The Second Woman: Performance artist stages 100 intimate moments with 100 men in 24 hours

The Second Woman: Performance artist stages 100 intimate moments with 100 men in 24 hours

The Second Woman: Performance artist stages 100 intimate moments with 100 men in 24 hours

Updated 20 October 2017, 16:45 AEDT

In The Second Woman, an epic piece of experimental theatre, Australian performance artist Nat Randall stages 100 intimate scenes with 100 male participants over 24 hours.

On Friday night in Sydney, performance artist Nat Randall will go on 100 loosely scripted dinners with 100 men over 24 hours.

Randall has performed the work, titled The Second Woman, twice already — at Tasmania's Dark Mofo and Melbourne's NextWave — but some of her 200 co-performers have been more memorable than others.

"I've certainly had moments where I've teared up. There was this older man in Tassie, wearing this faded hat and I still remember him," she says.

"There have been people who have dressed up, undressed, brought in flowers … completely gone rogue or been slightly too handsy.

"There is a very strict rule that no-one else except for me and the men are allowed in that space … but if I need to break character I'll kick them out."

Part theatre, part social experiment, The Second Woman's single, repeated scene is inspired by Opening Night, a 1977 film by director John Cassavetes, and by the work of performance artists like Marina Abramović.

At the end of each 10-minute scene, the relationship between the characters breaks down. The male participants are offered a choice: they can finish by saying either "I love you" or "I never loved you."

Randall and The Second Woman co-creator Anna Breckon carefully constructed the work to make the male performers interchangeable — playing on a long history of substitutable women in film.

The male participants are members of the public, who are given a script and little else, and receive $50 after their performance.

In their attempts to be unique and connect with Randall, a pattern emerges.

"The thing about repetition is that it presents a generic quality of a particular mode of masculine emotion," she says.

"The work is very much looking at gendered conventions of emotion, so really unpacking a performance of masculinity and femininity within a queer lens."

Theatre-maker Jimmy Dalton was one of the male participants in last year's performance at Dark Mofo in Hobart. He intends to return this weekend as an audience member.

"[Each participant] goes in there with a certain assumption … some people definitely want to play the villain, they've read the script and went 'this man is gonna be an arsehole', and some want to be purely the best lover ever seen on stage."

For Randall and the male participant, the audience is unseen, watching on behind a see-through gauze facade — a literal fourth wall.

An all-female and queer-identifying film crew document the performance in real time, giving the audience a cinematic live feed.

"You can hear the audience and whether or not they approve or disapprove of you; you can't see them, but they are present," Dalton says.

The participants are a cross-section of men with diverse backgrounds, histories, ethnicities, sexualities and ages.

For Dalton, the nuances of the scene reveal behaviour he's uncomfortable with.

"What this work shows on the smallest level is how patriarchy can play out," he says.

"It's so important right now. We're living in a time where there are Trumps and Weinsteins.

"There's a lot of revelation. Speaking as a man, it's about my complicity and my participation in this."

The duration of the work, which is being performed at Sydney's Carriageworks as part of the Liveworks Festival, requires incredible stamina from the artist and her crew. Audiences have been known to stay for up to 12 hours.

"The 24-hour structure means you can come and go as you please, but I've seen that people walk in and then have a lot of trouble leaving. It is very addictive," says Jeff Khan, the artistic director of arts organisation Performance Space, who programmed the work, and a past participant.

"You're always looking for a moment of magic but some of the encounters work and some don't … and so the magic becomes a moment of authenticity, which only happens every now and again.

"It's such a joyful moment, which then allows you to almost break free. I think people are hungry for those moments in their lives.

"I think a work that takes a critical eye to that, and opens up possibilities and debate in a way that is joyful, engaging and inspiring — this is what art can do in times like this."