Under the Melbourne lockdown, Kimberley Twiner and her housemates have discovered a new audience – their neighbours
On Sunday September 6, my housemates and I – a crew of physical performers – decided that cutting laps of the block, pacing the backyard, and whining in the house wasn’t enough. The proposal was simple: “Let’s put the ’80s lycra on and go out the front and do something.” With the pool noodle of boredom whacking us daily, the answer was a resounding “YES!”
We knew we wouldn’t be breaking any Covid-19 restrictions as we are a housemate bubble, on our own property and exercising. Some people say that artists thrive with limitations. I would change that to: artists will always respond to a strong provocation.
My household consists of four performing artists who have all trained under the same theatre teachers – Giovanni Fusetti, Philippe Gaulier and John Bolton. We have a shared language. We have common expectations. We are always talking about theatre. And we continually investigate the nature of collaboration.
I love collaborating. I love facilitating ensemble work. As cliched as it sounds, I love trusting the process. For me it’s inspiring, exciting and totally political. To gather people and say, “Let’s work together, let’s forego the shackles of individualism and surrender to the collective”, is both a vulnerable action and a potent call to action,
So we decided to bring our performing bodies back after what seems like a long, restless hibernation. We hit the front lawn in bright pink lycra pumping Locomotion, Get into the Groove and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. (Will those songs ever not just bring instant cheer?) Our playlist lasted one and half hours, and that’s how long we danced for. We use a flocking-style improvised performance score which allows us to move cohesively as an ensemble.
My endorphins have been flying high. I have delivered my body back to its physical creative practice. My mood bounces not off the computer screen but off the reactions of passers-by. It seems that a co-creation of endorphins is happening, because these strangers – actually our neighbours – seem happier.
The response from Brunswick East has been amazing. People thank us. Cars honk their horns. People have given us gifts – champagne, chocolates, strawberry milk. Even a 10 dollar note! We are getting hand-written letters in our mailbox saying that we have lifted a person’s spirits. People applaud. People join in – they mirror the dancing they see us doing. They follow the rules and don’t watch for too long; they enjoy and then leave.
Even if our moment is brief we are provoking a collective joy attack. Wow, the power of communal emotion.
What can be achieved in shared place and shared time is so… efficient. Five minutes of human-to-human interaction can completely alter us. It’s quicker than reading a book, it’s more exciting than watching a YouTube tutorial, it’s more satisfying than a hundred Facebook likes. How can jumping around in lycra make someone else feel joy? No words are exchanged, we haven’t counselled them out of gloom. This is the alchemy of physical theatre.
Human-to-human contact is what makes theatre, well, theatre. It’s warm, nourishing soup for the collective soul.
The Muses have once again reminded me what live performance can achieve. It can lift the mood of a neighbourhood. It creates breath. It changes the way people engage with a public space: they become present. It invites play, possesses someone’s senses, and leaves a footprint of memory. Friends are created in a heartbeat. Although it’s invisible, it somehow makes the fabric of our environment richer. It elevates us all from the banality of our individual existence and creates instant community.
It makes me remember that the most satisfying performance happens physically as a co-creation between myself and my community. And there has been a community that, to my shame, I have ignored. By boxing myself into “the fringe community”, “the theatre community”, “the queer community”, I have forgotten about my neighbours. “Normal people”, as us artists might snobbishly call them (or is that just me?).
I reflect on my practice and think of the niggling feeling that hiding my work inside a theatre can feel exclusive. I am tired of the confines of a festival where my audience seems to be mostly other artists. I want “normal people” to see my work. I am happy to feel not so alone on this street where I live anymore. I am happy that my neighbours like the work I do. I am glad I can give them something. I am happy I can see them for the first time.
I think – damn – if that tradie who beeped their horn and then dropped off a bottle of vino genuinely likes this work, I have a hunch they will like my other stuff! How do I get these people to my shows? I’ve applied for regional touring for yonks and never been given the opportunity.
Observations from Nicholson Street are telling me we have to go out. We have to go to the people. We need to be brave. We have to meet our neighbours. Oh – and the Muses are telling me that when we do go out, we need to be more radical than ever.
The project referenced here is the Brunswick East Entertainment Festival aka “happenings on the front lawn”, performed by The Wholesome Hour.