Welcome to the second edition of ‘In Other News’ where I talk about things other than reading and writing … yes, I have a life beyond books! Who knew?
My first experience of ‘proximity theatre’ (one-on-one interactions) was the incredible show Oraculos by Spanish theatre company Teatro de los Sentidos (Theatre of the Senses) as part of Perth International Arts festival in 2013. Led by one actor at a time through a series of sometimes delightful, sometimes challenging, but always surprising experiences, I felt a sense of awe, wonder and excitement that I have not felt since I was a young child. It was truly electrifying and I was hungry for more.
Last month was the second annual ‘Proximity Festival’ in Perth and I booked myself and my husband in for a program of four unconnected experiences. I began with a ‘twerkshop’. Yes, I learned to twerk. Or attempted to. I had to look at myself in a mirror making pelvic thrusts ON ALL FOURS. It was not a pretty sight. And it is surprisingly difficult. It requires you to be simultaneously loose and controlled.
After my twerkshop I attended my ‘Right to Stay’ interview. I endured a series of humiliating and blatantly racist tests conducted by a humourless bitch, to ascertain my ‘right to stay’ in Australia. I failed the test on key dates in Australian history (2/10); the blind taste test on Vegemite (hate it, refused to try any of them). I passed on skin colour, hair curliness, throwing a footy ‘like an Australian’ and Australian slang. This ten minute theatre piece was so close to the sad reality of current Australian immigration policies it could barely be classed as satire. It was incredibly confronting. As a psychological experiment, it was also fascinating: I found myself torn between my desire to challenge the obvious prejudice of the test, and my need to please my interviewer and pass the test. Finally I was asked to read aloud from a harrowing extract about asylum seekers, while the interviewer played the Australian national anthem at increasing volume. I shouted over the top of it. I was deported.
My third interaction was considerably lighter in tone. I had to give a bona fide L-plater a driving lesson. I plummeted back twenty years to my own disastrous and stressful driving lessons. I admitted that I failed my driving test three times. We set off in his total shitbox of a car, strewn with clothes, empty soft drink bottles, half-eaten apples and god only knows what else. He attempted to navigate a circuit of traffic cones. I got nervous and started giggling. He hit a massive kerb and about 50 CDs fell of the dashboard onto my lap. I felt like I was seventeen again. It was such a fun feeling. I stranded the poor guy on a hillside, completely unequipped to teach him a reverse hill start. Thank goodness my husband was after me; I knew he would be able to get him out of there!
My final interaction was a lesson in the history of the representation of female genitalia. I was embarrassed by how little I knew about the structure of a pretty important part of my own body. To reinforce my new learning I was invited to make a replica of a vagina out of candy! It was really quite beautiful and I would like to show you a photo but I ate part of it and my son ate the rest. How’s that for clickbait?
It was such a brilliant night out and my husband and I spent hours debriefing our interactions and their broader implications. If you haven’t yet had a proximity theatre experience, I recommend it most highly.
The Story of You
I also recently took part in Connor Tomas O’Brien’s Story of You project: a kind of digital, writerly version of proximity theatre. Participants were asked to select from Facebook and or Twitter two photographs either of them, or taken by them, and two status updates. We were instructed to: ‘Try to pick updates and photographs that mean something to you, and that you think might give a stranger the best idea of who you might be. The content could be from last week or from the day you first joined Facebook a decade ago. This is an experiment in paring down and trying to figure out: what, of everything I’ve put into the world, really represents me?’
What an interesting process that was. It raised a lot of questions for me about the kind of content I share on social media and how much overlap there is between my online ‘persona’ and my ‘true self’ (whatever that means). In the end these were the updates I chose:
Had my first glockenspiel lesson yesterday. Anniversary present from Duckers, husband extraordinaire.
Alright, so I’ve bared my soul, now it’s your turn. Have you had a proximity theatre experience? Can you twerk?Do you suffer from the desire to please authority figures? Did you pass your driving test the first time? How freely do you represent yourself on social media? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.