While researching the differences between performance art and drama, I came across this quotation from an interview with Marina Abramović, sometimes described as “the grandmother of performance art”:
Theatre is fake: there is a black box, you pay for a ticket, and you sit in the dark and see somebody playing somebody else’s life. The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real. It’s a very different concept. It’s about true reality.
I’m not sure how I feel about that. Some plays I have seen have definitely drawn on very real emotions and experiences; some performance art can’t help but coming across as somewhat contrived. Is it the difference between performing a story and performing my story?
It is certainly clear that Sheila Ghelani’s performance artwork Rat Rose Bird exposes a world that is very personal to her. The audience is privileged to be shown the most intimate and uncomfortable parts of Ghelani’s life over a year, while also being enchanted by edible rose petals, responsive television screens and the circus-appropriate showmanship of the performer.
Lara Tutton explains the premise of the performance:
Ghelani’s hour long one-woman show is a deeply personal piece drawn from her autobiography. Taking us back to 2006, Ghelani moves seamlessly through the tragedies and losses of her annus horribilus with wit, fast pace and an unmistakably warm sense of humour. Ghelani’s storytelling is unconventional yet perfectly effective. As the performance opened with the words “This is my story”, I was overcome with the fear that I was now trapped listening to an hour long dramatic monologue, reminiscent of a moody, broody piece of A-level theatre studies coursework. Any such concern was completely misplaced; Ghelani’s narration is fresh and innovative, punctuated by moments of song, dance and cinema that are filled with both joy and sorrow.