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A Magazine for Sheffield

Embrace Festival

No Bra Day and more: Getting things off your chest with Sheffield University Theatre Company’s online festival.

sutco because I'm not perfect yet rehearsal

Dress rehearsal of SUTCo's 'Because I'm Not Perfect Yet'

Sam Dangerfield

For an uplifting experience in these times of restriction, look no further than SUTCo’s autumn offerings. Bucking the trend of lockdown doldrums, the Sheffield University Theatre Company team are breaking ground with innovative modes of performance through Embrace Festival. Corset’s our pleasure to support this endeavour.

Starting from a base of celebrating Mental Health Day through performance, all of SUTCo’s forthcoming discussions and workshops (10-16 October) aim to promote a variety of topics around the ‘body politic’ debate and related issues, focussed around international ‘days’ including No Bra Day (13 October).

I met virtually with Victoria Breach, SUTCo's External Publicist, who provided the broader picture surrounding the festival: “With an instant loss of 97% of our budget, we had to break with traditions and look different ways of working.”

Rather than agonising over a shrinking budget, SUTCo became self-critical, looking at where funding was wasted. A switch to radio, away from physical productions, emerged within a month of this purging. “The process itself” was the focus, rather than the product, Victoria stresses.

Exploiting all digital devices and improving their captioning and video descriptions will be an on-going labour of love. Victoria and the team seem to embody one of her oft-repeated phrases, probably true of many struggling sectors: how important for survival it is to be around “a bubble of like-minded people”.

In the 21st century, a ramping up of the ‘perfect’ body image is all around. Whether teeth whitening, hair removal or entire body shape, this pressure to aspire and conform provides an eerie example of Noam Chomsky’s powerful notion of the ‘manufacture of consent’, specifically but not exclusively by the media. The connection between body image, anxiety and eating disorders, especially in the younger age bracket, is still being understood and has only recently started being taken seriously. Victoria's take on this is to be creative with a new, progressive form: being upbeat.

No Bra Day updates the feminist anti-icon. Rather than fire setting, the organisers will use the message to explore the entire body image spectrum. Whilst its associations are predominantly female, male items of clothing carry similar symbols and coded messages. This workshop performance will include input from a female activist.

Eugène Delacroix Le 28 Juillet La Liberté guidant le peuple

Liberty Leading The People

Eugène Delacroix

Lockdown has provided some modern form of liberation. Many report that one of the positives of home working is the change in sartorial expectations: no make-up, no brand-conscious footwear and pyjama bottoms below the desk line. The social history of costume provides the standard body abuse items of clothing, namely corsets and bustles. Despite the efforts of first-wave feminism, the bra was never consigned to history and continues to be marketed, peddled and re-imagined for every conceivable aspect of life. The fact that this phenomenon has sustained through the ages is one of the many aspects which will no doubt emerge from SUTCo’s No Bra Day workshop.

A focus on promoting debate and thought sharing on our physical existence, our bodies and their commodification chimes with the new theatre era. Switching to audio, rather than 3D experience, will require a future audience to be less fixated on how actors look. The impact this will have on costume, make-up and lighting will, no doubt, become part of a ‘new normal’ for the industry.

Victoria takes this notion further. Restrictions on the traditional theatre process means that in her view an entirely new genre of theatre is likely to emerge. Theatre has always responded to contemporary challenges and creativity is in its DNA.

We say bra-vo to the SUTCo team for their autumn schedule and the ground-breaking programmes we can expect from them in future. The final word goes to Victoria's colleague Ryan, who rounded off the interview with a rallying call for the future: “No bra - be who you are.”

Learn more

Embrace Festival runs from 10 to 16 October 2020. More information is available via the SUTCo Facebook page.

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