Essi Rossi & working group: Ejaculation Falls
Direction and dramaturgy: Essi Rossi. Sound design and music: Sarah Kivi. Scenography: Milla Martikainen. Costume design: Liisa Pesonen. Dramaturgy: Michelle Orenius. Sexual therapist: Pale Lius. With six performers selected through an open call: Asta, Eugenie, Heli, Lintu, Sari and Stella. In addition: Pinja Eskola, Tiia Forsström and Minna Salami.
Ejaculation Falls is a joint production between the Baltic Circle theatre festival, Espoo City Theatre and the SICK! festival, and it premiered in Louhi Hall of Espoo Cultural Centre as part of the Baltic Circle festival in November 2021. In collaboration with Kulttuurimylly.
I was tempted to write about Essi Rossi & working group’s performance Ejaculation Falls because in 2018, the seminal version of the performance, Ejaculation: Discussions About Female Sexuality, made a lasting impact on me. It was documentary theatre-esque, courageous yet gentle totality that transcended the personal into the social, the common and the shared. Carried on stage by a professional actor Julia Rosa Peer, Ejaculation was an opening, a potential pathway to freedom. Back then, I wrote a critique titled Everybody Ejaculates.
Performed twice during the latest Baltic Circle festival, Ejaculation Falls expands from the seminal work in many ways – it expands the thematics, the working group, the stage – there’s more people involved on and off stage, more props, more audiovisual content while providing more perspectives to sex and sexuality. To be honest, I did view and experience Ejaculation Falls largely with the seminal work in mind. I compared the set and setting, the ambience and the structure. Yet, comparisons are not necessarily the most fruitful or interesting approaches, so here is the one thing I wish to say about this and then move on: where Ejaculation: Discussions About Female Sexuality was pink, blushing, and autobiographical, Ejaculation Falls is purple, gushing, and multifaceted.
In the opening words of Ejaculation Falls, Sarah Kivi announced the safer space rules of the performance and included a mention about What’s said in Ejaculation Falls, stays in Ejaculation Falls. For this reason, I will not go in detail into the robust content shared on stage by the performers and visitors during the performance, and by the working group members and the audience during the discussion that followed it. The reason for this is the personal nature of especially the answers to the questions that gave the performance its rhythm – How do you define your sex and sexuality today? What is good sex to you? How to feel sexual without sex? What is revolutionary sex? How do you know you are or are not closeted? – And so on. The answers were multifaceted, representing several points of view and experiences.
I enjoyed thoroughly the fact that Ejaculation Falls lingered between two languages, Finnish and English. I did not notice a set pattern here – it seemed all performers used English and Finnish at times. The point of this language switching didn’t seem to be accessibility per se (but might as well have been), but rather a way of accessing different contextual language registers. In my experience, this liminal shifting between the two languages was refreshing, allowing access to different modalities of communication.
Although sex and sexuality are arguably constantly present, culturally produced phenomena, there is no denying the pervasiveness of heteronormanity and cisness. This was a theme that kept bubbling to the surface throughout Ejaculation Falls, the observation of how the socially constructed reality shakes and shapes the individual in different ways throughout one’s lifespan. Being straight and cis is the norm, the assumption. As the strive for normality and conformity is quite encompassing, one has to ask, how common straightness actually is? If we had more varied and realistic representations of sex and sexuality, would straightness and cisness reveal themselves not as ”normal” majority experiences, but rather as popular social habits produced culturally?
In relation to this, there was an interesting idea verbalised by Pale Lius. Internalized homophobia, transphobia and other such attitudes might lay behind some individual experiences of shame. If you have internalised the idea that there is something wrong in a particular aspect of sex or sexuality, recognising related feelings and experiences in yourself might trigger the shame rooted in the internalised, culturally enforced structures that abnormalise everything but cis-hetness.
I am of the opinion that here is a need, a proper place for producing speech and other communicative artefacts around the variety and multitude of experiences regarding sex and sexuality. It is not so much about the normalisation of the various forms of expression and experience, but rather the creation of discourses and culture in a sphere that has been locked into unnecessary and frankly harmful binaries. As Ejaculation Falls traversed through these potential discourses and ripples of culture, I was not the only one in the audience that felt enraptured, enamored by the awe and vulnerability on stage. People smiled through their tears, gasping for more.
The performance was rather long, 2,5 hours with no intermission. The six performers selected through an Open Call each interviewed each other, and the three visitors had their say on videos projected to a transparent canvas. There was music and movement in between, and a picnic laid out on stage that was partly served to members of the audience. Even though the materiality and fluxus of the performance formed a good and proper totality in my experience, it was somewhat strenuous to sit through without a break, especially in addition to the discussion afterwards that lasted for about an hour. Such light discomfort is not necessarily a negative experience though – it did in a sense embody how just a tiny fracture of experiences and perspectives into sex and sexuality were indeed jam-packed with meaning and content.
The dramaturgical curve seemed to linger from the familiar to the strange, from the novice to the veteran, which perhaps counterintuitively but nevertheless felt like a reproduction of the idea that there are norms to sex and sexuality followed by stages of discovery and realisation that settle along the lines of these previously mentioned binaries. This may be true in our current social condition, but it would not have to have been reproduced on stage. I used the word linger for the reason that this binary transition was not exactly linear, but still perceivable.
What I particularly enjoyed about Ejaculation Falls was that even though carried through by just six performers and three visitors, there was a multitude of different perspectives that reflected aspects of my own experience of sex and sexuality, which is usually not represented anywhere. I identify with both genderfluidity and genderqueerness, yet also refer to myself as nonbinary when discussing these matters with people whose lexicon is still largely influenced by the binary. I identify as bisexual which for me has never been binarybound or trans-exclusionary, but do sometimes use the term pansexual to avoid any misunderstandings. It was thus deeply moving for me to see aspects and glimpses of myself represented on stage and off stage, and I could feel it in the audience that this was an experience shared by many. Representation matters. There are particular layers of minority stress related to the lack of representation – sometimes we miss validation, perspective, or even the mere words to describe our experience.
Ejaculation Falls felt as if building on the power of listening, actively hearing the ripples and tangents of people’s experiences. There is this rather sticky, routined thought that often surfaces in discourse around topics that cross over the norms – if I cannot relate to this thing, it cannot be really happening. This is in a sense a form of conditional empathy, where the condition is that one needs to be able to somehow imagine or relate to someone else’s experience before accepting it as real. In the receiving end of this conditional empathy, the experience is really frustrating, not to mention being an ample ground for both micro and macro aggressions. Respect and awe go a long way in avoiding harming others.
The last of the three visitors projected onto the transparent screen, Minna Salami, talked about the relationship of sex and sexuality to our current socioeconomic modus operandi, the neoliberal capitalism. Engulfed by this ideological rhizome, we are unavoidably influenced by the categories of growth and profit as values that transcend the market into our everyday lives. Yet, growth and profit are practically useless categories when dealing with sex and sexuality. Instead, it is time, awareness, and the ability to be present that are of essence here. This also tied to one of the answers to the question about revolutionary aspects of sex and sexuality voiced out during Ejaculation Falls – we would not need a revolution if we had no norms. At least intuitively I believe that being present and aware while taking and giving time has the potential to produce authenticity devoid of the guiding hand of norms.
All in all, it was very warm and fuzzy, beautiful, and safe to be present for Ejaculation Falls. In the audience I could feel hopeful for kehorauha, bodypeace – that some day we would ask for consent before sexualising someone else’s body, that we would live and let live in our bodies as they are today. To figuratively wash off everything gendered, sexualised, tabooed and orstracised from all bodies and beings. To be able to be present and aware, and to listen, to experience awe when faced with experiences different from our own. As things stand now, I would argue we cannot claim to know ourselves or much of anything regarding sex and sexuality. We are the products of the norms that still prevail.