how Perth Fringe World performers strip naked to reveal their vulnerabilities

At this year’s Fringe World festival in Perth, the “real theateris everywhere: theatre, comedy and drag speak directly to our reality, played against a background of survival.

True stories offer moments of honesty, introspection and clarity. By staging true stories, the artists create an intense bond between the audience and the performer.

In a normal year, the festival would welcome artists from across Australia and around the world. With borders closed indefinitely, 42 shows have been canceled.

The result is a resolutely local festival.

For those of us locked in, it’s an opportunity to mirror ourselves from the stage, learn about our neighbors and delve into how they’ve navigated their lives.

The real compensates where the news fails

British director Nicolas Kent said the theater had taken back the role of the news. While controversial, theater audiences approach the information differently: we want to suspend our disbelief, believe in the hero, and hear the full story.

Joe White draws inspiration from his own stories as emcee for a stand-up show The best of Africafeaturing gags flooded with admiration for his family and community.

White’s open door to his past invites us into the living rooms of communities a few suburbs away, which the news often does with undulating fear.

My buddies in Melbourne were like, ‘You have to isolate yourself for 14 days alone in a four-star hotel, you’re going to hate it! And I said “as a former Ethiopian refugee, I’m sure I’m going to love this!

White reflects honestly and with humility, pausing comfortably to make his audience feel seen. Vulnerability is central to his performance and feels like a measure of courage.

Ella Randle’s play 28 grams pulls from a similar place of vulnerability. The one-hander covering his battle with anorexia takes us from a healthy child to a dying teenager to counter the romanticization of the disease in the media.

Actress Georgia Condon tells Randle’s story as if it were her own.

It wasn’t the first time I had been called ugly. The first time was by a girl who told me that her mother thought I was ugly.

The toxicity of this culture is all the more difficult to digest because it is based on Randle’s reality. Although the words are spoken by Condon, our knowledge of this story based on Randle’s life motivates us to listen with open ears. We feel the weight of the responsibility of parents in our community who should be better informed.

by Justin Sider Without dick also blurs the lines between artist and character. Sider is trans, and he explores that identity through the story of a man who lost his penis. Performed in an elevated drag king aesthetic, Dickless is an exploration of trans validity and a rejection of the heteronormative hero journey.

While drag performers have traditionally lip-synced, Sider sings and raps live, enticing us with its resonance and range. Using her real voice, we get closer to her body, celebrating her queer and trans identity.

Read more: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and lip-synching: A once-controversial practice is no longer taboo

The real helps us to see ourselves in others

Michelle Hall’s play The Dirty Mother tells the story of her birth to reframe the trauma of childbirth can be fired.

When Hall’s son was born, his heart stopped for three minutes. We are held captive by the harsh metallic scream of a flat line. We feel the anguish of waiting for her baby’s heart to start beating again… before he does.

Michelle Hall’s dirty mother.
Photo © Megan Hyde and Georgi Ivers

Hall is left in pieces, vomiting uncontrollably into a kidney dish.

Hall’s visceral narrative is performed with imaginative physicality. As she stands on her head, turning her ankles and flexing her toes, she forms the image of a womb. She transforms into a lowing, chewing cow to the beat of Land of Hope and Glory and surrenders her body to the British medical system.

Through Hall’s use of her own body to create these images, she encourages audiences to respect the bodily autonomy found in the act of childbirth.

Musical theater performance by Marie-Muriel Hillion Toulcanon Island vibes: from maloya to séga travels through the colonized chronology experienced by the people of Reunion.

The percussion, dance and storytelling concert celebrates hybridization as a cultural force. Like the narrator, Vishwa Hewage tells us:

No need to find meaning in our music and our dance: they simply express a form of freedom that no one can take away from us.

Island vibes by Marie-Muriel Hillion Toulcanon.
Photo © Nic Casta

Throughout the show, the public intervenes to dance with the ensemble. Through conflict and celebration, we experience ways to find happiness in adversity.

A call and response with the audience brings me to tears as I remember the artists who guided me to South Africa. Toulcanon’s voice command reminds me of everyone I missed being apart during the pandemic.

Time and time again at this year’s festival, performers strip naked to reveal their vulnerability. In the audience, we bend down to offer our understanding.

Unlike the news, the theater of reality tells the stories of yesterday. Next year’s Fringe World will chronicle today’s trials.

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