Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with two great people, Vikki Chalklin and Bill Savage, to create a collection of sock puppet vignettes that take some of the most ridiculous myths surrounding fatness within society and then pushing them to their even more ridiculous logical ends. The project was framed by Vikki as related to ‘potential.’ I’ll let her words speak for themselves:
“This dialogue project will explore the problematics and limitations posed by ‘potential’ through the lens of body size and fat activism. Within the global context of the “Obesity Epidemic? fat bodies are not only despised, pathologised and ridiculed, but also imbued with the redemptive potential to become thin. This promise of shedding shameful fat in favour of a happier, healthier, slender self contains within it assumptions and impositions that are the focus of this dialogue project. Potential is often bestowed upon us by institutions or individuals bearing supposedly superior knowledge or expertise, be they teachers, parents or health professionals. In such hierarchical encounters, potential becomes a vehicle for a disciplinary command tied up with norms, value judgements and the mentor’s own conception of success. But what knowledges, experience and frameworks of achievement does this obscure?” – quoted from: http://www.thisisperformancematters.co.uk/words-and-images.post123.html
We each wrote two scripts and then set to work creating the puppets and filming them on one long and hilarious afternoon. I don’t have anything to show you here as there’s some talk of submitting the film to festivals, either a revised version or the quick n’ dirty we have now. But I wanted to talk a bit about the experience as it’s the first bit of activism I’ve had a chance to do here in the UK and it’s a very different style than anything I’ve done before.
First – it wasn’t my idea! There was a lot of relief and quite a bit of joy in that. It was fun to be a part of a collaborative effort that gathered itself around someone else’s vision. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that and I’d forgotten how different (and good!) it feels. I like seeing the light in someone else’s eyes when they know they’re on to something. I like having something to contribute to help make it possible. It’s kind of like an energetic ‘kickstarter’ campaign. Someone has a good thought, everyone does what they can to bring it to fruition. Vikki and Bill were an excellent team, super supportive of ideas and welcoming, no weird ego stuff, dedicated to fun and good politics. Definitely doing it right.
Second – it involved the actual production of something performative. I’ve facilitated other people’s performance before. I’ve performed a bit as well (singing at the first Fat Girl Speaks, and my band playing at the last). But that was never the point for me. The point came resoundingly to center when I stood at the back of the venue, hands clutched over my heart, watching the interaction of the audience and the performers and feeling so full-up of joy that I could barely stand it. My point felt quiet, kinda secret – just me in the back of the room after all the contracts were signed and the venues booked and the social media monopolized. When I got to gauge if it worked. (It being the point of the whole thing: to make people feel better. Whether it was something someone said on stage that shifted their perspectives forever, or whether it was just for that moment.)
Conversely, in the context of this project, the performance itself *was* the central element. All that planning went into a different kind of end result. A thing. Not a time or place or event. It’s a different kind of creation. Like writing a book instead of editing an anthology. I feel I’m circling my point here and lack of sleep/caffeine means I’m likely not to find it. But this felt different in a fun way. More creative. Less administrative.
Third – this wasn’t created for a politically aware fat audience. I’m sure politically aware fat people would find it entertaining if not altogether educational – like being ‘in’ on the joke. But this wasn’t for them. It was for a specific kind of audience — an educated collection of performers who were there to think about performance itself. I’d wager 95% of our audience had never heard the phrase “fat activist” or, if they had, had never bothered to give it further thought. I felt quite nervous as the video started to play and that nervousness was different than my usual pre-event jitters. I felt much more vulnerable *personally*. It’s the difference between preaching on a corner soapbox or standing up in front of your own congregation. There’s an expectation of agreement in the latter that is definitely not there in the former. Anything could have happened in the discussion afterwards. Although, of course, our own fat bodies being present in the room and the radical position of the film itself likely shifted the possibility of people asking questions they might have asked were no fatties actually present. There was a sense that quite a few questions went unasked which is both fortunate and unfortunate. Though perhaps some inner dialogue was triggered by the realization that they had questions which would have been inappropriate to ask.
So — the experience was really wonderful and it definitely has me thinking. As Vikki and Bill are both well advanced of myself in terms of education (both PhD, both actively teaching) I did feel a bit in over my head intellectually. But I also felt valuable. And excited to be learning new ways of being in the world as a political and creative person! Fat Activism in the UK! My first dabble was a wonderful experience.