by Catherine Blanch.
Delving into the issues of gender, sexuality, self-worth and mental illness, #nofilter is a cutting edge, thought-provoking and confronting theatrical production that uses a combination of film, dance and live music to share the stories and emotions related to self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, dissociative identity disorder and bulimia. The production has been likened to a dark vaudevillian voyeuristic view from the backstage of a travelling circus; based on true events and reflecting the issues experienced by the cast and crew which they documented in diary entries.
Following a successful season at Adelaide Fringe, we speak, via email, with Producer, Director, Choreographer and Creative Writer Dannielle Candida and Co-Producer, Creative Writer Serena Wight from Velvet Chase Productions as they prepare for this intimate single performance exclusively produced for the French Festival d’Avignon during July. They begin by telling us the inspiration behind such personal subjects in #nofilter.
“It actually wasn’t a planned thing,” Serena begins. “Dannie and I decided to collaborate for the first time on a variety show, a circus freak show, oddities and all for Halloween, then something started happening, choreography seemed to be writing its self to music that didn’t belong in a short Halloween show (the pieces all seemed to have a similar link mental health) before we knew it we had 22 routines with a production that deserved more attention than what we were originally intending and a story that needed to be told.”
“I wish I could say we had this plan and its totally awesome and live off the wind at how super it is but truth be told I actually have no idea how it’s happened,” Dannie adds. “I’m still in shock and I still don’t know how to respond socially when people talk about it. We didn’t plan on touching on such a personal subject we wanted to tell our story. The icing on the cake is people feeling they can relate.”
You use a number of performance arts and techniques to portray these stories.
“As we had initially set out to do a circus show we were going to showcase peoples talents in the story of a circus (because who hasn’t done a circus show before),” Serena says. “We have such a diverse group and too often in group shows not everyone gets to showcase what they are good at. As the show shifted from entertainment to drama we were struggling how to link it together with a story (you can’t just have someone shooting up with paint smeared all over them by a priest being used as a puppet) how the hell is that going to make sense? I know the priest is the ‘ringmaster’ the addict is the ‘clown’ wack on Like A Virgin by Madonna… Yep, makes perfect sense now.”
“The veil of the circus allowed us to showcase the individual talents of the cast e.g. ballet, vocals, Drag King, burlesque, pole, acting, contortion,” Dannie says. “The circus character gave us a way to show case our talents but also the opportunity to see that behind closed doors what looks like the perfect life is not always as it seems.
“We wanted to create a mixed media experience, not just a sit down show the audience didn’t feel connected with; we didn’t want them there watching, we wanted them feeling. We did this by creating an experience in every place they were in as they made their way to the main room; we had our asylum room this had art pieces donated by local artists that have suffered from mental health issues at some stage (that were later auctioned off for charity). This room was plastered with private diary entries and journal entries that where anonymously donated from people mostly strangers several months leading up to the show.”
“People then walked into the lounge room of our war veteran (a real war veteran) and experienced something different from him in each encounter,” Serena continues. “We used a short film to tell one of the characters stories that was through her eyes as a child to being bullied in youth to the present and her future fate (she suffers from a terrible hereditary illness). Along with that we added live musicians on guitar, violin and cello to accompany particular pieces so audience could feel the vibrations of the pieces we wanted more impact from. All of this helped to create an experience – a feeling of sorrow, hate, fear and hope. Then we decided to write personal biographies, giving each character a past, present and a future (based around true cast afflictions but with a different story).
“We also have a third year Psych student coming over to do full character analysis of each cast member as their character based on their bios and their ‘actions and intentions’ on stage. This will help the cast to understand their characters better.”
Where does the title #nofilter come from and what are you hoping audiences’ first impressions/perceptions of it will be?
“We chose people who we both personally knew had lived through some extensive life experiences,” Dannie says, “so #nofilter seemed very fitting to the body of work we were doing. It was really important to show truth and rawness in this production and the inspiration we got from the individual cast members. Each of them in their own way displayed a lack of that metaphorical ‘filter’ when on stage. Plus #nofilter being popular in the media (stating the beauty in something without makeup ‘mask’) is just too perfect. It really is the perfect name.”
“As for first impressions,” Serena says, “for starters we decided to put no warnings on it; it’s called #nofilter for a reason because if we put warnings on it we would be filtering and our entire moral is to be who you are and normalise the conversation on mental health. We knew we would get some backlash over it but so far the only negative responses are from those who haven’t seen it and refuse to see it, but that is their own prerogative.”
“We feel this work will confront a lot of people, as it has confronted us doing the work,” Dannie adds. “We never could have imagined the response we were going to get from the public. We are hoping it will allow people to see and feel what others suffer and at least have some kind of understanding, some won’t get it, some will hate it and others it will hit way too close to home surprising more so for the people that have seen loved ones suffer.”
You are presenting #nofilter at Venue 63 as a fundraiser and a prequel to the show’s journey to France for the Avignon Festival, presented by Garage International. How did the show come to be showcasing at this international festival, and what are your hopes for outcomes from the experience?
“The show at Venue 63 will be our final fundraiser before we leave 22 hours later!” Serena says. “All monies raised are helping to cover the cast’s expenses – the entire expedition has thus far been self-funded – we are incredibly thankful to have such an amazing cast and crew throwing everything into this mammoth journey.”
What else is in store for the show following the performances in France?
“We have been accepted to have our show in Adelaide Feast Festival later this year,” Serena says. “This will be our first time producing a performance for Feast, and what an honour to be showcasing #nofilter to the feast community, so we are really excited about this opportunity. Other than that we will go wherever the wind takes us, although we are really interested in taking it regional and possibly to one of the local theatres here in Adelaide.”
Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about #nofilter?
“We have large cast of 12 performers, not including stage crew and musicians who will also be travelling over to France with us,” Dannie says. “The show we are doing for France is an altered version of our Fringe production. The reason for this in that we have needed to alter routines to adjust for large props and we have needed to edit it down from a 90-minute show to fit in into the 50-minute Festival time requirements. If you saw the original production of the show, then you will love the France-bound version.”
Dannie and Serena suggested that if people would like to head to stickytickets.com.au to buy tickets and show their support for this #nofilter, you will be helping local artists support their self-funded production.
“We also have another fundraiser coming up,” Dannie says. “It’s called Magic Bob and is on at Venue 63 on Fri 1 Jul, featuring some of Adelaide’s great magicians and the indescribable Soursob Bob.”
For further information, head to the Velvet Chase Productions Facebook page. All donations and enquiries are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
#nofilter performs at Venue 63, Light Square, Adelaide, from 8.30pm on Fri 8 Jul.
Book at stickytickets.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Image courtesy of Wade Ronay at Modern Flesh Photography