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March 19, 2018 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Poet Vs Pageant



If you weren’t already aware, the New Zealand Fringe Festival kicked off on the 2nd and will be going until the 24th of March. To start off my 2018 Fringe experience, I went and saw Poet Vs Pageant.

Glance at the title. If you were expecting a wrestling stage, strobe lighting, and a big song and dance, then you would not have seen the one woman on the poster, and completely ignored the word “poet”. To be fair, there was one song and dance, but it was a cheerleading chant entitled “Poetry Won’t Make You Popular”.

Indeed, the set was absolutely bare – only a table with a glass of water on it and section cards indicating each “round”. The lighting was a very simple. Even the costume begins with a simple black dress and ends with a red sequined one. All of these are obvious choices indicating to the audience that it simultaneously is and is not about the presentation of the show, and more about the words chosen in this piece and the intimacy between performer and audience.

I absolutely applaud Telia for being such a confident performer in such an intimate space as The Studio of BATS Theatre. She welcomed us into the space and thanked us when we left, giving us a card with “onward awkward soldier” written on it, her closing lines. When she told her poem-story, she looked people directly in the eye. Two people left in the middle of the show (clearly something came up, or they found themselves in the wrong theatre, or maybe they just weren’t vibing the show), but she acknowledged them by smiling, allowed them to pass, and then carried on as normal. Top job!

The show is one long poem, only really pausing to present the section cards like showgirls do in a car salesrooms, with so many quotable lines: “Complexion a poor substitute for comprehension.” It begins with a poet’s confusion over pageants: surely if the pageant is really about brains (as it’s a scholarship competition) then if the poet entered, she would absolutely win. It should be easy: “Beautiful people got everything but they just had nothing to give.”

And in the beginning it was easy. The narrator warned us that this poet was our anti-hero but I agreed with so many of her thoughts that she became my hero. Until she got mean. I didn’t align myself with her then. Ironically, in the swimsuit section she got vulnerable, “as though before a lover”. She began to lose that cockiness that she started with. She admitted that as a feminist child she knew princesses were lame, but she still secretly wanted to be one.

This tug of war within herself about superficiality and intellectualism was the crux of the show and hit the nail on the head for me. Yes! YES! I’m a woman. I have a brain. I also like to be/feel pretty. The two should not be mutually exclusive.

The poet did not win the pageant — she came runner up — but she learnt something in that experience. Her glass slipper of wisdom was this: “The only wins that matter are the self-appointed crowns.”

The show was fun but profound and punchy. There’s a reason why it won Best Writing at Melbourne Fringe, and as both a theatre and English literature geek, I dug it.

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