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Her Own Political Movement : Performance Artist From UCI to Take Message to Edinburgh

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Performance artist Kelly Fitzpatrick focuses primarily on male-female roles in her work, which mixes levity with blunt social commentary. Take the title of her latest effort: “Cactus Prick, the American Tails.”

Or consider the titles of each piece that constitutes the hourlong work: “The Effects of Organs Outside the Christian Church,” “PMS (Post Macho Syndrome),” “Flag Fashions for the Fall” and “Martyr Dumb” (both of which address the Persian Gulf War), “Miss Fitz in America” and “Duct Tape Underwear.”

“I like to draw in the audience through humor,” says Fitzpatrick, a UC Irvine senior who leaves Thursday to perform next week in Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival. The three-week event is the world’s largest arts festival.

Fitzpatrick says, however, that there’s nothing funny about the message she hopes to deliver about a “patriarchal culture” in which, according to United Nations Statistical Bureau figures she cited, “women do two-thirds of the world’s work (but) receive 5% of the world’s income (and) 300,000 women are raped” annually in the United States alone.

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“Our society is very anti-female and very anti-nature,” the 22-year-old said during a recent rehearsal break at her in-home studio. “We transform the world into our perception of what is beautiful, and the same thing happens between men and women. Men have this perception of how women should behave and vice versa. That’s causing a lot of burden for both sexes.”

Fitzpatrick will take part in the huge Fringe Festival, an open offshoot of the curated festival, made up mostly of professional entertainers. She uses movement, much of it everyday gesture, as well as recorded text she has written for each piece and often draws on her own life for raw material.

“Miss Fitz in America,” for example, stems from her memories of being called “thunder thighs” and other names. “It’s about my own experience with self-consciousness and being made to feel physically inadequate as a very young teen because I was not willing to comply with society’s standards of beauty,” she said.

Wearing black overalls and combat boots as she rehearsed the work, she sat on her knees and posed like a curvaceous, salacious cover girl. She pretended to tear at her face and pelvis and grimaced with emotional anguish. Like a contortionist who distorts her body for approval, she painfully hoisted one bent leg high above her waist, a move that alludes to the way women practice anorexia and bulimia to achieve fashion-model thinness, Fitzpatrick said.

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In other works, she addresses the way women are “kept in constant fear of being raped,” the way menstruation is ridiculed by men, and the way, she believes, that male dominance over women expands geopolitically, specifically the way the American government imposed its “ideology of capitalism and democracy on Iraq” during the Gulf War, she said.

“I see that core relationship, the power plays that go on between men and women, get played out on a larger and larger scale.”

Fitzgerald, a fine-arts major who has studied primarily with UCI performance art instructor John White, was selected to be one of several performers who will appear at Edinburgh’s Richard Demarco Gallery, she said. (Two friends who had planned to perform with her canceled because of conflicting schedules.)

She has performed at the Irvine Fine Arts Center and made a few other appearances in Southern California. This is by far her biggest undertaking. It’s not the first time Orange County has been represented in Edinburgh, though.

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In 1989, a Fullerton College acting troupe took over a production of “Tracers,” the Vietnam War drama. The 18-member group had trouble drawing audiences, however--at times no more than three people attended performances. They gave up the idea of breaking even financially, let alone making money or establishing an international profile, one actor said at the time.

That troupe’s problems stemmed largely from having entered the festival after its program had been sent to the printer, thus diminishing its ability to compete for attention with about 1,000 other productions.

Fitzgerald will be competing for attention with 1,058 productions by 510 groups at this year’s festival, officials said.

“Some festivals are like formal sit-down dinner parties, others have the feel of a back-yard barbecue among friends. Edinburgh is like a good old-fashioned food fight,” said Philip Arnoult, a Baltimore-based theater producer and director who has attended eight Fringe Festivals.

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Profit and reputation aren’t Fitzgerald’s primary motives, however. She’s even willing to lose money, which will happen if her show doesn’t sell enough tickets to cover her costs of $1,000 for air fare, $800 for the gallery space, plus room and board. Her chief aim is to “express these opinions abroad.”

“I was just amazed at how much anti-Americanism I encountered” while living in Ireland last year for a UC Irvine study-abroad program, she said. People perceived the United States as a “homogenized culture,” unified in opinion on diverse social and political issues. “So I want to show that there are extreme divergent opinions and show the conflict and dilemma of having differing opinions.”

Fitzpatrick knows she’ll have to publicize her show via flyers and posters--mandatory at the Fringe--but her production made it into the program, and she said she doesn’t intend to knock herself out pounding the pavement, even though her boyfriend will be there to help.

Artistically, anything goes in the aptly named Fringe Festival, and Fitzgerald is optimistic about how “Cactus Prick” will be received, given that such Los Angeles performance artists as Rachel Rosenthal and Linda Albertano have paved the way in past Edinburgh festivals.

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She concedes that her work, which contains some profanity, is “very challenging and pretty raw,” and feels sure there will be those who “have problems with it.” But she isn’t concerned about pleasing everyone or offending some. Rather, she hopes to engage in an exchange of ideas.

“I want to talk to people about how they feel about my work and whether they’re getting anything out of it,” she said.


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