Predator Songstress is an exquisite, soul-stirring work of art that asks era-defining questions about voice, freedom, and live performance. It’s magnificent, unique, and startlingly relevant today.
Originally staged in 2015, the recording of this performance has been available at OntheBoards.tv for five years now—but its message and storytelling style are fresher and more necessary than ever.
The recording opens onto a full lobby and an intriguing pre-show installation. A performer sits on a slightly raised platform, inviting onlookers to sit in the chair opposite her. “Five minutes of your time!” She calls. “Let me sing your heartbreak, your joy!” To those who take the chance, she asks a few questions, and then composes live music, singing their joy and heartbreak into a microphone. The result is wordless and haunting.
As we move to the show itself, it becomes clear that those who allowed her to sing for them were participating in a very brave act. The show, and now all of us participants, lives in a dystopian world whose “Council” creates ‘peace’ by silencing any dissent, doubt, or strong emotions. It focuses on the life of a girl, Ximena (played by the spellbinding Haruko Crow Nishimura) who makes it her work to uplift these silenced voices through song.
The Songstress, as Ximena is known, is captured for her traitorous work and sentenced to prison for “community work service and voice removal therapy.” Through vivid song and dance, luscious costumes, and a raw, authentic, storytelling style, the show makes the harrowing story of one woman's incarceration into a broader quest to the far reaches of art itself.
As the plot evolves, the audience becomes involved again through a fascinating intermission installation. The Insurrection, a band of rebels that fights against the Council, has stolen the airwaves. And they need our help, while they still have control, to spread change in the best way possible: voices, regained through song. During intermission, members of the Insurrection await with video cameras and typewriters to write down “moments that you lost your voice” and “how you regained it.”
At the beginning of the second act, the Lieutenant of the Insurrection (played by the commanding Okanamodé) weaves these typewritten pages into one liberating song. It is deeply moving, soulful, and full of phrases including “my pen became my savior,” and “I unbound my words.”
The entire production is staggeringly gorgeous, and the evocative music, dance, and audience participation is just one aspect—there's also film! The unconventional show incorporates flashback film clips as the Songstress convulses to the memory of her time in prison, live-streamed T.V. announcements by the Insurrection, and layered interactions between various versions of Ximena, one live on stage, and many others jumping playfully between screens. The film clips were shot in various stunning locations, from abandoned concrete fortresses to rooms overflowing with intricately painted antiques.
The audience participation, music, and film are not the only genre-bending aspects of this magical production. The storytelling style itself leaps suddenly and jarringly from reminiscence to adrenaline, as if telling an emotion-clouded memory. The dance, illustrating events along with emotions, is a powerful blend of styles, including Butoh.
There is also a body-movement-based sign language that Ximena and her close brother invented as children, which later on in the show comes to spark a whole new understanding of voice as connection between people.
The whole experience is unlike any other. This Seattle-based experiment in live theater is an art performance that questions our perceptions about art. What better thing to watch now?
This show carries a multitude of possibilities for the era of COVID-19. Clips of audience participation could be sent in over webcam, performers could interact through a montage of pre-recorded and live clips, stages could expand to cover miles of physically separate land…and that's just to cover the show's ingenious use of film!
Before he sings the soul-baring opener to Act Two, the Lieutenant laments not having more control of the airtime for more statements, but reassures us that, “every voice we unearth will bring us closer to freedom.” Despite our current lack of live audiences and our performers' physical separation, every art moment we share will bring us closer together in this time of separation.
And this is a universal story. Oppression can happen anywhere, anytime, in worlds with any strains of magic. And art, sharing your emotionally-authentic truth, can transform any place that we are in, any confinement, and liberate us.
Predator Songstress is a transformative show. Its songs echo enticingly from a half-decade away to remind us that at this exact moment, art is what will set us free.
Predator Songstress premiered at On the Boards in 2015, and is currently available to watch on OntheBoards.TV.