‘I like your outfit: you look gorgeous!’, ‘What is this all about? Why? Why the wigs?’, ‘Look they have Barbie in their legs!’, ‘Your hair is so fuzzy’. These are some of the comments and questions that resonate around Kathy’s Parlour and that as a performer of Kathy I am addressed with in the midst of camera flashes. There were five of us in the afternoon on Mountsfield Park, welcoming the adults and children who were enjoying the music, food and joyful atmosphere of Lewisham People’s Day on Saturday 8 July. As a Kathy I wove through the crowds and smiling in my gargantuan wig, swaying on high hills, upright in my shoulder pads and proud of my flashy necklace.
After the first group meetings of the new Albany Young Creatives team with the Levantes Dance Theatre trio Bethanie, Eleni and Foteini, I still could not grasp the actual relevance of this experience. Those of you who have followed our Move Shake Mango journey know that as Albany Young Creatives we created and produced a show from scratch, with the Albany stage as our main setting. The space carried its own clarity in setting roles and boundaries between performers and audience and we were also the authors of the message we chose to convey. In contrast, with Parlour nothing could be set or controlled completely. The costumes, the colours, the shape of the parlour, any little object and detail, all had the potential to provoke a reaction from unknown people happening to pass by and from ourselves as Kathy. This could only be discovered in the moment of the encounter.
The process of making the piece seemed to me like a guessing, a hypothesizing and made me feel confused and sometimes useless. I tried to add pieces to the vision of Bethanie, Eleni and Foteini, I immersed myself in the art and craft, enjoying the specific aspects of the project but with the same questions as we encountered from the audience in mind: why the wig? Why the pastel colours? Why the flowers? Why Barbie in the legs? Then, I had a first glimpse of understanding when in charge of photographing the first Kathy group walking around the Hilly Fields Summer Fayre, and it all came together when I sat down and begun spreading foundation and glitter on my face. Since then, I painted the Parlour with a new enthusiasm, curious to discover how something as small as that little cloudy touch on the blue would contribute to the interaction.
The interactions we had as Kathy on the shadow of the Parlour were incredible. It feels safer than in normal encounters: I wave and say hi naturally as I wish I could do in my everyday life without being frightening or disturbing. People trust Kathy, they want to have a hug and a picture with Kathy and peer into her life history. It almost feels like giving people a gift by throwing them for a minute into a world they do not know, into a story that could make them imagine and dream, and they reciprocate with curiosity, smiles and comments. The same questions like ‘why the wig?’ can be answered in multiple ways and the story is layered and variable, but what matters is the feeling that brings someone – the desire to ask why and to listen to the answer, it is about that precious moment of exchange.
For these reasons, I will not tell you, reader, who Kathy is and why she is there and what she is doing: follow her around London and ask yourself because as Camilla writing I am not sure. I can say that Kathy and all the Albany and Levantes team have brought me a step further in my journey, as anthropologist and performer in understanding the magic and infinite aspects of encounters.
By Camilla Sollecito