All images by Váczi Roland
Directed by Sinkó Ferenc
Dramaturg and Assistant Director: Adorjáni Panna
Original Music: bhkata & the blue screen band
Video, Light, Sound: Almási Attila
Visuals, Technical Assistant: Radu Bogdan
Producer: Kinga Kelemen/GroundFloor Group
Co-producer: Paintbrush Factory
GroundFloor Group, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
What I Saw
In the Military Circle space of the festival, the large, wide open performance space, the audience sat down to a stage filled mostly with screens: a large green stretch of fabric on the floor (which served as a green screen) and a large screen covering the back wall. Three duffle-looking bags occupied the upstage space, and three female-bodied people, with their backs turned to the audience, stood still, dressed in childlike pajamas and animal hats.
The beginning of the show, a prologue of sorts, turns the performers around, and they sing a song I know well from childhood (I didn’t know it was international), the Christian song “If I Were a Butterfly,” a song in which the singers thank God for the attributes of animals and themselves, replete with accompanying sign language (this is something American children do with the song also). The chorus of the song, which has significance later, is “I just thank you Father/For making me/Me.”
The show then proceeds in a series of episodes that flow from one to the next without a specific narrative. In the first section, “Selfie,” the performers do what all young people do best: they take selfies as a group, using a selfie stick, laying on the green screen so that everything is projected up on the screen behind them, often on top of ridiculous animations.
In “Call Back Your Mother,” the performers do just that. They take out their phones and call their mothers, onstage, and without fanfare. I learned later from dramaturg Panna Adorjáni that this is not a staged moment for the mothers—they often don’t know their daughters are performing at the time of the call. The conversations the audience witnesses are intimate and non-performative. When they hang up, that’s the end of the section.
The next section is called “A Room of One’s Own,” in which the women clean up the stage—getting rid of the green screen and most of their clothes, save their sports bras and underwear, and each get a microphone with a long cord, first for just them to play with, stretching, doing yoga, letting the mics amplify the sounds of their bodies in space and on the floor. This moves into contact improv with the mics, with the performers inserting the mics into the backs of their bras, seemingly taking the place of their mouth and brain, so that they are literally communicating through body language rather than spoken text.
In the next section, “Sweet Dreams,” the performers disappear into sleeping bags (the bags at the back of the stage), doing what appears to be some strange sleeping bag floor dancing while a video plays on the large screen, of the three performers answering an online quiz, though the audience can only hear their answers, which often veer into the process of becoming an adult, and their changing relationship with their parents.
The next two sections merge together: “Evening Prayer,” in which seemingly the two-close phones are broadcasting the whisperings of the performers in their sleeping bags, turns into “Father Told Me,” in which the performers emerge from the sleeping bags, now fully clothed in suits that are too big for them, donning sunglasses, and they set up the mics again but now standing, the mics in mic stands, as they read what appear to be quotes from what their fathers have said about them, or maybe what they think their fathers have said or would say about them.
Suddenly the stage lights up and turns in a Sleater-Kinney style concert, with hard rock songs about waking up, masturbation, and what their parents are afraid of, all interspersed with more quotes. The show ends with a reprise of “If I Were A Butterfly,” with the word “Father,” now taking on a different meaning.
Reflections from Susan
Parental Ctrl has the setup to be like a lot of shows we see in the States about the relationship between young adults and their parents—with a non-linear/non-narrative structure, contemporary technology, childhood religious and pop culture references, I was wondering if I would be watching something I had seen before.
However, with its insistence on keeping a measured pace, with its desire to explore quietness, space, and the language of the body without falling into the many of usual profundities of young adult performance art, this piece often surprised me with how thoughtfully the structure and content were woven together.
There was a great feeling of self-consciousness that these performers (who devised this work with director Sinkó Ferenc and dramaturg Panna Adorjáni) knew they were playing in both the young adult and established adult world, and the content and structure of the piece always walked on the balance beam between both—wanting to continue playing in the trappings of childhood (a very popular pastime now for those of us who came of age in the 90s), while acknowledging that they were already entering into the complex difficulties of becoming the adults of their families.
Rather than being a battle between childhood and adulthood, the piece was more of an exploration of mind and body, finding the new boundaries of adult bodies and minds, and the sounds and language those bodies inhabit.
Unlike many pieces by young adults about “the older generation,” this piece does not condemn their parents, but leaves them and the audience with a sense of both unease and acceptance: we accept that these are our parents, that this is our past, that we are the sum of who has created and reared us, but we do not know what will happen next. The finality of making discomfort an okay jumping-off point for the future is ultimately the success of the piece.
GroundFloor Group was the only company that was both independent and Romanian at the festival. I hope they are a sign of things to come in independent theater in the country, because this piece broke new ground from what I have seen of independent theater in Eastern Europe, especially in regards to theater largely created by women.