FRIDAY Fast Five: Reflections on theatre, books & harbours

On Thursday night last week I undertook at feminist-theatre marathon by attending two plays in one night. An unprecedented move in my world. I have a checkered history with theatre. I think I saw one too many performances that scarred me (ie made me feel awkward and like I wanted to disappear under my seat). I’m thinking of one particular production of Othello I went to as a teen. The lead was played by a dude from EastEnders who seemed to think that conveying emotional intensity is best done through moving higher and higher (and higher) up the octave register to startling and disconcerting effect, while one of the other performers kept needing verbal prompts from the director standing in the wings. I thought perhaps it was experimental theatre. It was not. So as I got to the end of a full on working day last Thursday I thought to myself, “why, after all theatre has done to me, do I willingly submit to it?” I thought about making up an excuse not to go. But I went. And I’m so, so glad I did. Both were excellent and reminded me of how important it is, as a museum worker, to experience how other disciplines communicate to audiences. We have much to learn from theatre. So this week’s Fast Five is a rundown of those two plays, plus some other cool things from the past week….

1. Power Ballard created and performed by Julia Croft at the Basement Theatre

Thursday night play number 1.

As its blurb says, it is “part performance lecture, part karaoke party, deconstructing gendered linguistic histories and ripping apart language to find a new articulation of pleasure, anger and femaleness. We’re smashing it all to pieces and starting again. We’re behaving badly. We’re singing too many power ballads.”

Power Ballard was actually quite mind-blowing. This review by Lexie Matheson explains the all-out sensory assault (in a good way) that is Power Ballard much better than I can:

Croft manoeuvres us deftly through a journey from speechlessness to something else with only the help of a microphone and her handy voice distorter, which she uses with extreme dexterity and skill, changing and adapting vocal sounds, body percussives and environmental scrapes and scratches, and by looping, adjusting and evolving her own unique personal soundscape. It's fascinating, clever and visceral; its sexual, sensual and delicious; it's funny, angry, wild and punishing. The audience gets to watch and listen to all this and we get to sing too. This truly surprises me and I find myself gurgling along to and feeling totally engaged with what this dazzling performer is expecting me to do.

One last thing I'll note - it's probably worth going solely for the moment when Croft yells "FEMINIST THEEEEAAAAATRE" at you over and over again.

2. Jane Doe, written and directed by Eleanor Bishop 

Thursday night play number 2.

Like Power Ballard, Jane Doe wasn’t a just a performance- it was participatory,  “Karin McCracken (Binge Culture's It's A Trial, Wine Lips) leads a public reading of a rape trial transcript, where audience members read as witnesses and lawyers, and feed in live responses via their phones. Interwoven with frank and funny documentary footage with young people from across America and Aotearoa, Jane Doe is a revelatory and carefully crafted discussion on consent, feminism and sexual empowerment.”

It all felt so familiar – the damaging and toxic behaviour that is normalised through movies explicitly aimed at teenage girls (The Notebook, I’m looking at you); the careless language around the reporting of sexual assault cases; the fact that female sexual pleasure is never, never talked about to young women; the fact that the onus to not get raped is always, always placed on women – don’t walk alone at night, don’t be too friendly but definitely don’t be a bitch, don’t wear revealing clothes, don’t get drunk. The whole thing reminded me that our bodies are no The whole thing left me feeling - sick, numb, angry, despondent, and determined.  

Here's a great interview with Eleanor on the Spinoff 

3. KORORAREKA: The Ballad of Maggie Flynn

So now that I have broken my bad track record with theatre, I am making a commitment to myself to banish my Othello-based biases. Next up will be Kororareka: The Ballard of Maggie Flynn written by Paolo Rotondo. Not only is this play about a significant place in our nation’s early Māori/Pakeha history, it was also based on research done using Auckland Museum’s Documentary Heritage collections. Doc H represeeeeeent! And with stills like this, how could you not be enticed:

4. On to other happenings of the week. I was beyond delighted to read this piece by Tessa Duder on the Spinoff. Gosh, I felt that lovely flood of nostalgic memory. Alex was a permanent fixture on our bookshelves at home when I was a kid. It was one of those books that was always just THERE, a part of the fabric childhood.

I haven’t thought about the book for years but Tessa’s reflections on New Zealand’s social context at the time of writing, its feminist origins, and the realisation of her own feminism was fascinating.

"1950s New Zealand is often fondly remembered as a decade of innocence, decency, order, prosperity – the calm before the stormy 1960s. But it’s only blokes who rhapsodise about the ’50s; women of my generation know otherwise. We remember being patronised or ignored, the casual chauvinism and petty restrictions and shamefully low expectations of girls. 

5. Lastly, I’m very happily back home with my family in Ōtepoti for the next few days. It’s one of those beautiful, uniquely South Island winter mornings – blue sky, not a single puff of wind, the harbour like glass with the Peninsular reflected in it, perfectly inverted. This place is restorative. I could stay enveloped in this soul-nourishing scene for days but being the GLAM nerd I am I’ll probably take the opportunity to catch some exhibitions. Top of the list are Freefall at the Hocken and Eve Armstrong’s Growing Demand and When Dreams Turn to Gold at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

Hope you're weekend is as chill vibes as I'm anticipating mine will be. Here's a chill old fav, brought back into my life recently after the band made a cameo in the first episode of the new season of Twin Peaks: