Edinburgh Fringe 2019
The Female Role Model Project is an interactive theatrical experience paired with neuroscience celebrating female pioneers. It combines performance and interactive games with live recordings of neural activity from actors and audiences using EEG headsets. The company describe is as ‘part performance, part game show, part storytime, and part psychology/sociology lesson’
Edinburgh is often about breaking new ground, and The Female Role Model Project at Bedlam certainly does that. It can also, with such a complex show, be about things going horribly wrong. However, this team have nailed it; four actors, audience involvement, live video and soundscape and a visiting PhD student contributing the science all come together for something original, quirky, intelligent, evidence based and, ground breaking.
Created by Tjasa Ferme and developed over several years with director Ana Margineanu and Cognitive neuroscientist Natalie Kacinik the Female Role Model Project aims to link science and theatre, role models and women pioneers.
The four diverse female-identified performers of various ethnicities, ages, and sexual identities: Tjasa Ferme, Gina Simone Pemberton, Sabrina Sng and Meggan Dodd, who also contributing to the devising, are an energetic, tightly knit team who never let the pace flag. They share personal stories as well as taking on a range of characters.
In the course of the 90 minutes we take part in an exploration of the gender of language, race through childhood, adolescence and adult womanhood, hear stories of mothers as role models, vote in a beauty contest (and wonder which features are the most valued and what does that say about us and our society), and finally get to ask questions of a panel comprising some to today’s influencers and role models: Kim Kardashian West, Melania Trump and Chinese popstar Bingbing Fan chaired by Oprah Winfrey, no less.
I found the exploration of grammatical gender particularly fascinating. The whole audience are invited on stage and instructed to move to either the designated male or female side in response to words contributed by both cast and audience. The biggest discussion was over the word ‘confusion’; quite a lively exchange over whether it is a female or male word, with about a 50:50 split in the end. The examples of how the gender of nouns in languages such as German, French and Spanish affects the perceptions in those cultures was another eye opener, as something we rarely think of in English.
At various points the cast, and some audience volunteers, wear headsets that create visual video images and a soundscape as projections of their brainwaves that enhance the performances by adding another layer of experience.
The commentary provided by a visiting scientist, a PhD student from Glasgow, was a little rushed, fascinating but very complex and dense; perhaps a little more support and work on making the content clearer for a lay audience would add to the interest and the understanding of the underlying science.
This is something for those who like their Fringe (or at least some of it) to be original, thought-provoking, ambitious, funny, absorbing, interactive with no sign of the 4th wall.