“My Stories, Your Emails” by Ursula Martinez

at Warwick Arts Centre, Wednesday 5th December 2012

I’m rather enjoying Warwick Arts Centre’s feminist scheduling at the moment. Last month we had Vincent Dance Company’s poetic Motherland, and before that Mike Bartlett’s postmodern Medea. Now we’re treated to Ursula Martinez’ performance piece which demonstrates that, for all its use as a force for progress, the internet is a strange world where sexism has once again become okay. I doubt these three shows were intended as a feminist triptych, but seeing the debate become a priority again is refreshing when so many morons believe we now have equality.

Martinez became an internet hit (apparently, I wasn’t aware of this until seeing the show) a few years ago, when her striptease-cum-illusion act went viral. The piece sees her undress whilst repeatedly making a small red handkerchief disappear and reappear until the final twist. Even standing alone it’s an incredibly smart piece, which manages to say something about reality, burlesque and the female form.

Our only encounter with the piece in My Stories, Your Emails comes at the half-way point as the infamous video is projected onto a screen. Before that, Martinez has simply stood at a podium for about twenty minutes and read us stories from her life. They range from the absurd (“When I was eight I fed Space Dust to a cat”) to the morbid (an admission that her grandfather was having an affair with his wife’s sister for the entirety of their marriage), and each is intricately crafted with a punchline, straddling the line between tweet and joke. They serve the purpose of giving us a little insight into the performer’s life, though we’re painfully aware that even after this soul-baring, we still no next-to-nothing of our guide; after these snippets and thoughts, it would be wrong to come to any sort of judgement.

It is terrifying, then, that so many people (all male bar one) thought it okay to make judgements about Martinez after seeing her video online. In the second half of the show she reads out a selection of emails from her “fans” around the world, most of whom assumed she was some kind of sadomasochistic who wanted to engage in “sexy chats” online. Images are included with all of them, with one, “Big Eric”, sending photos of his “19cm penis” accompanied by an explanation that it “makes [him] hard thinking about all those people” seeing it. It’s both hilarious and disconcerting in equal measure, for, through all the laughter, there is a growing questioning of how, in any conceivable universe, this could be considered okay. It defies logic.

Through these emails, we are allowed a deep insight into a certain type of masculine psyche which believes that because a woman has performed an entirely unsexual routine without clothes it is okay to send her suggestive emails. The anonymity and distance provided by the internet proves that sexism is still alive and well, meaning we have a long way to go before we can kill it. At the end of the show (and I hope none of the aforementioned male emailers read this, for they might get too excited), Martinez bares all in a final demonstration of the fact her nudity has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with her as an individual.

My Stories, Your Emails is a hybrid of stand-up comedy, memoir and theatre, and achieves a certain elegance in its simplicity. It delights throughout but hits out at some unbelievably sexist attitudes still present in the twenty-first century. These ideas are never explicitly raised by Martinez, but her bravura performance questions how other humans can be so utterly barbaric in their interactions with other humans.

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