During the talk-back for the 2011 PuSh Festival's City of Dreams, I got the chance to ask the director about the nature of meaning in his art. But rather than launch into a long-winded response about themes of loss and displacement, (something I was almost positive he would), he said that he never intended to push meaning on people, hoping that instead, each memebr of the audience would interact with 'the city' in their own way, taking from it what they would, what they could, much like the real metropolis right outside the Roundhouse doors. And so, as I walked around the giant Art Attack of Vancouver, I took it upon myself to consider this give-and-take relationship we all have with our city.
A friend of mine first introduced me to the term 'city of dreams' a little over a year ago when I moved to Vancouver. He shared with me the idea that if one was to make it anywhere in this country, it was here, amongst the dreamers and the self-obsessed. So many before us had come to this city, this 'Hollywood of the North', (the most prolific utopian moniker to make its way East), to stake their claim in this idyllic community of great thinkers and important people. And it was on this premise, this idea of the 'city of dreams', that we were to venture forth everyday and take our destiny’s by the balls.
Of course, as any realist will tell you, this type of zest is hard to maintain during any length of time spent trying to grab things by the balls. At his lowest, just two months after indulging me with this 'city of dreams' notion, my friend was an out-of-work Masters graduate, a bachelor and perpetually plagued with the common cold. I too was having trouble fulfilling my destiny, finding instead a demoralizing job in a burlesque bar in the West End. So much for the 'city of dreams’.
One day, I sat outside a coffee shop on Hastings, when a girl walked around the corner with a hawk on her arm. She was on her way to teach a sword-fighting class. I had no idea that this was even a career option. Surely this was a sign that I had come to the right place. With a renewed energy for the city, I left the coffee shop in confident stride. Then, I bumped into my friend on his way to hand in a resume at a Chinese restaurant. He had his Masters degree in poli-sci and this was his best lead.
The next day my friend was offered a job with NBC while they were in town for the Olympics. A week later, he made small talk with one of the producers on their lunch break and mentioned that he was a political science grad. The NBC producer said he knew someone who worked for Al Jazeera in Qatar and he'd pass along his resume. Over the course of the next three months, my friend interviewed the American Olympic Hockey team, met his fiancée, won an Emmy and landed a job with Al Jazeera when a lady who was very high up called him one day and said she had received his resume from a colleague of hers at NBC. His dream was fulfilled.
My friend eventually left Vancouver to live in Qatar and make a name for himself in journalism and, even though he owed much of his success to the ‘city of dreams’, I knew he would never return.
And so, as I walked around that diarama in the Roundhouse last week, that had all started with native villages and then changed to railroads and highways and eventually glass skyscrapers, I was aware that the artists would soon tear it all down to prepare for the next show. I concluded that this was the nature of the 'city of dreams': for all of the dreamers and escapists like myself who come to take a piece for themselves, this city is fleeting and temporary. Most days we'd love to wake up from our dreams and hang on to those blissful moments forever, but no matter how hard we try to remember them, over time, we always forget what they were about.