Movies that fail the test? Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Great Gatsby and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, to name but a few. The 'Sexy Lamp Test' is the next level of the Bechtel Test. This is how our story from Katie Arnstein starts, incidentally with Katie wearing a lampshade on her head. She silently introduces herself via cue cards, while the audience listens to a soundtrack of various sexist remarks. There is something visually striking about watching a woman on stage prevented from responding; instead she sits, shaded away, like a pretty wallflower.
Following her award-winning show Bicycles and Fish, which debuted at VAULT last year, Katie has returned. Now she's back – minus the bicycles and fish – and her lights are devastatingly sexy indeed (brownie points for lighting!). I don't know whether it was the sexy lights, hard-hitting truths, honest and gentle delivery, or upbeat songs, but Katie got a standing ovation from me. In fact, it was the first standing ovation I have seen at the festival so far; and yes, she did make my eyes sweat a little. It wasn't just myself, a woman, standing to applaud the show. But others were doing so, too: including the men, which made me think that the world really did want what Katie was supplying here.
After being captivated by Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz as a child, Katie realised that she wanted to be an actress. (During the show, she ticks off her 'To Do List'). We see her finish drama school, move to London, land her first lead role, and then her 'part-time/full-time' job, before meeting an elusive agent, with a client in Pirates of the Caribbean – on a boat! Sadly, we also see a fair amount of sexist remarks, unclothed roles and other actors giving a little bit extra on the side...
The standing ovation was testament to Katie's engaging delivery and conversational tone. Her delivery made it possible for her to slide in a few home truths too fluidly for us to notice. We were invested in her story from the start and realised that the casual sexism wasn't just in Katie's acting career in school or at auditions, but actually in fairly normal places such as Selfridges (or, as she calls it, 'The Company') and on public transport during rush hour.
Despite the harder-hitting home truths, Katie smiled throughout. I felt like the audience became her friends over the course of the show; the type of friends who would do anything to support theirs. I saw myself in many of her situations and related to the emotions she presented on stage. I hope the male audience members realised the subtle, sometimes overlooked situations that females find themselves forced into. Nevertheless, Katie's light and infectiously positive energy shined through her occasional musical interludes; so much so, that it obscured the darkness behind them. It's a genius move.
Likewise, the character arc of our protagonist shifts pleasingly, from drama school lessons ('Say yes, and add something') to Katie learning when to say no. Taking into account the #MeToo conversation, it's quite easy to see how willingly we can be manipulated by superior forces; how lessons learnt in school can follow us through all branches of life, and not just Katie's acting career.
Overall, I want to see more of this on stage. Female stories are not just for female audiences. They should continue to be heard by everyone. I think that if I were male, I still would have been touched by Katie's impeccably crafted story and beautiful words. Otherwise, who knows where we might be heading!
Please keep writing Katie and I will be there at the next festival! Next time we're expecting motorcycles and tomatoes!
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What the audience thought: