On the 3rd November, 2011, I had the pleasure and privilege to attend Brian Lobel's performance, "BALL and Other Funny Stories About Cancer" on the 10th anniversary of his diagnosis with testicular cancer. The performance consisted of the three pieces, "BALL", "Funny Stories About Cancer" and "An Appreciation". I wanted here to briefly jot some thoughts about the experience.
First off, no part of the title contributes towards a misnomer. They are stories. They are funny. And there's a lot of talk about balls, singular and plural.
Ten years ago, Brian was diagnosed with testicular cancer which had metastasized to his lungs and other parts of his body. He had an orchiectomy and chemotherapy and, clearly, survived the experience. One of the funniest moments, though, was his assertion that in the face of Lance Armstrong, it is no longer sufficient to survive cancer. It is now necessary to "win the Tour de France 7 million times". Failing that one could, as did Brian, attend and win the Indiana Stem Cell Transplant Patients Annual Reunion Picnic Hoola Hoop Contest. But only by default because your eight-year-old female opponent cheated.
I first met Brian at Queen Mary when I spoke to him about my experience of living with a chronic condition (rheumatoid arthritis) in relation to his own work of creating "interventions" for children with cancer; one of his other performance projects. We spoke for an hour or so and, ever since, I've been interested in the type of performance work he undertakes. It has an aura of the strangely utopian around it; a non-acceptance of impossibility best represented by the bathos of the comedic to the serious co-existing. It was this type of impossible, utopian intervention that we spoke about.
The other part of the work that might seem unusual, although not so once thought about, to an observer is the almost twinned exploration of sexuality. This isn't unusual because it is testicular cancer; it is, at the end of the day, genital. However, mortality and death, the specters hovering around the c- word, are both fundamentally incompatible, and intrinsic to, our sexual experiences. The third piece, An Appreciation, took this as its premise, although Brian's exploration of his own bisexuality featured in the narrative of all the pieces. Five audience members were asked to "appreciate", in the medical (and any other they wished, I'd suppose) context, Brian's surgically altered genital structure. It was one of the many instances of audience embarrassment and awkwardness explored throughout the show (another being the plunge into blackness where we were asked to conduct, to the backdrop of Enya, our own self-examinations) but ended as a touching (pun intended) experience when the final description given by one of the participants was: "sobering".
The performance was filmed and, I am told, will be forthcoming from the Live Art Development Agency. I'd thoroughly endorse this as worth a look.