Saturday, 15 January 2011

Follow me into the dark forest...

For a few blogs now I have been talking cryptically about the ‘new act’ that I am working on and I’m quite aware that I’ve not given much away. There are a few reasons for this, it’s nice to come out and surprise people and there’s always the worry that someone more talented will see the idea and end up producing a better act than me on the same theme (I know this is unlikely as, as much as people huff and puff about act stealing it seems to happen very rarely, in reality). The biggest reason for holding back on my ideas though, is that I have many more of them than I ever have time or money to bring to a finished act. And not all the ideas are good. Some of them are totally unworkable, or boring or generic and a lot of the time you don’t know which is really going to be a goodie until you get to a certain point in the process. In the past I talked on this blog about the idea of doing a crash fetish themed act and this is one example of an act I was really keen on, but which has ended up being shelved (at least for the time being). I just didn’t have a strong enough concept to turn it into a viable act and, although I could have kept flogging the horse, I ended up being consumed by other ideas which I felt more passionate about because the concepts were stronger. That’s not to say that the idea couldn’t resurface if I found myself inspired by or interested in it again. But at the moment it is one of many little seeds of acts that are hibernating until something kicks them into germination (or they just get forgotten all together).

With this in mind, I really didn’t want to jump the gun and talk too openly about my new act in the works until I was sure it would get past the preliminary stages, but it looks like it has. Aside from the concept (which is usually where I tend to start act wise, but I know other people work in different orders) I have my music selected and the best part of my costume finished. The choreography is loosely blocked but still needs work. I am hoping that this act will debut in the spring. In reality, if it wasn’t for Oddball taking up so much of my time and money I would probably have it ready by the end of February. So, I figured it’s time to stop being so secretive and to let you, my dear readers, know what I have been pottering away at.

I mentioned a few blogs back that I was considering making my performances more split down the middle as I love doing funny, bright coloured, silly acts but I also really loved the emotional process of creating the Jackalope and was blown over by the response to it. I didn’t want to have to pick a team and stick to it as I can see common factors to both styles, even if they are more to do with the way my imagination works rather than things that are immediately obvious. So rather than have the two styles together under one umbrella I have decide to mine the same rough area of influences that spawned the Jackalope and make two more in a similar mood/style so that the set can be viewed kind of as a triptych. That way, they relate to and make sense with each other for promoters booking me and audiences viewing. Or people can choose to contrast and pick one from that set and one from my more comic repertoire.

The idea of the triptych came to me in a surprisingly organic way. After producing the Jackalope I was bubbling to do something else in a similar style (once I had got over the initial exhaustion) so the idea for my new one sprang out of that and the third soon followed. They all had a strong running feel to them, in my minds eye I pictured a dark, murky wood or forest with little characters living little lives that were neither mundane nor particularly special. I have always been a huge fan of fairytales (the proper ones with blood and teeth and feathers rather than the sanitised versions modern parents offer their children), I even did my degree dissertation on the different forms and psychological interpretations of the Cinderella story, so it was these old stories that I found calling me to produce my next act. The act will be quite abstract, rather than the more narrative approach I used for the Jackalope and it is inspired by the Slavic and Russian folktales about Baba Yaga.

Depending on which sources you read Baba Yaga is sometimes used as a generic term for a hag-like witch but more often the stories refer to a particular character. And old witch with an impatient temper (in some stories cruel, in others more like a sage) and iron teeth who pushes herself along the forest floor in a pestle and mortar and lives in a hut that walks around on chicken’s legs. Ever since I first heard about Baba Yaga she haunted my subconscious mind and suddenly, like when I began working on the Jackalope act, I found I saw her everywhere (I don’t mean literally in the flesh!). I ran through many different ideas, even at one point toying with the idea of seeing if I could get a hut on chicken legs made (I didn’t go for this for obvious reasons!). In the end I decided I wanted to look at Yaga in terms of the woman who would become her (as I felt it would spill out from burlesque and into performance art if I played an old hag with none of the sensual qualities that I feel are an integral part of burlesque). I wanted to explore the idea of a woman having the power to see glimpses of her future and the powerful but terrifying creature that she would become. Essentially, the act is as much about the idea of destiny and bitter acceptance of oneself as it is about my folktale heroine.

I won’t go into all the details as I don’t want to spoil it and give it all away too soon, but I can say that the mood of the act I am hoping to create will be oppressive, slightly creepy but with a stubborn strength to the character. I want to make reference to Baba Yaga’s future in a metaphorical way and the hope is that, if people know my starting point, they will understand why I have used that particular imagery but if they don’t, I’m hoping they’ll still get a sense of the feel of the act and that it will stand as something interesting to watch even without that frame of reference.

At the same time as I am working on this one I have started work on the third and final piece of the triptych. I normally only ever work on one thing at a time but it has happened quite organically this time that while I have been working on costuming and choreography for Baba Yaga I also found my inspiration (and the perfect music track) for the third part of the puzzle so I have started loosely working on choreography (budget constraints mean the costume will come later!) and, as I mentioned in my last proper blog, filming it as I go. It’s amazing how much this is helping me and I’ve only been working this way for less than a week! I won’t say what the concept behind my third piece is just yet, for the same reasons I mentioned above. It’s still possible it could change or evolve so I’ll keep it under my hat until it gets closer to fruition.

So, with all this work on my dark forest of characters, what’s happened to the funny, silly, rubber-faced Emerald that you all know? Well, I’m still going to be making funny acts. In a way, I wanted to produce these three so that I am free to make my other acts as silly as possible, rather than trying to shoehorn the two styles together to make an amalgam which could end up having the best points of neither. I am working on an idea for my next comedic act, although it’s still in the very early stages of development, where it is still a funny thought in my head and some different ideas about how to progress it. It’s actually an idea I came up with ages ago but then abandoned because I had got fixated on all the props and kit I’d need for it and lost the point of why I originally wanted to do it. Now though, the character has re-emerged in my mind and this time I can see ways of making it funny without all the unnecessary bells and whistles, using my performance skills instead of leaning too heavily on big props. This one however is definitely a way off yet so there’s still a world of room for me to change my mind or move on to something else. One thing’s for certain though, I never want to completely abandon doing comedic acts. They are my wife (or should that be husband) and these dark and more artistic acts are more like a long standing mistress.

If you’ve read this far and waded through my wafflings then I must commend your fortitude. I have missed writing my blog and it’s great to get back into it properly.

‘Til next time

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