Twenty-eight-year-old Andrew Henderson, who has terminal cancer, is challenging people to reconsider something most of us avoid discussing at all costs: death.
He is planning to perform a piece where audience members will confess their secrets to him, which he will then get tattooed on his body – 100 in total. He will repeat the confessions to no one and literally take them with him to the grave.
Henderson – a stage manager and a performer – calls it a performance art piece or a “living funeral.”
Yes, it sounds a little dark.
But, with his incurable disease and inevitable timeline, Henderson wants to get people talking about death and looking at it in a different light.
He’s currently going through chemotherapy treatment, but he doesn’t know how long he has to live. He was given his terminal diagnosis in August 2015.
During Taking it to the Grave, performed in Winnipeg, people will privately tell Henderson their personal confessions. The confessor and Henderson will pick a symbol to represent the confession, and he will get it tattooed on his body by Toronto tattoo artist Carly Boyce live at the show. He’ll add the confessions to the existing 16 he already has.
Henderson will perform two two-hour performances, in which guests will find him perched on a giant champagne glass (champagne is his favourite drink). The vivacious gay man will treat his guests to a manicure bar, cushions and cuddle spaces to “rest in peace” and no shortage of glitter everywhere.
As a bittersweet finale, Henderson will sit in a kiddie pool as friends and family cleanse him with small cups of champagne. Audience members can cleanse him with water.
“Part of our show is designing my funeral the way I would want it as a queer person who wants it to be fabulous and wonderful,” said Henderson, according to CBC.
Henderson is collaborating with artist Eroca Nicols for the project, who has studied death rituals around the world, learning about performance grief. The two of them have been actively researching death rituals thanks to a grant from the Young Lungs Dance Exchange. This has involved them meeting with Winnipeg psychics, witch practitioners and alternative medicine practitioners, according to the Toronto Star.
In addition to the groundbreaking performance – which will no doubt blow the audience away and totally alter their perceptions of death – Henderson will also be remembered at his proper funeral in his hometown of Clandeboye, Manitoba.
He’ll be wrapped in gold fabric and buried in a gold-leaf coffin.
For now, of course, the focus is on his upcoming fabulous living funeral.
“There’s a unique opportunity in the way that Andrew is dying that he’s been able to have creative control over the way he chooses to go from living into the next thing,” said Nicols to the CBC. “Mourning can happen in a queer, bright, beautiful way. It doesn’t have to happen with everybody hanging their heads and wearing drab black.”