As a self-described “social acupuncturist,” Emelia Symington Fedy isn’t afraid to needle into our deepest, darkest places. The Vancouver-based writer and actor has set her sights on the mash-up of yoga and self-help cultures in her latest “interactive yoga performance,” Through the Gaze of a Navel. Symington Fedy has consumed every new-age pop-psychology fad on the market, from swimming with dolphins to crystal bowl vibrational healing to vaginal weightlifting classes, and these experiences informed her sharp, pointed and hilarious analysis.
She also confesses to having spent almost $80,000 on her search for meaning and healing, so implicit in her work is an acknowledgement of what she calls “spiritual capitalism.” Through the medium of live performance, she pokes fun at the lengths we’ll go to in our quest for inner peace (or self-knowledge, or whatever you want to call it).
Tell us a little bit about what happens in Through the Gaze of a Navel.
You come to a yoga class hosted by an out of town teacher. The class begins. You may sit and watch or participate. We talk about darkness, addiction to the search and what we are hoping to find in the first place. By the end of the practice we are all rolling around in laughter. Because talking about the horror of being human is hilarious. Talking about our fuck-ups, imperfections and all the ways we try to heal is universal and doing so in a group is healing.
Whether you’re talking about parenting, new age spirituality or yoga, satire is your weapon of choice – what makes it so effective?
I effin’ hate theatre that calls on the audience to do the work. To come up on stage and wiggle your butt. I’m the person sliding under the seat at that point, hoping to melt. In my shows, I use myself as the target. I talk about my insecurities and imperfections. You then get to sit back and laugh at how nuts I seem. But then maybe…after the show…on the walk home…you think…hmmmm. I do that too. So it’s a slow satire. It’s subtle and it’s never mean.
Of all the new age therapies you’ve experimented with, why did you choose yoga as the basis for this interactive performance? (i.e., why aren’t we going to swim with dolphins in this play?!)
Because swimming with dolphins costs $250 an hour and you have to travel to Hawaii. I’m certified in two lineages (Classical Ashtanga and AcroYoga). I teach yoga. I love yoga. I also make theatre. This hybrid is the most perfect fucking thing I’ve ever been a part of. Also, yoga classes are a performance of sorts. There are rituals involved we expect and there is a calibre of “hosting” we require from our teacher. I’m playing with these rules.
While the performance critiques yoga and spirituality cultures, you still get invited to perform it at yoga conferences, festivals, and studios. How did this happen? Have you managed to totally offend any yoga purists out there?
I’m not making fun of anyone. I’m not being mean or hurtful. I’m looking at myself. I’m using my own experience. I also bridge the theatre world and the yoga world. I’m not an outsider. I’m a deep believer in yoga and it’s potential for radical transformation. Also, the jokes I make are funny to the yogis because I’ve studied Sanskrit too. You can go inward and contemplate how my personal spiritual journey relates to you or you can watch it like it’s a show and point and laugh at me. I’m really happy with either outcome.