Burnish (Erika Batdorf) 2016 SummerWorks Review

BurnishTo put it bluntly, the SummerWorks Live Art presentation of Burnish is what you get when you combine a live art installation with a therapeutic tarot card reading. While I was a bit skeptical at first, I grew to appreciate creator Erika Batdorf’s whimsical attempt at helping me cleanse my soul.

Burnish can be experienced in two ways: you can participate in a one-on-one session with Batdorf for the price of a ticket, and you can observe the installation for free at anytime during her sessions. I had the opportunity to experience both on separate days.

On the first day, I observed the installation and watched as a masked Batdorf interacted with a participant through a window inside a red tent. The tent had peepholes that let me either observe the interaction inside the tent or watch filmed content relating to her creative process.

Although what I saw was intriguing, there was no sound, as she only communicated with the participant through headphones, so I was a little unsure as to what I was supposed to take away from the installation. Thankfully, Stage Manager Anastasiya Popova prompted me to notice how Batdorf’s creation of an intimate experience is juxtaposed against her decision to allow the public to peep-in.

A few days later, I participated in the one-on-one session that I had previously observed. I sat across from Batdorf in an intricate animal mask as she half-whispered words to me through headphones. She asked me to choose words and images that represented something I wanted to be cleansed from and prompted me for the metaphorical fuel and water I would need for the cleansing.

I have to admit that there were a few moments when I inwardly cringed while listening to Batdorf. Her tone sounded like it was trying to evoke a sort of mysticism that sounded false to my ears. However, I became more receptive to our interaction once I reminded myself to put away my skepticism and give in to the process. As a result, I was finally able to really enjoy the atmosphere and recognize the emotional truths Batdorf was able to extract from my responses.

Burnish is unlike anything else I have seen at SummerWorks so far and while I may not have had my doubts at the beginning, I still enjoyed the experience overall. Also, all the one-on-one participants got a gift at the end, so there’s that.


Burnish played at The Theatre Centre Lobby (1115 Queen Street West) until Tuesday August 9th but the SummerWorks Performance Festival continues until Sunday August 14th.

Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone at 416-320-5779 and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St). Open August 2-14 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted. (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee.)

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.

Warnings: Audience Participation.

Image provided by SummerWorks.