Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Big Dork meets the Little Wolf.

Dear all,
It may be two weeks after the fact, but it's taken me a little while to process the experience and find the time to write about it, Saturday 10th November saw me debut my first attempt at a clown performance at the wild and wonderful art happening that was Nottingham's Little Wolf Parade, a totally bizarre and enthralling adventure into live art, curated by the gorgeous and talented Rachel Parry.

This performance was a little scary to me for more than one reason. Firstly, I don't really have a lot of experience performing in front of an 'art' crowd. I really wasn't sure what their expectations would be and, especially compared to the other performers and artists there, my stuff is rather tame and a bit 'nice'. Still, as one of the artists kindly remarked, I would be something of a palate cleanser if I did something cosy after all that mind-expanding stuff!
In the end my sister (who was my date, company and general wine-bringer for the night) and I did not get to see everything that was going on (I had to keep an eye on the stage to make sure I didn't miss my turn) as the event was over several floors, but we did have a fantastic time and were kept thoroughly entertained and amazed all night.

The main reason the performance scared me though is that it was a debut, not only of a new act, but of my attempt to try out a new style of performance, in may ways similar to the type of burlesque I like to create, but in other ways new and different. My new act, called 'Talking to Boys with Griselda Finkle-Pheffer' is about a dumpy teenager, a real big dork, who daydreams about romance from the safety of her bedroom. It has been scary trying to step out of my burlesque comfort zone, in which I have had chance to get used to a formula. For this piece, working in (my own approximation of) clown some of the rules were different, or I found there wasn't a rule that I had in place yet so I just had to make it up as I went along (in the devising process that is, I'm not nearly brave enough to make stuff up as I go on stage... yet).

One thing that I found particularly challenging when creating this act was working with voiceovers (including hearing my own voice on recording) and the logistics of making sure the audience could clearly understand what was being said and not losing the narrative. I also learned a lot about timing. In burlesque timing has never been a large problem for me, but with this act I found there was a lot of tweaking times on the track, experimenting with how long it would take to perform certain sections, moments or even particular gestures. I found that often, soundtrack elements that sounded short when you were editing them were a long time in stage time when rehearsing. Conversely, spoken word elements that seemed at a reasonable pace when I recorded them had to have pauses added when I began to work with the soundtrack on its feet.

I don't know how other people make clown work, I don't even really know if what I have made would be considered clown by purists. For me I suppose it's somewhere between clown and burlesque because in a lot of ways it is similar to what I have been doing with burlesque. The way I constructed the piece was to flesh out the basic narrative including ideas for gags or visual candy bar moments, then record and edit the audio. Once I had a basic audio track I began to run the piece (huge credit to my other half for playing director and pointing out all the bits that looked shonky) then I went back and edited the track again for timing issues and rehearsed some more. Finally I added in a few extra jokes or neat moments that had come to me as I went along. I made the ending last, as I was unsure how I was going to end it. I knew I wanted to end with a little pathos but I wasn't sure how to do it in style, when I finally figured that part out the act was ready to go!

One of the other things that was a little bit of a change of gear for me was the visual aesthetic of the piece. In my burlesque performances I am a huge fan of drag queen-like stage makeup, wigs and elaborate costumes. I haven't performed on stage with my own hair showing in years and I've never performed with it in its natural, straight form. It felt a little odd and vulnerable-making to be there in so (comparatively) natural makeup and with my own hair showing, although this was something I felt more in the run up to going on stage. Once I was up and into character that feeling of self-consciousness and awkwardness about how I looked fed into the character nicely.

The audience seemed friendly and positive and a couple of people said some very kind things about my performance. I know that the first time is always something of a test run, and I feel really keen to bring Griselda out for a burlesque audience so see how she fares there before I decide entirely how I feel. It felt a little odd to be a doing such a family friendly act, but that was outweighed by the feeling that I had more scope to tell a story in my own way, without having to find a way to shoehorn in a striptease section.

I'm not sure I'll be turning my back on creating more burlesque acts any time soon, but I have felt that working on this performance has helped me break through the creative block I discussed in an earlier blog (for now at least) and perhaps, whether I create more stuff in this vein or move back towards burlesque in the future, the experience I have had creating this act will help me to think of more personal and interesting ways of telling stories through performance.

'Til next time

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