By Aimee Smith
The youth feminist show Hear. Me. was a talking point of the Nelson Fringe Festival before the show had even been performed. What does feminism look like through the eyes of young women? Is this show going to give us a glimpse into feminism’s next wave? And just how did they manage to sell out so quickly? There were so many juicy questions arising purely from its premise. And the questions, discussions, and debates kept on circulating afterwards.
An ensemble-driven, spoken-word performance piece, Hear. Me demonstrates and dissects many hard-hitting feminist issues. A broad range of topics are covered, from gender based harassment in school environments, to rape culture and the ethics surrounding pornography. The delivery of the poetry ranges from monologue performances to group work, balanced with constant, fluid ensemble choreography. The movement is never overly literal, and more accurately convey tone and setting than forcing a double-percussive storytelling. This lets the stage play out as a liminal space whereupon the words and the women delivering them get the majority of our focus. This frees us up to focus on what we really care about – the raw power of the performers as they connect with the emotions of what they are saying, and their ability to drive that feeling home to us.
So with all those questions floating about the show prior to it’s performance, how well did it answer them? It is undeniably powerful to see a strong feminist text performed by young artists. The show had an incredibly forceful emotional energy driving it from start to finish. This is partially an inevitable response to seeing young people discuss painful subjects such as rape – it’s a reminder of what we don’t want to think about; the reality of how dangerous patriarchal ideals are adversely affecting young women. It’s difficult to ignore the importance of feminism when you have young woman standing in front of you, telling you the ways the patriarchy is hurting them here and now.
This would only be so effective were the performers themselves not so powerful. The strongest aspect of this show is the sincerity with which the performers deliver their lines. I can sense a deep need to communicate coming through with the urgency they use to speak to us, and a feeling of intense presence that gives this show it’s authority as more than a mere theatrical exercise.
Whilst the show leaves us with a strong sense of solidarity with our sisters, it also leaves a few uneasy notes. The show seemed aimed at uniting and empowering women, but potentially at the cost of isolating men. The major emotional notes are anger and hurt – and as the text itself draws attention to the men in our lives (particularly fathers), it starts to get personal and feel like some uncomfortable finger-pointing is going on.
However, we need to ask ourselves what we are expecting to get out of this show. Maybe this work is not about being rational, academic, or providing a textbook exploration of feminism. Maybe looking at the title is enough to give us an idea of what the shows intention truly is. Whilst anything we put onstage is in part made up by audience response, and a personal emotional response is always valid, it can be considered a successful work by the virtue that we are having such a forceful emotional response at all. I’m left believing that, whatever personal hurt we feel from the content and delivery of Hear. Me, the main thing is that we did listen to this beautiful and poetic expression of pain.