Fringe essays and origin stories
Fringe season has started, and with Fringe come the requests from publications who want to look like they’re being oh-so-active in covering Fringe productions, but all they’re basically doing is sending us lists of awkward/precious questions to answer and email back to them.
It’s Fringe essay season, in other words. I’m never in the mood for it, because who has time to introspect about process at the point when we’re done creating and have actual performing to get through? But the truth is, these “interviews” offer us artists the best chance of getting our own actual words into the piece, and I have to really think about what it is that I do. It’s remarkably clarifying!
For example, this fellow in Edinburgh runs something he calls the Dramaturgy Database. One question there is: How did you become interested in making performance? It’s good for me, right now, when I’m struggling to establish myself in a new location… It’s good for me to remember my roots.
I first started creating works for plus-sized dancers 16 years ago, because I had started dancing myself and was tired of feeling completely left out of the creative and performance part of the dance world. After the very first dance recital I was in, at the age of 28, I was told that I had a very compelling stage presence. I had had so much fun creating a couple of partner moves with one of the other dancers, and that experience of creation, combined with the positive reinforcement of that praise and the adrenaline rush of the performance itself, led me to want more.
Over the course of the next years, my works for the company went into more narrative-driven pieces—dance musicals with a plot—and at the same time I began working as a phone-sex operator. I found myself wanting to write a solo play about that, because my experience as an actual sex worker was not really represented well out there in the performance world. (Again, representation matters.) When I toured Phone Whore and found that people wanted to hear what I had to say, and that I was good at it, a whole new world opened up.
Now, sever years after that first terrifying tour of Phone Whore, it’s very clear that I love performing. I’ve also realized that part of my internal pressure to create my own works is that if I didn’t, there would be nothing for me to perform in, as a fat person. The roles allowed to us are limited and boring. I create the works and the characters that represent me, in some way, and what I want to see out in the world.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” That’s part of how I became interested in performance: I want to make a world where I have room to create, as a fat middle-aged woman. The other part of it is just something I picked up from two years at Burning Man. They don’t have many rules there, but this is on: “No spectators.” In other words, don’t show up to Black Rock City expecting other people to entertain you. Become part of the pageant, as a performer or a caretaker or a technician or as an active, generous audience member. I’ve heard that Burning Man ain’t what it used to be, but I will always be grateful to it for that one concept. In terms of my creative work, I don’t wait any longer for other people to start the party; I bring the party myself.
I want to bring the thing that makes people move inside, that demands thinking and maybe some uncomfortable reflection on one’s own actions. My work ends up being both activism and art. I want that mix, I’m good at both, and in performance is where that finds a home.
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