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Occupational hazards - Emma Fitzgerald, theatre maker

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Emma Fitzgerald

Emma Fitzgerald

Emma Fitzgerald

One man said he had to imagine us with clothes on. When I was a kid, I never went to the theatre, but I did go to Mass.

I always wanted to stand up around the time of the sermon and interact with the priest. When the priest came to my school to check what our vocations were and he asked if any of the boys wanted to become priests, I stood up. That pretty much confused him. Eventually, I discovered contemporary dance, and it was a much better fit. I loved the possibility of having ownership over what I was doing.

I trained in Sallynoggin College of Further Education from 2000-2001 - I took a year out from studying art in UCD - and there were some women working in the contemporary dance scene then. I was in my early 20s and for the first time I saw a world where women were really empowered, with lots of physical prowess. It had a really powerful impression on me, so much so that I decided to stay in dancing.

Aine (Stapleton) and I have been performing naked together since 2008. At that time, we were doing an artists' residency in France and we were watching a lot of Jean-Luc Godard films at the time; all these young, beautiful women with rounded breasts and small waists. We wrote a piece that was shaped around the structure of a Catholic mass, and Aine had the idea 'why don't we perform our next piece naked?' We feel we're giving the female body a voice that it doesn't have.

Performing live, we have the chance to show our own acceptance of our bodies in the moment. As dancers and as women, we're conditioned to view ourselves as beautiful by moving and standing in particular ways. I incorporate autobiographical experiences into my performances. I can tell the truth about my own life and say things I'd feel censored about in day-to-day life.

When we told people we would perform naked, the response we got was eye-opening. One director actually told us 'nudity is stale', which it absolutely isn't. People have had quite a hard time dealing with it. In our audiences, people have been whooping and laughing. I'm fine about it as we're quite grounded. We've been practising embodiment: staying present in the body. Female audience members are touched that they've seen another woman behaving like that. Some women are challenged with the idea of getting dressed for the night, let alone getting up on stage naked and talking to a number of strangers. Other people are surprised that the show is not erotic, which probably says a lot about how people are conditioned to think about the female body. One guy came up to us afterwards and told me that he had to imagine us with clothes on for the entire show.

Women say, 'you must be really confident and comfortable with your body', but let me tell you, I'm very familiar with crises of confidence. But I'm alive and in the world and getting messages every day about what's attractive, or what parts of the female body are horrific or a joke. Being comfortable with my body is a challenge on a daily basis.

For our show Lurky Lurky, we're working with Ian Cudmore, who is shooting close-up video footage of our naked bodies for a really large-scale screen - eight metres by four. Fortunately, he's a very grounded man. It was important to be able to find someone with the same spirit as us, and someone that wouldn't get distracted with the footage.

We're supported by the Arts Council and Dublin City Council for this performance, but it's pretty difficult to make a full-time living in dance theatre. We work in short bursts of time, and I teach dance or yoga when I can. I'd advise anyone thinking of taking this career route to take note of the things you love and trust that this is where you'll get your energy from. It can be lonely, but finding community and connecting with people and taking support where you can find it is the really important thing."

Fitzgerald & Stapleton's show Lurky Lurky will be performed as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College from September 10-14. See fitzgeraldandstapleton.com

Irish Independent