I have always had disdain for the ways in which the marketplace endlessly re-packages the same product to get attention and to make money. let’s take the very same soap and add 20% more! that deserves a whole new package. Let’s highlight the grease cutting capabilities! (all soaps do this…..whatever). A whole new package! Now let’s make it a different colour or a different fragrance and both of those things deserve new packages. I guess the marketplace, and its thousands of artists, do this because it works. People do notice when the package is new. You get their attention with the change, if only for a split second.
Well, I had a problem at the Ottawa Fringe. Very few people actually wanted to come to a show called Love and Loathing. A show about mothers. It sounded heavy, sober, maybe ugly, maybe uncomfortable. Not to mention, a high percentage of performance artists probably do not want to think much about their own mothers while they are at a fringe festival doing outrageous things that their mothers may or may not approve of. Maybe people also imagined a “mother-y” voice from me, the performer. We all know what that means, right? And it does not fit in at a Fringe Festival where people are professionally mis-behaving, or at least being weird–which many mothers worry about when they see these weird qualities in their children–and most fringe artists did not always feel their weirdness to be celebrated by their mothers. But what about when a mother is one of the the weird ones (read artist)? How do you do an attractive performance about motherhood, from the perspective of a mother, at a Fringe?
I made a marketing mistake. I assumed that other people are like me and would be drawn to the things I am drawn to–deep, challenging, reflective, poetic things. I did not think about the audience, or about marketing, while the show came into being. This show started incubating the moment I finished my last show in June 2015. I just made the show. I let it flow out. My first performance of an excerpt in February 2016 went so well, that I had confidence there was an audience for what I do. I didn’t pause very long to reflect on the differences between a poetry crowd and a fringe crowd. The poetry crowd was delighted by my work. The fringe crowd never choose it over the other fun, zany, wild, spectacular and/or very well publicized other shows. I felt so very grateful for the few who did–especially the seasoned artists that I met and got to know there.
Then, there was the problem of the inaccuracy of the title. Love and Loathing. I got hooked on this particular title while reading a book, The Mermaid Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd. Here is the quote:
“I was not thinking about how noiseless Mother was behind the bathroom door; I was preoccupied with the sense of wading back into her life, into this room, swimming in the contradictions she always stirred in me, the tangle of love and loathing.”
That’s it! That is the best expression of how I have felt at times about my own mother, and how I imagine my own children have felt about me. And while it is sad to realize, it is virtually unavoidable. Your mother is the person you have to grow away from. The person that you resent both because of her invasiveness and because of your own dependence which you must jettison or grow out of to become an adult. I was off the races with my show. While writing though, it was much more about my experience as a mother, than my experience as a daughter.
I as created the show, I noticed there was hardly any “loathing” in my show. Conflict, contradiction, feeling trapped, feeling burdened, yes. But loathing? I cannot honestly say that I have ever loathed being a mother. I have loathed certain moments, I have loathed certain dynamics and behaviours, but definitely never loathed my kids even when I had other feelings towards them like exasperation, resentment or alienation. But not real loathing.
First things, first. The title is wrong. Inaccurate and a misrepresentation of the content of the show. A new title emerged: Divided Heart https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3394577-the-divided-heart. Inspired by a collection of interviews with Australian artists/mothers. I also was greatly inspired by my re-reading of Adrienne Rich’s “Of Woman Born”https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/305826.Of_Woman_Born?from_search=true
I also needed to find a way to convey that the show is funny, sexy and musically groovy. I take care of my audience. It is not just a big messy, conflict-ridden hour that will leave people churning and uncomfortable (there certainly is a place for that kind of performance). But my show is not that. People leave feeling refreshed, surprised, hopeful, seen, inspired. They smile and move along with me by the end of the show. I needed to find a way to communicate all of this. I enlisted my artist, tattoo-artist, 21 year old niece Eilidh Gilbert-Walsh (she’s awesome!) to draw something for me. Here is the result:
and here is my new flyer:
I hope that you will tell your friends in Victoria to come to the show!