How can performance prevent rape?

On-stage performance can help us reimagine what we take for granted. This blog looks at how performance can explore different ways to be a woman or a man, and negotiate relationships that are flexible, fun, and freeing.

I suggest that performance can be used as a tool in rape prevention. I look at how performative methods of rape prevention may build upon and develop other forms of social education that work to end rape, creating possibilites for different ways to engage in intimate relationships.

This blog is a personal, theoretical, and performative exploration of how performance can be used in rape prevention.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Freak and the Showgirl

At this year's Adelaide Fringe Festival, there is a show that stands out as an excellent example of explicit body performance. Explicit body performance is not a term that anyone other than me really uses. So yeh, I kinda made it up. I got this term from Rebecca Scheider's text The Explicit Body in Performance and find it a helpful way to talk about live performance that draws upon principles of feminist performance artExplicit body performance enables the body to become the centrepiece for drama: the show unfolds across the performer's body.

The Freak and the Showgirl is a show about bodies. Performing at the Garden of Unearthly Delights in The Spiegeltent from 1st-13th March 2011, Freak features bodies both bold and brave, wierd and wonderful. Starring Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser Freak is blend of cabaret, sideshow, freakshow, strip, and burlesque.

Mat Fraser is the self-titled freak of the show. Fraser has a condition called Phocomelia, which derives from the Greek word for seal, as his limbs look similar to a seal's flippers. Because Fraser has no thumbs, 'it takes me both hands to do what most men can do with only one hand'. The drug Thalodomide caused Fraser's condition, as his mother was proscribed this medication to cure her morning sickness when Fraser was in utero. Happily, the Thalidomide cured all Mat's Mum's morning sickness.

Fraser is a skilled and varied performer. With a background as a rock drummer, he also presents for radio and TV. Fraser regularly delivers the Ouch! Podcasts for the BBC which discusses issues relating to disability, and spoke to Radio National Life Matters last week.

Julie Atlas Muz is the showgirl of Freak, is a blonde bombshell, and winner of Miss Coney Island 2005 and Miss Exotic World 2006. An accomplished performer, Muz has just returned from lap dancing for Quentin Taratino at the Caesar Awards, where her film Tournee was nominated for an award. She is probably most well-known for her mermaid performance in a huge saltwater tank, for which she was the covergirl for Valencia Bienial in Spain 2005.

Freak presents both old and new skool sideshow, delivering a commentary on the history of both freaks and showgirls, reminding us of how each shaped sideshow into what it is today. Fraser conjures the character of 'Seal Boy', a sideshow performer from the early 1900's. As Seal Boy he does shockingly normal things like putting on a jacket! And sawing a piece of wood! Oh all the things a short-armed man can do! Muz stands behind Fraser, puts her arms through the back of his jacket, so it looks as though her arms are his. He sings and she plays the ukelele. Shock and fun and oh-so Spiegeltent.

Somehow, Muz and Fraser manage - each and every night of their show - to entice 2 audience members to skull warm west end beers and simulate sex on stage. This is while Muz and Frazer spray beers all over them and the front row. Apparently it went off in Amsterdam. And in staid, conservative little Adelaide? Well, it goes off here as well! We too become a freak and/or a showgirl! Get drunk and get frisky in front of a live audience.

As the show moves on, Fraser becomes more 'showman' than 'freak', and Muz morphs from glitzy 'showgirl' to grotesque 'freak'. Together, they merge flesh with freak, and take strip tease to extremes. Frazer performs a curious strip tease, removing his prosthetic arms. Muz is a freak showgirl, as she displays her (shocking!) pubic hair, and claims that she is both sexually active, and has hair on her nether regions. Following this is a hilarious film performed by Muz's vagina. Her vagina dresses up with glasses and funny eyes, singing the trippy-tastic Hair. Makes you wanna get out your minge and dress it all up.

In one scene, Frazer expertly sings a showtune while Muz, dressed as a witch, pulls the glittery guts out of a doll. In another, Muz dances alluringly at the back of the stage with her back to us, clothed only in scant lacy black knickers and a gyrating rhythm. She moves like a stripper, portraying herself as pure spectacle: audience can look and desire without her looking back. We are free to imagine the rest of her body and fresh-face without it actually being revealed. Yet when she finally turns around at the end of the song, it is not the face of a to-be-desired angel that innocently gazes back but a hideous face with a huge wart-encrusted nose. Do we continue to desire her? Do we ache to return to the not-knowing of her imagined face? Can we desire a freak? Who is the freak? Are we become more freak-ish?


With the title a play on the film Prince and the Showgirl, featuring Marilyn Monroe and Lawrence Olivier, Freak is for those who like burlesque with brains. It is both throught-provoking and side-tickling, glamorous and feral.
Check out more of Muz's explicit body performance:

Here is Muz's Moon, a burlesque performance in New York City.
Muz again in NYC, this time at the Spiegeltent, doing a drunk-stabbed strip
Muz at the Burlesque Ball in 2010 as a Sun Goddess.

And if you like the horror-ific rather than the strip-or-ific, here is my favourite: Muz's tribute to Elizabeth Bathary, Hungarian Countess, and prolific serial killer. Performed at the Galapagos art Space, 2009.