A response to ‘One the Bear’ from Yen-Rong Wong

The trope of the hunter and the hunted can feel tiresome and clichéd, but in One The Bear, it is new and refreshing. Perhaps it is the bright neon splashes that adorn the set, the costumes, or the multimedia display that anchors the set. Or perhaps it is the ways in which Candy Bowers, the writer of the play, has managed to weave political commentary about race, appropriation, and exploitation, into a hip-hop show (with beats by Busty Beatz) that is also playful and humorous.

At its heart, One The Bear tells a story about the hurtful and exploitative nature of colonialism.

It comments on the ways in which black women’s bodies and labour (both physical and emotional) have been used by those in power. But is also a story about how communities of colour have and will always band around their own, with a final message to everyone in these communities, and in particular, young people, that they are golden – that they, too, can be queens.

One (Candy Bowers) and Ursula (Nancy Denis) are dumpster-diving bear-best-friends who are too aware of their place in their world. They are the hunted, and the humans the hunters – a metaphor that plays into the historically prevalent mindset of the white man as human, and the Other as animal. And so One and Ursula have to hide, to make themselves small and unmenacing in order to survive.

They pass time by consuming glow, a hallucinogen that makes them feel good but also takes away their willpower, and by snacking on aptly named food like “Captains Cookies” and “Columbus Crunch”, introduced foods that eventually make Ursula extremely sick. They discuss the protectors and the lack of protection they provide for bears, references to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the treatment of Indigenous men and women by Australian police.

They discuss One’s mother, a bear who was killed in front of One when she was just a cub. One’s description of the way in which her mother’s body was stripped of her organs – for cultural appraisal and ‘appreciation’, of course – and fur, leaving behind only her bones, points to the beginnings of intergenerational trauma that is all too familiar within Indigenous communities and other communities of colour. The only remnants One has of her mother are her bones, which One has fashioned into a crude throne, and a stone, with some words on it One can’t read or understand.

Even so, One wants to be like her mother. She wants to be a fighter. She wants to change the way bears are seen among the hunters, to tell herstory, and she gets the chance to do so after an exploitative journalist (played hilariously by Denis) claiming to be extremely interested in bear culture puts One’s anthem, “Growl with Me”, on the radio.

And so begins the road to celebrity – a jab at the ways in which Western society only valorises people of colour if they have a skillset to offer – even moreso if this skillset is related to sport, cooking, or singing. One is accompanied on this journey by her exploitative agent (also played by Denis), a man who is clearly only interested in One insofar as she can bring him the money he so desperately craves.

He seduces her with good food, good company, and a comically large phone, but in doing so, also transforms her from a happy, fun-loving personality into a puppet on stage, her actions stilted and seemingly not her own.

This transformation is most apparent through her appearance. One’s clothes (sewn by Sarah Seahorse) become increasingly ornate, paralleling her rise to stardom, and culminating in a set of heavy eyewear draped in gold chains, which helps to mask the fact that One has gotten plastic surgery for her nose so she is more palatable for her audience.

“You cut off your snout!?” Ursula cries out.

In a conversation with Ursula, it is clear One considers her acquiescence to the hunters’ demands to be justified – a classic example of the thought process, “they will treat us like equals if we just assimilate.” Ursula tries to get her best friend to see what she is doing – not only to herself, but to others who only want to exploit and use bear culture for their own devices. “All the hunters are getting fake bear tails now, so they get the tail without the oppression!”, she argues, stressing the word “oppression”. This blatant appropriation of culture is lost on One, as it is on many who don native American headdresses as costumes, wear bindis on their foreheads, or fetishise other cultures for their own gain.

She has been hypnotised by the celebrity lifestyle, and refuses to listen to any of Ursula’s other pleas. And by the time One realises she has been played, it is too late. When her agent realises he doesn’t have his puppet any more, he gets rid of her – a shot to the head.

One recovers from her unceremonious dumping thanks to the support of her friends and sisters, and it is at this point she discovers that the stone her mother left behind is, in fact, a seed. It is a seed that should be planted and nurtured among friends and family so it can grow to live and tell the herstories One wanted to tell in the first place – a message that shines even brighter than One and Ursula’s neon yellow and pink clothes.

Created in consultation with young people of colour, One The Bear is first and foremost for young people of colour. But it is also a story everyone needs to see and experience, and Australian theatre is all the richer for having this play in its theatres.


One the Bear will be on-stage until October 21 at La Boite Theatre Company in Brisbane, Queensland. Get more information and tickets here. 

Images: Dylan Evans

All words: Yen-Rong Wong

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