CONVERSATION: Nobody’s Business and the r’Aizin Ensemble

A 2-parter with the folks from Nobody’s Business (Who Who Who’s Got A Crush on You?) swapping slumber party stories with the r’Aizin Ensemble (The Beauty Project: the male gaze) Today: Nobody’s Business talk to rAiz’n Ensemble members Maxine Marcellin and Navneet Rai
The rest of the interview, where Johnnie Walker and Morgan Norwich from Nobody’s Business have the tables turned on them, will be on the blog tomorrow.

Nobody’s Business: What’s your collective process like? we watch a lot of youtube videos–do you?
Maxine Marcellin: We start with an idea or a concept and then expand upon it through improvisation and writing. For the first few of our devised pieces, we thought we all had to contribute – equally and in the same way – and so we wasted a lot of time and energy attempting to fulfill the ideals for a democratic writing process, if for no other reason than to spare people’s feelings. What we eventually realized was that writing is not everyone’s strength. Some people are stronger at the improv’ing/creating sessions, and some people are strong at directing/shaping of the whole process. While we still see the value in having more then one person look at a particular script, it does not need to have all 6-8 of our hands on it.

As for youtube videos, invariably we have used them as jumping-off tools for our beauty/body themes. I’m sure it would come as no surprise how many bitch’n’ho videos one can find on youtube.

Navneet Rai: The rAiz’n ensemble’s collective process starts from an idea or a topic that the women would like to explore through improvisation and movement. We try to bring in objects to work off of, like toys or make-up; something that is relevant to the topic of exploration. Also, a member of the ensemble will volunteer to be the outside-eye to guide the rest of us through the process of creation.

It depends on what a lot is; I might watch at least three to four videos in a day and these are usually posted by others on their facebook.
NB: Our show is inspired by Dream Phone and other girlie board games. What do you guys think about these games and the messages they send young women about beauty and self-worth? Did you guys play these types of games?

MM: I personally never played this game – never previously had heard of Dream Phone!!! – but I wanted to have all those sorts of items. My mom, on the other hand did not want me to have them. However, at school, I did engage in endless games of TRUE LOVE (as Navneet reminded me of) and dreamed of one day getting a Barbie doll. Maybe this will finally be my year. Fingers crossed… 

But seriously, with regard to what type of message these games send to young women, I seriously think it is a 2-hit theory: you’ve gotta have the outside stimulus/stimuli combined with the emotional state (whether that be a personality driven pre-disposition and/or familial influences e.g. mom, dad, sis, bro). So no offense to my mom, but she and my dad raised me with such positive body/beauty images, that I really don’t think she had to worry about me playing a silly game like Dream Phone or having a Barbie. Or 12.

NR: I remember seeing commercials for Dream Phone when I was a kid and thought it was inappropriate to have such a game, but I was also about five years old when I became aware of the game. Games like Dream Phone do continue to build on the idea that a woman’s worth is dependent on how men view them and they’re of worth if a man likes them. However, it is for fun, right? Who wouldn’t want to know who has a crush on them? 

I have to admit that I have engaged in games at middle school and high school with friends that surround this idea of having a crush, such as TRUE LOVE and F.L.A.M.E.S (Friends.Lovers.Affair.Marriage.Enemies.Soulmates)

NB:  Exactly how many generations do you have going on in this show? Have you found that different age groups have different ideas about beauty?

MM: Generation-wise, we technically are all within a generation of each other however there’s as much as 10-12 years between some of us. However, I would say that one cannot assume that someone in her 20’s is less secure about her body than is someone in her 30’s, simply by virtue of her age. It’s more about life experience, and in that we have found most of the difference. Generally speaking, as women of colour – of any age – we tend to have more in common in terms of what we are up against with regards to the media- and society-mandated euro-centric measures of beauty.

NR: The production of The Beauty Project: the male gaze doesn’t touch upon different generations of women’s ideas regarding beauty, but highlights men’s views on beauty and how we as women understand how men perceive us and notions of beauty. With my experience of working with women of all ages, some of their views depend on how they are affected by media and their culture. I know a lot of older women who don’t care about getting botox, but they need to wear something as simple as lipstick to give their complexions some life and they like how they look. I would say that the older women that I work with seem fairly confident with their beauty. I also believe that younger girls definitely work to look sexy and sexually appealing for themselves and for men with their fashion choices and make-up.

NB: Is the male gaze necessarily a bad thing? When can it be good, if it can?

MM: The male gaze is mos def not a bad thing; it is in fact key. We need it in order to gauge how others (men and women) perceive us, which is actually incredibly important to how we comport ourselves in our everyday lives. It is then up to us to decide what to do with that information. Do we suffer under it, rise above it, or incorporate it constructively into our lives?

NR:The male gaze is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be good if there isn’t judgment, comparing women and their attractiveness, which sometimes is hard I think even for women. Both sexes judge women’s appearances of who is prettier, beautiful et cetera, but standards seem to be set by how a man views a woman. And, if the male gaze is honest and the man is honestly appreciating a woman’s beauty without desires, leering or objectification it can be good.

NB:  If your cast were having a sleepover with our cast, what board game would we play, what movie would we watch, and what movie star would we try to make ourselves over as?
MM: I have a feeling we would start the night out with a rip-roaring game of Dirty Minds. I am convinced that festivities would then devolve into a few raucous rounds of ‘I Never…’ Movies? That’s easy. We would watch Mommy Dearest. Who doesn’t love a little bit of Faye Dunaway masquerading as Joan Crawford to scare the bejeezus out of us – especially so close to bedtime? And then we would end the night making ourselves over into Borat. I mean, with Borat, the sky’s the limit…

NR: If our casts were to have a sleepover we would play Taboo and Pictionary. We would watch maybe something from the 80s like Breakfast Club and if we were to make ourselves over I think we would make ourselves over as Marlene Dietrich and maybe Fred Astaire.