Culture, Europe, Globe, On Stage

An erotic show that subverts the male gaze: UmColetivo

The enunciation of the words is an oral expression, which also exists in sexual relations. But very often the man seems to be the one with the power to speak, here it is the women.


The Animatografo 2Entrevista: Graham Douglas

Potos: Alipio Padilha


The Animatografo is discreetly placed in a very central position in Lisbon, and still has its original Art Nouveau facade from 1907.

The small theatre company, UmColetivo put on a unique experience last month, in which 4 women used the small stage of the peep-show to recite the biblical Song of Solomon for an audience watching in pairs, invisibly from the seventeen surrounding booths.

It was preceded by a series of films and discussions called Janela Marginal – the window on the margins – which unfortunately I missed.

As Cátia Terrinca and Ricardo Boléo explained: “It was an experiment to research what we can do as a theatre company; where we can work, and the relation between the flesh and blood of an actor and the text they are using.

It showed that even though the bodies of the actresses are quite static, their physical presences can be communicated through the voice. It would work in any language, there is no need for subtitles written on the body: the body is the text.”

Personally I found the sensual qualities of the Portuguese language more seductive than English would have been.

Why did you produce this show?

Catia: To change the way this space is used, Instead of the woman being an object of desire, a sexual object, she becomes the one who is expressing desire: to subvert the normal use of this space in the peep-show. Usually there is one woman who undresses onstage, here we have four who are fully dressed, but express their desire through the qualities of their voice and their body movements.

We used this religious text because both the words and the sonority of the voice play a part, as well as the melodic quality of the poetry, which is not typical of modern writing.

The Animatografo CatiaDo you see this rhythmic quality as erotic?

Catia: yes, although the conceptual aspect of the words is there, we are working with the rhythms, the silences between words – words as a source of pleasure both in speaking them and in listening to them. The enunciation of the words is an oral expression, which also exists in sexual relations. But very often the man seems to be the one with the power to speak, here it is the women.

Why did you choose to put it on in a peep-show?

Ricardo: We wanted to explore the relation between the actors and the individuals in the booths, which is different from the shared experience of going to a theatre.

Catia: These spaces are products of capitalism, a separation between people, sad and repressive, which we wanted to subvert. In the contemporary world people’s individuality has been lost, we have forgotten that we are citizens. Theatre has the capacity to recover our fullness as people, to allow people to be individuals without being alone.

The Animatografo CheilaIt reminded me of the peep-show scene in the film Paris Texas.

Catia: Although we can’t see the spectators, and they aren’t sure if we can see them or not, there is a very touching kind of intimacy that develops, even though it hits you suddenly, it isn’t consensual. With people I have known intimately, the moment when your eyes meet is special: the body becomes flesh and blood, with sensation and voice. In this situation where there is no contact possible it is quite harsh emotionally.

You have said that the eroticism here comes not from sexuality but from intimacy – isn’t it just privacy without intimacy?

Catia: In the theatre thereis a feeling of closeness between people who have been invited; in the booths this is put in question.

Ricardo: Both among the members of the audience and between the actors and the audience. It also depends on whether you are sharing a booth with someone you know or a stranger. And when an actress looks towards me there is a clear link between me in the booth and the scene on the stage.

The Animatografo AnaFeminists would say that men are exploiting women in these places – even though the man is paying. I noticed 32 euros had been clocked up on the meter although we only paid 8.

Catia: I felt very powerful while I was acting in the show, not exploited at all. No-one would pay 32 euros for a 40 minute performance. It is perverse, there is a clear manipulation which starts from the moment when people go into the cabins.

What do you think of the men who normally go to these places?

Ricardo: We had some contact with clients, while we were preparing: they assumed that Catia was one of the women, and asked herfor a private dance. There were various nationalities, men with girlfriends, fathers and sons.

And of course there are always men who are obsessed with seeing a woman take her clothes off, but there are shows where they don’t strip. And if a man wants a private show the girl makes her price.

Fantasy is important: some of the men fall for a woman and when she comes back after a gap of months they see her as a returning lover, even though they have no relationship with her at all.

The Animatografo LuciaWhat kind of women work there normally?

Ricardo: Many of the girls come from other countries, but they aren’t necessarily marginal people, some of them work for a month to earn extra cash, and then go back to their normal job.

Catia: They may be socially marginalised for the work they do, but when they are in the show they are very powerful – as women. They are beautiful on the stage, they show the beauty and the fertility of the feminine body, even if they don’t have fashion-model looks. This idea that women are fragile is a phallo-centric perspective.

Have you ever heard of peep shows for women with male actors?

Ricardo: There are places where the audience sees a live sex show with a man and woman, and even homosexual live shows. Gay men are a significant part of the market in these places, but gay shows were not very successful with gay men – they preferred to watch a heterosexual couple. The audiences for live sex are mainly hetero and gay couples, it’s extremely rare for women alone to watch them – possibly because they don’t want people to think they are working there.

Did you talk about the project with the women who normally work there?

Ricardo: Not about the project – only about the way the place functioned, and the production. They were very helpful to Catia offering to lend her make-up, this helpfulness is quite rare among actresses normally. They are there about 10 hours a day, with 7 hours dancing, and the place is open for 12 hours a day- their working days are absurd. They dance for about 7 minutes at a time, and in between they may do private shows. There are always 6 of them there working this routine.

And because of where they work there are many clients who make them offers for prostitution or involving drugs, but this is prevented by the constant CCTV surveillance.

The Animatografo 1Catia: there was a great deal of solidarity between the women, we were all colleagues, which is more common among men. Their attitude was “we’re all women, we share everything”. I was surprised that the women seemed much more satisfied with their work and their relations with clients than in most jobs;it may be just my impression.

We talked to the owners, who were incredibly helpful and we had the privilege of watching many shows while we were there.

The AnimatografoHow did the owners see your work?

They made very little money from our shows – even though they were all full – plus they had to keep the place open longer than normal, pay the electricity, and give up holiday time. They helped us as people, not for financial gain or our artistic image. The conversations we had with them were far more human and less about business than any I have had in the normal theatre world.




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