Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review- Four Scenes of the World

On May 29th I was invited to attend a showing of Four Scenes of the World by my friend and co-worker Alex Campion. It was presented by PressedON Theatre and all the proceeds benefited a charity called the Bethune House. I am all for cheap, accessible, charity driven drama so I brought down my cast from our rehearsal to see the show. I had a somewhat visceral reaction to the whole thing but it took me a couple days to figure out why this show affected me so greatly.

Now, Four Scenes of the World was not traditional theatre by any means and by my definitions it was performance art or communical art. Theatre is defined as a "3d, kinetic art form where the message is performed from actor to the audience." There are also 6 traditional elements of drama based on the principals of Aristotle:
  • Plot
  • Spectacle
  • Theme
  • Character
  • Diction or Speech
  • Song or Rythym
In the case of Four Scenes of the World, it lacked some of the elements therefore putting it into the performance art category for me. Now, sometimes performance art and performance artists get a bad rap. They get shoved over into a category that is looked down upon by traditional artists, I don't think performance art is any less than drama it just has less constraints upon it. The rules are not defined, I even think that most one person shows (if they are performed by the person who wrote them) are performance artists; the same with comedians and Cirque de Soleil. When you remove an element of drama to disproportionately add to another element's value you run the risk of having your "drama" classified as "performance art."
The performance artist who strikes fear in all American theatre artists, Annie Sprinkle.
In the case of the this play I think they lacked character and plot. All the women were playing themselves and wasn't a traditional story lines with a beginning, middle and end. However, there was a story and a great deal of meaning in the poems and songs they sang and acted out for us. I feel most likely the traditional elements of character and plot were adjusted to make room for stronger thematics in the production and thus made it performance art in my mind.

Now, let's break down the actual drama. Before you entered the space there were videos of the women talking about their experiences as migrant workers in Hong Kong. Most of the women were severely abused and right before we went in the last video part was talking about how the woman was sexually assaulted by her employer and then not paid. I was already disturbed by this. Then you entered the space and you could look at traditional art pieces created by the women. A women from the Bethune House got up and made a speech about their work and what the charity does. Then it began.

It started with a theatrical game where the women passed a ball of string, creating a web and then the web was slowly untangled. Perhaps I was reading too much into it but it seemed to me to be a metaphor for their journies into our fair country. It all started out fun and games and then got very messy and then they had to work really hard to untangle it all. The woman who was in the video talking in the lobby was standing front and center and looked really happy. I was automatically having a reaction to her because she seemed at peace.

Forgiveness is not an easy thing for me as a person. I don't forgive easily at all, so the fact that this woman and all the other women could be so badly abused and then able to just live their lives and have fun and forgive those who had so badly hurt them touched me. Some of the people I saw the show with called me a girl and said I was reading far too much into the production and I think that statement could be true. The show explored safe spaces and where one goes for comfort after one is hurt. The piece also explored the idea of outer peace leading to inner peace.

I don't like the fact we live in a world where people treat each other so badly. I don't like the fact that women in our society could be abused as badly as every member of that cast was. But I find it beautiful and moving that they are able to stand up again after being knocked down. That the women of the Bethune House are strong together and use their strength to create something positive and beautiful rather than a giant performance piece about the bad things that happened to them. It is far too easy in life to dwell on the bad things about our jobs, relationships, lives and it is harder to look at the bright side every single day. These women were inspiring to me.

And I know some of the people I went with did not like the show, they found it emotionally manipulative and single sided but frankly, that's why I did like it. Because it showed me a view of the world in HK that we don't get to see very often.

The maids on their day off in Central


  1. The show was never devised to be catagorised... It was devised to be interpreted, yes. As is art. But catagorised, no. Sometimes, in a rapidly growing world of arts and technology you have to leave space for the liminal, exactly what Bethune House is.Its a liminal space, a waiting room.. one of the small places that accepts that the "in between" exists. As you mention in your review, the piece was about space, finding space, exploring both inner and outer space, space that sometimes isn't quite tangible. It was devised to break binaries, break boundaries, surely that's what both art/performance art/ drama sometimes wants? It doesn't matter whether or not you can or can't label something, what matters is that the moment, the opportunity existed, and frankly, as the director of the piece, yeah, it was great to have an audience, and I truly appreciate all your support as do all my team who worked on this project, but this performance/play/drama/show , what ever you want to call it was never about the audience or how they wanted to label it/ catagorise it etc... In this case how they react, to us, comes second. For us, it was about those women, their experience, and their opportunity. (but i suppose that's a whole different ball game for another day!). Any way, in all, call it what you want, at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. Its art and it exits and it was the most amazing experience of my life to work with such inspiring, creative and intelligent women, and personally, I find it somewhat of a compliment that you find it difficult to catagorise our work! I really wouldn't have had it any other way! Great review though Meaghan, Thanks for your time, I am looking forward to seeing We Won't Pay in the next few weeks. Break Legs!

  2. Hi Meaghan thanks for the comments, and i'm glad that you liked my art.