Kerith Manderson-Galvin is one of those performers who is fascinating to watch – as are the plays she has created and written.
Over the last few years, Kerith has been a regular player on the independent stages of Melbourne. Recent works have included Being Dead (Don Quixote) – which she performed in for Midsumma 2015 – and don’t bring Lulu (Union House Theatre, 2014). She was also seen on stage last year in Nicola Gunn’s fantastic production of Green Screen as part of the MTC NEON Festival. And don’t even get me started on all the shows she’s done with MKA Theatre! And speaking of MKA, as part of this year’s Midwinta Festival, Kerith, along with MKA, has run a number of panels and recently had a development season of her new show 186,000.
When asked about the concept of 186,000, Kerith explains that it stemmed from her wanting to talk about lesbian and queer women’s sexuality, identity and the erasure of their experiences on stage. ‘I got together a group of women who are all bisexual and lesbian and queer women who are all under 25 and we’re just trying to make something that is interesting and fun and ours but not in a naff way. It’s a challenge for me (although I hate the word challenge) to work out a way to tell our stories without it being bland – there is something important in our stories being told. Hopefully it will come into something that is vibrant and urgent as opposed to this kind of wishy-washy nice thing.’
This is a topic that Kerith holds very dear to her heart and the passion with which she speaks about it resonates. ‘It’s obviously something that plays on my mind when I go to theatre or read a book or watch television and I don’t see myself or feel like I’m being spoken to, and I think that it’s mostly because maybe it’s easier not to deal with it. It’s easier not to deal with women’s sexuality full stop. It’s just too confusing and confronting for the world, so we don’t show it or we show it badly, except in some situations (like Orange Is the New Black which has done an excellent job). I felt angry about it and now I just feel sad, and I don’t really want to carry that around anymore, so of course I should try and do something about that. It’s been so lovely being around other queer women and being able to talk about our lives and what we think about sex and relationships and partners in a way that is not necessarily otherwise possible.’
In the lead up to the showing, Kerith ran two panels – “The Lesbian Avenger” Talking about Visibility: the Arts and Beyond and “Queer as Verb”: What is Queer Performance? How and Why Do We Do It? For Kerith these panels were invaluable, especially when it came to focusing her ideas from a vast and broad topic into something more specific. As she points out, ‘I’m in no way trying to represent a community or even a sexual identity but I still want to reach out to them.’
For Kerith, this development process is more than about just creating theatre. ‘It’s about my day to day, minute to minute, experience of invisibility and about living this life where I constantly assess whether I should out myself, or if I can, or if I want to. It comes from seeing my existence as a (sometimes unwilling) political act. This is also why festivals like Midsumma and Midwinta are important because it’s actually a very big and very brave thing to say, “I have a show in Midwinta” because you are essentially coming out when you say that and that’s a bold thing.’
Within this showing, Kerith adds that ‘the women involved all come from different artistic and personal backgrounds, so an audience should look forward to seeing something quite special that comes from that. We have a butoh performer, a dancer, a musician and so on, so we’re using that to create our own “text”.’