Interchangeable Bodies

Interchangeable Bodies is a new piece of interactive, thought-provoking theatre running as part of The CentrE17’s new political season: It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.

Guided by theatre-maker Louisa Claughton, Interchangeable Bodies explores the concept of gender in a modern-day context. More of an interactive workshop than a standard evening at the theatre, Claughton uses a series of exercises to create a stimulating discussion. That all sounds very serious, but the evening is what one makes of it: educational, challenging and a lot of fun.

We start by examining the meanings of words such as ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’. We discuss what we, as individuals, understand these words to mean and work together to create a joint definition. This is an open space, and there are no right or wrong answers (or even answers too abstract).

Next, Claughton creates physical boundaries of masculinity and femininity, male and female – and asks her audience to place themselves within these boundaries. While it seems like a simple exercise, the results are interesting – ask one to justify why they fit where they fit and watch as they move around, unable to fully settle on a space where they feel completely comfortable. In a strange way, it perfectly represents the fluidity of gender.

The third exercise is to split into small groups and discuss our experiences and understandings of gender, encompassing our personal feelings and circumstances that have shaped our worldviews. These discussions ranged from intense, thoughtful, random and a bit of a laugh. Like gender, a full spectrum.

Finally, Claughton invites the audience to use everything they have learnt to cooperate in one last group exercise: writing a new children’s story, on the subject of gender. Together, our small group created a character, a setting and a mission – then split into groups to discuss key plot points in a laughter-fuelled bout of creativity.

On the night, our story depicted the adventures of a gender-neutral alien who becomes trapped in a human zoo. They are forced to interact with the (admittedly, bizarre) Earth gender norms, before finally finding freedom in the notion gender does not exist. I have put this down in writing on the off-chance this story one day becomes the next Harry Potter.

The evening as a whole is beautifully structured, with clear and thought-provoking exercises. It succeeds in creating a safe atmosphere where one feels comfortable to contribute and discuss – even in a room filled with strangers. All thoughts, opinions and questions are examined respectfully and without judgement.

It is very much an interactive experience, which may or may not be everyone’s cup of tea. How much one chooses to put of themselves into the experience is entirely their choice. I will say that one will get out of it what they put into it – and the time to discuss such a complex issue is unfortunately rare in our busy, city lives.

What makes the evening even more interesting is that every audience is different, and thus every performance of Interchangeable Bodies is different. Undoubtedly, on another night we may have raised other questions, thoughts, or viewpoints.

Interchangeable Bodies offers opportunities to question norms and build and contribute to a relevant, modern discussion. This is unusual, but effective, theatre. It opens one’s mind, makes one think and pushes boundaries – which to be honest, is what theatre is all about.

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It runs at The CentrE17 until April 27

Thanks also to Susy Brett who attended for us and guest posted. Find her normal twitter adventures at @susybumblebee