Independent Artist Spotlight: Corinna Burns’ Bind
Edit: This performance has passed.
Philadelphia, 1993. Trauma healing. Dominatrix Dungeons. Everything is out on the table for Corinna Burns in her solo monologue performance, Bind.
“In 1993, Corinna Burns dropped out of college and moved into the city of Philadelphia. Then she went a little wild and took an unusual job…” The description of Bind on the FringeArts guide is relatively short and ominous, leaving many questions and few answers. “I keep it vague cause I don’t want my Mom to see,” laughs Burns. Though the synopsis may be brief, Bind is anything but. A solo monologue performed by Burns about her time working in a dominatrix dungeon, the performance is an exploration of self and how trauma can manifest itself in one’s responses to the curveballs of life. Dropping out of college due to no choice of her own, Burns reflects that life before this odd job was relatively innocent, “Very focused on my college life… where I had, you know, lots of dreams of starting an experimental theater troupe and going off to clown school and stuff like that… I had this sort of idyllic, privileged in many ways, elite college experience, that was like yeah, that was my life. And then it was sort of taken away for a couple of years”. Forced out of her academic career at Swarthmore college for financial reasons, Burns began a short yet endlessly impactful chapter of her life which she reflects on throughout her performance. Not the typical career choice for a college girl, Burns entered the dominatrix world through a friend in hopes of making the money needed to return to her college life. More than anything, though, Burns realizes that this decision was an attempt to gain control of an uncontrollable situation. “It was kind of like a rebellion, in a way. You know, a kind of ‘Fuck you, I’m gonna be tough, I’m gonna beat men up for money”. Bind allows an introspective look into the mind of someone choosing to put themselves in danger, and the strange things trauma can make us do. More than just an exciting story, the performance is a raw working-through of Burns’ experiences, including all of the messy, funny, and sometimes disturbing details.
“It’s a really complicated process to take a series of events in your life and try to craft them into a narrative arc,” says Burns, explaining that Bind has been living with her for years in an ongoing mission to reach a completeness of the piece. Inspired by reading Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, Burns began to reflect on the way her own life followed Strayed’s, in it’s own weird, convoluted way. “It got me thinking about, what is a time in my life where I kind of actively put myself in danger, in a way, and chose to”. Having been involved in the theater scene in Philadelphia for “a bajillion years at this point”, Burns had performed in monologue pieces before and knew it was the perfect format for dissecting and working through her rollercoaster story. “I guess I’m a big believer in the vulnerability loop that can be created in theatrical performance, and in these very simple direct address performances, that I’ve experienced working in other plays. So I am a big believer in empathy and vulnerability as a way for us to connect and survive as a species”. Surviving is a key element of the piece, as Burns takes these dark moments of her past and transforms them into a means of lighthearted self healing. “I think that the act of writing about your life does activate the inner creator… There is something about the act of doing it that is part of the healing process, for sure”.
The underlying truth behind Burns’ performance contrasts and provides a sense of reality to the almost unreal experiences of her dominatrix career. “In a lot of ways for me the piece is about trauma and shame, and about how and why we can sometimes put ourselves into situations that are pretty toxic for us, because of internal trauma”. Trauma works throughout her performance, not only as an indicator for her decision to become a dominatrix, but also in her process of coming to terms with and talking about her experiences as such. Writing the piece over the course of years, and also performing it several times already, Burns explains that Bind has been a living piece that grows with her as she goes. As much as the performance will reveal Burns’ past to the audience, it will also reveal her own emotions as her work on the piece finally comes to a close. While most audience members may not be able to relate to Burns’ story, there is a universality to the experience of digesting and understanding one’s trauma. “I recently became a life coach, and some of the work I do around that is about drama, and life drama, and victimization, and feeling powerless, and how do you shift into a feeling of empowerment. And right now I think we’re all collectively experiencing this trauma of a pandemic and climate crisis, and this feeling of powerlessness… It’s important to me to tell my stories that are about shifting, or recognizing powerlessness, and that I and other people live in choice”. At a time of collective powerlessness, Bind can help remind audiences of the small ways in which we can take back power in our lives, and how to recognize when you lost it in the first place. Vulnerability is explored by Burns as she documents her experience in regaining power in her own life. “It’s about being a vulnerable young woman. It’s about sharing this experience in a way that feels vulnerable”.
“Ultimately, my hope is that it reflects my inner journey. I believe in subjectivity, I don’t wanna speak to anybody else’s experience, this is my experience of this, so I think I’ve tried to stay focused in a lot of ways more on the internal”. Through sharing her experiences in a deeply personal way, Burns allows audiences to join in her journey of growth and reflection, while also getting to enjoy the thrilling, sometimes disturbing stories that come out of it. Whether you’re looking to connect to Burns and her experiences, or looking to be entertained with a riveting story, Bind is the show for you. Be sure to catch it during its run from September 15-20th as a part of the 2021 Philadelphia Fringe Festival!
Article by Maria Dragone, Photojournalism Intern