The way it invites people in for an examination and healing of Burns's emotions shows viewers ways to harness their vulnerability and make art out of it. This is a valuable tool to have, whether or not you want to share the work with others. But despite this, Bind left a weird taste in my mouth, and made me wonder how autobiographical artists need to be.
Cannonball Festival events are running at the MAAS Building through October 1, 2021.
What, When, Where
Bind. By Corinna Burns. $15. September 15 through 20, 2021, at the MAAS Building, 1325 North Randolph Street. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
Proof of Covid vaccination is required, and audiences must wear a mask inside the building.
The studio at the MAAS Building is accessible only by stairs, and the chairs available for seating are small.
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