03 April 2014

Report: Chins Up - Fat and Performance

On Monday 31 March a bunch of us met and talked about fat and performance at an event called Chins Up. I chaired the talk and asked most of the questions. The event was supported by Arts Council England and The Hospital Club.

The panel came about because of ScotteeInc, a charity developing community-based popular performance around themes including fat, age, feminism, working class and queer identity. Scottee and I are part of ScotteeInc. The organisation has been going for about a year now, its award-winning inaugural production, The Worst of Scottee, has racked up a bunch of rave reviews and there are some exciting projects in development. Another ScotteeInc production, Hamburger Queen, opens in London tonight.

So, with ScotteeInc in mind, the idea behind this panel is to talk for a bit about what it is to do fat performance in a climate around 'obesity' that is very repressive. Amazingly, things are looking pretty great in the UK as far as fat and performance are concerned, lots of people are engaged with it and there are good things happening.

The talk was recorded. You can download for free it via iTunes: ScotteeInc Podcasts.

The night went by in a bit of a whirr. Looking back, there are many things I would have liked to have asked. I suspect, for example, that performing is a means that fat people use to make meaning of our lives and bodies. I wonder what it is to perform for majority fat audiences, if people have had experiences of that. I would have been good to make more concrete plans about how and what we need to develop fat and performance in the UK. Also, we never really defined what we meant by 'performance'. Oh well!

I've been flashing on bits of the talk all week. Mostly thinking about the repeated idea that we seek normality or acceptance. This strikes me as odd because none of the panel court normality in performance, quite the opposite in fact! I interpret this to mean that we want to be able to do what we want to do without the burden of people's limited expectations of what a fat person can do or be.

I wanted more of a social mix of speakers in the panel but quite a few people turned me down or weren't available. In spite of my optimism about fat and performance, I also wonder if this exists within a particular sphere of queer life, and that the idea of fat performance remains contentious elsewhere, something with which people would not want to ally themselves, or something barely worth talking about.

Edited to add: I wrote this post in a bit of a hurry and I now notice that it ended on a bit of a dour note. The talk itself was not at all dour! In fact, I think it a valuable discussion amongst practitioners. This kind of thing is pretty rare, I'd say. Fat people are spoken of, but it remains quite unusual for us to speak for ourselves. The inevitable questions about health creep in, but this was not really a panel about that, and that feels exciting too. I see this work as part of the project of developing fat culture, community and identity, which is to say, or recognising that fat people make valuable contributions to the work of being human and that sometimes we have great things to say.

The speakers

Scottee is a wunderkind performer, director, artist, broadcaster and writer from Kentish Town, North London.

Dr. Vikki Chalklin is a queer fat femme performer, activist and scholar based in London. She is interested in feminism, performance, art, bodies, fat, sex, and all kinds of queer cultural production. Alongside teaching and academic research, her performance practice works to blur the boundaries between her creative and scholarly worlds, giving cabaret-style performances of academic work at conferences, and performance lectures at queer performance and cabaret clubs and she has previously performed at Duckie, Bar Wotever, Bird Club, and The Fattylympics. She is also competing to be crowned 2014’s Hamburger Queen.

Kayleigh O’Keefe is a contemporary artist engaging with themes of fat acceptance, body confidence and alienation through performance and film. She has collaborated with established artists and filmmakers, produced and directed immersive live art events for the Pink Bear Club and distributed her performance art videos to an online audience.

Holestar is an artist, entertainer, DJ, writer and queer activist.

Scottee, Dr Vikki Chalklin (pic by AbsolutQueer),
Kayleigh O'Keefe and Holestar (pic by Lee Roberts)

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