My life as the bridge

By Mollie Kaye, December 2010

Performing on the street as a way to promote dialogue, connection and engagement.

On Tuesday, November 9, 2010, I became the Johnson Street Bridge. You could call it a retrofit of sorts. It wasn’t expensive, and didn’t involve any prolonged closures, but it was transformational in ways I didn’t foresee. I created a facebook account as “Johnson Street Bridge,” painted my face with makeup that I custom-tinted “Blue Bridge Blue,” strapped a replica of the Mayor onto my head, festooned myself with flashing signal lights, and hoisted a functioning bascule onto each shoulder. Then I hit the streets.

On that first wet night I stood outside of an all-candidates meeting at the Fernwood Community Centre. A man wearing a bicycle helmet came striding across the road with his camera in his hand wanting photos of us together (many onlookers were seized by the urge to document me: in my travels, I saw dozens of cell phones migrate from ear to eye). Turned out I was arm-in-arm with Councillor John Luton, avid cyclist and proponent of the new bridge design. I exclaimed, “John, Honey, we have a lot in common! We’re both passionate about progressive transportation strategies and a sustainable future! Can you explain to me how the new bridge contributes to those things if it doesn’t have rail?” 

We discussed and bantered in a good-natured way, which showed me that the absurdity of “Ms Blue” could disarm people long enough to release, just for a moment, the stranglehold on one particular strategy or another to find a connection around the values we all share—like safety, ease, and sustainability. “Thank you, John,” I said affectionately as he left to go inside the building. When I saw him again with the Mayor a few days later, he greeted me warmly. The Mayor walked away, but I smiled and shouted after him, “I know we both want what’s best for Victoria!” He gave a weak wave.

Originally I had imagined that Ms Blue would simply go around singing her theme song: “Bridge That’s in Troubled Water,” her version of the Simon and Garfunkel classic. But it soon was clear that the Bridge had a lot to say; she tossed off snappy one-liners and made impassioned pleas for more options and more dialogue. Her jokes and assertions were ones that I didn’t consciously premeditate, and I see that as creative energy; as a performer, I am simply a conduit for it. The source, I believe, is something much larger than me personally, and it is also the source of compassion. Being the Bridge was coming from my heart, from love—strange as that might sound.

“What side are you on?” some asked, and I said, “Honey, I’m on your side. I want you to have safety and sustainability. I want you to have it all! Vote! I won’t tell you how to vote, because I’m a bridge, not a parking meter, but vote.” Some would shout, “I love you, Blue Bridge!” Others were confused about the issue. A few insisted on “moving forward,” and I expressed my concern about whether this particular plan was the one that best answered their desires. I had a conversation with a downtown business owner who was clearly distressed about the City’s promised retrofit closures and his young family’s welfare. “Honey, I want your family to thrive. I want everyone here to thrive,” I said. He shook my hand warmly. “I don’t agree we should save you, but I love what you are doing, and the way you are doing it. Thank you.”

It was exhilarating and meaningful for me to “be the Bridge” and connect with my fellow Victorians—from the marginalized to the City Council, and everyone in between. If I had been a person instead of a bridge, the conversations might have been awkward, tense—or just not have happened. But Ms Blue inspired smiles and thumbs-up, even from those who wanted to tear her down. (I flashed my bridge-deck-lattice stockings at those who said I was “old” or “ugly.” “I may be 86, but I still got it goin’ on!” I shouted through my megaphone.) 

The Johnson Street Bridge issue inspired me to “sing out,” which signals that I am, after seven years, finally invested enough in my adopted hometown to give of myself in the highest ways I can. Performing on the street broke down barriers; a bit of creativity and compassion got people talking to each other about what matters to them most, and in the end, we all value the same things, even if our strategies differ. The whole experience gave me a deeper sense of connection with my community, and renewed my hope that we all can transform in beautiful ways, even in the midst of conflict.

Musician, puppeteer, communication coach, satirist and writer Mollie Kaye hopes that everyone here is willing to suspend their disbelief long enough to keep talking to, and about, the Bridge.