PuSh 2017: By Heart

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By Heart | PuSh International Performing Arts Festival | Performance Works | January 19 - 21, 2017

It may sound like a boring premise to watch ten fellow audience members get on stage and learn Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30 by heart, but Portugal’s Tiago Rodrigues weaves a haunting literary tale that infuses the sonnet with new meaning.

Rodrigues assured the sold out audience that he was allergic to interactive theatre before inviting ten audience members on stage, and had no trouble filling the ten chairs with willing participants, only two of whom were men.

He began telling us about a television show, Of Beauty and Consolation, and an episode in which George Steiner, an American literary critic, talks about Boris Pasternak, a Russian poet and novelist, who used the power of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30 to move the public to action. Rodrigues told us about a beautiful moment when Pasternak stood in front of a crowd, said “30,” and the crowd began reciting Shakespeare’s sonnet in unison.

Part of the power of this moment was on display during the show as the power of Shakespeare’s words resonated through the theatre. The ten audience members learned the sonnet line by line – the first four lines all together, and one of the last 10 for each of them.

Woven with this story of literary power is a personal story of Rodrigues’s grandmother, Candida, who, upon learning that she was losing her eyesight and wouldn’t be able to read anymore, decided she’d like to learn a book by heart, and she asked Rodrigues to choose the book for her.

During this time when Rodrigues was trying to decide which book his grandmother should learn by heart, he discovered Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. In that novel, the firefighters are tasked with burning all books, and the resistance works together to hide books and memorize them before they are found. As George Steiner is quoted in the show, “the bastards can’t touch what we carry in us.” Rodrigues expresses this reverence for books and knowledge so well and he said memorizing a book is “the most profound form of publishing – of the human soul.” They can’t touch our memories.


Rodrigues has a great sense of humour and ability to respond to the crowd; his charming personality and unpredictable nature of the show kept our attention throughout as he wove these stories together, drawing the connections so strongly to show us the power of literature. The audience members ended by eating Shakespeare’s words as Rodrigues passed out wafers with the sonnet printed on them. Finally, they recited the entire poem in full, a powerful moment as we reflected on the story we had just heard and the importance of the free production and dissemination of knowledge and art. 

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