This is the third of a four part series of interviews with female performance artists about creative process, feminism and how the two intertwine.
Virginia Frankovich (Creator of the Plastic Orgasm)
Victoria Abbott and Kayleigh Haworth (Ladies of the Plastic Orgasm)
This interview is specifically about the performance piece ‘The Plastic Orgasm’ performed by a cast of 21 woman in the Auckland fringe festival 2018, created and devised by Virgina Frankovich and Julia Croft.
The plastic orgasm has been a 3 year collaboration right? What has that process been like? When does a process become apart of the work and when does it get left behind?
Virginia Frankovich (VF): Yup it’s been a nice long collaboration, which is always a luxury. For this work in particular, process has always been a huge part of the work. In 2015 when Julia and I started working on the project, we had a strong instinct that the process would become part of the work. This was reflected in our original 3 night performance work consisting of: a public discussion; an immersive ritual and a theatrical interlude – all taking place within our workspace which was littered with our thoughts and ramblings all over the wall – an ode to the process that never stops.
You decided to invite LOTS of women to participate in this year’s edition of the plastic orgasm, why?
VF: It was really important that in the third iteration of this project, that we incorporated the voices and bodies of other women in our work. Now more than ever we need as many female voices and bodies in theatre and by accepting anyone who responded to our online call-outs, meant that we were able to honour the need for more bodies on stage than our own. We intend to continue to instigate projects that focus on socially engaged practices, embracing more diverse collaborative relationships on a larger scale – watch this space.
What did you most enjoy about the process of making this work with 20 other women? and what are the challenges of such a large scale collaboration?
VF: My favourite thing about the process was the way we all worked together. Most of the participants didn’t know each other prior to the project, but somehow, everyone seemed to manage to work really well together. And it felt very communal. Whilst we were doing a re-adaptation of the original Plastic Orgasm show, it felt like the new cast really managed to bring parts of themselves into the piece and take ownership over it. It was truly magical to watch and most definitely one of the projects I am most proud of.
When you think about your own processes for making a ‘performance work’ do you have a formula you follow or is every piece a different process?
VF: Every process is different, depending on what it is about and who I am collaborating with. For me the trick is to keep it as malleable as possible so that it can bend and stretch depending what feels right in the moment. In general it consists of a long period of research prior to any practical rehearsals. Working on a variety of professional and independent rehearsal processes, I have come to find that deviating from the standard 9-5 works best for the type of work I create. For me, the process is more important than the product so ensuring that this time is well thought out and suits the needs of the project is key.
Do you see your artistic process as a feminist practise? And if so how?
VF: Yes – I think so. I like to think that as often as I can, I am removing the patriarchal structures that seem to be ingrained in theatrical processes. Rather than the idea of this “one voice of god” who dictates how a piece should be, I like my work to feel like an open forum where everyone is on a level playing field. To me, that is a feminist practise.
So Victoria and Kayleigh, why did want to be involved with the plastic orgasm?
Victoria Abbott (VA): A chance to work with that many women is rare and I also wanted to get my ass out of my house.
Kayleigh Haworth (KH): I’d known both Virginia and Julia for a while, I sort of missed out on forming a collaborative relationship with either of them. There was something so fascinating to me about the intricate mania they dabbled in, and I sort of fell in love. ‘No dancing’ felt so in line with the internal journey I was taking at that point, and assuaged a lot of the anxieties I was having about creating my own work. When the open call went out for TPO 2.0, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to come play.
What was your experience of the process of rehearsing/co-creating/being to create the latest version of the ‘plastic orgasm’?
VA: Really gentle, embodied sharing of space. The show itself is a beautifully aggressive and manic rhythm that then becomes more syrupy but the making process was really ‘give what you are able’ and then received generously and the editing happened off site and was clear. People had very different tastes and ideas and we were able to explore off in different directions then come and show each other.
KH: For me, the entire experience was incredibly restorative – My year had already taken shape as one that asked more questions than it answered, and I’d felt a bit lost in the inertia of myself. Even in the very first rehearsal I had this sort of intense experience of being scooped up and cradled by some of the most incredible women – many of whom I wouldn’t ordinarily cross paths with. That alone would have been more than enough, but to then be given ultimate permission – to just be allowed to exist in an unlimited context – in the gentlest and most meaningful of ways TPO 2.0 handed me back to myself.
How do you think your individual creative process differs from a collective process like this one?
KH: A lot of my work has been created for very specific contexts, often alone and usually as part of an insane juggling act between carving out time to create and the reality of having to hold down a full time job. Alone, my process tends to be drawn out, created in fits and spurts, then left to sort of percolate til there’s another window to continue. There’s typically a hefty dose of agonizing introspection, anxiety around ‘perfection’ and a fuck tonne of procrastinating.
In contrast, it felt entirely liberating to not have to be the sole power source for TPO 2.0 – to be able to fluidly switch between making offers and taking offers, and shed any sense of right or wrong. It’s a lot less confronting to be vulnerable nestled in a murmuration of women you love.
What do you think the relationship is between feminism and creative process?
VA: The way the space is shared is very telling. It’s immediately apparent if this is just a dominant hierarchy structure in disguise by even just the shapes people sit in on that first meet. Then it’s the space to speak and be heard and hold difference without having to order that into things like ‘useful/not useful’, ‘good idea/bad idea’ etc. It means a larger spectrum of ideas are present, and often in a make what is useful becomes clear next to the rest of the things you’re working with, rather than on first offer. That space sharing and holding of many views and tastes and experiences and preferences is a feminist way of working to me.
I’m interested in feminist practise in all aspects of life, and I’m wondering if you found this project “feminist” in process?
KH: I think any action that creates/holds space for lots of different types of women to come together, to speak and be heard and seen, to uphold one another, to mend, to feel a sense of meaning, to ask questions and make statements without any fear of rejection or retribution is inherently attempting to be feminist. For me personally this project aligned well with my needs, but I also have to acknowledge that as a white cis woman, my needs are not necessarily representative of all women, all the time, everywhere. I don’t think I have any right to declare the whole process ‘feminist’, plonk my full stop on it and act like the conversation ends there.
How do you think process informs the end artwork?
VA: We didn’t lose the individual performers to a mob, or clumping in the same way that can happen in that other way of making. There was flocking, but people came in and out of flocking rhythms based on individual preference rather than a fixed rule. Because there wasn’t a ‘spotlight’ to claim, there was more active coming forward and backward into the front so I think the piece took a more organic and moveable shape from night to night. It was messy in the best way. You got to observe as well as be in it. There was space for that.
Do you have anything else you want to say ?
KH: In no particular order (because it’s 2:15am and I’m not even sure I’m making sense anymore) these are some things that I learnt whilst doing TPO, creating alone and from spending lots of time figuring out how and why feminism is really important:
– Be open to the idea that that you might sometimes be wrong. It’s good to get really comfortable with being wrong, so you can get over it quickly and not waste precious time and energy being wrong and doing nothing about it.
– Red wine, mayonnaise and cantaloupe all sting the same when they’re in your eye.
– Trust that sometimes you might just be right. Have the grace to not be a jerk about it.
– It might seem virtuous/logical/powerful to ‘dismantle the masters house with the masters tools’, but using his tools upholds his way of working. Burn the house down.
– Be aware of your privileges. Being aware is good. Looking for ways you can leverage those things to create space for others to speak for themselves is better.
– Intersectionality is more important than your occasional discomfort. Always and forever.
– The egg doesn’t swim to the sperm. Never ever let a cis-het man make you doubt your work, your word or your worth.
Curated by Sara Cowdell