Auckland theatre company, The Town Center has blasted into BATS and rocked our theatre world. With subversive performance tactics, explosive and transformative set design, celebratory spectacle and strong, electric conversation, TITLED and If There’s No Dancing At The Revolution I’m Not Coming have pushed the boundaries of theatre and creativity.
In BATS’ foyer, the audience of TITLED fill out forms indicating personal details, from religious beliefs to their perceived astrological alignment. The detail was extensive, we were bewildered yet intrigued for the immersive performance to begin. The crowd of people were ushered into the theatre, though it was not the Propellor Stage you might expect. The entrance led into a glowing green tunnel, filled with pumped air and ambient sound that hummed and beckoned.
The audience met Nisha Madhan, TITLED’s creator, in the small backstage space. Aided by sticky tape, post-it-notes, and a vivid marker, Nisha drew words “ME,” “HERE,” and “HUMAN,” sticking them playfully on audience members huddled around her. Finally, she wrote “READY?” And we were. The doors flung open and the Propellor Stage was transformed yet again. Centre stage was a spotlight revealing a bowl of water, Nisha emerged in a sparkly black leotard, dipped her hair in the water and let it trickle patterns around the stage. As the water lubricated Nisha’s body and the ground beneath her, she rolled in a rhythmic pattern, becoming one with the water and captivating the audience with this cleansing ritual.
The final act involved direct audience participation. One by one, each audience member was asked to stand opposite Nisha and echo her: “I am here. You are there. This is the moment we are together.” The oath was consecrated by drinking red wine, and the shredding of each person’s written form, which fell from the ceiling onto its respective audience member.
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Although, for the most part, the audience was left waiting for something to happen, Madhan successfully disrupted conventional theatre tactics and took ownership of her space by transporting the audience to a new dimension. TITLED is a wondrous experience, it evoked a strong urge to unify the audience with performer as a community.
In If There’s Not Dancing at the Revolution, we were invited into the Propellor stage with the coy grin of Julia Croft—the dexterous performance artist and show’s creator. She was clad in a garish pink ball dress and Disney’s theme tune blared through the speakers around her.
Croft presented herself frankly, the sounds of a megaphone told us that her body parts “are good, important and valuable.” It is the manipulation of this valuable body that drives ugly notions of objectification, complacency, and unconsented ownership. She outlined her body in white chalk on the walls and suddenly she was dead on the floor, in a brilliant red dress. She explored this body with a camera, the video images projected on the wall behind her—the audience was invited into a fleeting and visceral romance with Croft’s body. We watched stunned as she smeared lipstick in circles around her face like a target, rubbed onions repeatedly into her eyes, and pulled a BK burger from her underwear.
Croft’s bulging clothing revealed that she was wearing every single costume-change at once. With the stripping of a layer, we were given a new narrative of female representation. A pink satin night-gown becomes Titanic’s Rose, a sexy Halloween-esque outfit offered a cheeky cocktail waitress, and later a liberating and glittery leotard completed with a huge confetti-bursting vagina traversed the vast scales of female exemplification.
Finally, when all the costumes lay scattered onstage, the lights dim and the audience became deathly silent, Croft emerges from the backspace naked and faceless—a precarious pile of costumes hang heavily on her head. She stood, wordless, allowing the audience to observe her. Taking a vivid, she circled her breasts, vagina, and buttocks. Even in nakedness, we could visualise the effects of a media that commodifies and poisons discourse surrounding female body-parts.
It is a euphoric and empowering moment to be a woman in the audience that night. Madhan and Croft approached important, pressing dialogue on the issue of gender and performance; deconstructing themes of female subordinance and the all-too-often sharp division between performer and audience member.