What: A Piece For An Odd Place & The Want
When: February 5-8
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Created by: The Stain
Directed by: Anni Davey
Performed by: Cleomantra Cutcher, Penny Ikinger, KT Prescott, The Stain, The 50ft Queenie Choir, Tomoka Yamasaki, and Rebekah Zechner.
Lighting by: Simon Coleman
I am just going to say it. This performance was one of the most rousing, beautiful, energetic and intelligent experiences I have had in years. The Stain are presenting two of their works at La Mama Courthouse this weekend. The first is a short performance art creation aptly named A Piece For An Odd Place, which is then immediately followed by an homage to music women of modern history in The Want.
I interviewed Jo Franklin and Francesca Sculli, the two creative drivers of this amazing performance ensemble, for M.A.F. earlier this week but it did not prepare me in any way for how truly mind blowing this performance would be. I have news for everyone – performance art is back, baby!
A Piece For An Odd Place begins with Helen Tuton (The Stain drummer) creating a simple 4/4 beat on the drums, and Sarah Blaby (special Stain basist) and Franklin overlaying sonic distortions in a very non-melodic fashion. It was exciting to be taken back to the days of distorted electric guitar. It is such a unique and penetrating sound.
The stage had a white table with a big bit of butchers paper on it. The paper had the silhouettes of shapes drawn on similar to a tool shadow board – or outlines of dead bodies, and a huge tin bowl of water. Moving/dancing around these objects are two nurses (Cutcher and Yamasaki) dressed and moving like marionettes.
As you watch them perform the drumming starts to feel a bit like a heart beat and the dissonance feels like some sort of presage or warning. Sculli enters looking oddly out of shape and uptight with hair tightly pinned, a pastel eighties style suit with massive shoulder pads and pants all the way up to her rib cage. There is something reminiscent of Igor from Frankenstein in her demeanour and this carries through to the performance.
The nurses and Sculli start having cosmetics emerging from very unexpected places and they are placed on the table in their appropriate places, creating a work bench. The nurses then leave. I always feel there is something mesmerising about watching a woman put on makeup, and it is even more so as we watch Sculli do it without a mirror.
A Piece For An Odd Place is a work which deconstructs its themes, but it harkens to a time when deconstruction was to be feared and was not trendy. Prescott creates some really exciting and interesting shadow puppetry and Coleman’s lighting is precise and absolute perfection in this piece. Warning – A Piece For An Odd Place contains nudity.
The Want is an amazing concert style theatrical performance with all the drive and energy of rebellious music from the sixties, seventies, and early eighties (yes, there was rebellion in the eighties...). The Stain created this performance about ‘women who were pioneers in rock music and punk’.
In my interview with them, Franklin and Sculli explained that for them punk is about women who challenge and dare to be outside the mainstream. Amidst an amazing line up of music and guests there is a plethora of video and audio snippets of women we have all heard of, even if we don’t know there work well: Souxsie Sioux, Chrissi Hynde, Annie Lennox... There is an amazing speech from Patti Smith and a wonderful mashup homage to Suzi Quattro.
This is not merely a tribute concert though. This is still performance art and there is socio-political commentary through the work. The Stain have created a feminist piece, but not a mysandronic one. This is a performance honouring female cultural elders.
Rebekah Zechner (from Bracode) does a guest appearance giving us one of the most rousing renditions of She Bop I have ever heard, and The Stain contextualise this song within the pop landscape in a way that was revelationary for me. It turns out that my Suzi Quattro/Cindy Lauper/Divinyls CD’s may indicate that I am really quite punk at heart after all – in terms of punk being a liberation of the female.
Penny Ikinger – guitar virtuoso and fuzz queens - gives a mesmerizing performance on what is probably the oldest electric guitar I have ever seen. Oh, but the sound is amazing and authentic. That very unique sound of amp distortion and electronic feedback, when handled by a master cannot be ignored. Over the top of her playing is a voice over explaining that playing the electric guitar is a right for men, but must be earned by women. Meantime, Ikinger is almost masturbating with the strings as she creates this intricate sonic landscape.
The music in the show are covers, but I have to say that the interpretation of Patti Smith’s ‘Because The Night’ is positively soulful in its rendition, and a similar approach is given to the Divinyl’s ‘Boys In Town’. The Stain are an amazing band. I want to say Tuton is one of the best drummers I have ever heard, but that implies that maybe the rest of the musicians are somehow lacking – they are not! This is an amazing music ensemble. Franklin’s vocal harmonies are also as surprising as they are impactful.
The Want does not get trapped in the past either. It tracks the traditions right through to modern times and their homage to Pussy Riot is powerful and moving and unforgettable – just like Pussy Riot themselves. Joined on stage by The 50ft Queenie Choir – a collection of the most beautiful women and singers of all shapes and sizes – a storm builds and then erupts. A storm that cannot be denied and demands continuation into the future.
Everybody should see The Stain perform. To see is to gain insight into womanhood in all it’s glory and passion and despair.