Amanda Monfrooe is an American-born, UK-based writer, performance maker and dramaturge who first sparked our interest with a show as part of Arches Live 2010 called How Keanu Reeves Saved The World, which was as intriguing and thought-provoking as it sounds. She set up company Pony Pie as a platform for her performance work and the Pony Pie website is an excellent place to learn more about a performance talent with a lot to say, and an interesting take on how to say it.
Last year Amanda won the Platform 18 Award for a brand new work, Poke, which will be performed as part of the festival from Tues 23rd to Sat 27th April in a double bill alongside Peter McMaster’s all male version of Wuthering Heights (the other Platform 18 Award winner). The shows are an ideal match, with both posing bold questions about the nature of masculinity – what it means on a personal level, how it’s constructed in society and what on earth we’re supposed to do about both – so brace yourselves for an evening of both entertainment and mental provocation.
We caught up with her to ask a few questions about the background of the piece, and what triggered it all off…
What first inspired you to create Poke?
My sister has a young son and she was telling me that he discovered his willy and was starting to touch it casually and put it on things. He’s not a little perv, he just met that part of his body for the first time. That said, we agreed he’ll never grow out of it. Men never really stop being fascinated with their willies. And I was suddenly struck that I don’t have a penis! I tried but I really couldn’t get my head around the idea of having one. For a long time I struggled to imagine it and tried to find ways of comparing it to my body and my experience, but I just couldn’t. And I remember thinking, “that’s got to affect the way you feel about yourself.” That was the light bulb moment.
Where does Poke fit in respect to your previous works – does it mark a dramatic change, or is it a further exploration of something you’ve already ‘poked’, as it were?
Thematically it’s a departure. Most of my previous work has been about the immateriality of our physical realities as that relates to truth, identity and mortality. This piece does relate to that discourse, but it’s really about rape and environmental destruction – so that focus is new. I’m teasing out a contemporary issue and while the idea is going to draw on ideas about human nature and existence, it’s not the starting point.
What have you learned or discovered about yourself/the world in the process of creating the show?
I’ve had a growing maternal sense for other women; a protective sentiment. It’s been growing for years but since starting the show and talking about the escalating sexual domination and destruction of our freedoms, bodies and sexuality I’ve felt incredibly sensitive to women I’ve never met, who I pass on the street, who I stand behind in queues, who are around at concerts or clubs. I feel really conscious of us being in the same boat. They probably think I’m a creepy stary-Mary but I’m just worried about them.
What can the audience expect to see/experience?
As with all my work there’s a real experiment with form, so we’re going to have moments of traditional puppetry as well as other moments of very contemporary puppetry. We’re working with a sculptural physical language at the same time as a solid narrative – a story – which is even told in a way typical of normative theatre practice. Aesthetically, this is complicated and requires real imaginative engagement from the audience, though we’ll work hard to help the audience ‘read’ the stage pictures and performance language.
It’s full of humour and gags and willies but also honesty – we’re going to talk about sex and the body in ways I’ve never seen on any stage. So it’s going to be a show where the audience is very active but totally responsible for their experience.
Who would be your dream theatrical collaborator, dead or alive?
Tough question! Just one? Limmy.
Describe your show to us in three words:
Shameless. Fiery. Tragic.
Poke runs from Tues 23rd – Sat 27th April at the Arches, Glasgow. Tickets are £11/£8, or £6 on preview night (Tues 23rd). You can book them through the Arches website.