I walk into the small cube at Project Arts Centre at 10:15 pm Saturday evening, my brain is tired from a long day of working and I’m feeling slightly anxious about what I’m going to see, knowing I’m going to write about it.
I walk in, on the floor there a lot of bodies lying down. I see later on that there are 5 of them but it seems like a lot when I walk in, they take up almost all the floor and they’re wearing awful costumes, the kind of costumes that are meant to be funny. I’m thinking yes of course, we see this onstage often and I come to think of what an all-encompassing concept they’ve come up with. I love all-encompassing concepts.
From the second it starts my anxiety is gone.
The stage managers voice says through the speakers:
“SCENE 1: THE END”
And then the lights slowly go out. Once it’s black, Figs in Wigs stand up and receive our applause. This is funny. We are all laughing. And it’s not just trying to be funny, IT IS HILARIOUS. What follows is a long series of ins and outs, bowing towards the audience, receiving our applause. We’re all laughing. It’s great. In the audience, we look at each other and laugh TOGETHER at the madness on stage. It’s cosy. It’s kind. It’s loving. And also, did I say extremely funny?
The dreaded applause moment.
There is always that moment when making dance or theatre where the situation of the applause has to be discussed. And then someone in the group will say how they feel it’s completely fake, that no one really means it, that the audience are just doing it because they’re used to it. Others will say that it’s an important moment for the audience to contribute with something. Like a transaction of acknowledgement; the audience gets to see that yes! the performers ARE humans and they can say, through the sound made by their hands hitting each other (quite absurd when one starts thinking about it) that “we saw what you did, we were here all the time, thank you for your work”. The performers get to see the faces of the audience and for a brief moment everyone can make sounds and movements inside the theatre - the power hierarchy is altered.
And then, different creative ways to do this, or to not do it at all, are discussed. But in the end it is almost always decided that there will be a moment of receiving the applause on stage. I think we like those moments of being humans together in a room, experiencing something together, a lot.
During the clapping, during the ins and outs of Often Onstage, I’m thinking of how real my applause feels. Even though I am faking it as such, I’m applauding before I’ve seen the show but somehow I’m still honestly thanking them for their work. It makes me think of how conditioned a lot of our reactions are, and that it’s interesting to think of the realness of these.
PART 2 – NOT so often on stage
What follows after all the applauding is hard to describe and maybe it doesn’t make sense to describe; because then this whole text/review/response/meditation on the performance, would be describing it, because so much happened. But somehow I have to describe something. Lets see how it goes.
Again new awful costumes. School-theatre-cabaret-slap-stick-meant-to-be-ugly-works-really-well-and-they-are-killing-it-in-those-costumes.
Even though the performance is called Often Onstage, they do many of the things we almost never see on stage. We get to see the get in, the chaos of getting ready before the audience gets in. It takes forever. Again I’m laughing, but this time it’s a new sort of laughter. I have no idea what’s going on on stage. It’s beautiful. They are so comfortable at being lost within in it, so I am lost and comfortable too. Their interaction is brilliant; I feel I’ve been invited to get to know them. This doesn’t happen so often on stage, right?
(I’m trying to push through the notion that their title is all wrong, that they do a lot of things
on stage that we don’t see often)
After the preparations the 'show' starts.
Figs in Wigs created one of those rare but beautiful moments of strong vulnerability on stage. Their presence is somehow best described as 'a given'. The synergetic energy flowing between them and then off the stage into us in the audience is for me a feministic statement. 6 women collaborating, owning it, creating, supporting and loving each other is feministic. Seeing women being unapologetically funny and doing what they like to do is liberating. As they write in the program, they use the medium of dance to examine ways to get in and out of the stage while unearthing dormant anxieties about life along the way. I read that before the show, saying to myself “that can mean anything”. But it really is what this group of hilarious women do. They literally work their way in and out of the stage and the “unearthing” of anxieties is very touching.
The text and words.
I would say that this show is about being a theatre maker in general but specifically a female theatre maker. What that life is, and how it affects us doing it. The instability – both the social and the economical, the fear of failure/the luring failure, the dependence of our collaborators, how success is measured and what will happen when one in the group wants to settle down and raise a family?
They ask questions like; how long will you keep on doing this? Is this what you do? Is this ALL you can do? Do you have a 5-year plan?
The choreography and dance.
They dance; they’ve prepared choreographies and they perform them for us. They’re so simple and nice with little creative twists to them, just enough so we see that they’ve really worked on them. I’d like to call them human choreographies.
While sitting in the now very hot black box I’m remembering the reasons why I fell in love with dance as a girl, I feel a silent warmth spreading in my chest when I see their concentrated faces not to mess up the steps.
Dance is such a human thing, the organisation of bodies in time and space. I’m a dancer and choreographer. What I do is somehow to make dance into a really complex thing.
Figs in Wigs reminded me of how simple it can be and still speak in magnitude of humanity.
The contrast between the simple and 'pure' approach to dance and the exaggerated theatrical cliché-like approach to delivering text strengthens both expressions. They push us around from school cabaret to moments of beauty, poetry and vulnerability very quickly. It’s quite a ride.
That doesn’t happen on stage so often.
The Backstreet Boys.
The show ends with The Backstreet Boys. They tell us a story of how they’ve become addicted to their success performing as a Backstreet Boys lip-syncing cover band. They tell us how they’ve enjoyed the screams from the audience and the underwear being thrown at them on stage.
This starts out as a very funny joke with an incredibly well performed and hilarious turn as The Backstreet Boys but the more I think about it the more depth I find in it. For me the idea of having theatre makers secretly becoming addicted to pretending being famous and rich, speaks of how marginalised the performing arts have become. How us working within it really struggle, how we work hard, how we make almost no money and how almost no one cares about what we do. Yet we continue.
It speaks to me about how ‘simple entertainment’ is conquering content and art. It speaks to me about how immediate pop music is. How us, as an audience in the theatre world, are so stiff and non-reactive compared to The Backstreet Boys’ fans. Of course art deals with subjects that The Backstreet Boys don’t, and this can and should allow any kind of reaction. But maybe we can learn something about ourselves from them, both from the band and from their fans, about how the direct joy and pleasure of both creating and performing and of being an audience is often lost when we enter the institutions and 'serious' platforms.
Also NOT so often spoken about on stage.
Often Onstage was a pleasure, it’s alive, it’s clever, direct and deep, poetic and deliciously shallow at the same time.
Theatre is NOT a dying art form.
"Larger Than Life"
Yeah, ha, ha, ha, ha
Ha, ha, ha, ha
I may run and hide
When you're screamin' my name, alright
But let me tell you now
There are prices to fame, alright
All of our time spent in flashes of light
All you people can't you see, can't you see
How your love's affecting our reality
Every time we're down
You can make it right
And that makes you larger than life
Looking at the crowd
And I see your body sway, c'mon
Wishin' I could thank you in a different way, c'mon
Cuz all of your time spent keeps us alive
All of your time spent keeps us alive
Yeah, every time we're down
Yeah, you can make it right
Yeah, and that's what makes you larger than life
Emma-Cecilia for DRAFF
Often Onstage by Figs in Wigs was presented at Project Arts Centre as part of Live Collision. More on the company at figsinwigs.com.
Posted on 04 December 2016.