Keeping Watch: Rush Johnston at The Tank
Writer, Choreographer, Performer: Rush Johnston
Music: Appalachian dulcimer selections (Amazing Grace, Congaree Creek, South Wind Waltz), the Doxology, You Are My Sunshine by Kina Grannis
Technician/Designer: Lydia Brinkmann
“We sit and wait just to sit and wait,” says a lingering voice in the walls of The Tank’s intimate blackbox. Clothed in a pale-yellow dress, Rush sits on a dark wooden bench and begins Keeping Watch, an emotional, overwhelmingly vulnerable multimedia journey of self and familial relationships. They appear sitting in deep contemplation, deep in thought as if all the eyes of the audience melted away. The only other thing onstage is a bouquet of flowers in a vase. Part self narrative, part protest, Rush equally reflects upon their own pain as they advocate for the representation and rights of the LGBTQA+ community.
Family relationships can often provoke a range of emotions: happiness, frustration, sadness, or resentment. Rush brings an important and often non-talked about emotion to the forefront: grief. As they speak of anecdotes in a fractured maternal relationship, loss of a family member, and lack of familial acceptance, the audience is invested in their story. Pain is felt and an urge to reach out and comfort Rush buzzes in my core. “She looks at me like broken glass, ready to shatter at any given moment,” says Rush. Rush plucks petals off the lively, colorful bouquet to soft, strumming guitar. As each flower drops on the floor, their plucking turns into ripping, increasingly stressed and anxious. Holding onto one sunflower, Kina Grannis’s voice singing “You Are My Sunshine” floats into the space.
A unique aspect of Rush’s work is their cycling use of several mediums for performance art. Keeping Watch is more an experience than performance, flowing through moments of choreography, spoken word poetry, audio narratives, audience interaction, and media projection. As soon as the audience adjusts to one medium, swift transition leads to another engagement. Keeping Watch also involves Rush’s transformation, with costumes ranging from a dress, T-shirt and shorts, yellow blouse, and eventually naked except for black shorts and smeared red liquid on their skin.
When dressed in a pale-yellow blouse and skirt, Rush appears to embrace a soft, feminine side, swiftly moving and reaching with expressive eyes. They later write letters onstage as spoken audio narrates Rush’s thoughts out loud. Vulnerable, creative, and present, Rush hands the written letter to an audience member. More audience interaction follows as they exit and re-enter through the audience and hand out poster sized photos. Each photo is a different anti-LGBTQA+ statement on a public sign. One of the most powerful moments occurs when Rush dances dynamically to a recorded hate speech regarding the LGBTQA+ community.
Rush bridges grief and advocacy from a powerful yet sorrowful place in their own healing. At times on the brink of tears and other times playful like a child, the wish to give Rush a hug in hopes of physically communicating support feels pervasive. Keeping Watch is a solo work not to be forgotten, igniting curiosity, concern, and the unshakable power of healing through movement.