04/09/2018 - 08/09/2018
04/03/2019 - 06/03/2019
26/09/2017 - 30/09/2017
Created and performed by Ella Gilbert
Directed by Jade Eriksen
THE DEBUT SOLO WORK FROM ELLA GILBERT
A dark, comedic journey born out of and under the weight of expectation
A dark, comedic physical theatre piece inspired by the ‘constructed realities’ of female behaviour premiering at The Basement Theatre 26th-30th September 2017. This break out solo show puts current issues such as feminism, New Zealand’s cultural identity and gender roles on an international landscape. Soft Tissue is a deep, hopeful recognition of the self through this one-hour ride of hilarious, confronting and comedic physical genius.
Developed by 2016 Toi Whakaari graduate worldwide from Wellington, to Iran and now to Tamaki Makarau, Ella Gilbert (Peer Gynt [recycled]) is “fantastically funny and uninhibited” Janet McAllister, NZ Herald. Soft Tissue will take audiences through an episodic unpeeling of social cultural restrictions on the body, darting between different characters through physicality, play, choreographic score and treatment of space. Combining creative forces with designer Anuwela Howarth (Ash vs Evil Dead, The Legend of Monkey, Brokenwood Mysteries), a mother and fellow Toi Whakaari graduate making use of live sketching, spacial design and projection.
Directed by mother of three Jade Eriksen (MA Directing) who brings decades of experience and with the support of Jo Randerson (Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong, The Spit Children) of Barbarian Productions. First seeded at Toi Whakaari; NZ Drama School – a hot house for original, risk taking and innovative creators such as Jo Randerson and Jacob Rajan (Indian Ink). Developed from strength to strength in New Zealand (Massey University, Manutuke Marae in Gisborne and Arohata Women’s Prison, Tawa) and Overseas at the 8th Annual Asia Pacific Theatre Schools Conference, Singapore.
Here she encountered a group of incredible Persian artists and was invited to workshop at the Underground Theatre (Tehran, Iran) across a month in 2016. “We were immediately drawn to each other’s styles, and got excited about unearthing the crossovers in the voices of young people in Iran and New Zealand – looking at the degree of cultural restriction and behaviours in our respective homes.There are numerous rules and restrictions implemented in Iran and I wanted to delve into how that affects the women there, how they push the boundaries, how they express themselves.”
Soft Tissue is a fiercely original, fresh and politically poignant devised work from emerging female artist Ella Gilbert, for New Zealand audiences. It is all a bit dirty and strange. And beautiful…
“She is at the forefront of the next generation of stimulating kiwi practitioners.” Dr. Chris Jannides, head tutor Toi Whakaari
“Like a mirror. You were like a mirror to us.” Sara, Iranian visual artist, Soft Tissue.
26 – 30th September 2017
6.30pm Tuesday to Saturday
Basement Theatre, tickets: $18 – $20
Bookings: www.basementtheatre.co.nz or phone iTicket 09 361 1000
“skirts the hazy edge between sexual, infantile, maternal and animal” Theatrescenes
“Funny, upsetting, engaging and slightly bizarre” What’s Good Blog
BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
4 – 8 September 2018
Full Price $20
Concession Price $16
Group 6+ $15
She’s back. She’s brutal. She’s… Beautiful.
Soft Tissue makes a feisty return to BATS Theatre after a packed / potent first season that left everyone wanting more.
“This is a work and a performer that will stay in your mind long after the lights have gone down.” Theatreview – Brett Adams
Performed and developed all over the world, from Singapore to Tehran to Arohata Womens Prison. This version of Soft Tissue is the edgiest, slickest and silliest yet – just in time for the NZ Fringe!
“A soundscape that has us laughing every time” – Pantograph Punch
“My face hurt” (from laughing) – Audience member
“Like a mirror. You were like a mirror to us.” – Sara, Iranian visual artist
BATS Theatre The Random Stage
4 – 7 March 2019
Full Price $20
Concession Price $15
Group 6+ $14
The Random Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.
Design by Anuwela Howarth
Theatre , Solo ,
How society pressures women to perform: a powerful critique
Review by Claire O’Loughlin 05th Mar 2019
Ella Gilbert’s solo show hits me on a gut level and has me on the edge of my seat for the entire hour. It is at once hilarious, pretty, sexual, grotesque and, at its core, deeply powerful and angry. With no set and only minimal props (mostly tissues) that are produced like soft organs from her body, Ella draws me into a world of images and repressions that I have witnessed and personally experienced my whole life, and systematically breaks down each one.
When I enter the theatre, the stage is completely empty with the upstage double doors open. The house lights come down and Ella appears backstage in a warm light. Her costume is immediately striking – beige 1950s low-heeled shoes, beige gauze wrapped skin-tight around her body like a sexy 1950s pencil dress, and a beige gauze headscarf. As Brett Adam said in his review of last year’s Wellington show, the costume is “a blank canvas onto which we can project our various perceptions and expectations of ‘woman’,” and I find myself thinking about how easy it would be to literally project onto her body. You could fit any kind of woman image over the top of her.
The single beige colour of her costume is almost two-dimensional, like a Betty Boop cartoon – it allows no shadows, depth or layers. The tight pencil style screams 1950s screen siren, but is also repressive, like a bandage trying to strap everything down and hold it all in. In writing this I find myself wanting to say “it leaves nothing to the imagination” and I realise that kind of jokey-blokey-bro phrase is exactly the kind of degrading thing that people say about women (and what they wear and what they look like) and that is what this show is addressing.
The first image is her hiking up her tight skirt and peeing. This is her only moment of privacy (she hasn’t seen the audience yet) and for the rest of the show she will be completely exposed, and therefore constantly ‘on’. I’m reminded of women like Marilyn Monroe who lived in the limelight, and the huge pressure on them to live up to some strange, completely unrelated-to-reality ideal, with all eyes on them. She looks up and notices us part way through peeing, and is immediately embarrassed, eliciting hoots of laughter from the audience. She makes a joke of it, laughing at herself, which makes me laugh along with everyone else, yet I also feel uneasy, thinking of all the times I’ve been made to feel embarrassed about my body, and had to play along. It’s a clever set up of power dynamics between her and us, the viewers who get to sit comfortably in the dark and just look and taunt.
As the show goes on Ella shifts and changes into all sorts of ideas of a woman – the scared pussycat, the woman driving a convertible, the poser, the woman lying on the ground on her stomach crossing her legs (something I distinctly remember doing self-consciously in high school because I thought that’s how you were supposed to do your legs).
Each idea she portrays or pose she holds points a finger directly at the assumption that these are what a woman is. Whenever she’s at a loss, intense bass-heavy music blasts for a moment, and she shimmies, shaking her boobs. It’s like a robot switching a button on. Because that’s what you do when you’re at as a loss as a woman right? Just shake your boobs. I feel like that’s a rule for all women characters.
Just like she has no privacy, she also has little to no voice, and this speaks volumes in meaning. What she does say is either mumbles of clichéd phrases (which we fully understand), or clearly spoken lines that sound like they’re from films. She struggles, but never succeeds, to find a voice of her own.
There is a lot of repeated, looping imagery. The same poses start coming up again and again, but this only serves to deepen the point of just how common these depictions of women are in the world – we see the same perfect, white, sexual yet childlike, simplistic, emotional, scared and completely contradictory woman depicted in media over and over again.
Eventually, her perfect character starts to break down – literally. After a brief exit, she tiptoes daintily back on to stage and abruptly vomits milk. Just like the peeing at the beginning, she is embarrassed at her real body coming through, and produces a tissue to daintily tidy it up. But her real self and real body seems to be gaining momentum. There are more and more moments where she glitches out and stares at us with her real eyes, all character dropped – but then she always quickly puts some pose back on again.
A highlight for me is the moment when she begins punching some invisible person, which is funny at first, but the moment is dragged out and takes on a seriousness. The muscles in her arm are tense and she is focused, brutal, all prettiness gone.
In the final moments the music comes back and plays for longer, and she dances like how it’s expected a woman should to that sort of music – all sexy in da club. Like the earlier moments of boob-shaking shimmying, she eyeballs the audience as she does it, and I’m reminded again that we are watching her, we have pigeon-holed her, we are locked in a contract with her where, as a woman, she is bound by so much societal pressure to perform, and it takes a huge anger that boils up inside to break out of that. And perhaps she can’t.
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Commanding, committed, entertaining
Review by Brett Adam 06th Sep 2018
Ella Gilbert’s one woman show Soft Tissue is an intriguing piece: beautiful and, at times, disturbing. The program notes profess that the piece is “Born from [her] question of how to please, succeed and stay beautiful under the weight of expectation. [It is] an excavation of how to be a woman.”
As a man I am not qualified to assess the success of the piece in terms of how effectively it achieves these aims. However, Soft Tissue is a multi-layered, accessible work and Gilbert is a stunning performer who offers her experience of being a woman to us through detailed physicality and engaging clowning.
Her woman-clown is by turns strong, coquettish, demanding and playful. At times she appears to live for our validation, whilst at others she seems to control us and coerce us to play her games. There is also a strange sense of something approaching desperation and underlying anger and violence that eventually burst forth but are quickly stifled.
The white, body-hugging costume reads as a blank canvas onto which we can project our various perceptions and expectations of ‘woman’. With her head covered by a cowl, Gilbert brings to mind Little Edie from Grey Gardens, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly or any of the other great screen sirens of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Her fluid gestures and exaggerated poses recall the photos of George Hurrell or Clarence Sinclair Bull. It is as if every muscle and tendon has been sculpted, shaped and choreographed. She displays a total and detailed command of her body that is utterly mesmerising.
There is very little text in the piece; instead Gilbert communicates with nasal, pre-verbal utterances that gradually become intelligible to us. The language used references the patronising compliments paid to women, and watching her struggle to find her voice is at once comical and unnerving.
Whilst there is much humour in the piece I cannot help but feel that there is something else beneath the surface. Her exaggerated embodiment of some of the tropes of perceived/expected womanhood include woman as child, woman as degraded sex object, woman as cat. On one level these can be experienced purely as an entertaining diversion but on another level they belie a deeper desperation and anger.
Gilbert forges a strong relationship with the audience from the beginning. As she passes back and forth across the stage she is at first oblivious to us, and the moment she does become aware of our presence is pure comedy. From this point on though she seems trapped by our attention. She is constantly ‘on’ with only moments of relaxation. This is a character with no inner world, no sense of self that is not dependent on the audience’s attention or approval. Whilst these are essential clowning qualities, in this piece they take on a darker meaning.
This is a work much in the vein of Sherilee Kahui’s (A Smidge of) Pidge and George Fenn’s G+Force: innovative solo pieces that defy simple categorisation, theatrical experiments that push the boundaries whilst still being entertaining. Through Gilbert’s commanding and committed performance, Soft Tissue engages us in conversation without alienating us. This is a work and a performer that will stay in your mind long after the lights have gone down.
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Review by Nathan Joe 27th Sep 2017
Wrapped in cloth gauze, a modified hijab of virginal white, Ella Gilbert plummets around the stage in bold and often uncomfortable movements. Imagine an alien shapeshifter forced to become a woman on Planet Earth, to operate under the complex and contradictory behaviours of femaleness. That’s what Gilbert embodies here. A body horror of female sex at war with itself; gender performativity as a double-edged sword.
Consider the way Gilbert infantilises her voice and movements, playing baby doll or ditsy – a grotesque parody of, say, Marilyn Monroe. The way she plays coy, asks for help, trips up and crawls around. The way she prowls like a cat or Catwoman. She skirts the hazy edge between sexual, infantile, maternal and animal. [More]
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Ambiguous, beguiling and oddly unsettling
Review by Nik Smythe 27th Sep 2017
In the provocatively designed programme, which includes confronting artworks that challenge perceptions and attitudes around womanhood, creator Ella Gilbert explains how this production is the result of four years of development: “Born from my question of how to please, fulfil and succeed under the weight of expectation … ” The resulting presentation doesn’t so much offer any solutions to that quest, as convey the experience of the struggle.
The stage is wide and bare, maximising the performance area with almost half the Basement Theatre Studio’s wooden floor surrounded by black walls, and utilising the open corridor in the back wall for pointed entrances and exits. First we hear what sounds like a baby crying, laughing, screaming, coughing, laughing, grunting, screaming and so on, until the source of these contrary sounds enters: a fully developed young woman in a knee-length light cream-coloured slip, separate white hood and low heels.
As directed by Jade Erikson and co-choreographed by Frankie Berge, the absurdist, dark-comedy physical theatre work that is Soft Tissue is as confidently performed by Gilbert as it is ambiguous, beguiling and oddly unsettling. Oddly because it’s intriguing and funny rather than overtly disturbing, but the myriad scenarios we can interpret from the enigmatic action are likely to include a few sinister, less than pleasant examples.
From her semi-articulate speech to her various expressive noises, Gilbert’s vocal dexterity is as impressive as her thoroughly impressive physical movement. Mostly she seems like a one year old, walking but not talking; mimicking adults’ behaviour. Then sometimes it’s like a grown, possibly drunk woman playfully regressing into baby-speak, or even like a toddler imitating an adult acting like a toddler.
Whether she’s all these things or some other alien creature entirely, the crucial point is that from the moment she enters we’re drawn in, to her charmingly awkward infantile sensuality. Like a David Lynch film, we can follow a narrative without being entirely certain if we’re reading it right, and that sense of uncertainty ultimately becomes an essential component of the experience.
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