The Great Big Bag of Being, tucked quietly into the Sydney Fringe Festival program, is a lo-fi piece of children’s theatre, an unassuming stage presence at the New Theatre, and a lovely little piece with a message that comes through loud and clear.
Dot the Clown (Bronwyn Davies Glover) is about to head out into the world, but is afraid of questions that people might ask about who Dot really is. Not what Dot is, but who: is Dot a boy or a girl? And Dot doesn’t know, because Dot, like any person (or clown), is not a simple gender stereotype.
It’s okay, though, because Dot has found a source of help: The Great Big Bag of Being. The bag is glittery and big and it sits there, undercut with a vaguely miraculous musical cue, that suggest it contains all the answers one might need to find about their identity – the ammunition, the self-defense, the power of understanding oneself.
Reaching into the bag, with some pratfalls and juggling along the way, Dot tries on some Boy Clothes and some Girl Clothes, tries on a superhero cape, and considers the possibilities: Sports are fun, but saying ‘no girls allowed’ isn’t so much. Dressing up in princess clothes is fun, but not when you can’t still get a little bit dirty.
A celebration of difference and a gentle lesson that gender roles do not have to define a person, even a very young person, whose agency is often out of their hands, is a quiet revolution, and a really important piece of socio-political theatre. It even works best in its current humble state; there are no overwhelming set pieces or technical design standing between the children and the story.
Glover is a loving, lovable clown, with exciting, watchable physical and circus theatre elements to her storytelling – a captivating figure, even to the adults in the audience.
Of course the children were engaged, too – talking to Dot from their seats in the theatre, sharing their superhero dreams with Dot, reacting to the story and the ideas.
At the end of the show, as audience members began to file out, Dot was still there, out in the audience, talking to the children. The Great Big Bag of Being was, and hopefully for our young will always be, accessible.