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Features Published 17 August 2017

Power in Numbers

Figs in Wigs are back at the fringe this week. Here's Rachel Porter on why being part of a non-hierarchical girl gang is the perfect way to survive Edinburgh.
Rachel Porter
Figs in Wigs: Often Onstage. Photo: Rosie Collins.

Figs in Wigs: Often Onstage. Photo: Rosie Collins.

Hello, I’m Rachel Porter and I’m one fifth of performance troopers Figs in Wigs. Last week I sprained my foot. You may be thinking it was during rehearsals for our upcoming Edinburgh Fringe run of Often Onstage. Perhaps I slipped whilst practising a particularly complex step ball change, or got slightly too carried away as AJ in our Backstreet Boystribute act. But actually it was far less glamorous. I missed the last step on a carpeted staircase. It was like one of those moments when you dream you’re walking down the road and then you trip and are jolted awake, except I was already awake so couldn’t wake up, and instead just fell over and sprained my foot. Luckily I was with the other figs at the time who presented me with frozen peas, elevated my foot and then elevated my whole body in the form of a Queen’s Lift to escort me home.

Subsequently for the last week of rehearsals I’ve been sat on a chair, massaging ibuprofen gel into the affected area and watching the others practising the show. Whilst this is frustrating, and I feel utter annoyance at my own misfortune, it has allowed me to look at the show with a fresh pair of eyes. During the creation of our shows we all take turns to sit out and play director, making notes on what works and what doesn’t, who’s stepping with the left foot instead of the right. But once the show is finished we rarely sit out and watch, we’re usually too busy frantically practising Larger Than Life because – spoiler alert – we still can’t get the counts right in the last bit… But over this last week, with my foot throbbing and my skin reeking of deep heat, I watched Often Onstage and I’ve remembered exactly why I love Figs in Wigs.

(I know I’m in it so it’s bad form to say I love it but I love these figs so goddamn much, so I don’t care.)

Figs in Wigs are unashamedly bonkers. When you’re a performer in a Figs in Wigs show I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that; if you do something weird for long enough it eventually doesn’t seem weird anymore. But Often Onstage is especially mad. It’s almost like three different shows in one, and it’s primarily dance, which is pretty barmy when you consider the five of us have no dance training whatsoever.

Figs in Wigs are audacious. This show pokes fun at theatre; it laughs at theatrical traditions, the stupidity that is a curtain call, the insipid genuineness of thespians, and the manic backstage moments the audience rarely witness. When we first performed Often Onstage someone walked out after twenty minutes and told the box office they found the show offensive towards actors. This, I feel, is testament to our incredible acting; that we can actually make actors feel uncomfortable about their own craft. If you think Shakespeare is sacred, you might not like this show. But if you have a sense of humour, like Shakespeare did, then you will. As we said in our previous show Show Off ‘if you can’t laugh at yourself, what can you do?’

Figs in Wigs are women. Yeah yeah, I know it’s on trend right now, but we’ve been women since before it was fashionable. We’ve synchronised menstrual cycles more times that you’ve had school dinners. But in all seriousness, being women is something we don’t always talk about explicitly in our work, and I think that’s because for us it’s our process rather than our content that makes this feminist performance. We are an entirely female touring party including our incredible technical wizard Sorcha and our creative process is what I like to call anti-patriarchal. It’s not a pyramid scheme, there’s no one at the top, we are all in charge. A lot of people (mainly male directors) ask us who’s the director. When we explain that we’re all the director they usually a) don’t believe us and b) offer us some direction. I can appreciate that if you’ve come from a traditional theatre background it might be hard to imagine how it could possibly work without a director. But it just does. It’s a bit like when traffic lights are broken, and there’s that initial panic of what the hell do we do, and you’re convinced everyone is about to crash. But that never happens. Instead you just pay attention, you take turns, and guess what, you figure it out. Maybe we don’t need traffic lights. Maybe they’re just another form of patriarchal control. They are useful for pedestrians though.

Figs in Wigs are a gang. There’s a gang of us. I feel we are slightly t unique in that at the moment. In the world of contemporary performance there’s a lot of solo artists, a fair amount of duos, and a handful of threesomes (pun intended as always). But…and I’m happy to be corrected here if I’m completely of the mark…I think that larger companies of our age demographic seem to be dwindling. I think this is more a sign of the economic times rather than a creative choice; in other words it’s cheaper to tour one man and a chair than a bunch of quasi-dancers who have a problem with inserting large set pieces and unnecessary props into their shows. With repeated cuts to the arts, venues and programmers have to factor in things like travel costs and accommodation when booking work – and so ‘man with chair’ show is understandably attractive. (Side note: you may be interested to know that the figs are currently staying in a one-bed flat in Edinburgh and it works fine for us.) Anyway I don’t want this to turn into a cultural economics thesis, because in all honesty I’ve done no research and have no concrete facts, these are just things I have observed with my eyes. And this week, observing four figs marching together made me excited and believe that there is still power in numbers. And I’m not saying quantity equates to quality, you have a huge cast an still produce shit art. But, I do think that seeing a group of performers, particularly performers moving in sync and dressed identically has a magical quality to it. This is mob mentality in the best sense. A reminder that we are stronger together, and that everything is better when you’re holding hands.

These completely bonkers women are my best friends. They carried me home just like I would carry them home. Because we carry each other. Because the world is fucked and what else can we do but carry the people that we love to safety.

Come see our fucking show you cunts.

See Figs and Wigs fucking show at Leith Volcano, from 17th to 24th August 2017. More info here.

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Rachel Porter is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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