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First Person: 'Leaving the house can feel like walking into battle' | reviews, news & interviews

First Person: 'Leaving the house can feel like walking into battle'

First Person: 'Leaving the house can feel like walking into battle'

In 'War Paint', four women transform themselves for a night out. A performer explains how

'Each room represents a stage of the getting-ready process'All photographs © Lena Meyer

On a sunny afternoon in April four young women pile themselves into a toilet at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. They lock the door. They have come here to make some intimate recordings. Awkward giggles develop into discussion and discussion turns into confession. They are talking about their bodies. Something is always too small or big, or not the right shape.

You might ask, what happened when these women started opening up in front of each other and sharing memories about when they felt beautiful, embarrassed, sexy or ugly? When they admitted their guilty pleasures from the rituals of vanity or frustrations about what to change in their bodies? They created an intimate theatre performance about it in a private flat.

War Paint was inspired by a site-specific theatre residency with French contemporary dance company, Projet In-Situ. For our company member, India, this sparked an idea to create a live art installation in a toilet or bathroom where audience members could observe the performance of everyday rituals. After forming the company we started to think about the act of observing a woman getting ready, and the insecurity and vulnerability that we all experience when trying to look and feel beautiful.

Leaving the house can feel like walking into battle. Even now, it is seemingly impossible for women to get things "right". From clothing, hairstyles, make-up and shoes, to whether that new sprouting follicle of a hair poking its way through stays or goes. Every part of our visual identity is scrutinised from every angle. What one person calls oppression another will call a lack of self-preservation, and then everything in between. So how do we survive this endless battle? One way is by applying our war paint. We adorn ourselves, or strip away from ourselves, whatever we feel we need to in order to fight our way through societal standards. We transform.

From slapping on thick layers of tinted moisturiser that make your legs irresistible, to applying that expensive new lipstick that promotes an effortless pout, to that teeny-tiny spritz of perfume just under your jawbone that will immediately make you a great person to be around. We all confessed that we relished some aspects of this transformation, and felt that it was important to us and our confidence.

War Paint is an exploration of these private, intricate moments of transformation. We are offering our own stories to start a conversation about why we are forced, choose, or want, to carry out these rituals of transformation. The audience is in a voyeuristic situation that turns into an intimate performer-audience relationship. Each room represents a stage of the getting-ready process: having a bath, shaving, skin treatment, plucking, deciding what to wear, putting make-up on, among other rituals. This is accompanied by an autobiographical sound installation of pre-recorded confessions, stories of vulnerability, insecurity and shame about our bodies that bare precarious parts of our internal character.

We are offering our own stories to start a conversation about why we are forced, choose, or want, to carry out these rituals of transformation

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