Tuesday, 6 July 2010
Back From Further Adrift
Image by Paul Wright (paulwrightphoto.co.uk)
It has been a long time since I last blogged and I have been further adrift in the world of burlesque than usual since my last contact.
In the past weeks and months I have attempted to blog on more than one occasion and found that my perspective on all things burlesque related had become so skewed that I didn't know up from down, let alone enough to write a blog worth reading!
Where to pick up? When last I left off, I was convinced that I was approaching the last push on my Jackalope act. That was early April. How wrong I was about that. Now, it is early July - so what happened? Did I take the blue pill and disappear down the rabbit hole for almost three months? Did I run off to Acapulco with a gigolo? Did I go to Paris to live as a penniless blind sitar player? What the hell did happen?
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure myself. Lets just say the final stages of my Jackalope act was much more painful that I had expected. This was probably naive of me, considering how fraught the whole process has been, but it was still a bit of a surpise. The skirt, that I had expected to take some time, ended up taking much, much longer than I had envisaged. I ended up covering the top section of the skirt in raw wool and then the rest in strips of calico, hand dyed with tea, coffee or a mixture of tea and a little red food dye. In the end I used over 20 metres of Calico and I sewed every strip on by hand. As I'm sure you can imagine, that took a while. Whilst making the skirt I kept asking myself 'How do you know if you are having a nervous breakdown?'. I felt as though my day to day life at my day job was getting bleaker and bleaker, my financial situation was not great, and burlesque, the thing that is normally my refuge of creativity and joy had somehow morphed into a behemoth of sewing needles, ravaged fingers and stiff necks that was going to swallow me alive.
It sounds melodramatic, I know. But I really felt that there was no end in sight with this costume and I just couldn't see myself finishing it. But I did, of course, finish it in the end and if I say so myself, it is the part of the costume I am most proud of (aside from the wig and antlers, although the antlers were not my own work). When I had finally finished the skirt, got through the first pair of gloves which were awful, tacky and wouldn't dye, bought a new pair of gloves that would dye and made my pasties I began to feel my spirits lift a little. NOW I was really on the last push. I made my ears from calico that I wired for shape and covered them with the same raw wool I used on my skirt and sewed them into my wig, which was starting to look rather finished as I had also dressed that with some calico for decoration.
Finally, I needed to work on my trunk. Cherryfox, burlesquer and photographer friend of mine, had got hold of a trunk for me but it was khaki green so I had to repaint it. I worked on this and the trunk is now a shabby-chic looking off white. It looks quite cute but as time went on it became clear that it was going to be too small to fit the costume items in (for me to unpack them onstage). I felt a bit disappointed as Cherry had gone to some trouble to get the trunk for me and I had taken the time and effort to paint it up all nice but there was just no getting round the size issue. As yet I still have my feelers out for the right kind of trunk but at the moment I am doing the act without rather than rushing into buying something unsuitable.
So esentially (all bar the trunk) the act was finished, and I decided to debut it at Dixie's Dollhouse in Newcastle. This was on Thursday just gone. (Incase you're interested I was on the bill with Fancy Chance, Missy Malone, Beau Rocks, Constance Peach, Miss Jasmine, Stephy Suicie and Daisy Chainsaw, with absolutely super compere Jez Hunt). The event was a high class, high end show in an opulent venue (with the best dressing room I have had so far in burlesque!).
So it was down to me to bring my Jackalope to life, this character that I had been building and shaping, dreaming of and obsessing over, that was almost more real than myself at times - it was time for me to take the act from a perfect image in my mind to a real stage infront of real people and to try and translate that image into a reality that the audience could experience. And that bloody terrified me!
In general I get excited before a performance but not usually nervous and never to this extent. I could hear my heart racing in my chest and when I got onstage my hands trembled a little involuntarily. There were some sound issues in the first act and the music sounded a little distorted and I had a paranoid moment, just as I came on where I worried that they had played the wrong track. But once I realised it was just a technical issue I focused on trying to convey the character as strongly as I could. I was so nervous about presenting this straight, serious, sad act (especially as I was the first performer of the night - I didn't know what the audience would be expecting).
Every moment felt long and extended and I felt like my movements were more clumsy and fumbled than usual. The audience were quiet, not whooping or cheering like they do for a raunchy, silly or upbeat act. As I came to the most tense point of the performance I heard a woman say quietly "It's all gone a bit emo" to her friend and it was all I could do to stop myself from innappropriately giggling. When the act came to the end the audience applauded and I left the stage (from the wrong side - such was my frazzlement!).
After I came off I had expected to feel this rush of relief and achievement, of finally having culminated the months and months of hard work. In reality, I didn't feel that. I felt a but numb. Unsure whether the performance had been a roaring success, a horrible failure or somewhere in the middle. While working on the act I felt that I had lost all perspective of whether it was good or not, whether I had created something beautiful or just something mundane with a pretty costume. I had thought that performing it onstage for an audience would give me some of that perspective back, but it didn't. I felt just as divorced from what my act looks like from the outside as ever.
At the end of the show, after performing my second act (The Octopus - one of my favourites to perform) I did get a little good feedback but in reality I think maybe I expected too much from this first performance. After seeing some photographs from the night and reflecting on the things I did take in from the feeling of performing it, I can see some things I should modify slightly in both costume and performance to improve the act. My bra was much too fiddly to fasten properly and I need to change the clasp to something simpler and larger. Also, from looking at the photos I can see that it didn't stay up very well and that it needs straps to be added to stop me from ending up with it round my waist! The choregraphy for the first section needs to be tighter and more polished and I need to ask for people's feedback on whether the last section runs on too long (it felt too long for me onstage but my OH watching it says it added to the tension and worked). Also, the wig (which stayed on and didn't wobble - yay!) makes me look pretty double chinned because of the way it hangs in my face so I think I will have to play with the styling a little to reduce that. I also painted on a little rabbit nose but I don't think I will be doing that again - it looked a bit too comical and also like I had a cold!
The more I look back on the performance, which was now almost a week ago, the more I feel I am gaining the perspective I had hoped to gain on the night. I wanted to feel this surge of joy and relief but in a way I think that because of the nature of this act, getting it to a standard I am happy with will be a slower process of trial and error than compared to other acts. My other half pointed out to me that, as your skill level rises, so do your standards. So in a way, although you are making progress - you don't always feel as though you are.
I know I have a long way to go before the Jackalope onstage becomes an acceptable representation of the Jackalope in my imagination, and I know for a fact one will never exactly replicate the other, but I feel as though I have made the first step to realising my concept into something tangible. Hopefully there will come a time when this act feels as natural to me as I want it to, but until then I'll just have to keep trying.
'Til next time