An Interview with Melyn Chow

“In a landscape of shaking bodies, boundaries blur between the sensual, sexual and everyday life.” Frascati Producties in collaboration with CAMPO present a brand new intimate performance by Melyn Chow. Shaking Shame blurs boundaries between shame, pleasure and liberation. Chow and four performers construct a landscape of trembling flesh and bones. Inspired by the Audre Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Chow explores how the erotic aligns with strength, in contexts of the sensual, the sexual and the everyday.

Shaking Shame will be performed until October 26th. Tickets can be purchased here. We spoke with Chow, ahead of the performance.

Shaking Shame is an intimate performance that probes the connections between shame, pleasure and liberation.” What interests you in this particular point of contact?

Before I lived in Amsterdam, I lived in Singapore. I grew up in a culture and religion that makes me feel like a lot of my life has been guided by fear—which could also stem from dance culture I was trained in. I think the combination of where I come from, what my family believed in, and my training, makes me feel that a lot of my life has been guided by fear and shame.

When I first discovered Audrey Lord’s ‘Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power’, it was a very powerful and liberating text to me. Growing up reiligous, I was taught that one should abstain from sex until married, or that one shouldn’t masturbate. I grew up masturbating a lot and felt a lot of shame doing that. To me, it was refreshing and liberating to read Lord’s texts that spoke about the erotic as a source of power, information and knowledge that we shouldn’t deny, oppress or suppress. By doing so, we hide certain truths. For me, the erotic is a lot about practicing joy and radical aliveness. Because of this background, I feel like Shaking Shame is more than just a performance. It’s a practice to remind myself of the capability of joy, freedom and pleasure. For me, it’s the undoing of this fear-based way of being.

The press text asks whether “physical discomfort and desire through the body” can regain a place as a creative force for transformation. Can you elaborate on this a bit more? How do those two ‘states’ lead to transformation?

As a maker, I have come to realize that if I put myself in the space between  physical discomfort and desire, there arises a sense of aliveness. I try to use my body as a compass to reach that state. In my view, physical discomfort is connected to shame, taboos, and social norms. Especially in this context, I feel like shame is such a powerful force, one that can be used. So, instead of pushing shame away, try to look directly at it and confront myself with it. This brings me to a place of intimacy and liberation. It allows for connection, as shame often leads to disconnecting with yourself.

“Feeding off the audience’s gaze, the performers strive to transform shame into a liberating, powerful movement.” How does the audience’s gaze participate?

This questions reminds me the book ‘Everybody’ by Olivia Laing. I’ll read you a passage, mentioning Nina Simone: “It is an experience that comes close to the ecstasy of sex. The joy of shedding your own burden, individual body, and merging with a wild, surging collective instead. For Simone, it was a transaction that went both ways, which is why she screamed at audiences for chatting or getting up when she was playing. She needed their focus, their attention, as the raw material from which she could enact her transformations The fuel for a long journey out.”

As a female Asian person living in the Netherlands, especially during the COVID pandemic and when that was already happening in China, before it reached Europe, I sensed certain gazes upon me. I feel like people see me in a certain way. It’s not a nice feeling. So, Shaking Shame is my way of confronting these stereotypes. In daily life I’m an introvert, and I behave rather shy and quiet. I don’t like confrontation and I don’t like to push boundaries too much. But, I do dare to do that in the context of theatre. Shaking Shame is me reclaiming a space for myself. A space for my body to exist, for my skin color to exist, for my being to exist—on my own terms and not on other people’s.

So, in relation to this gaze, I see Shaking Shame as a relational dialogue. There is no shame without the audience. The tension lays there where you’re looking at my shaking body, and I look at you looking at my shaking body, and you look at me looking at you, looking at my shaking body. It’s that relationship which I find exciting to play with. It’s very empowering.

Shaking Shame will be performed until October 26th. Tickets can be purchased here