What do I do with this dress?

12 October 2018, Fringe in the 'Stings
By Bridie Freeman

The dress has been taken out of its box – it’s expensive, like a child; it has to learn to pay its way. The dress is not man-angry, it’s not a marriage hater. It’s wedding white and spangly, and it’s on “Just” Julz Burgisser, who just made it through the doors 20 minutes before on a hell-for-leather drive up from Welly.

“I need some noise,” she says, as she puts her phone on recharge and takes up a clipboard. “I’ve got some categories.”  Who’s married? One or two resigned yelps. Who’s just coupled up? Silence. Who’s divorced? Protest – “But that was 30 years ago”. Who’s single …and ready to mingle? The crowd goes wild.

She’s warm, she’s relatable, she gets us laughing. But Julz also teases us to the brink of cringe that lurks behind any stand-up comedy performance, the anticipated stumble into vulnerable, embarrassing disclosure, for the step taken too far. She’s way more assured though, than her ‘everywoman’ novice persona and she knows how to play the audience, catching us deftly every time.

For each cornerstone event in the story of ‘the dress and I’, Julz has a song, reclaimed and re-scripted from our pop-trove archive. With her phone in one hand, the mic in the other, she belts these out with energy, humour, side-line commentary and unabashed dance moves. For the accidental wedding proposal and the stress of organising the big day, Bruno Mars’ ‘Marry You’. For the irritations of domestic cohabitation and the triggers for divorce, Ed Sheerans’ ‘Thinking out Loud’ (“people kill their husbands in mysterious ways, I’m considering death by frying pan”). For ‘self-therapy’ post-divorce (i.e. the tools for self-pleasure), Katy Perry’s Firework (“Baby, get a vibrator”) and for the answer to the eponymous question, a song to the dress: Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will Survive’  (“you’re back, from the storage space…”).

They’re an easy win for laughs and crows of recognition, but between the funnies there’s the poignant, personal divulging, which takes us through the myriad absurd ways we hurt each other; the way ending a marriage feels like skydiving – the crescendo build up to the leap and then the calm; societal expectations. We brush up against the serious – a miscarriage, a dying mother, mental health – and although it’s no Nanette moment, this offers a deeper note of resilience and bravery to the frivolity of object anniversaries (“my car and me have just celebrated 4 years”), and of making a dress a partner in a personal journey of healing and self-acceptance.

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