The energy of live performance was embraced in a sweet reunion this past weekend, as the Kelowna community witnessed the one-man opera, The Book of My Shames, composed by Canadian tenor and writer Isaiah Bell. Whether in person or streaming via Unicorns.LIVE, the infectious excitement and dramatic tension of the theatre was unmistakable and deeply missed.
The stage began in a warm pink hue, and the leading man of the show sat at a vanity desk to stage left, calmly and quietly sipping water. He slides from an introduction of the show into song in less than a moment, drawing the audience into a crescendo both surprising and deliciously captivating. Then he slips back into speaking to the audience just as smoothly as he started. This denial of a traditional theatrical fourth wall, as Bell bounds between song and monologue, keeps the audience on their feet and the vulnerability of the story front and centre.
The Orchestra musicians, all of them observant and excellent, seem to walk alongside Bell’s warm, robust voice. The songs have a poetic tone yet stay cemented in the reality of the truth-telling. Bell shares that it’s not just his story he is telling but all our story, and it is this type of intention that makes him become something more familiar than just a man onstage.
The show’s humour is triumphant and intuitive. As Bell holds the journal in his hands, the literal Book of Shames that Bell made in high school, which hosts cringe-worthy poetry, among other things, he recalls his husband referring to it as a Horcrux. This humour lingers even in the most churn-your-stomach, raw, and horrific retellings, giving you enough space to understand and just enough permission to laugh.
As Bell self-identifies somewhere between emo nerd, stoner poet, with a little bit of country, it becomes easy to feel the resonance of the struggles he presents on the stage in both his personal turmoils and coming of age heartaches, asking us those questions of youthful longing and spending time trying to fill the hole in our heart. As the music and monologues continue, we see a performer not afraid to be vulnerable and critical yet self-aware and unassuming. Bell asks us for our time to listen and witness the tiny truths of a romantic and earnest young man that accumulates into self-love and acceptance. In some of Bells final words, he shares,
“Love doesn’t fix you. It doesn’t make you not you. It just makes it okay for you to be broken. It makes it okay for you to just be.”
Watch the livestream on Unicorns.LIVE
Ashleigh Giffen is a 23 year old Oji-Cree artist. She is a multidisciplinary artist with poetry publications in Briarpatch magazine, Canadian Arts and Stories, and was the 2nd place recipient of the 2020 Room Magazine poetry contest. Ashleigh also has visual work being exhibited in the Kelowna Rotary Centre for the Arts, as well, her work has been recently exhibited in the Kelowna Art Gallery and the Lake country Art Gallery. She currently resides in Syilx territory.