“Body As Costume” An Exploration of Process with Anthony DiFeo of Theatre Parallax Toronto’s KATA
by Anthony DiFeo
Imagine telling your designer that in order to build the costume they will need to apply pressure to it for at least an hour a day for a few months. Then you remind them that if you stop applying pressure, it will start to lose its form. It becomes imperfect with each neglectful decision you make. Couple that information with a bit of panic by letting the designer know that too much pressure or pressure in the wrong area could damage the costume and that can really set the piece behind.
Now imagine that costume is your body. Every decision you make affects the look of the show. A cheat day is only paid for by an extra work day and you’re well aware of how close the show date is. Your normal comforts are replaced by the discomfort of muscle tearing, which is fuelled by an equal mix of ambition and the fear of falling behind. You are one of four and, despite what you tell yourself, you’d hate to be the last on that list.
This is the process of KATA; a piece that only works when each performer owns the responsibility of their design.
The concept for the show itself began as an opportunity to explore masculinity and the toxic nature that often surrounds it. We were looking to create a piece that exhausted its performers and pushed them to an extreme. We’ve been constructing and reconstructing this piece for years and each time, we turn it into something we couldn’t have imagined a year ago.
Early on, we saw a design opportunity. When discussing a revamp of costumes, we realized that our design wasn’t aligned with the piece. The costumes were meant to represent masculinity and we looked at all articles of menswear that could fit the bill. None of it worked. During these talks we hadn’t considered the intense physical training that goes into this piece. It’s completely unsustainable as a performer without months of care. The training inevitably shows up in our bodies. We quite quickly realized that we were never meant to design a costume, as we were building them through the process. KATA focuses on the concept of bodies as costume.
During the building phase of KATA, the performers spend months managing their discipline. We make a pact that has us all eating clean and cutting what we would consider junk food, we put away all alcoholic drinks during the process, we surrender our free time to five days a week at the gym, and we subject ourselves to a weekly early morning assessment by our personal trainer (who often dresses us in garbage bags to sweat out whatever is left of us each week). What this creates is not only four men who can handle being pushed to physical extremes for a two-week run, but the bodies to match them.
The process of forming our bodies to an ideal show state is as mentally taxing as it is physically. The show is intended to explore the toxic effects of traditional masculinity in all of its competitive brutality, its emotional suppression, and its selfish pride. The journey we take to get there makes it difficult not to get sucked into the very thing we understand to be flawed. We’ve created circumstances where we feel the pressures in a heightened state and that experience is what we’re bringing to the stage.
The concept of body as costume isn’t new. Actors have been shaping their bodies to fit their roles for a long time as well, all of them understanding the struggle that comes with it. What we bring is a visualization of that challenge. The bodies you’ll see shaking on stage are a physical representation of what it has been like to build the costumes for this show. Those are the moments where the performers are asking themselves not to quit as they try not to feel the pressure and pain. A question they have asked themselves daily for the months leading up to these moments.
Presented by Theatre Parallax Toronto
A surrealist physical performance piece inspired by Antonin Artaud, KATA, explores masculinity through it’s title. A Japanese word describing specific behavioural conditioning that emphasizes the learning and reinforcement of patterns through repetition.
In KATA, four subjects are born into a dystopian world, not unlike our own, where, through the inheritance and perpetuation of long-established masculine expectations, they are bred into perfect soldiers. Observed by an audience of investors, the demands of the war industry and of fellow peers systematically enforce gender norms, hardening these men into products sold to satisfy the needs of external forces. As the product test progresses and the veneer of masculinity cracks, the audience is left asking, “ Is this a sustainable investment?”
KATA combines content and form in a way that merges theatre and performance art. In an attempt to present the unrealistic construction of the “ideal male”, our performers commit their bodies and minds to the exploration of “toxic masculinity”. They suffer through repetitive physical training, sacrifice their personal vices, and work tirelessly to attain physical and mental control. In this process they question their own masculinity, their loyalties to their art, and if this form is worth subscribing to.
Theatre Parallax hopes KATA will aid in the study of gender to better understand the development of masculinity and therefore understand the gender binary and its inequality more thoroughly as a whole.
Dancemakers Studio 313
9 Trinity Street, Toronto
November 11-19 at 8pm
November 19 & 20 at 1pm