Monday 21 August 2017

Ode To Man - Melbourne Fringe Festival preview

There was a time when the ideal man was depicted as someone physically strong, being unemotional and considered the provider of his family. These stereotypes have done neither men nor women any favours. After her critically acclaimed season at the 2015 Melbourne Fringe Festival with We May Have To Choose, performance artist Emma Mary Hall returns to the festival with Ode To Man, in which she smashes through these stereotypes with poetic rage.

Ode to Man's structure is set around 15 chapters, with Hall exploring what being a 'real' man is, means and should be to both men and women. "The show was sparked by a traumatic break up, which resulted in me spending two years interviewing almost 100 men (including every man I dated during that time) and asking them what it was to be a real man," she explains. "The show is me telling you what I heard. It's also about me trying to figure out how to live with their answers."

Hall premiered this work at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) earlier this year to a sell-out season for what she refers to as a very personal and strange show. "It was wonderful to be working at the limits of my understanding of the work and what these ideas might say to others. There's a lot of discussion these days about gender and disconnection and confusion, but I don't see much work that is linking this confusion to the social and economic decisions we might make," she tells me.

"We received some amazing responses from the audience too. One man came with his girlfriend (who he'd met at sex positivity class!) and loved the show so much he asked me out for ice cream. Another audience member wrote to me to tell me it spoke to her on a deep emotional level that she needed time to be able to put into words. There's some sort of mysterious frequency in the piece that people are picking up on, which I like."

The audience at Ode To Man has included some of Hall's ex-partners and men she has gone on dates with, but fortunately the reactions have also been positive. "During my MICF season, on one night there were three men in the audience who I'd met through online dating - one of whom I hadn't spoken to since our one and only date three years ago! He loved it. At least I think he did, he might have been too scared of me to say otherwise," Hall says. "But it's generally been received really well by the men who've seen it, especially those over 30. I think the men of my generation are as confused as I am about what is expected of them in love and life. The work is giving me and them a safe space to talk about this."

There have been some changes to the show since its premiere, including the addition of a new chapter that Hall is keen to unleash on Fringe audiences, but she is aware that there is an end point with this show. "I had been trying to write the new chapter for over six months, but Emma the human just wasn't there yet, emotionally or psychologically. Emma the artist had to wait for her to catch up! The piece feels truthful now, and complete. I'm really so excited to share it in this new and final stage," she explains. "I think Ode to Man necessarily has a shelf life, because I am writing about a finite window in a woman's life, when she is wondering about fertility and motherhood and what her options might be. I'm almost completely out of that tunnel now. It won't do for me to stay onstage in the tunnel for much longer."

As with both We May Have To Choose and Ode To Man, Hall hopes her future work will continue exploring issues and ideas in which audiences are encouraged to question things about themselves and the society they live in. "I'm not sure there is any other type of art, is there? I don't know how to make any other type anyway. All theatre is social, and I can only write about issues I am confused about, because art to me is research. It is me saying to the audience, have you thought about this? Can you help me work it out? I don't need to write about something that is already known. Where can you go with that?"

Five Quick Ones

Art is a conversation in many different languages all at the same time.

The best live show I've seen is Forced Entertainment's Quizoola. Or Einstein on the Beach. I also saw Cat Power perform once when she jumped offstage and lay on the ground in the mosh pit singing a soft sad song into a microphone, that was really great.
A song that describes my life is all of the existential German hip hop I've been listening to this week. Daggy, mainly solo, and virtually indecipherable.
The best advice I was ever given is the problem with men is daughters don't listen to their mothers. 
A food I can't live without is avocado. How good is avocado. I can't believe they just grow like that.

Show Information

Venue: Fringe Hub - Arts House, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Season: 15 - 22 September | Tues - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 6:30pm
Length: 55 minutes

Tickets: $25 Full | $20 Conc/Group 6+/Preview | $17 Cheap Tuesday
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

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