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Scene: centre front of a large space, close to the audience (almost intimate) a woman stands in a silk flowery house-coat flanked on either side by two television monitors. An arc of chairs acts as an enclosing back border. Located on some of the chairs are props—a packet of cigarettes, matches, glasses, and a very large bottle of half-drunk alcohol.
The woman begins to sing, impassioned:
Crazy, I'm crazy tor feeling so lonely
Crazy tor feeling so blue
I knew you'd love me as long as you wanted
and then someday leave me tor somebody new
(Crazy by Willie Nelson, popularised by Palsy Cline)
and the monitors light up, bursting in to begin the second layer of narrative, like a verse (or a chorus).
The image on the twin screens shows the same woman (Andringa) drinking at a bar, wearing a fabulous leopard skin coat and matching pillbox hat ensemble, as the voice-over begins.
And yes, that voice (over) tells a tale of tragic love. It's almost a lament. Then the story unfolds in such a manner as to undermine itself and its passion, gathering audience sympathy only to sabotage it with parody, yet finishing (it could be said) with a happy ending. It's a melodrama with a twist.
Michelle Andringa, performing the character of the woman live as well as pre-taped, is a compelling and intelligent performer. She is also very funny.
A curious background in fine art, dance, theatre and singing in bands has led Andringa to approach performance art as 'entertainment': an approach based on the logic that 'performers can't bore audiences any more'. The 'performance art' mode allows her freedom to link her interests in song, choreography, video, as well as incorporating mis en scene and visual 'installation' elements.
Andringa uses technology efficiently. She refers to it as personal technology, signifying an unwillingness to become entrapped by it, but rather using it for a greater mobility. This idea sets a practical basis to something Andringa rather enigmatically refers to as Motion in Time Theory.
Three Episodes was originally commissioned for the 1989 Australian Video Festival called Passages in Identity. It was performed then with a structure similar to that used in Melbourne—Crazy was sung by Andringa which helped set up narrative cohesion with the video. The use the voice singing 'from the heart' represented some notion of 'emotional truth'.
In these performances, when the video was 'on', it was projected onto a large screen, and thus became the set with Andringa seated off to the side under dimmed lights. She sang in the video breaks. When the work was performed last year at Ave Festival at Arnhem, members of the European audience commented to her that they found the piece 'tragic'.
However, performing at Image 90, she adopted a different strategy, acting out 'live' the woman character as the story was told by the disembodied, yet authoritative, voice-over.
Another version of the story was presented simultaneously by the video image character who basically remained silent and seated at the bar throughout the show-maintaining a reasonable degree of decorum (though downing a reasonable degree of whisky) as the tale of her affair unfolded.
However, the 'live' Andringa went out of her way to increase the comic and underlying hysteria/panic of the story, by performing the actions true to a frantic boozehound, or lighting match after match in a frenzied attempt to get a cigarette going.
This 'performance' added another dimension to the piece in that the voice-over, telling a story in retrospect, maintained an almost deadpan sobriety and calm, whereas the live action gave an indication as to how the character coped with events.
All is not a tale of woe. The character gets her revenge, as the pivotal point of the narrative is passed. Her lover, who is travelling in Europe, writes to tell her that he's fallen in love with someone else. Initially she is shattered, but then resolves to shoot him upon his return ...
For this sequence, we see the video character at the airport performing the shotgun action as the live Andringa changes into the black attire of a rather sophisticated widow, then a trench coat, and as she begins to sing Just a closer walk with Thee the monitors come up with roses. The woman, swelled with the kind of quiet glory which follows acts of retribution, leaves the stage, leaving the monitors to their own devices. They begin to play scenes from Hitchcock's Marnie, showing Tippy Hedrun as Marnie effectively changing her identity as she scoots from one crime to another.
The quoting of Marnie is interesting in that the character Marnie is compelled to commit crime out of the guilt arising from a childhood incident, which in the film ends up being a phurfie. Marnie is and remains a desperate character.
In contrast, Andringa's character has committed a justifiable crime (within the context of melodrama!) and doesn't run away, but rather walks off confidently into whatever sunset there is to be found.
Three Episodes is essentially about the way we tell stories. It uses technology to advantage, especially in terms of temporal/narrative perspective. It works across many genres—film noir, trash films, novels, melodrama and contemporary soap.
In the space of around twelve minutes the piece succinctly and effectively plays with the truth, leaving its audience amused and refreshed.