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‘The Birds and the Bees: Unabridged’ stings with unprofessionalism

By Amanda Ehrmann

Section: Arts

October 23, 2015

Honest Accomplice’s “The Birds and The Bees: Unabridged” is a devised, touring piece performed at Brandeis on Oct. 14. Devised theater is a particularly unique concept, because it proves beneficial not only to the viewers, but also to the actors, who create the piece themselves. The opportunity to perform your own work is a rare, admirable feat. When portraying intense emotion on stage not only do you have to be vulnerable, but you also know that what you are performing is your work, or your friend’s work, which is even more frightening. Allowing others to perform a piece you wrote is never easy. The stakes are higher, and the rehearsal process is more of a personal journey.

“The Birds and The Bees” presented fresh material and key insight into transgender identity. The cast was diverse, comprised of women and gender non-conforming actors. Besides diversity in race and gender, there were also a few actors over the age of 60, which was refreshing. The idea of bringing older people into the cast provided new perspectives, and offered opportunities that older actors normally don’t have.

Additional abstract elements enhanced the show. There were dance pieces that mirrored sexual experiences. A couple danced in front of a couple lying on an upright bed holding the cover above them. This allowed the audience to have a peek into a couple’s personal life without being vulgar.

Other interesting scenes included movement pieces where one actor would repeat an everyday movement, like looking at themselves in the mirror, then other actors would repeat this action in a round. This echoed the obsessive nature of body unhappiness, and was particularly powerful to see if across all different races, genders and ages. The show also had comedic moments in songs that allowed the audience to breathe and take a break from the tough subject matter. The show was well rounded and well written.

One aspect of the show that ultimately led to its downfall had to do with the actors’ abilities to perform. Actors often stumbled over their lines or seemed to present overly dramatic versions of the characters that hindered the authenticity of the stories. There were small technical mistakes, justified by the fact that the group toured and was not familiar with the SCC theater. However, the actors lacked the techniques that most actors are taught from day one, such as enunciation, projection, and identification of clear trigger moments.

Select theater courses were lucky to have the directors Maggie Keenan-Bolger and Rachel Sullivan as guests. Sullivan explained the process of Accomplice’s abstract, devised theater, and also how they worked with people who had no previous acting experience. This explained the performers’ unfamiliarity with stage performance, but left the question of whether it was the right choice. If the actors performed their own stories, rather than other troupe member’s stories or fictional stories, they may have presented a more honest front.

Sullivan further explained that working with non-actors proved challenging, but they did their best to create a safe space. Near tech week, the troupe members write out their fears about the performance and Sullivan and Keenan-Bolger read these fears out loud to show troupe members they were not alone.

Despite slight performance slips, the overall production was refreshing and new. After learning about the production process, using non-actors made sense. This was an incredible opportunity for non-actors to express themselves and have an artistic voice. But using non-actors was not necessarily the best decision for a piece whose aim was to educate, as the mistakes proved distracting.

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