Response to All That is Wrong, Becoming Sedusa: Re-visioning the Clown, You With Me
All that is Wrong (Ontroerend Goed) is a piece of performance by an 18 year old Belgium helped by American colleague Zach, who lights, films and produces sound to enable the writings of Koba to become performative. She starts by writing, in chalk, on blackboards on the floor, details of herself and her immediate concerns – she has a sister who’s ‘awesome’ and a father she only sees on Sundays, for example. Then with spidery lines that link words to each other, and from those few words about herself, she starts writing down everything she thinks is wrong in the world. Huge global afflictions such as WAR and HATE then get narrowed down to current ideologies to create a mind map of her concerns and fears. Of course they are our concerns and fears too, but we visit them anew through the eyes of someone on the brink of adulthood whose generation has to take on the problems that previous generations have bequeathed them. From an older generation it made me see the enormity of all that is wrong globally and I felt a sense of shame that I am, in a small way, responsible by my inability to make things better for her and more personally, for my teenage son.
I was part of an audience for a PhD practice as research presentation called Becoming Sedusa by Maggie Irving. We were told to arrive at a dressing room within the University of Plymouth campus. The door opened to reveal Maggie within a darkened room wearing, a sequined tea-shirt dress, black opaque tights with patent doc martin boots and a crocheted hat, with knitted snakes horizontally hanging from it. We were invited in where Maggie introduced herself and then her character of Sedusa, a morphing of Medusa as clown, vamp and seducer. Maggie’s personality very much came through as she chatted to us and asked us to name her snakes for her, she told us she was going to take us on a walk but she needed to pee before she went so she popped into the adjoining loo and emptied her bladder whilst still chatting away. We all sat and looked at each other bemused and then we would giggle as she uttered little sighs and groans as she tried to hitch her tights up, the sound scape perfectly describing the rather clumsy and unrefined act. She then led us on a walk through the town centre, (unspoken, we kept some distance so that generally she was on her own) where she would stop and highlight the everyday; shop signs, rubbish bins, posters and she would give us her interpretation. We picked up a couple of drunks along the way, one of whom wanted to join in, reading from posters in the window of Athena for example. Unable to understand the meaning of the performance they stuck with it for a while until, realising they may never find out, they gave up, as Maggie quite swiftly retraced her steps. Bringing us back into the dressing room within the university we could then ask her questions and give her feedback. All the feedback was positive, it had been an embodied experience for the audience, something we were not expecting. It threw up the trials of outdoor, street performance and the fleet of foot replies one needs in that environment. On a personal research level Maggie was deconstructing the theories of clowning by using a feminist approach and re-mapping an audiences expectation of what clowning has become.
You With Me takes participants on a journey through Exeter via a 45 minute phone call. What develops through your phone call is an unusual friendship and a personal story, which you are at the centre of. The performance uses the backdrop of an urban environment and is played out through the use of technology. I stood in the place I’d been asked to go to and on the hour I had to phone a number, which would connect me to Alice. She began by asking me if I could see her and on looking around I noticed that there were quite a lot of people on phones all of whom could be talking to me. One in particular was eyeing me up, so I said I could, and when I described this person Alice said ‘no that’s not me’ and started to give me directions to move. As we moved towards ‘the centre’ I noticed other potential decoys all in familiar clothing and all on phones. I realised then that there were going to be lots of decoys along the way. When she asked me to lose her I tried a couple of times by entering shops, but eventually she knew where I was and then, I realised that with all those decoys out there, I was probably being followed. I said I didn’t want to play that game anymore which was probably not the right thing to say but, heh, there were no rules as such. In hindsight I think I should have gone further with the game because that was, in my eyes, the one thing that kept you going and maybe the thing that gave you pleasure. With my performer hat on I was analyzing as we went along, instead of throwing myself into it. It seemed that I was just having a conversation with someone I’d never, nor was likely to, meet. The idea that I either had to find the person on the other end of the phone or be quick enough to lose the plethora of people out there following me is actually a game and I didn’t go along with it. Why I didn’t was an instinctive reaction and one that I couldn’t go back on. Did I see the city centre in a new way, not really, was I blocking the process? Who knows.
You With Me is the inaugural project from Kaleider, funded by the Arts Council’s 3 Year Strategic Investment for Theatre in Exeter and is a co-production with Reverb, a new theatre group made up of University of Exeter graduates interested in the exploration of space and location in theatre.