Things aren’t where you expect them to be at Steakhouse Live. Apparently there’s a lady in the men’s toilet. At the other side of the venue, the Macbook-wielding “KNICKERBOCKER DJs”, when confronted with a seven inch, look more than a little embarrassed.
Folks who are at their most comfortable at an RSC matinee or a Young Vic Beckett may run a mile when performance meets art. What was a show is now a piece, and what a plot is now a gigantic loo roll and a toothbrush puppet. If one thing’s for certain, York Notes can’t help you now.
But, with its focus on curating challenging work within welcoming contexts, here’s why DIY festival Steakhouse Live is the perfect home for those who wish to occasionally dabble in the performance scene.
1. There’s nudity
Who says that revealing your growler on stage has to be trashy? Eilidh Macaskill kicks off the festival with an extract from STUD, a “new performance about penis envy, masculinity, horses and DIY” that is as rich in personality as phallic imagery. Dressed in full horse trainer’s costume, except with nothing beneath her chaps, Macaskill makes no apologies for her gender – and in imitating Freud and coaxing a giant inflatable penis she ensures that it’s psychoanalysis and misogyny, warts and all, that are most crudely exposed.
2. Curious things happen in a basement
In The Joe Wild Sex Tapes participants are invited, one-by-one, to a contemporary dance piece that is part voyeuristic thrill, and part wordless collaboration. It’s up to you to choose Wild’s costume from a rack of furs, dresses and leathers. You also get to select the track Wild dances to, the drink that fills your glass and the audio cassette that will tell you about him from an ex-lover’s perspective. There’s a thrill in the disconnect between the intimacy of the performance, and the sense that you are interrupting a relationship that never included you. The performance ends without goodbyes or applause, and you are left to navigate your way to the fourth floor on your own.
3. Your mother would be appalled
The bulk of performance attendees want to go against convention, and if you too want to riot against your left-leaning upbringing, Steakhouse Live is certainly a good place to start.
In Institutional Classics, The Disabled Avant Garde (DAG) challenge the prohibitive protective bubble surrounding artists who identify as disabled, employing KISS-style makeup and plenty of amps to take on a repertoire that covers songs as strikingly undiverse as The Wheels on the Bus, This Old Man and Michael Finnegan.
Institutional Classics riots against daycare centres, nursing homes, and the cultural restrictions they generate. As merry-go-round music haunts the gaps between the feedback, tweely refusing to collaborate with the glam rock attitude or the individuals that drive it, the DAG spirit of anarchy loudly calls for a move beyond artistic restrictions built on ignorance, patronisation and stereotype.
4. There’s a DIY aesthetic
Few could launch a DIY performance festival better than Eilidh Macaskill, armed with tape measure and tool belt, but the grassroots vibe is sown all the way through this event. From co-organiser, Louise Orwin, who speeds around the floor on rollerskates offering smiles and directions, to the organic and homespun set that comes alive in Louise Doyle’s piece Living in the Dim Light, this small event is rich in personality and imagination.
There’s a sharp moment in Doyle’s piece where the artist and one of her musicians engage in a shootout. It’s not bullets that bear the danger, though, but conflicting understandings of whose reality we’re living in. Through a work that blends video installation, puppetry, mime, music, elegant sound design and a helluva lot of cardboard, the thriftiness of the production values breeds rich expression.
5. Gender will be challenged
“If you be yourself, you’ll be more relaxed than if you try to be something that you’re not” drawls Eilidh Macaskill, after entering the performance space with a cowboy’s swagger and a carrot in her mouth. Macaskill is a collage of gendered imagery, her checkered shirt and tool belt centred around an exposed muff. “It goes in and out like this,” she says of her tape measure, as she erects it in front of her crotch, “and this one’s been lubricated”.
Like her tape, Macaskill’s performance is full of kinks as she offers a challenge to misogyny. Meanwhile, in the basement Joe Wild is using a very different kind of tape in order to queer straight experience. Offering his viewers a choice of cassettes labeled A to I, Wild invites us to learn how his lower income, gentle manner, penchant for cooking and dancer’s strength shaped his exes’s perceptions of his sexuality.
6. It’s not as scary as it looks
The most intimidating thing here is the performance summaries in the programme; once you get past that, you’re on to a winner. Louise Doyle’s solo show Living in the Dim Light endeavours to look “at the potential of form in relation to our perceptions” interrogating how “personal creativity works over the full spectrum of human action”. If you know what that means, you’re already ready to graduate to the next level of performance appreciation. Well done. The rest of us can just enjoy the show in all its dreamy glory.
7. It doesn’t take itself too seriously
Borrowing from standup, Marcia Farquhar’s Autoplayer saw the artist name dropping with style and substance through a Desert Island Discs-style set. There was a fertile logic at play in Dim Light, too, as a Christmas tree fairy crashed into a projected moon like a moth on a light bulb. Humility and easy humour flooded this intelligent take on form and context.
We were promised a festival that would “take over” the Rich Mix building. What we got was a programme of events, largely restricted to the fourth floor, that was rich in kitsch and fun. The proverbial man on the Clapham omnibus was nowhere to be seen in an audience largely comprised of vintage spectacles and current or former Queen Mary students, but the content was fiercely accessible. As Farquhar concluded her performance with the rousing choruses of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “You Can Get it if You Really Want” contradiction and confusion were embraced, and the after-party was kicked off with gusto.
Steakhouse Live will be present at the Holloway Arts Festival annual street party on Sunday 7 June 2015 and will take Tender Loin #2 to Artsadmin in July