performance

Appropriation, or Why Miley Cyrus' Performance Isn't Simply a Feminist Issue

"Appropriation in art is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them." (Wikipedia). 

Is this not what we witnessed; teddy bear onesie, dancing african american women, silly putty bikini, foam finger. Cyrus' body itself, and Thicke's body as well. Cyrus, her choreographers and image-makers absconded these images, and used them. No transformation actually occurred, despite claims from many camps that this was to take Cyrus from little girl to woman, much as oversexed images such as Britney Spears with the snake, or Christina Aguilera in a boxing ring orgy took them from pop princess to mature artist. But let us ponder a moment over the chosen imagery. Teddy bears could not be any less mature; the choice of this image only reinforces her youth and the impropriety of Cyrus' sexual behaviour, rather than solidifying it as a statement of her new found maturity and control over her sexuality. Thicke is just as culpable here; his choice to participate in this charade, to allow Cyrus to gyrate up against him whilst whining his misogynist lyrics at the young girls in the crowd is deplorable.

Priviledged white girl takes on images associated with black culture. Priviledged white boy takes on images associated with black culture. The misogyny is only a part of the picture. They even went so far as to carry oversized cardboard cut-outs of paintings around the stage. Appropriation. Taking the object, the image, without transformation. 

In a way, the misogyny is appropriation too. Not that it is a good thing, mind you, but it is certainly a hallmark of stereotypical hip hop culture, "bitches and hoes" and "bling" gangsta mentality. What we saw was a 21st century minstrel show. Both performers put on their blackface in the form of words, gestures and costumes, and attempted to "fit in" - they took on these images, performed them. 

But this begs the question of WHY. Traditionally minstrel shows in late 19th century Americana were Irish-American performers who were trying to fit in, doing so by highlighting their dissimilarity to the OTHER, in that case, the african american. Eventually, the Irish American worker, once the much scorned member of Northeastern society, actually became the symbol of the American dream, stretching as far forward as the inherent symbolism in the Die Hard trilogy, pitting working class Bruce Willis against European Alan Rickman. 

So what then does this imagery purport to achieve? If it is to follow the same trajectory, it suggests that in some time the definition of the American dream will be entitled children parading around in a highly sexualized fashion, making all those around them objects for use. Entitlement. Achievement through family connections and money, rather than talent and work. 

We can be concerned about the sexuality, the misogyny, the racism. But the larger message underlying is that success doesn't come from what you do, but who you know and where you were born, and even worse....what you can pay to get what you want. Now this is truly something to be concerned about. 

Impel Theatre present The First Time at MEME 2013 (Winnipeg)

I've been crafting this experiment for some time now, aiming to air some questions for myself, and for people experiencing dance music and theatre . . .
What happens when we take two independent experiences - a piece of theatre, and a music performance - and let them lose at the same time? How are you impacted as an observer? What do you notice? How does this in tandem experience change your understanding of each individual piece in a way that you may not have viewed them when separate?

The First Time is an audio installation designed to be experienced in tandem with a live DJ set performed by John Norman - Friday will be the premiere of this experience, beginning at 7:30pm.

If you're around and interested, the audio file can be downloaded for free at memetic.ca/thefirsttime - simply download the file, select a meeting place, and turn up at 7:30pm. There will be a girl in a purple dress who will lead you to the Cube, where John will be playing.

If Friday evening doesn't work, that's ok too - the installation can be experienced at any time during the festival - and will create a different experience for you! Just begin at a meeting point, and slowly walk yourself toward the cube stage.

If you do participate, please share your thoughts here, by tweeting me @impeltheatre or using hashtag #memeFirstTime and #meme2013

Huge gratitude to the MEME festival for allowing this experiment to see the light, and to my volunteer devisers and performers on the project!






Created by artistic director Kendra Jones (www.impeltheatre.blogspot.com)

The First Time will take you on a journey immersed in the festival’s main stage atmosphere which will amplify your aural
experience of the event and your surroundings. In a festival dedicated to live
performances of recorded sounds, come enjoy two forms of recorded sound at once,
and share in a further amplified experience of these two art forms in tandem with one
another. Downloadable for you to experience at any point through the festival, the piece
is best experienced corresponding with a DJ set by Winnipeg’s techno-maven, John
Norman (Hype Muzik, UNT! Records).

Download link:
http://soundcloud.com/khemlab_johnnorman/kendra-jones-john-norman-music/s-QejNs

Instructions:

Step 1
Download the audio file to your phone, mp3 player, or some other portable audio
device

Step 2
Make your way to one of the meeting points shown here for 7:30pm on Friday
August 16th:
Meeting Point 1 – In the small triangle park across from the Burton Cummings
(Walker) Theatre – 364 Smith Street

View Larger Map
Meeting Point 2 – In front of MTC John Hirsch (Mainstage) Theatre – 174 Market Avenue

View Larger Map
Step 3
Wait for the girl. She will be wearing a purple dress.
purple

Step 4
Put your headphones in. Press play at 7:30pm. This is best experienced on your
own, so resist the temptation to take them out at any point, or to chat with others. Let
the experience envelop you.

Step 5
Listen.

Step 6
Follow the girl. She will lead you to the Cube stage to enjoy the festival.

Step 7
Notice. Keep listening.

Step 8
The full experience is about 40 minutes long, and will then leave you the remainder
of John Norman’s set to enjoy the site and music. And don’t forget to stick around for
more great acts through the evening!

Questions? Email kendra@impelartists.com or tweet @impeltheatre – and don’t
forget to share your thoughts using hashtag #memeFirstTime and #meme2013

Press Releases...

It is a very strange phenomenon to write a press release for a show you have written, produced, and are performing in. I've certainly written my fair share of press releases, but somehow this was different. I'm simultaneously thrilled and terrified to be putting myself out there as an artist. Our RADA tutors provided excellent advice on this subject in our final days of the MA, and I'm aiming to live by it. You aren't really an artist if you aren't regularly putting yourself out there and laying it on the line.

Well, since i've just successfully blogged about a press release....here it is. Come see my show!

ps. thanks to miss Pamela Roz for her help with the press release :)


______________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
IMPEL THEATRE’S DEAR MAMA TO PREMIERE AT
RMTC SONDHEIMFEST
 
Dear Mama, Impel Theatre's new one-act play, will premiere as part of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's SondheimFest in Winnipeg. The show, which was created by the exciting young company for the festival, marks Impel Theatre's first production in their hometown with writer Kendra Jones playing the lead role of Ruby.
 
Dear Mama is a work which pays homage to the classic stage mother in Gypsywhile making reference to contemporary child performers. Also inspired by Sondheim's lyrics in Gypsy, this new piece delves into the mind and body of a girl obsessed with fame, beauty and attention teaching that words have the power to build you up or tear you down.
  
"Not everyone is capable of being loved, RubyThey are too selfish. They aren't willing to give themselves to the people who want to love them," reads a line from the show. "Beautiful. I'm beautiful. Look, Mama, I'm beautiful. Mama will be proud.
 
Kendra Jones has performed, devised, directed and choreographed work with Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's Master Playwright Festival, Prairie Theatre Exchange Carol Shields Festival, Sarasvati FemFest, Theatre Incarnate, Winnipeg Fringe, and more. She has performed in the hit You Me Bum Bum Train in London's West End (2012) and directed/devised work at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art as well as for King's College, London. Dear Mama is Kendra's first play in production.
 
The process of researching this piece has been very rewarding" says Jones. "I look forward to sharing the piece with audiences, and also the talkback sessions following each performance. I'm excited to see what sorts of discussions are sparked by the play."
 
Tickets can be reserved now by emailing kendra[at]impelartists.com or by phone at 204.475.8747. Note that capacity for each performance is limited to 35. The production is suitable for ages 15 years +.
 
The production is directed by Megan Andres, design and dramaturgy by Megan Andres, movement by Kendra Jones, stage management by Leah Borchert and sound by John Norman.  
 
Public information
Dates: January 17th  – January 20th 
Address: Studio 320, 70 Albert Street
Ticket prices: $10 or SondheimPass
Twitter: impeltheatre

Girls! Girls! Girls! - A fundraiser for the Gas Station Arts Centre

I learned this week that Autel, a performance installation I created while at RADA has been selected for an exhibition in Winnipeg! The Exhibition will open at the Gas Station Arts Centre on  21 October, coinciding with the Gala event Girls! Girls! Girls! - a cabaret evening showcasing female performers. The exhibition will run for a further 3 weeks in the lobby gallery of the Arts Centre. 

Autel is an exciting piece for me - it is among my first explorations into the relationship between live experience and recorded audio, aiming to merge the two making the audience aware of the way they are experiencing art as they are experiencing it. It uses recorded audio to guide the viewer to relate to the text, and also to the other works of art and individuals around them. The piece was inspired by and created from play texts written by Jean Genet, and theoretical texts by Antonin Artaud. 

I am extremely grateful to the organizers for selecting my piece for this year's exhibition, and look forward to seeing the other pieces, as well as the cabaret performance on the 21st. I will post information on tickets for the Gala as it becomes available. The Exhibition is free to view during opening hours at the Gas Station Arts Centre. 

The Performer Experience

The two performances I have been involved with this week have gotten me thinking about the performer experience in various forms of theatre. In the traditional, commercial theatre, the performer is a vessel; they experience physical work, speak words, move around the stage (in musicals, jump and dance about) but little consideration of the experience is given to their perspective. Everything is facing outward through the proscenium, targeted at the bums in seats who have paid their £30.

The two pieces I took part in seriously challenged this.

How We Met (still running at the RADA Festival - www.rada.ac.uk - until Saturday 7 July) is a piece of promenade theatre. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the audience go through the experience one at a time, with headphones on and a host to follow, guiding them through a way of seeing while walking through the streets. As a performer in this kind of piece, with your small but important pattern to perform repeatedly, feelings of loneliness and solitude are evoked. Much like the people enjoying the performance, the performers are simultaneously together (as a unit) but alone (doing their specific sequence). Not unlike people every day in life, who are together in this experience of London in July of 2012, but alone in our own path and perspective. The performer experience thus reflects the audience experience, taking the performer on a journey as well.

Moving Forest (500 Slogans) was an entirely different style of piece. Part of a 12 hour performance art installation, we read the poem amidst all sorts of other noisy installation pieces, crowds out on their lunch, workmen going by. Even our interpretation of the poem, as a cacaphony of noise and sound, rendering us unable to pick out the actual value from the unending stream of information flowing at us in every day society reflected this. While reading, though, focused, moving in my pattern and reading the text as rehearsed, I found myself almost in a trance-like state, unaware of all the other noise around me, having blocked it out. I cannot speak for the audience experience too directly, but writer Matthew Fuller (of 500 Slogans) noted that coming outside to our cacaphonous reading was an audible break from the volume and noise of the other installations, despite its overwhelming sense on its own.

I propose that the most exciting pieces of theatre are those which help the performer experience something while they are helping the audience experience something; the performer is not simply a vessel, but a conspirator, experiencing and changing in the world at the same time as their auditor...each having an affect on the other.

On Failure

Last week, our "Theatre in London Today" class was visited by performance artist Bruno Roubicek, who has worked a fair bit with Forced Entertainment. For those unfamiliar with Forced Entertainment work, I definitely suggest looking them up..will include a few video links below for you as well. Anyway, Forced's work and Bruno's work focus on the aesthetics of failure, something he suggests "reflects the failings of authority. . . questioning the legitimacy of the establishment" and which reflects "the postmodernist concern with failure of society and economics". Rather than aiming for a performance which would be successful by the regular standards - realistic set, believable performances, clear narrative, etc - Forced Entertainment seem to perform the anxiety of the modern (Western) experience. In one show, Bloody Mess, the characters express how they want the audience to see them in an honest confessional style format looking almost like an AA Meeting. The play then continues on to portray them in a way that undermines these desires, hence performing their failure to achieve a desired effect.

While sometimes trying to the audience, this work most certainly affects the audience (even if the result is frustration, boredom, or anger). I respect this fully, because so much "enjoyable" and "successful" theatre has no effect whatsoever on its audience, who happily leave after their evening of entertainment, unmoved by that which passed before them.

Now, in Bruno's discussions, he took us back through a history of failure in performance, demonstrating the skills of people like Jack Benny, Monty Python, other comedians (unfortunately my limited familiarity with Brit comics pre-2000 limited my ability to grab all the names...). One commonality I noticed was the relationship with the permission to laugh and the performance of failure; every performance, even the ones that took themselves most seriously, seemed to set themselves up to give permission to the audience to laugh. A free pass to identify failings and laugh at their performance in public.

This, of course, got me thinking; what happens if this free pass is not provided? If we do not give the audience permission to laugh at the characters, their situations, and their failed attempts to perform a task, but rather demand the audience's serious attention. Is it possible to perform failure in a situation which does not first give the laughter permission to escape? Or is this our only way to watch failure without turning to despair? Further yet, is performing the despair of failure functional? Does it, too teach us something?

I performed in a show in 2011 which, now that I examine it from this perspective, did perform failure; in that case, it was the failure of the characters to act in a way that would get what they wanted. The piece allowed them to re-visit those situations from their original plays, role-playing to re-enact situations where they could be dominant. One reviewer picked up on the heavy thread of despair running through it. Perhaps despair is the dramatic equivalent to laughter. For many people seeing this show, the despair was overwhelming, to the point that some reviewers criticized it for doing so, not allowing a reprieve so to speak. But do we not have something to experience from this as well? If you consider the ancient Greeks, plays like Medea and Oedipus are one long-running moment of despair and hopelessness after the next, but this adds together for a final result of hope; the ability to act or choose differently. Despair can be a useful tool.

If this is so, it is certainly difficult to ask audiences to come experience despair for an hour or two, and pay to do so. But perhaps this is necessary; for too long we have seen a comic approach to performing failure, and in fact, it has become mainstream with programs like John Stewart in the US, Mock the Week in the UK, and This Hour Has 22 minutes in Canada (among others reaching further back). I suggest that while these comic approaches to failure have worked to incite action in the past, they are becoming common, and therefore not causing the impact they might once have had. Forced Entertainment's work does seem to straddle this gray area between comedy and despair, having their audiences feel slightly aware of the impropriety of their laughter. I think this can go further.

Some videos from Forced:



Review - Six Actors In Search of a Director by Steven Berkoff @ Charing Cross Theatre

Took this in on Saturday evening, with a surprisingly small house. The premise - built upon Pirandello's classic Six Characters in Search of an Author - places six 'bit' actors on a film set in the middle of nowhere winter-time, forced to wait. The characters spend the ensuing 90 minutes in close quarters, with little in common, but forced to get along so the work, when it returns, can be done.

Overall, the dialogue leaned toward cheese, but at the same time did stay away from cliche, walking that fine line of parodying actor habits and tendencies without jumping into the land of cliche. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the delivery of the text was rather shouty; rather than relax and allow the words to work, the actors seemed to work really hard to show us how they worked. With little success. There were certainly redeeming moments, and again, the script had a nice, almost campy, look at theatre and life, which was highly enjoyable. I simply can't handle people shouting text at me for 90 minutes.

Intellectual Fan Girl

Our dissertation term (aka right now) is peppered with weekly lectures and workshops to help us along with our process, and also to help us consider paths once we have finished the MA. This has included various events from panels with emerging artists, Q&A with former students of the course, and talks about casting and organizing. A highlight has been the fabulous workshop on directing from Andrew Visnevski for which the quote of the evening (whilst dissecting a scene from The Duchess of Malfi) was " 'How Now?' here means 'Holy Fuck she's going to shoot my balls off' " - something you have to imagine this polished, intellectual, very proper man in sweater vest and tie saying to get the full effect.

The most recent installment was from the academic side, and featured the brilliant Elin Diamond, feminist theatre writer and professor at Brandeis University in the US. Elin's lecture focused on a chapter of her book - Unmaking Mimesis - which looks at Brecht through a feminist lens, calling for a Feminist Gestic Theatre. A chapter (and book) I would strongly recommend.

What was most inspiring, for me anyway, was her discussion of how she got to where she is now. She began as an actor, trained in drama school and working professionally, but always had an intellectual side, writing essays and reading voraciously. After completing her MA and committing to being an academic, her focus was on bringing theatre and performance into the contemporary discussions of criticism. She argues that playwrights are theoreticians within each play, and the time spent to consider a play and/or performance text is unendingly valuable in understanding many of the ideas that scholars so readily apply to painting, philosophy, gender studies, etc. I was encouraged to know that it is possible to make a move such as this; to sit on both sides of things, and force not only work, but serious intellectual consideration of the work through your own writing. This is something which I hope to be able to do with at least minor success in the coming years.