It’s almost impossible these days to leave your house and not be bombarded with images of how you should look, dress and feel. Citizen Theatre will be examining obsessions with “looking perfect” in their unique work, Ascent. Imagine if this obsession with self-improvement results in improving yourself to death.
“Ascent has been the result of months and months of workshops, writes and rewrites, video and photographic documentation, experiments with weird movement and wacky music and lots of laughs and creative fun in the rehearsal room,” Artistic Director Jayde Kirchert says. “Ascent embodies a rigorous and thorough approach to music theatre making that is starting to establish a unique process for Citizen Theatre.”
The company is also in the process of creating an 8-part documentary series detailing the process of putting Ascent together. The four episodes already posted can be viewed on the Citizen Theatre website with more to be added.
Along with their experimental use of song, voice and musical elements, Ascent also incorporates optical illusions with movement and light which includes the creation of some giant versions of small body parts, which Kirchert is most eager to unveil on audiences.
JK: I love our giant hand! It’s made up of two backs, a thigh and four legs. The scene depicts a manicure, but of gigantic proportions. I’m also particularly fond of another scene where we create a really long arm made up of four arms, and of course, the “Smell Song” is a highlight too.
With the body puppetry work required for this show, the process of making Ascent has had the creators changing the way they would normally create the show.
JK: The puppetry is quite magical because even though you know how the illusions are created, the eye wants to believe the body is doing unbelievable things. It takes us a moment to remember ‘Oh this is actually two people and it’s not real!’. A lot of the time though, the actors don’t get to see the magic until they watch the videos back. Because it is created like dance choreography most of the time, they don’t necessarily have the same actor experience as they would in an ordinary play. It’s a different process – usually I would work ‘inside out’ but in this project it was essential to work ‘outside in’ – i.e. create the shapes and images in the space, then the actors make it meaningful from there. We’re just starting to approach the ‘inside’ work now, so it will be interesting to see what that brings with it.
While body image and the societal pressure to look a certain way has traditionally been something women have faced, it is also become a problem for men, which is something that Ascent is looking at addressing.
JK: I have felt pressure to look a certain way, particularly since I grew up dancing. It’s the kind of thing you don’t realise the full impact of until you have some time away from it. In music theatre, there are definitely particular expectations for how you ought to look, especially when going for certain kinds of roles. Sometimes this is dictated by international casting choices, but it doesn’t make the pressure any less real for those who are impacted by it, no matter how talented they are.
Jean Kilbourn started researching this decades ago, but watching her videos on the ways the media presents female bodies still feels so current. There seems to be increasing pressure on many of us to look young and youthful for as long as possible, which is one of the things we look at in the piece. There is a whole other digital self now that many people, not just women, have to deal with too, which is a more recent phenomenon. It seems that whilst once the pressure to look a certain way was once a woman’s concern, it now includes many other people for different reasons.
The best thing we can do is to encourage each other and affirm that we are worth more than what we look like. Our bodies are intelligent and know so much more than we often give them credit for and this is one of the key messages in the piece that we are using to combat these issues.
Read more about Ascent here.