24.07.2019

‘One the Bear’ combines hip hop and theatre to deliver a compelling cultural statement

One The Bear
Words by D'Arcy McGregor

One the Bear is a hip hop and spoken word activist theatre piece from comedian, actor, award-winning writer and social activist Candy Bowers about two bears. Bowers says the performance follows “unapologetically black unicorn philosophy”. If it sounds like it’s a lot, that’s because it is – but it’s so important.

The performance follows two bears – One and her best friend Ursula – living in a rubbish tip in a bear hunters society. The hunters usually kill bears for their bodies, but One gets discovered and for the first time the ‘hunter world’ is appreciating the talents of someone from the underground.

“It’s not unlike how hip hop came to be,” Bowers said. “It’s a really edgy work for young people. Because the young people I was talking to are those on the margins and have been marginalised the most – the best times in their life with friends have been on drugs.

“…I still wanted to deal with those issues. It was really important to play in the stickiest, the hardest, and the most difficult parts of what it’s like right now to be a teenager on the margins – and particularly a black teenager.”

Bowers delves deep into many issues, themes, and controversial topics in her project. For example, she dissects the way women’s bodies – particularly black women – are portrayed and the space of cultural appropriation. In the play, as One rises in fame, the hunter world starts getting cosmetic surgery to have their own bear tails. But, on the other side, the hunters also kill bears for parts of them such as their bile, claws, teeth, and fur.

“I think all of us can agree that atrocities and putting women’s bodies on shelves is not okay,” Bowers explained.

“I think we can all agree that’s a history we want to expose and dismantle and never ever want to see again. In my heart of hearts and dreams of dreams, I wrote this play for the women who have modified their bodies so much – particularly black women – to look white.”

The story is particularly interesting, because even as One is consumed by her society she feels that her message is still getting across. Bowers’ recited a quote by one of her idols, poet Audre Lorde, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I’d be crunched into other people’s fantasies and eaten alive.”

“One the Bear gets crunched into other peoples’ fantasies and eaten alive, and I wanted to show it,” Bowers said.

“We have so many artists that perish because they get eaten alive by what we want them to be.”

Although the topics are hard-hitting and deep, critics’ feedback proves this show is more than just huge themes.

“They thought they were going to get this didactic piece which would hit them over the head,” Bowers laughed.

“But instead received cute and warm characters and a story which is heartbreaking. What I hear from that is ‘oh, we can relate to black people’. Not that they thought they couldn’t, but it’s just a really new experience. Anyone should be able to see work and relate to it because we’re all human.”

The themes One the Bear covers are deep and quite confronting, but the premise, the characters, everything wrapped around the themes are silly, warm, and heartbreaking.

“I was doing workshops with some kids and talking about some of these really huge issues in their lives,” Bowers explains. “It just kept coming back to friendship. So, it’s kinda a love story but it’s not ‘one day my prince will come’ it’s more ‘one day my best friend will come’ and the best friends save each other. The biggest theme of the whole show is friendship, it’s the ultimate theme.”

Bowers wants to make sure we know, “One the Bear is all of me.”

Be sure to catch One the Bear at Arts Centre Melbourne running from Thursday August 8 to Saturday August 10. Tickets via the venue website.