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On Gym Party, Beauty and Marshmallows

On Wednesday 19 February 2014, the live art company Made in China brought their show Gym Party to the Cambridge Junction.  It was the first night of a national tour which will take them to 15 venues over the next 3 months, including the Edinburgh Traverse, Manchester Royal Exchange, Colchester Arts Centre and Pulse Festival in Ipswich.  Made in China was founded by Jessica Latowski and playwright Tim Cowbury.  I’m friends with the other two people in the company, Christopher Brett Bailey and Ira Brand.

I work at the Cambridge Junction, and so for several months I have been looking up from my computer to gaze at the large wall in the theatre’s foyer opposite the Box Office, which houses a profuse jostling of closely-pasted theatre, music and comedy posters.  My eyes would travel across the wall and pause at the pictures of Chris and Ira on the Gym Party poster, because it was interesting to know the flesh-and-blood human counterparts to the tiny, flat avatars on the paper, to have gotten drunk with the human Chris the last time he was in Cambridge and staying in my spare room.

Gym Party is situated on the nebulous borderline between theatre and ‘live art’, a genre of artistic performance that struggles with conventional definitions and boundaries, but which is usually an experimental, conceptual, raw type of live performance.  Gym Party is scripted and theatrically conceived, but it is also interactive and highly conceptual.  It draws heavily on the true personal experiences of the performers, who use their real names and perform as their real selves (to a certain, unknown extent).  It obeys the ancient formula of theatre by weaving a dramatic narrative to please, entice and entertain the audience; but into the enchanted space that Gym Party creates, it heaves vast philosophical questions and both the light and darkness embedded in the human experience. This is the story of how Gym Party would interact with me, particularly, and how it would tease up from the subconscious mulch of my psyche several poignant matters for consideration.

On the night that Gym Party came to Cambridge, Oberon had also drifted through town on a fairy whim and instructed Puck to smear wild pansy juice on my eyelids; or, to put it more plainly: just before the show started, and after a long, long spell of mourning my last relationship and being single, I was asked on a date by a man I had known for a while and liked very much – a drink in The Flying Pig, to happen immediately after Gym Party finished.  So I settled into my seat in J2 (the Cambridge Junction’s theatre space) with Amazonian butterflies flapping around in my stomach, and with my heart and mind peculiarly opened to hear what Gym Party might have to say.

The house lights went down, and against the black of the stage appeared three names in glowing, cursive, neon tubing: ‘CHRIS’, ‘JESS, and ‘IRA’.  Then more of the stage lights came up, and the three of them bounded onto the stage, dressed in identical outfits of white tank tops and white gym shorts, reminiscent of school PE kits, each wearing a differently-coloured chin-length wig from the spectrum of improbable hair colours that ultra-cool Japanese teenagers would favour: apple green, bubblegum pink and chemical blue.  They introduced themselves and their individual ‘theme tunes’ – three pumping, popular anthems – and they explained that there were now going to be a series of ‘contests’, and only one of them could win each one.  Then a man’s deep, stylish voice boomed out over the theatre’s sound system like the announcer on an American game show from the Eighties – a voice that is only ever a voice and never connected back to a real person – who organised, controlled and summarised the contests.  This was a type of voice I knew well from my childhood in America, which was spent watching a lot of television, prior to my permanent transplantation to the UK at the age of 23. At this point, all was light and happy.

 

Round 1

The first contest in Round 1 was Marshmallows.  How many marshmallows could Chris, Jess and Ira fit into their mouths before being compelled by their gag reflexes to spit them all out?  Winner: Jess! The second contest in Round 1 was Skittles.  How many Skittles thrown in bursts from the audience could each of them catch?  Winner: Chris!  The third contest in Round 1 was Dizzy Racing.  Who could run to the finish line first after spinning around ‘lots and lots of times’?  Winner: Jess!

Gym Party marshmallows

It was genuinely hilarious and sweet.  In Dizzy Racing, Ira simply fell down with her legs splayed like a toddler and sat, dazed, not even attempting the finish line.  And, of course, these are the types of games that little kids would think of playing. The audience was thoroughly entertained and laughed uproariously.  The feel of the piece was jokey, safe, well-lit.

But towards the end of Round 1, the perfectly conceived, childlike abstraction of the games began to subtly reflect the philosophical questions that Gym Party would ask in various ways throughout, and much more directly towards the end: Why do we play the games we do, as adults?  Are they the right games?  Who is a ‘winner’?  Who is a ‘loser’?

At the end of Round 1, Chris, Jess and Ira put their arms around each other and spoke of their togetherness, taking turns finishing each others’ sentences.  They said that they were really close: they were ‘one, a pack, a whole’.  This would become a refrain they would chime throughout the piece.  It was a significant conceptual shift that highlighted the different ways we can we view other people: moving from a paradigm of competition and separation to an idea of dissolved boundaries and oneness.  The movement between these two conceptual poles would continue during the rest of the show; but the show would also explore deeper nuances in these concepts than simply aligning togetherness with ‘good’ and separateness with ‘bad’.  However, this moment of togetherness was warm and felt good.  Then the announcer informed the audience that it was now time for the winner, Jess, to give her winner’s speech.  Her neon name on the back of the stage was lit up, the other two names went dark, and Chris and Ira left the stage.  Jess gave a comic, effusive speech.

After Jess finished speaking, the announcer told us that it was time for the losers to do their ‘Penalisation’.  When Chris and Ira came back on stage, a thin trickle of blood spilled from each of their noses.  The red from the blood was in sharp contrast to their pale faces, their white gym outfits, and to the upbeat game show atmosphere they had created in the first part of the piece.  It was a bit chilling.  Then the stage lights went dark and they each stood in a small pool of white light and hit themselves, hard, on the chest, with a fist, in a slow rhythm, with the sound of each smack reverberating out into the now completely silent audience.  You could see the force they were using in the shaking rebound of their hands and hear the volume of each hit as it landed.

The silence in the audience became thick as we absorbed the change in atmosphere.  This dramatic emotional gear-shift was a powerful re-enactment of the outward re-positioning in life that follows ‘outcomes’, and the psychological darkness that can fall inside ourselves when we have ‘lost’.  The physical violence suggested by the nosebleeds evoked both the penalisations we suffer from society for ‘losing’ at something, and the inner violence we feel…like when we ‘beat ourselves up’ after we’ve lost.  It was a bold, violent, dark dramatic move that showed Made in China’s artistic prowess.  It showed us that as much as they intended to explore this issue playfully, abstractly, humorously, and philosophically – they were also going to explore it darkly.

For me, this part of the show struck a personal chord.  All of my close friends at one point or another have pointed out that I am extraordinarily hard on myself when I feel I have failed at something.  I don’t think this is actually a natural characteristic of my true self.  I think it results from the particular nature of the philosophies woven around me by my parents and culture as I grew up.  I can remember being about 11-years-old and with my Mom in the changing room in the Holiday Inn in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, where I grew up.  They had an indoor pool and a little hot-tub and sauna, and you could pay $10 to go there and swim.  I was crazy for water.  I was one of those naturally fish-like children who can amuse themselves for hours in water.  When I was older and doing casual jobs as a teenager, I worked as a lifeguard at various pools and waterfronts, and when I came to Cambridge to study, I worked as a tour guide on the river here – I went for any job that would let me be near water.  My middle name is Lorelei, which is German for ‘mermaid’, and that’s what I felt like.  And occasionally for a treat, my Mom would take me to the Holiday Inn pool.

There was another woman in the changing room with us, and as American women will do when they are getting completely naked with each other, the two of them began to chat.  I remember being in my usual water-junkie state of agitation when the payoff was close – I just wanted to get to the pool as quickly as possible.  The changing room at the Holiday Inn was a tiny labyrinth, with little, separate areas for the different elements – lockers, benches, toilets, showers, mirrors – branching off in different directions, with different corridors and doors leading to the hotel shop, main hotel area, outdoor patio, and –the only direction I cared about – the POOL.  We were not a well-off family, and this was a rare treat, so I could never remember which door led to the pool, but I used to find it by smell: the sweet cleanness of chlorine water dripped on stone and warmed by the tropical temperature in the pool area would seep through the edges of the pool door.  But first I had to get my swimsuit on.  I couldn’t help but listen to what they were saying as I stripped off my clothes and pulled my swimsuit out of the plastic carrier bag we used to take our stuff in.  I remember being half-naked as they started to discuss the nice range of swimsuits available for sale in the hotel shop.  ‘Of course, there’s nothing in there that would fit me’, my overweight mother said…‘they don’t sell swimsuits for baby whales’.  I remember sensing the discomfort radiating from the other woman, who didn’t know what to say and fell silent.  And I remember looking down at my chubby body and feeling really fat and ugly, like my mom thought she was.  And it felt like we were outsiders to regular female beauty, like it was a club we could never get into, because the size and shape of our body was just wrong.  Imbibing this philosophy about self-image from my mother during my childhood and adolescence eventually resulted in a violent form of self-hate based on how I looked.  It was the memory of this past damage and its still-existing shards that were summoned up from the bottom of my psyche by the sound of Chris and Ira’s fists striking themselves.

 

Teen Dance

Into the contemplative mood introduced by Penalisation and the new knowledge that Gym Party was going to entertain and delight us, but possibly also rend us, came the Teen Dance.  A rock ballad from the late 80’s played over the sound system, and Chris and Ira began to slow dance together in a spotlight, with straight arms and a square, awkward, poignant gap of air between them –the position that teens dance when they dance slow, paired off for the first time.  While Chris and Ira danced, Jess spoke a monologue about a moment from her adolescence when she was rejected from her group of friends and made an outcast.  Her monologue depicted her teen anguish and, significantly, its transformation into a blunt wish to be ‘be prettier, thinner, smarter, go with better looking boys than them’ .  I thought there was something very profound about the way Gym Party went into the past to examine the provenance and power of these moments of painful awakening to competitive aspects in our society.  For example, as in Jess’ story, school groups will form around power dynamics, where secretly insecure kids will dominate and reject other kids to make themselves feel stronger, creating a competitive hierarchy of social power.

Gym Party’s scrutiny of this issue helps unfold an awareness of how these moments reverberate into our adult lives, and of how these reverberations have the power to become our society – how these moments can become collectivised competitive wishes born out of unexamined past hurts and insecurities.   Gym Party subtly suggests that these moments could be both the result and the cause of the way things work at the moment – that we are all, to some extent, participating in a giant, regenerating chain of loss, hurt, betrayal, suppression that is asleep to its own nature – and which is transformed into the philosophies that surround us in our current culture: it’s better to be rich, powerful, pretty, and smart.  Gym Party would also explore the transformation of the ‘it’s better’ philosophy into its ugly cousin, ‘You are better if you are rich, powerful, pretty, smart.’

Of course not all kids will grow up and unconsciously recycle their hurts into competitive wishes, and therefore unconsciously uphold the dominant cultural philosophies in our society. Some of the kids will grow up to be artists and will thoughtfully explore their pain.  They will become conscious of what it’s about, where it came from, and then question the set of philosophies governing their culture, like the kids in Made in China.  They will ask, with a sense of childlike innocence, ‘Should society really be like this?’  In a way, the childlike innocence of the games in the first part of Gym Party becomes a philosophical vantage point in the piece, asking simply ‘Why can’t society be nicer?  Have nicer values?  Value people whether they win or lose?  Include everybody no matter what they look like or how much money they have?  Be one, a pack, a whole?’  Ask, ‘How much of the competition that surrounds us in society is actually unconscious, unexamined units of past pain?  Ask, ‘How asleep are we to all the ways we are unconsciously recycling old hurts…that we didn’t deserve and never should have had in the first place?’

Ira and Chris had stories, too…while Jess danced with Chris, Ira told a story about the sports day where suddenly losing meant that she was a loser, in the view of another girl.  And then, while Jess and Ira danced, Chris told his story about the time he was at a school dance and liked a girl, and confided this to his friend, who agreed to help him get her.  A ‘friend’ who Chris would discover later kissing the girl he liked in a dark corner of the school.   At the end of Chris’s story, he said, ‘And then I did this…’, and he walked over to a platform on the stage, climbed up onto it, picked up a guitar and sang a heart-wrenching indie-rock ballad, beautifully.  To me this felt symbolic of the bravery of art and art’s power during moments of loss to help us deconstruct our personal pain, strip it down to its elements, take its strength and insight, defuse its harmful aspects, and then transform ourselves into something new in its presence.  It was interesting that because he had moved from telling the story in a monologue to acting it out, his past self shimmered over his present self during the song, which was an evocation of how we are our past selves, our past stories, but we have become something new, too.

I don’t want to spoil the Gym Party for you if you haven’t seen it yet, so I won’t describe much more of the show, but I will tell you that in Rounds 2 and 3 it continues to thoughtfully explore these questions in surprising, rich, nuanced, and thought-provoking ways, showing a mastery of theatre as an artistic language.  Also, because it is a hybrid of theatre and live art, it has a kaleidoscopic feel – its elements are like variously coloured beads scrambled together in different patterns by the audience interaction – so the show will be slightly different each time it is performed, which is quite a fascinating update of the theatrical artistic medium.  I will tell you that there is a rousing bit of kissing that worked its charm particularly well on me, who was sitting in the audience speculating upon whether I was about to be kissed in roughly two hours’ time.  [Answer: I was.]

However, what came with the sweetness of a first kiss was the discovery of a few still-active shards of my old self-hate in the days after Gym Party and my first date.  It was as if they were shaken up to the top layer of my psyche by the warmth and turbulence of new romantic feelings combined with the magnifying glass of art which Gym Party trained upon these issues.  There was a particularly raw and salient moment in a later round of Penalisation, when Jess climbed up onto a pedestal, stripped to her underwear and stood in a spotlight, while Chris voiced a series of cutting remarks about her body (which had the feel of being her inner thoughts): ‘…for someone who is otherwise in pretty good shape – your thighs, Jess… the only polite word for your thighs would be chunky.   And the thing about that is that it’s just genetics.  It doesn’t matter how much you work out or go to the gym, they’re just gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger…You get this heat rash, this little constellation of pimples on your inner thigh, when you sweat.  It is disgusting to the audience and has been a major turn off to anyone who has been unlucky enough to go down on you.’

But the thing is, Jess is actually beautiful, and the moment had raw artistic power derived from its raw truth, because she stood there looking beautiful almost naked in the epicentre of a piece of art that she helped create with her beautiful mind and rich creative intuition.  The interplay of her actual beauty and power with the sneering criticism made up of broken units of psyche from a broken system of ideas showed each element in starker, truer definition through their contrast with each other: her intrinsic worth, beauty and power felt more true, and her critical thoughts felt more broken, more false.

So, post-Gym Party, I had a heightened awareness of these ideas.  Having known the new man casually for six months, I also knew his ex-girlfriend through the same friend network.  She is small, lithe and pretty.  I am not small or lithe, and I have never been sure whether I am pretty or not.  Gradually, in the days following our first date, the sweetness of looking forward to our second date kept being interrupted by a pop-up window in my mind comparing myself to her, unfavourably, and an uncomfortable, gnawing feeling of unworthiness.

I spent my adolescence measuring my appearance against girls in films, girls on television, descriptions of girls in books, and other girls in my high school – where our social hierarchies were arranged around the powers of beauty and wealth.  But the place I charted my own appearance, in line with the I Am A Baby Whale philosophy taught to me by my mother (and let’s not blame her – it was a gift from her mother and culture), was not even in the competition. As far as I was concerned, I was already a loser in that game.  I guess that a philosophical positioning on this for each child comes first from their parents, and then from the stories that surround them.  In the stories that surrounded me from American television, movies and books, only pretty girls ever had boys fall in love with them.  Have you ever noticed that 98% of romantic stories are only about attractive people?

So, something significant happened in my psyche – the birth of a logic theorem – which was a natural outcome of these two cultural/familial philosophies in combination (which I accepted as absolutely true, being only a child): ‘If only pretty girls experience romantic love, and I am not pretty – therefore I cannot experience romantic love’.  I experienced a sort of strange and stifled adolescent sexual awakening as a result of this blight in my psyche.

There was a really awesome teenage boy in my high school who really liked me when I was 15 – Chad.  He was like the real equivalent of Seth Cohen from the O.C.  He was a hot nerd.  He used to gaze at me across the cafeteria table and say sexily intelligent and inappropriate things like, ‘I want to lick your mouth’.  His naked teenage-boy desire, the constancy of his affection (lasting a year or two), the way he harnessed the combined social power of our friends to persuade me to go to the Homecoming Dance with him –all of this fell into a void inside myself created by my unquestioning acceptance of the Romance/Beauty Theorem in my psyche, where instead there should have been a normal, instinctive romantic and sexual response.  At the Homecoming Dance, when we were slow dancing, he said he wanted to kiss me.  I remember just feeling numb and saying, ‘no, no…no’.  I was unable to compute this situation.  It did not align with the program that my mother and culture had written for me.  I was like a robot whose wires were short-circuiting.  I still remember how we continued our shuffling two-step, straight-armed dance to an 80’s rock ballad, like Chris, Ira and Jess, in mutual sadness and confusion.

I had followed a broken path away from my natural child-like sense of feeling like a mermaid, a lorelei, towards a conception of female beauty as a competitive grid in which people with the ‘wrong’ shapes are ‘losers’ and ‘unworthy’ of love.  And I think my moment in the Holiday Inn changing room with my mother is so vivid in my memory because that was my moment of waking up to the broken game.  In many ways, Gym Party is a beautiful exploration of the sweet sleepiness of teenagers and the moments of awakening from that sleep.  It explores the progression from childhood to adulthood, and from unconsciousness to consciousness.  And it is about the sad shock of waking up to discover these strange contests embedded in adult life.  Like how in Gym Party the childlike wonder and gaiety of dizzy racing turns into nosebleeds and penance, as a kid becoming an adult you play these games, and then things get dark and sad.  You lose, but you don’t know why.

At some point several years later, I realised that I had really liked Chad, too.  We would have probably had a really sweet teen relationship.  He was obsessed with lizards.  He still is, as I see on Facebook.  I would have totally supported his fanaticism about lizards.

Two years after my slow-dance with Chad, I won a music scholarship to attend a high school for the performing arts, a boarding school in northern Michigan, and so I transferred away for our senior year.  My new high school, called Interlochen Arts Academy, was a strange and wondrous place compared to regular American high school.  We lived in dormitories, with two girls to each tiny room, with pairs of rooms connected by a bathroom, forming a ‘suite’.  Everyone studied their art form – music, dance, theatre, visual art, creative writing or photography – intensively for several hours a day, in addition to the usual academic subjects.  The school was a collection of scattered buildings in a forest between two big inland lakes, only about fifteen miles from the shore of Lake Michigan.  My suitemates were all robustly instinctive and healthy girls who loved me unreservedly from the beginning.

Interlochen girls dorm

One of the first things they did was strip off my two-sizes too big, unfashionable clothes one afternoon in the first week of school and put their own clothes on me.  I kept saying, ‘No, no – nothing you guys have will fit me.  I’m too big.  Stop – this is pointless.’  They just plowed on and had to actually manhandle me into Valerie’s navy Gap jeans while I protested and tried to stop them.  Valerie, you see, was beautiful.  She was tall with gorgeous legs, a skinny waist and lovely, full breasts.  I wanted them to stop because it would just hurt to have my ugliness displayed so nakedly to these beautiful creatures, and I already loved them and wanted them to love me back.  But when they pulled the jeans over my hips, I realised that they fit over my hips, and then they lifted my arms up like a baby and fastened the button around my waist, and I was wearing the jeans as if my body were similarly proportioned to Valerie’s body.   I can still remember my conceptual confusion over this.  Like the way my Romance/Beauty logic theorem collided with Chad’s behaviour towards me (which I had been unable to process), this moment of buttoning collided with the I Am An Ugly Baby Whale theorem.

I kept looking down at myself, puzzled.  Then they took my top off, and put one of Hilary’s pale blue jersey ballerina tops on me, which terrified me because a wide swath of skin from bra strap to bra strap and plunging down to the top slope of my breasts was alarmingly bare.  Then they put make up on me and pulled me into the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror.  I still couldn’t see anything good there, but I was in a state of shock.  Then they pushed me out into the corridor, said, ‘Don’t come back until you’ve talked to a boy’, and slammed the door.  I found a boy to talk to in the dining hall, whom I had met briefly the day before, called Nick, and after chatting to him for several minutes, I realised that he thought I was a different girl.  Many years later and after several years of counselling, I would realise that I probably had some form of body dysmorphic disorder, which resulted from not having a healthy philosophical understanding of beauty and a genuine belief in my own, unique, multi-faceted beauty.

But I still believed in the Romance/Beauty Theorem, and what changed was that evidence kept appearing suggesting that I was, possibly, sometimes in the ‘pretty’ range of the beauty chart.  I would spend my twenties and early thirties stacking and weighing evidence, still obeying the paradigm of a Romance/Beauty Theorem, but cautiously encouraged by certain evidence to believe I had a right to at least play the game.

[Monologuic Aside:

Once in 11th grade French, in my normal high school, Mrs. Johnson, noticing that I was staring out the window at the teacher’s parking lot and trying to attract my attention back to the lesson, said: ‘And Joy thinks she’s a natural beauty’, obviously commenting on the fact that I never did my hair or wore make-up, a bit unusually in comparison to the other 16-year-old girls in my high school.

Joy, aged 38, finally replies to Mrs Johnson (Joy, aged 16, had no fucking idea what to say to that): ‘Mrs. Johnson, I didn’t know how to do my hair or make-up, and I didn’t think I was any kind of beauty at all, and I was shocked to hear that word used in reference to me.  But I want to take this opportunity to tell you that even though your calling was to be a stand-up comedienne and spread mirth via sarcasm throughout our great nation, I’m so glad that you were my teacher instead, in both English and French, because although you said that to me, I could tell you genuinely cared about me and were trying to tell me something about the importance of developing womanly arts, and that because you stood in front of the class and lost your shit when we said ‘femme’ to rhyme with ‘them’ (incorrect), and shouted the correct pronunciation, ‘femme’ to rhyme with ‘on’, ‘Femme! Femme! Femme!’, my correct pronunciation years later in actual France would convince many French people that I know French much better than I actually do, and assist me when two French men, who had just waged a quiet war to pull me, discussed me between them en Francais, the victor to the loser saying, ‘Elle et une belle femme’, with a quintessential Gallic shrug.  Because I really needed to hear that.]

Now in my late thirties, and more awake to the destructive and incorrect nature of many of the programs that were written into me, I am trying to un-write them out of my psyche.  My perception of beauty (and romantic and sexual desirability) is much different, much more natural, and based on the idea that every single person has an intrinsic beauty that goes way, way beyond form, but which also animates form.  I am more likely to get angry and throw the fucking chart out of the window whenever it pops up in my consciousness.

However, the psychic damage from spilled toxic waste can go deep.  With my e-mail inbox peppered with sweet missives from the new man, and a second date scheduled and sitting like a red rose amongst the other entries in my diary, I discovered that my psyche trembled with fear and sadness because rogue elements in my sub-conscious still measure whether I deserve love on an axis of beauty, that my perception of my own beauty can still be tremulous and inclining downward to ‘not beautiful and, therefore, not deserving of love’.

But there is a cleansing power in art.  On the day that these issues and feelings crystallised out of vague, uncomfortable feelings about the new guy’s ex, and musings upon the themes thrown up by Gym Party and into a sharp, painful awareness, I walked into my house to find my Spanish housemate Jose playing his new ukulele and singing ‘Tree Hugger’ by Kimya Dawson. The lyrics are

‘The flower said “I wish I was a tree”

The tree said “I wish I could be

A different kind of tree”

The cat wished that it was a bee

The turtle wished that it could fly

Really high into the sky

Over rooftops and then dive

Deep into the sea.

 

And in the sea there is a fish

A fish that has a secret wish

A wish to be a big cactus

With a pink flower on it…

 

And the flower

Would be its offering

Of love

To the desert

So dry and lonely

That the creatures all appreciate the effort.’

 

I sat down and really listened as he sang.  Then I went up to my room and cried hard about how sad it is for intrinsically beautiful people (i.e. all of us, including me) to doubt their own beauty because the messages from our mothers and culture are broken.  Then I carried the song, the thought of Jess’ beauty winning out over her hating internal thoughts, and Gym Party’s courage around with me for several days, and gradually my belief in my own intrinsic, unique beauty grew stronger again.

(By the way, I didn’t make this up for thematic consistency in this essay.  It really happened.  You can ask Jose. )

To wind down towards a conclusion, this essay is really about the power of art to bring transformation and enlightenment to the psyche – because that is how it works upon me.  Aesthetic theory is a vast field, and there are many possible ways to value the gem that is Gym Party, but as a humanities student and amateur logician seeing the immutable subjectivity of art valuation, in the end it only makes sense to me to claim value for pieces of art based on the personal value they have to me.  This essay has considered Gym Party’s comment upon what I have referred to as ‘broken philosophies’ in our culture; and to be completely honest, I do tend to look compassionately at our society as sweetly insane, and sweetly asleep to its insanity – and I see art, with its beautiful abstraction and power to engage individually with each gaze that falls upon it, as a powerful means for reflection, illumination and awakening.  Peter Brook, in The Empty Space, discusses the need for theatre to be ‘necessary’ to society and not simply a pleasurable accessory to it. He gives an example of the truest type of ‘necessary theatre-going’, which is ‘a psycho-drama session in an asylum’, where the inmates participate in a therapeutic drama session. He writes,

‘They may laugh.  They may cry.  They may not react at all.  But behind all that goes on, amongst the so-called insane, lurks a very simple, very sane basis.  They all share a wish to be helped to emerge from their anguish, even if they don’t know what this help may be, or what form it could take… In the immediate event there is an unmistakable result…something is more animated, something flows more freely, some embryonic contacts are being made between previously sealed-off souls.  When they leave the room, they are not quite the same as when they entered.’ (Peter Brook, The Empty Space, pp 148 – 149, Penguin, 1990.)

For me, Gym Party was a brilliant piece of necessary theatre, and I was not quite the same afterwards.

 

Epilogue, part 1

Ok, so what happened after the second date?  At a certain point during this experience, I realised that I had wild pansy juice on my eyelids – i.e. that I was strongly gripped by a romantic enchantment – and I knew that sometimes pansy juice is just puckish meddling with the heart, and sometimes it turns into real love.  As I was going through this, it was interesting to think about how the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are all passing into sleep, through enchantments, and then into awakening.  Some of the enchantments dissolve into nothingness upon awakening – they are just a dream – but some of them hold true in the light of day.   This one turned out to be the kind of enchantment that dissolves in sunlight…but it was nice to have a wander through the forest at night, still.

 

Epilogue, part 2

After all this, I bet you (you, Reader), want to know what I look like.  Well, I am descended from the the Dutch and German immigrants who settled Michigan in the 19th Century.  My eyes are dark blue, the same colour as Lake Michigan.   My hair is the colour of the golden sand at the lakeshore.  My skin is pale white, like the froth on top of the waves.  I have strong shoulders and long, graceful arms and legs – a good body for swimming.