Category Archives: Sydney

Turns out average-looking women play sport sometimes too.

It seems sports companies have realised that average-looking women play sport. Perhaps, even, god forbid, are good at it. At least that’s what a recent swathe of sports ads would like us to believe. Lately we’ve been treated to a wave of commercials empowering women to get active. Women panting, jiggling, sweating, flab swaying, limbs flying, hair wet, it seems, are no longer an embarrassment.

After years of watching slim, gorgeous people training and racing towards the finish line, shiny bodies glimmering, finally it feels like images of imperfect female bodies doing sport are ok too. Are advertisers getting braver? Or are they now reverting to shaming rather than aspiration? A carrot or a stick?

The statistics show women do significantly less sport than men. In the USA, 1.9 million fewer women than men participate in sport at least once a month. In the UK, the numbers are even more telling, with two million fewer women than men being active. Research also found that 48% of British girls interviewed believed that getting sweaty is “not feminine”. To counter these, Sport England released a promo last year called ‘This Girl Can’ featuring sweat-covered, voluptuous bodies doing sports, set to the busting beat of Missy Elliot’s Get Ur Freak On. It quickly went viral, earning 37 million views to date. The first words onscreen, “I jiggle therefore I am,” were a battle-cry for many women, with independent research revealing that the campaign was effective in both the short and the long term. Over a year on, 2.8 million British women aged 14 to 40 say they have done ‘some or more activity’ as a result of watching the campaign. It was positive, and energetic, and made women feel good about their bodies no matter their size.

If the goal is to inspire women to sweat, sports clothes brands clearly have the most to gain. Obviously women getting active means higher purchases of ‘active-wear’ but women also buy more items of clothing per year than the menfolk. Which means return on advertising investment can be more efficient. Nike is clearly leading from the front. Whilst Adidas’s #Mygirls campaign and Reebok’s Women Run The World #BeMoreHuman rely on time-worn cliches about women being badass (and always using hashtags), Nike seems to be at least trying. Last year they produced the campaign ‘Last’, in which a female runner pants her way to the finish line in last place, fighting self-doubt all the way. “You are not a runner. You are especially not a marathon runner,” she tells herself.

Undoubtedly based on this success, this year Nike released the ‘Better For It – Inner Thoughts’ campaign. In this series, deadpan voice-overs mull through the myriad of fears that prevent women from doing exercise; mirrors at the gym, judgement from others in the class, and, most obviously, fear of failure. But ‘Better For It’ hits a different chord. While ‘Last’ showed a full-bodied woman, ‘Better For It’ reveals women who’s bodies are not too unlike the so-called ‘models’ in class who intimidate them. Its a return to the beautiful bodies we’ve seen a thousand times before.

Whatever the type of bodies portrayed, one thing is for sure – the framing of these ads is very different to the traditional male-targeted examples that we’re used to seeing on TV. We all know the ones; they’re all about shiny, tanned, sinewy young bodies (or better yet, celebrity athletes), always training hard, usually shot in profile. The narrative is always the same – try hard, strive for excellence and then, obviously, win. Here, the sportsman is hero, and winning is both the final goal, and an easy equation of hard work and time.

But these female-perspective commercials set a far lower benchmark; they’re set on inspiring women to move. In these very different advertisements, the real win is far smaller. Simply finishing the race, whatever place that might be, or even sometimes just starting in the first place, are all we can hope for. The challenges are smaller in scope, and completely internalised. The voice-overs articulate self-doubt, self-consciousness, and often wondering if it is worth continuing.

But then of course, there are the fails. Apple have tried their own version – replacing self-doubting, average-looking women with the decidedly un-average Taylor Swift. Despite her slim physique, she still tries to establish that she’s just a normal human girl you guys! by tripping over her treadmill at the end. It’s silly, yes, and more than a little patronising, but still, they seem to be trying.


Iranian Theatre: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

A sole actor enters the stage, nervously clutching a script he has never read before. He flips to the first page, clears his throat. “Here goes.” So begins White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, a conceptual theatre piece written by Iranian playwright Nassim Solaimanpour. Each night a fresh actor is summoned to the stage to play the lead, having never read the script and with no idea what is in store for them. Plenty, it seems.

At times, Nasim has the actor running around the stage flapping his arms, an onstrich being chased by bears. At others he addresses the audience directly through the actor, solemnly telling us about his home, his life. There are moments of silliness; Audience members are invited on to the stage for silly interactive role-plays. We are left feeling strangely close, even protective, of Nasim, and solemnly wondering where he is now. Fantastical stories and personal anecodotes allude to the dictatorial system around him, without seeming prescriptive. We are forced to muse on the role of the writer, political anonymity and the nanny state.

Finally, a challenge is set the actor. Early in the piece, a vial of poison has been placed into one of two identical glasses of water. The actor must decide whether to risk his life and drink one of the cups, bringing the imagined into stark reality. Will he drink?

The stage may be sparse, but White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is positively brimming with ideas.

The Horse’s Mouth is a festival of autobiographical theatre at the Bondi Pavilion in Sydney, finishing 14 December.

Never Did Me Any Harm

Parenting sure is a hot topic right now. With the success of The Slap, the Sydney Theatre Company and contemporary dance company Force Majeure have joined forces for the first time to create Never Did Me Any Harm. It’s a physical theatre work inspired by the book and deals with parenting – the challenges, the contentment, and the misunderstandings. Melding theatre with the physical, it elegantly segways between the two forms to create a physical theatre work that people really understand, says performer Vincent Crowley.

“The Slap hit a real chord,” he says, as everyone can relate to the issues of family and childhood. From mothers sharing in the woes of parenting to a couple worrying about how to discipline their child, this production does away with the lofty themes usually associated with physical theatre, and brings it down to the every-day. The work even uses words taken from real-life interviews with mothers, fathers and children. “The verbatim immediately puts it in a voice and tone that we understand”, says Crowley. If you’ve never seen physical theatre, there’s never been a better time to try.

6 Jan-12 Feb, The Wharf, Pier 4 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, $35 – $75, 9250 1777,

Cardboard Manila: Within / Without

Published 11 June 2011 – City Hub, Sydney

Only a few years ago, the Phillipines had their own Arnold Schwarzenegger moment, electing their highest rating film star to President of the country. A few years before that, they were living under the draconian dictatorship of martial law. Such are the highs and lows of the country’s long history, making it a fascinating subject for artists and historians alike.

A new theatre installation at Blacktown Arts Centre called Within/Without explores just that, through a recreation of the city’s capital. The best thing is, it’s made entirely out of cardboard boxes. Deb Pollard, the co-creator, says the idea came about by accident. They wondered, “how about if we physically build the city of Manila? The materials happened to come from a recycle bin that was nearby and it ended up being our cardboard city.”

Visitors take a walking tour through the maze-like city to see re-enactments of important historical moments, the poverty of some of its citizens, and even meet the flashy Ms Phillipines. “They even get a bowl of food,” she says. “There’s a cook in our city as well.”

If you’ve been thinking about going from a drive out to Blacktown Arts Centre, there’s never been a better time.

Jun 22-Jul 2, Blacktown Arts Centre, 78 Flushcombe Rd, Blacktown, $20-30,

Missing Persons: The Disappearances Project

Each year 1,600 people are listed as long-term missing persons. Some might walk to the store, go out for a drink, or leave for work as usual, and simply never return. For their family and friends, this can mark the beginning of years of hellish uncertainty.

Theatre company Version 1.0’s new production The Disappearances Project captures the crushing limbo for those left not knowing. “It focuses on the experience of those left behind in long-term missing persons cases,” says co-deviser and performer Yana Taylor. “We are channeling the voices of people’s accounts and experiences of… losing someone mysteriously.”

Real-life statements are woven from police reports, documents, interviews with family and communities around the cases to form a snapshot of their pain and frustration. “The worst thing,” says one family member, “is not knowing.” A chilling soundscape from Paul Prestipino combines with video imagery to form an immersive and haunting mosaic of this dark state of suspension.

May 3-7, Track 8, Performance Space, 245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh, free,

Bougainville Photoplay Project: Documentary Theatre

Published 15 November 2010 – City Hub, Sydney

Documentary meets theatre in this innovative production about the conflict in Bougainville, a son’s search for the truth about his father, and the power of healing.

A middle-aged man wanders tentatively to the stage and introduces himself as Dr Paul Dwyer – Academic, ethnographer and adventurer. Part personal essay and part endearingly simple multimedia project, it charts the real-life story of Dwyer’s travels to Bouganville in the footsteps of his father, the first orthopaedic surgeon to visit the island in the 1960s.

Old family photographs, documentary footage and confronting images of massacres intertwine to form a fascinating lecture series stroke family slide-show about the tragic civil war and its many victims. Fresh from wild reviews at the Old Fitzroy Theatre last year, political theatre company Version 1.0 now bring the production to the Upstairs Theatre at Belvoir Street. A must see.

9-28 Nov, Belvoir Street Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills, $35-57, (02) 9699 3444,