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A photo of Catherine Bisset onstage during a scene from Placeholder. She is standing with her arms around a headless mannequin.

Daily Helping for January 22nd, 2023 – Placeholder

Full disclosure. Writer-performer Catherine Bisset is a dear friend of mine. She is also a relatively new friend, so sadly, I was not able to watch her performance of Placeholder in person. But I watched the recording, and then I immediately texted her to ask when she was available for a call because I needed to scream at her for an hour about how talented she is. Which I did. For over three hours. And no, I’m not exaggerating the length of that call.

Placeholder tells the story of Minette, a mixed-race opera singer in pre-Revolution Haiti, known then as Saint Domingue. The title comes from the practice of high society theatre goers sending servants or slaves to the theatre ahead of performance times to hold seats for them. As the show opens, Minette is one such placeholder, and even though she is a free woman, she’s still constrained by the social hierarchy of the time. A point her long-dead mother is quick to point out when she suddenly appears looking to have a conversation and demanding to know why her daughter has given up on her opera career.

Minette’s mother was born into slavery, although she tried to escape many times during her lifetime, something that brought both mother and daughter much trauma. As a result, they have differing views on almost everything, and their exchange throughout the show is often heated. But their conversation is also fascinating and touches beautifully on so many issues, including societal structures, institutionalized racism, power dynamics, and generational trauma.

Because I know Catherine, I know that this was the first play she ever wrote. I also know that she wrote it in two weeks. Which is borderline offensive because it’s not fair that someone can be so outrageously talented. But you better believe I will be in the audience for her next show. Preferably in the front row.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!