Feeling Theatre: Sensation Memories

The first sip of wine from a plastic cup in a bar that’s not crowded, exactly, but we can’t find anywhere to sit down. Hating everyone except the friend I came with — and even him once he tells me my outfit looks like pyjamas. Another sip of the sour wine. I like to look at who else is here and guess why. His brother is in the show. First date over there. I always make sure I pee before the five-minute call. There’s always a queue. In the theatre on Sloane Square, a woman with spectacles and a hipster-print short-sleeved shirt is ahead of me. I lean in close to inspect the pattern: dancing neon hippos. She takes so long that I play the old game: imagine every movement. Jeans buttons undone one by one. Every twist of the fingers. The weeing and wiping. The tampon tugged out, carefully wrapped in toilet paper, discarded. She checks her knickers for leaks. Unpackages and inserts a clean tampon. Stands. Checks the bowl for specks of blood. I wiggle my toes to feel anywhere other than my bladder. Ladies and Gentleman, please take your seats, tonight’s performance is about to begin. The sound of a flush. As she leaves the cubicle I push past, moving fast. My own jeans straight down past my bum. I’m peeing spiky, acid liquid, so hot it steams. She washes her hands, coughs. I hear the door slam shut behind her.

What was it to sit yourself in a folding seat? You’d use your heels to push your bag under it. Jacket slips off your lap, spilling over the floor; scarf a knotted trip-hazard. What did it feel like to make way, under duress: to stand and press yourself backwards into the seat’s worn wooden underside —the smell of the cold still on his coat, the taste of his tall wife’s thick perfume, as she stops right there, nods a brief thanks and moves by, brushing her breasts against your cheek?

On stage, a young woman is gesturing at us. She is eating Monster Munch and talking about her boyfriend, who wasn’t really her boyfriend, but she was dependant on him, so he abused her. That happens, but it’s not clear if this is true. She is wearing huge hooped gold earrings. There’s a story about an Aga, which was her downfall. Monster Munch dust is all over her t-shirt. She is so close you can smell the flavour: pickled onion.

In ‘On Being Moved by Performance’, Anna Fenemore thinks about the body as knowing the world through touch. We are moved by ‘the experiences of being seen, heard or touched’.  

She writes:

while much has been theorized about the moving bodies of performers, significantly less has been written on the moving bodies of spectators or on the complex somatic processes and somaesthetic experiences involved in spectating on being moved by performer or performance.

I read this and I think: You know what has not been theorised enough? The primary sensation of watching a live performance, which is: needing a wee, even though you just went.

I needed a wee on Broadway. I wanted freezing December weather, but it was so warm I took my coat off walking from the subway, dragged my scarf along the sidewalk so the white tassles turned black with grot. There were damp patches in the creases under my arms, coming through my dress. I smelled of warm winter, and fresh B.O., and the fried chicken someone was eating on the subway. Did I buy wine? Probably not, because it was $30 a glass and anyway, I was alone at a matinee.

The walls of the auditorium are adorned with rifles, lights right up the whole time so we can’t not see them. At the interval you can walk on stage and line up for a bowl of chowder and a hunk of bright yellow cornbread. Who cares? I need a wee. Spend the entire first half shifting in my seat to alleviate the throbbing. My watch indicates we are twenty minutes in. No more than an hour to go, surely? A character is singing and spinning a handgun and putting it back in its leather holster. There are either haystacks all around the perimeter edge of the long stage, or the sense of them. Projected on a screen behind the action there is a line drawing of a tiny, tiny house in the windy middle of nowhere, smoke billowing from a thin chimney. The smoke is moving, but everything else in the image is still.

In the toilets the gap between the cubicle doors and the frames are so wide you can see what’s going on inside. The exposed white thigh of someone who has pulled her skirt up around her waist. I rock back and forth on my shoes so that the gusset of my tights presses against the opening to my urethra. Pull my face tight for symmetry. Then the cubicle swings open. Then the delicious golden sting of release. I sit on the toilet for the whole interval. The seat gets warm. I don’t care that there are people complaining in loud American voices about how long I’ve been in there. I keep pushing out little drips of wee until my bladder is totally, totally empty. On the way back to my seat I buy a bottle of water. It costs $12.

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