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Rose Condo The Empathy Experiment 2.0

Canadian poet & performer Rose Condo invites us all to think a little more deeply about our relationship with - and to - technology in this modern age.

TEE Show Image 2 Photo by Charles Leek
Charles Leek

In the first incarnation of The Empathy Experiment, Rose Condo asked if empathy was heading for extinction because of our addiction to mobile devices. Now two years on, and one pandemic later, she’s reworked her critically-acclaimed show for 2021, and is bringing it to Theatre Deli on Thursday 7 October. I chatted to Rose to hear more about The Empathy Experiment 2.0.

Hi Rose. Lovely to meet you. First things first, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what a typical day looks like for you as a poet and performer?

Lovely to meet you too! I hail from the Canadian prairies and currently live in Salford. My background is in theatre but a few years ago I started doing poetry slams and open mic nights, and I fell in love with the world of words. Since then, I’ve written and toured three solo shows and have published my first collection with Flapjack Press.

I would love to say I spend hours sitting with a notebook writing pages and pages of poetry, but in reality I’m often preparing for gigs or performances, planning and running writing workshops, and making notes in my phone of ideas for poems I hope to write one day.

The Empathy Experiment won critical acclaim when you brought it to the stage back in 2019. What prompted you to re-envision the show in 2021, and how has it evolved?

The response in 2019 was amazing! The concept of exploring tech addiction and empathy resonated strongly with audiences.

My 2020 tour had been postponed (obvs), but in early 2021 the dates were starting to get rescheduled. Around this time, Joe Biden was inaugurated as President of the United States and I realised that the poem in my show called ‘Mirror Mirror’ (which is an imagined conversation between Donald Trump and his reflection) wouldn’t land in the same way anymore. I thought further on this, and soon realised that the whole concept of advocating for a phone-free day wouldn’t work anymore, since we’ve all relied on our devices to keep us connected during the pandemic.

Lockdown’s impact on my relationship with my mobile device and on my understanding of empathy is something I’m still trying to get my head around. So, in light of all this, I decided to rework and update the show.

The Empathy Experiment 2.0 will touch down at Theatre Deli on 7 October. Without giving too much away, what can folks coming to the show expect?

The show is still a solo performance where I speak to the audience, with poetry - and ukulele - carefully woven in.

In the original version I invited audiences to be part of the phone-free experiment and I asked them to hand over their mobiles, which sat in a basket with me on stage. Plus, as a literal act of empathy, I invited a member of the audience to come on stage and swap shoes with me.

Because of social distancing sensitivities, neither of those things are in the new version. However, I have included some digital ways to engage. I won’t spoil them here, but let’s just say I’ll encourage people to leave their phones on so they can use them during the show!

TEE Show Image 1 Photo by Charles Leek
Charles Leek

What do you hope people will take away from the show? And what are your hopes for the wider impact of the show?

My hope is to spark reflection and conversations for people. In 2019, someone told me that the show really stayed in their mind for days after they had seen it. I loved that feedback. Throughout this project I have wanted to avoid telling anyone how to use their phone or how to engage with empathy. My hope is to plant seeds of conversations for audiences to have about how to compassionately connect with others - and with themselves.

And finally, because we all struggle to be empathetic from time to time, what are your top tips for levelling up your empathy game?

One big tip is to be kind to yourself. The way to do that will look slightly different for everyone. I use Julia Cameron’s concept of Morning Pages to give myself a bit of time and space each day for reflecting on challenges, goals and gratitude.

Another big tip is to cultivate meaningful listening with others. This can be easier said than done - I love to jump in during conversations and suggest solutions, but in a wonderful Sidewalk Talk podcast episode, I heard Dr Kelsey Crowe talk about tools for empathic listening. Her approach made a lot of sense, and I reckon it’s something we could all try doing more of.

Catch The Empathy Experiment 2.0 on Thursday 7 October at Theatre Deli. Tickets available here.

by Felicity Jackson (she/her)
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