Performed as a part of this year’s Accidental Festival, I Was Less Than Amazing is weary of comfortably ticking any one box. It’s pitched as a gig and includes a guitar and an amp as well as some music talk, but the songs are actually monologues – spoken rather than sung words accompanied by occasional beats and looped rhythms. It’s clear that the show’s author, Alina Dheere Babaletsos, who goes under the slightly clunky but quite apt stage name of non-performer, is quite insistent on avoiding any assumptions about the kind of work she might make. If it wasn’t for the festival context, I Was Less Than Amazing could pass for an experimental gig drawing on performance – as it is, it’s the other way around.
Formally at least I Was Less Than Amazing is an intimate gig – one of those affairs where the singer/songwriter will take more time in between the songs to reflect on various notions, than they might spend engaging in more traditional gig activities. Here, the reflections focus on the failures of a calm and collected but deeply disappointed non-performer – refused fame by her former band members (who are all amazing, and doing amazing things), living on the edge of overdrafts, trying to figure out her own political views while cleaning after flatmates who can master the art of hating capitalism but not the skill of cleaning after themselves. The events Babaletsos retells seem to fall into the augmented autobiography category; the persona of non-performer however is a bit more difficult to pigeonhole . She is a weird mix of a delicate flower, undermined intelligence and overwhelming and intentionally out of place weltschmerz. It seems Babaletsos is very much aware of just how easy it would be to go the route of a hysterical, loud, invasive stage presence. Instead she offers up a quiet non-performer, going for a less attractive but more thought-out, subtle creation, and exhibiting an impressive amount of self-control and reservation in the process.
What makes I Was Less Than Amazing distinguish itself from other self-deprecating or brashly cynical performances is that it is firmly and undoubtedly both. Self-pity on the subject of professional failures is complemented by dismissive musings on famous artists selling out, or worse, becoming an imitation of themselves; pretentiousness is chuckled at, only to be occasionally hailed as assertiveness. Most importantly behind layers of commonplace frustration and run of the mill artistic anger there’s an unusual amount of sincerity – a show that starts out being all pretence and hyperbolic shambles disintegrates into songs (or rather recitations accompanied by a chord or two) that sound suspiciously like they might actually be stinging. The final one – about an indecent proposal made by a boyfriend – might under normal circumstances seem like emotional blackmail aimed at the audience, if it wasn’t for the veil of the gig-genre and the thorough auto-decredibilisatation that previously went on.
I Was Less Than Amazing refuses to be an easy ride, a looping sequence of the same joke told over and over again. Instead it produces a surprisingly linear dramaturgy, that reveals a pretentious wannabe as a struggling but observant attempting artist – trying very hard to turn a collection of failures into a career. It would certainly benefit from some more development time to make it into a full scale show, iron out the inevitable technical imperfections (that all emerging musicians face), and allow its ideas to evolve. In this work-in-progress stage however, it reflects the very industry it wants to be a part of well enough to create a state of confusion, as the audience might wonder if non-performer, with all her contemplative poetry, misguided trust, showing off and shying away, is for real – and if so, how come she doesn’t seem odd at all?