Kate McDowell in Lismore's Quad as she prepares for the opening on her show Wonderbabes as part of  2018 Byron Bay Writers Festival.
Kate McDowell in Lismore's Quad as she prepares for the opening on her show Wonderbabes as part of 2018 Byron Bay Writers Festival. Sophie Moeller

Firelight shines on sexual frustration

KATE McDowell is not sure she wants her parents to come to Wonderbabes in The Quad this week. Fact is, her electrifying performance tells the story of many grown-up "little girls” out there, and the experience is not meant to make you feel comfortable.

After all, it was McDowell's own sense of confusion and bewilderment around the sexual world of the young that led her to create Wonderbabes in the first place.

Ironically, she feels if we were all more prepared for the "hyper-sexualised contemporary social climate” young people might be better armed to follow their own individual compass.

Kate McDowell grew up in Lismore having gained a postgraduate diploma in Writing for Performance from NIDA and wrote Wonderbabes at 26.

"I was in the bubbling point of my questioning around the 'endless barage” of sexual politics, pressure and expectations that have become normalised out there,” she said.

POTENTIAL: Kate McDowell in  Wonderbabes , a featured satellite event of the Byron Writers Festival.
POTENTIAL: Kate McDowell in Wonderbabes , a featured satellite event of the Byron Writers Festival. Nolan Verheij-Full

Kate said she wanted to be "open and powerful, less prudish and adored” but was confused as to how to "navigate the space” when it came to the attention she elicited.

"Northern Rivers boys are surrounded by a constant influx of beautiful women and there is so much going on in an environment of unmediated access to sex,” she said.

"I wrote this play as a way of exploring the complexity of what I was feeling as a young woman - I wanted to feel in control and to understand this incredible rage burning inside me.

"This (Wonderbabes) is about anyone who rails against being told to behave in a certain way based on social expectations or when they are being silenced for their age, class, race, gender or even for what they wear! For me, I felt rage and confusion about my femaleness.”

At 31, McDowell said her perspective had now shifted, and she realised a woman's value in the 21st century came from "the promise of her potential”. She no longer needed to "tap into her masculine side to be heard” and hoped, above all, the play could be seen for what it was: "a fun romp and playful exploration of all the different states of the 21st century woman.”

It is time for a "cultural shift”, she said,.

The young need to know it is okay to have a genuine conversation with each other; young men and women can actually "speak to each other about what is going on and be listened to.”

In the end, she said, "the play is about how I started the process of loving my inner-self; finding what gave me pleasure, rather than having to tap into my masculine side to be heard”.

Wonderbabe producer Marisa Snow said the play's experimental form was "both visceral and poetic, moving between brutal reality and a lyrical otherworldliness”.

Directed by Elsie Edgerton-Till, McDowell's performance is superbly underpinned by an original electronic score that is mixed live on stage by composer James Brown, said Snow. Wonderbabes is presented by NORPA and The Quad, as a featured satellite event in the Byron Writers Festival's 2018 program.

Thursday-Saturday, August 2-4, 7pm, The Quad

Tickets: Adult $30, Conc/ student $25. Bookings: 1300 066 772, norpa.org.au


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