Jamie Lewis, performance artist, SALTWATER

The experience is all about being present in the space and letting things unfold ...

Meeting new people can be daunting for some, for Jamie Lewis, it’s all part of her work as a performance artist. Jamie is the creator, protagonist and host of SALTWATER; part interactive theatre performance part dinner party for strangers. During the evening guests are treated to stories from Jamie’s own childhood and invited to share some of their own as they indulge in amazing Asian-style dishes, which they’ve helped prepare. The dinner party is a disarming theatrical and cultural experience that will leave you feeling nourished, physically and spiritually. Jamie is bringing SALTWATER to the Gold Coast for Bleach Festival 2016, we had a chat with the hostess with the mostess to get a little insight into these cultural feasts.

Can you tell us a little about SALTWATER?
SALTWATER is technically a performance but it’s also a casual dinner party where I share stories, perhaps you might tell some of yours or you might just sit back and enjoy being present with a table of strangers.

The show blurs the lines between performance and real life where the audience members are more like guests. Where did the idea come from?
It really came from observing my own dinner parties that I held when I first moved to Australia. It was really interesting because some of the things I prepare or cook are influenced by my Singaporean culture so I’d teach people how to really get into a crab or how to do steamboats for the first time, there were really interesting interactions there and that’s where the idea came from. It’s about sharing and exchanging.

How important is the element of food to the overall cultural experience?
Very! It’s the underpinning part of the story because some of the recipes are typical of back home in Singapore but I’ve had to adapt them because my own ethics have changed. There are vegetarians in the family now so I’ve had to adapt and shift and I think that in itself is a textural way to tell the story of our movements, moving through countries and time.

Diners are encouraged to participate in helping to prepare the food and share their own experiences with cooking and culture. How do you find people typically react?
The beauty of the experience is that there is no pressure and so like any dinner party, there are people who are a lot more social and vocal and active but then there are the people that just prefer to be quiet and sit back, and so the performance really allows for all of that. Every dinner has been very different, which is part of the beauty as well.

What are some of the challenges with this type of performance and was there ever a time when things didn’t go to plan?
I think the biggest challenge is that every group is different so I have to spend five or ten minutes understanding the space and the people in it. Reading that really quickly is the daily challenge. And as for when things haven’t gone so well, I recount a time when the guests were all from the media, it’s quite tricky when people come in with their own expertise and behaviours and they are unable to allow themselves to be vulnerable. The experience is all about being present in the space and letting things unfold.

What do you hope people take away from SALTWATER?
I hope that it makes people recall a memory from their own past. I tell stories about my mother and my parents and I think when guests take a moment to recall something from their past, perhaps a time when they were in the kitchen with their parents or someone who has been a parent figure, it’s really special.

The show touches on topics including love, death, triumphs and differences. Is there any topic that you wouldn’t recommend for dinner party discussion?
No, actually I’m all for conversation as long as you have a good host! People say not to talk about politics or religion but I think there are angles of politics that can be nourishing and enriching and same as religion, if you are sharing your experience and you’re not debating it’s very different. It can be a very enriching experience but you need a good host.

What or who inspires you?
My mother and my grandmother. My mother is one of five sisters and each one inspires me as they personify different aspects of a woman with different strengths and weaknesses. When they come together, for me, it feels like the best lesson I can get as a woman.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career or life?
In my post-grad year I was feeling uncertain about what I am doing and my supervisor at the time told me to think of my artistic practice like where you want to live. In each place you’ve lived, there are things you like and things you don’t like and so when you look for the next place, you look for some of those things. Like a relationship as well. That makes me feel okay about the fact that things do change.

SALTWATER is part of Bleach* Festival 2016. What are you most looking forward to doing while you’re in town?
Having a swim at the beach! Being Melbourne-based, we’ve had quite a beautiful summer this year but it’s not often that you can go swimming so I’m looking forward to the tropical climate.

How do you see theatre’s role within society?
Theatre is the construct in which you can reflect life and challenge the boundaries. When you challenge boundaries of the theatre form you’re challenging the way we relate to each other, challenging our perception or view of the world.


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