Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
I can see why Simmons has had such success in the past and it’s in no small part to her magnetic stage personality. She fills a room with her charisma and it’s enchanting to watch. Well-rehearsed in her gags throughout she warms up the crowd and gets the laughs easily. It does make sense as Simmons has been working on Confessions for over two years now. However, I can’t help but feel like Simmons’ natural watchability is a laurel she rests on and means the script does not get the scrutiny it might need in order to pace or explore the depth of the themes.
Joy is an aerobics instructor dealing with imposter syndrome and social gender norms which equate well with the struggles of being a cis-woman-presenting person and how they are expected to look and be a certain way. The themes are often present but the depths of them are not plumbed until an energetic monologue about how diet-culture and hot-bod-culture are problematic and harmful. It’s a good point and I struggle to think of someone who would disagree with Joy and here is where you and I might differ: I don’t want to agree all the time as I don’t find it engaging. How can Joy engage people’s critical thought instead of preaching to the choir? I agree with Simmons pretty much exactly when she starts her monologue on it and had nothing else to do but wait until she has finished. IF you want to feel affirmed in your feelings about this by someone else then that’s valid and Simmons’ Joy is a great character for you to see! Personally, I found it difficult to then understand why Joy has spent so much time as an aerobics instructor if they’ve hated it this whole time. We were never led through what got Joy into aerobics in the first place which could then have been an opportunity to explore Joy’s inner turmoil at an industry that brings her joy (sorry not sorry) just as much as it brings her anguish.
Simmons is a powerful physical performer and I would love to offer her something to possibly include in the shows to come: leaning into the literal chewing and swallowing on stage. Simmons’ has a microphone strapped to their face like an aerobics instructor would that also helps for the songs and more than once during the show Simmons’ eats or drinks something and at one point has grapes shoved in her mouth. I encourage Simmons’ to look at how the microphone could align with the themes of the show which are how superficial modeling of unattainable goals (and to an extreme, inhuman goals) are problematic and then using the microphone to magnify the ugliness of chewing and swallowing (which is something incredibly human). I trust Simmons’ could make it work, she can make anything funny!
Confessions of an Aerobics Instructor is on until the 8th December, you can find more info here, it’s worth seeing Joana Simmons in action. I saw the show on the 2nd of December at Te Auaha.
If you would like to have a say in the future of reviewing in Wellington or if you have an opinion on how we run things at Art Murmurs then sign up for the TABS workshops being held on the 14th and 15th of December at BATS Theatre.