I usually hate one person shows. At best, they lack the drama inherent in multiple people messing with each other. At worst, they're self-indulgent with no room for anyone else. This year changed my mind. So many kick-ass one woman shows. Perhaps, Perhaps, Quizas renewed my faith in theatre. Queens was amazingly brave (to be expected) and vulnerable (a welcome surprise). And then she let herself go was brave and silly and the best audience interaction aside from Perhaps, Perhaps, Quizas. Puttin' the G'Day in Cabaret was ambitious enough to reverse-colonize an entire performance genre (Conflict of interest disclaimer: I stage managed). Man Parts both showed that Carrie Green can do anything and critiqued musical theatre's gender bias. I am Tasha Fierce and Why Do I Dream? just rocked. Frankly, the girls knocked the socks off this Fringe.
Kick-Ass Dance Works.
Straight theatre folks, pay attention. These guys know how to set performance challenges. They know how to create danger. They know how to manipulate a body in space. They know how to mash disparate things that look like they shouldn't make sense together into a tin and make them make sense together. In the case of Knitting While Sleeping, they know how to create some truly engrossing audience perspectives. I think we need more of this.
Kick-Ass International Stuff
The International Festival is great for seeing what has already risen to the top (or at least become privledged in a very specific context). But it was delightful to see what performers from all over the world are playing with.
I'm going to talk about Perhaps, Perhaps, Quizas again. Guys, I cannot over-emphasize how amaingly good this show was. The character and conflict was so clear. Gabriela Munoz is the world-wide master of structuring audience risks and rewards. She acknowledged body shame in a way that made me feel less alone in the world, while letting me laugh at her. This show was bloody brilliant, and I am damn glad it came to NZ.
I personally couldn't stand Craptacular (another man telling me why my taste sucks; yup, I need that.), but I respect the hell out of it. I love how no part of that show is taken for granted. We're undermined before we even get into the theatre, as Tomas Ford bursts out of the Gryphon auditorium doors to tell us the show has already started, and it doens't let up from there. Leavint the theatre, I heard another audience member say, “It's like being trapped with a wild animal.” Another audience member fled the theatre rather than talk to the performer. Awesome.
“It's Fringe” as a Conversation Finisher
All of these are accurate quotes:
“She obviously does not understand tapu. But, you know, it's Fringe.”
“We only finished the script on Sunday, so the lines aren't all down. But, hey, it's Fringe.”
“I'm so tired; I've been to like 3 shows a night and don't even know what I'm seeing anymore. But that's Fringe for you.”
“We really wanted to do the show at Bats, but we missed the cut-off. So now we're doing it here, which, you know, is not really where it should, I think. But what can you do? It's Fringe.”
The point? Fringe should be a reason to take risks and have hard conversations. It should not be an excuse to shy away from talking about big issues, like lack of venues, the fact that no-one can specialize, and everyone is over-committing. We're going to poison ourselves to die a slow, stagnant death if our Fringe Festival turns into that.
Doing Shows for No Reason, Just Because “It's Fringe”
I saw a lot of half-baked theatre this year. Every year, frankly. I saw a lot of shows that were clearly about artist development and had nothing to give an audience. I saw lots of shows with ideas that might have been good but got pulled back because people did not have the time, energy, or skill to devote to figuring out how to execute them.
I'm all about testing out ideas. But if you're going to make a show, you can't just have an idea for something you want to learn for yourself. You have to have an idea of what the appeal for your audience is. And if you don't, you don't have a show yet. An example of a show knowing exactly what it wants for its audience is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Gross. Yup, I'm going to fangirl this show, too. This show is not for everyone, and some of the acting is telegraphed clear from last Tuesday. But it had a point to make: our obsessions make us vulnerable in the best and worst ways. And the makers thew themselves at making that point in the most entertaining way they knew how. And I enjoyed the pants off of it.
I also saw a lot of shows in non-theatre venues who spent all their time and effort trying to turn the venue into a theatre. 17 Tory St is not, and never will be, a theatre. It's a losing battle to make it into one.
The thing is, when shows have big ideas and take risks, then awesomeness occurrs! But you've got to embrace the conditions around you. Potato Stamp Megalomaniac springs to mind. That show, as it is currently, would die in a traditional theatre. But in 17 Tory St, forcing the audience to shift and keep up, it hits this sweet spot where the audience setup feeds its thematic work. SO COOL.
Or and then she let herself go leans into its isolated location. The fact that you have to work so darn hard to get out there means you're willing to invest in the show. And the fact it is on a quiet road works well for the show, which asks that you close your eyes and create your own images. Again, this show would not work the same way in one of Wellington's noisy theatres.
And if you can't execute the idea the way or in the place you want, then maybe Fringe isn't the best time or place to develop it. I mean, Bats and 17 Tory St are open all year round. You don't have to do your show in Fringe just because it is Fringe.
Lots of White People 'round Here
So, Fringe is being used as a handy marker for a development season and frenzy of creativity for some theatres. But it bothers me that the Putahi Festival is at the same time and was specifically focused on development seasons. There's work being duplicated. Obviously there are huge groups of people that are being excluded from Fringe.
I wouldn't mind so much if Fringe and Putahi had the same recognition, but it feels really uneven. I'm concerned about the silo'ing of NZ theatre.
I mean, this is a huge blanket statement, and it ignores a lot of work that was in the Fringe and wasn't about white people. But it still gives me cause for concern. Why can white people try out our ideas here, but many Maori feel like they need another space? Why did I know so much more about Fringe than about Putahi, and what does that say about how I practice theatre? What does it say about how I see opportunities? What am I not paying attention to? And if I'm not paying attention to it, how likely is it that lots of other white people are also not paying much attention? We should probably pay attention.