Review: UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW (Worldstage)

Untitled Feminist Show

Music, movement and song celebrate the feminine in UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW at Toronto’s Worldstage

When the house lights dimmed at UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW (playing at WorldStage) and I first saw a fat, black, naked woman walking calmly through the audience, it deeply affected me, even though I had seen promotional material, including pictures, and knew what to expect. I’m probably not active enough to call myself a “fat activist”, but let’s call me a fat activism enthusiast, and I’m definitely a nakedness enthusiast. I have seen and loved many a fat naked body before. But this was different than in a private residence, or at Hanlon’s. This was theatre. And theatre is a celebration.

Theatre, to some extent, always deifies the representations onstage, in that we have to watch them, we are compelled, we have no choice. So to see naked bodies, some of them fat, some of them racialized and one of them genderqueer, owning a stage before a rapt audience was like a religious experience for me. It was like there was finally a form of public worship I could believe in.

The show involved a lot of dance, lovely choreography that told narratives I could always follow, whether it was a fairy tale with a cannibalistic monster or a touchingly sweet love story. The person sitting beside me, who turned out to be a dance expert of some importance, noted afterward that she had heard some controversy over whether UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW should be considered dance, and in her opinion it was not; it was theatre. I agree wholeheartedly.

It also wasn’t a play. There was no dialogue, no verbalization except in grunts and occasionally singing – and only one song seemed to be in a real language, one that was not English. There’s also no narrative arc: it’s more like vignettes where each one is meant to make you feel some aspect of what it is like to have been born female-bodied. It’s not a play, it’s not dance, but it is most definitely theatre.

It’s a highly comedic show. I’m afraid I may have bothered the formerly mentioned esteemed seat-neighbour by losing my mind with laughter during one scene where a performer offers sex acts to members of the audience in increasingly graphic mime.

I was also particularly enamoured of a scene where a performer sings badly. To me (I cannot carry a tune. I have tried. It invariably slips through my fingers) it seemed like it was quite real, that this woman was not a good singer, which had probably plagued her through her career. But this show allowed her to receive appreciative laughter and applause out of her willingness to sing proudly, loudly, and out of tune.

The musical choices were great and also very appropriate. They were recognizable songs with the lyrics stripped out – much like how these women had recognizable body types that we don’t usually see stripped down. (We see each other’s bodies all the time, wrapped in clothes, while supermodels who are already thin, and photoshopped to be impossibly thinner, are featured mostly-naked on billboards and magazine covers all around us.) I recognized Fischerspooner and Radiohead and I’m sure I also know the metal song, and it is going to bother me until I figure out what it is.

In the metal number, a performer with long hair thrashes around the stage, then headbangs her way into – and on top of – the audience, then returns to the stage to get into a slow motion fistfight. It’s as ridiculous and amazing as it sounds.

The nudity might sound like a cheap trick, but I felt it became more and more meaningful throughout the show. How better to comment on the intricacies of gender that to have a gender non-conforming person, whose body very much reads as such, totally naked onstage, playing masculine and feminine postures against each other? How better to challenge body weight stigma than to have fat women plié-ing and cartwheeling around the stage with thinner women – and to have them all electric-shock shaking, the thinner women’s cellulite right along with the fat women’s.

I haven’t even talked about the most explicitly feminist number yet, but you know what? I won’t. Go to the show and see it yourself. It’s great, I promise you.

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Photograph of the production by Julieta Cervantes.