By Niki Campbell, Content Manager @Stagedoor.
Grief is a universal issue. If you haven’t experienced it as a result of loss, perhaps you can identify with the sensation that the world is, for many, a scary place to be right now.
Whether personal or global, it’s all a bit much sometimes. But rest assured…
In London, in a damp underground maze made up of brick tunnels and mysterious passages, some humans are up to some really beautiful things: VAULT Festival is entering it’s 6th and final week for 2017 and there’s still lots to see!
One of those humans is Bristol based performance artist Viki Browne, who is returning at VAULT Festival following her award winning solo show HELP! with her latest work The Gran Show.
Viki’s work is “collagic, begging borrowing and stealing from performance art, fine art, stand up comedy, spoken word and cabaret.”
Starting out as a writer/ director and working now predominantly as a solo artist, her previous works have tackled mental health issues and taboo subjects such as depression, anxiety, self-help, suicide, disaster and most recently grief.
On transforming from director to performer she recalls asking herself:
“Why do I make theatre? Do I like theatre? I don’t know if I do”
She continues “I wanted something that felt more alive and one of the ways that I do that is by putting myself, as myself, in that space, with an audience.”
I think it’s a misconception that performing alone on stage implies outward confidence. In fact many artists are driven toward this form precisely because they struggle to express these things in day to day life. Viki explains:
“The work that I make, which is solo, directly engages with vulnerability… I’m making work about things that are happening to me rather than things that are happening to a fictional character for another world”
She explains “Off stage I am not okay with vulnerability at all — This is the place where I explore that.”
Mainstream theatre is so often designed to sell. And so it should be. Funding for the arts, as we well know, is scarce and often the only way to make a production work is to get a well known actor or focus on a well known, perhaps overdone topic.
And bravo to those productions, some of them, because people love it. But what happens when a person stands alone in an almost empty room and dares to tell you who they really are?
“This is a personal story, I’m just Viki and I’m going to show it to you”
For those who can identify with that person in front of them, the experience can be overwhelming. And for Viki, the response can be equally overwhelming—she is regularly approached after the show by people seeking to share their own stories, “That’s why I make the work, I love that bit, that’s the best bit!”
“I believe stories are very important to all performances. The life story of the performer shapes their work, and the life stories of the audience alter how they receive the work, what they read into the performer.” MARINA ABRAMOVIC
Viki’s latest venture, The Gran Show is about grief, or rather it is grief, she explains: “It’s actually been my process of grieving, and it’s taken a long time.”
It’s fair to say that grief is a universal topic and that it is different for everyone. Some culture’s celebrate death and others prefer to hide from it, but for many it is simply difficult to talk about. Perhaps because the process of grieving never stays still.
In the show, Viki makes various attempts to get close to her Grandmother, whom she has lost. She uses a photo album to re create images of her, using her own body as a mirror, she sings, she dances, she exaggerates memories and ultimately finds she cannot reach her.
“I’m sort of the sad clown in this piece” she says, regarding the surprising amount of comedy she has found in what was intended to be “a serious show about death.”
The Gran Show has been a living breathing work in progress for two years now. I asked what that process looks like:
“Things happen in my life, then I shut the door in a room and the piece happens — I normally do quite a lot of dancing and quite a lot of writing”
This show in particular has been challenging as it is an honest account of an ongoing process. And whilst the show has found its form and is ready for a new run, and hopefully an appearance at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it will continue to grow, she explains: “It changes because I change.”
There will be laughter, there might even be tears, and as Viki says:
“Hopefully with dancing grapefruits and wings and fake tan we can start having a conversation [about death] that is slightly less loaded and pressured, that’s an honest; this is where I am, this is where you are, let’s talk about this thing that’s a bit tricky.”
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