Looking for the ‘Gender Spanner‘ venue, the Scratch Warehouse, I’m surprised it is only 10 minutes’ walk from my home in Kensington, an industrial building I’d never taken note of. Inside, plain curtains enclose a performance space of bare concrete floor, with the patter of rain on the plastic factory roof sheeting. This is as Fringe as it gets. A good thing – I’m all for alternative art spaces supporting emerging artists who might not find room in more traditional circuits.
Jessica McKerlie, with pink hair, a frown, and a challenge, engaged me as I walk to my seat. She asked me about my favourite animal, and with a surprising non-sequitur, stuck a post-it label on my chest. It read ‘C***’. My +1 was ‘Lady’. A young woman with a German accent asked for a translation – what did her label ‘Dyke’ mean?
Jessica explains that this is a show about gender. How someone’s sex and gender are different things. She does so by telling her life story, coming to terms with sex and gender, relationships and judgement. This is done through a mix of poetry, dance, song, story-telling, ukulele playing, and circus acts. It is performance art with a moral message.
I could dismiss her cabaret-style show, comparing it to many others I’ve enjoyed, and remark how it is genuine, amusing, but somehow doesn’t quite blend together. I left feeling that I liked the performer more than the show itself. One bewildering act saw her dressed up as a Marilyn housewife look-a-like, plate-spinning dishes loaded with mash and peas, while she drenched herself in gravy and sprayed us in the audience too. Confusing? Challenging? Hard to define? Yes, but then again, those are the elements of her own story.
On better reflection, I’d say that Jessica’s shows succeeds on its own terms – to show us how we are quick to label and to judge what is different to what we assume is normal. And in doing so, she shows us how we can overcome superficialities, inviting us to tolerate, accept, and love each other more.
Ending in a touching rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, she invites us to reject those Post-It labels and stick them back on her. These were some of many names she had called growing up, she reveals.
Looking at the enthusiastic response at the end of ‘Gender Spanner’, Jessica McKerlie won a lot of us over in a brief hour.
Christian G. is an international man of mystery, book and cat lover; moonlighting as a finance professional by day.
‘Gender Spanner‘ runs every night at the Scratch Warehouse in North Melbourne, until 27 September. The venue is accessible.