How to start a creative (r)evolution. empowering women, growing artists, and reclaiming the real through live performance

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Byrnes, Vanessa
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Conference Contribution - Oral Presentation
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
Tauranga (N.Z.)
New Zealand
Tarnished Frocks & Divas
women in performing arts
costume design
Byrnes, V.K. (2019, November). How to start a Creative (R)evolution. Empowering Women, Growing Artists, and Reclaiming the Real through Live Performance. Paper presented at the Performing the Artefact: University of Otago, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Every two years, the multi-media show Tarnished Frocks & Divas employs ‘used’ objects, garments, and at the centre, women’s bodies to challenge assumed realities, and to bring to life the essence of different narrative histories in live performance. Peoples’ pasts, presents, and imagined futures are depicted and understood via performances that utilise bodies and selected artefacts. These artefacts are used performatively to represent or reframe various kinds of assumed realities. This paper considers the dynamic opportunities that are available to performers, writers, producers, and artists who want to activate creative growth and personal empowerment through multidisciplinary hybrid shows such as Tarnished Frocks & Divas. It takes my experience of writing and directing the 1,000-seat-a-night show in Tauranga three times over six years as an entry point to reflect on the scale and impact of this unique project. In this paper, I want to offer a successful and proven model that activates individual empowerment and collective creativity, especially for women. If we accept the notion that great stories lie everywhere – and that there is a pressing need for audiences to congregate and witness transformation through live theatre in real time – then it is possible to focus on this performance structure as a vehicle to activate creative achievement and community wellbeing. It also elevates artistic identity for individuals both during and beyond the life of the show, when the performance itself has evaporated but the experience remains. The show is different in each iteration, and has become renowned as a regular, biennial, artistic upheaval that challenges and extends women in the local Tauranga community. Through this event, the ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ domains coalesce to harness power in performance. As such, the show has transformed many lives. There are socio-political and cultural realities that here are compelling, not the least of which is the capacity to galvanise communities of practice in a regional context. Tarnished Frocks & Divas has given birth to something quite new in Aotearoa that can act as a model to reframe ‘reality’ in a local community environment. More than 30,000 people have seen the shows since 2005, and thousands of women (and men) have created the works. This makes me ask: What are the socio-political, cultural, and personal realities of performing with such a structure? Quite simply, this is the beginning of a creative revolution.
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