You know what’s nice? Being able to come to The Lady Garden, and instead of ranting, celebrate some amazing women. First of all, if you couldn’t be there, the WYFC 1st birthday hootenanny was generally amazing. I spent at least 10 minutes explaining institutionalised sexism to a drunk Irishman. And when he came up with Sarah Palin as an example all on his own, I was so proud. Bless. Anyway, thank you to our Coley and the WYFC peeps, and all the perfomers and generally good folk. It was rad.
Now. Because I know you need things to fill up your social calenders, darlings, perhaps you’ll consider this.
FOTLG Ally Garrett is involved in a performance installation exhibition at Toi Poneke Gallery, inspired by Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece. It’s an adaptation of Shakespeare’s narrative poem, combining audio-visual installation with live performance. Two courageous women re-tell this story in an installation that explores the role of the female body in live performance and reclaims Lucrece’s story for women.
I sat down with Ally, and the show’s director, Fiona McNamara to talk about what people can expect.
What exactly is Lucrece (the show)?
Fi: It’s a performance installation mixing recorded audio -visual elements with live performance. The exhibition takes Shakespeare’s poem as a starting point. And the performance is a re-telling of the poem, by two women.
Ally: This means you can interact with the show in two different ways. You could come and see the installation during the day and spend time in the gallery space looking at and listening to the art work, or you could come along on a Thursday or a Friday evening during the season and watch a live performance in the space. It has been a fun challenge creating a stand alone exhibition, as well as a performance that incorporates and compliments what is on exhibit in the gallery at Toi Poneke.
What can people expect?
Fi: That depends so much on each individual audience member! It might make you think about the way that you watch theatre, and the way you relate to women’s bodies. The audience is seated close enough to the performers to touch them, which some spectators, who are used to sitting in the dark, where no one can see exactly who or what they are looking at, find confronting. Others said that having the story told to them by two women made them feel safe.
Ally: I think people who come to see the show can expect to see art and watch a performance that is exploring some challenging and potentially even upsetting themes, but in an environment that is safe at the same time. As a performer, I want to challenge the audience but I want them to feel like we are both in the experience together, and it’s a mutually powerful exchange.
How does the show “reclaim Lucrece’s story for women”?
Fi: Historically, women have been marginalised in live performance in the Western world. The texts that we call the classical canon were created in a world in which women were banned from the public stage and denied access to the means to create such work themselves. Plays were commissioned, written, managed and performed by men. Thus woman existed on stage only as a male construction. Theatre historian Sue-Ellen Case writes that to reproduce classics that were written in a society with strict gender roles is to reproduce the patriarchal nature of that society. I agree that gender inequality, particularly in the case of productions of classic texts, remains an issue in theatre today. However, I believe that we can reclaim classic texts for female theatre practitioners and female spectators by producing female-driven productions that radically subvert the rules under which the text would originally have been performed.
Our production is one small step toward reclaiming the classical cannon and the stage for women, In reading The Rape of Lucrece, I was struck by the poem’s focus on the male characters in the text, and particularly the weight given to Tarquin’s dilemma of whether or not he should rape Lucrece. I was also drawn in by Shakespeare’s understanding, though in comparatively fewer words, of Lucrece’s state after she is raped. Our aim is to make Lucrece the subject of the story and to create the production in a rehearsal room that is a women’s space. We hope, without marginalising men, to produce a play for, by and about women. The production attempts to understand Lucrece, the fictional woman, and at the same time, to redefine the real woman (represented by the actor) on stage. To explore the relationship between the real and the fictional woman, we focus on its common basis – the body. By foregrounding the female body in live performance, we draw attention to its presence and make it present both on and off stage.
Ally: Hopefully our show gives audience members an opportunity to engage with the poem, The Rape of Lucrece, in a very different way than reading it in a book, or even if if was being performed by one person at a poetry reading. The Shakespearean text remains the same, but the choices we are making with the performance highlight Lucrece’s story. It’s also always pretty unusual to come and see a show that is so driven by women. There are men involved with the show, but the principal roles are all filled by amazing and female performers, theatre makers and artists. (I can go into more detail here about who these people are if need be.)
The poem has some powerful themes for women – rape, women’s bodies as property, or symbolism, is the show likely to be confronting?
Fi: Yes. It’s not “in-yer-face” theatre, like a Sarah Kane play. The tone of the piece comes from Shakespeare’s poem: sadness, thoughtfulness and the juxtaposition of telling a horrific personal story in beautiful language. Also, the text is all from the poem, it’s not in the form of a script. We don’t “act out” the story, but tell it to the audience and show it in an abstract way. That leaves space for spectators to make their own meaning by making their own connections between the words, images, music and performers’ bodies.
Ally: This is the second time we have performed Lucrece, so I’m pretty familiar with the text but there are still lines in the poem that catch me. The show doesn’t contain any “graphic violence” for want of a better phrase but at the end of the day poem is about rape, which is a confronting topic no matter how you frame it. Hopefully we’ll be doing justice to Lucrece’s story but audience members who are triggered by rape stories should come to the production with the knowledge that rape will be discussed and explored through performance. What I really like about doing this show is that we invite the audience to stick around afterwards for a forum discussion with Fi, Isobel and I – hopefully this gives audience members a space to discuss their feelings about the show and process what they’re feeling. It’s not like going to see the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where you watch that horrific rape scene and then you’re just turfed out onto Courtney Place. If anybody reading this is unsure about whether the show might be triggering for them I’m happy to answer any questions they have over email. (alexandra.hazel.garrett at gmail.com)
For you as a performer, how do deal with those themes?
Fi: It’s really important for us to have a safe and trusting rehearsal environment. This allows us to be playful in the rehearsal room and find creative ways of communicating the story.
Ally: Fi is right, rehearsal does feel really safe and trusting. When we’re working it’s usually only Fi, Isobel and I in the space, and they have both seen me at pretty much every emotional state and every state of undress possible. Isobel and I do a lot of checking in with each other – is this okay, are you comfortable with me doing that, does that feel weird?
That said, we are spending lots of time exploring some really heavy themes and I’m trying to take precautions to stay well, mentally and physically. I’ve booked some time off work from my day job and yesterday I bought heaps of unusual fruits from the supermarket to eat for maximum vitamins while we’re rehearsing. It’s also been interesting to me how easy it is to revert to ‘gallows humour’ in the rehearsal room – especially because I am usually a person with a militant stance on jokes about sexual violence. I’ve been watching that coping mechanism in myself and observing the part that I play in rape culture. As a group, part of our research and discussion has been identifying the part that rape jokes play in enabling rapists, and we’re going to incorporate that idea back into the performance installation.
And lastly, naked ladies, right? Lots of them?
Fi: Yip, heaps. We had a naked filming day, where a bunch of ladies we know got together and were filmed one by one naked in close up. It turned into a really great body positive workshop. We ate cake, drank cider and laughed.
Ally: I’ve seen so many naked women this year! It is awesome. We all got together in Karori, and like Fi said it ended up being the funnest day. I was so nervous about being naked but as soon as I took off my knickers it felt so normal to just be lying there chatting to the other women while Fern Kaurn, our film maker, got to work. It felt celebratory as Fern and Fi were looking to celebrate the differences in all of our assorted bodies. My fat body, my hairy stomach, my pockmarked skin and my scaly feet were all assets, rather than flaws to be glossed over or minimised. Sometimes it sounds cheesy to say that something was empowering, but naked filming day was definitely an empowering experience for me.
Thank you to Ally and Fiona for being so generous with their time. If you are interested in attending, the WYFC is having an event.)
Lucrece: An Adaptation of Shakespeare’s the Rape of Lucrece
Toi Poneke Gallery, 61 Abel Smith Street.
Exhibition: Friday 20 April – Saturday 12 May
2012, 10am-8pm weekdays, 10am – 4pm weekends
Live Performances: Thursday and Friday evenings,
19, 20, 26, 27 April; 3, 4 10, 11 May, 6:30pm
Entry by koha. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org