Last week I debuted a new number at Geek Girl Boston Presents: Big In Japan. This is my second show with Geek Girl Boston and, although I'm typically out-geeked, I have a blast performing at these themed shows. Amy Macabre and Fonda Feeling are the creators/producers of the show and they were psyched when I said I would do a number based on Japanese horror films.
I'm not an expert on Japanese horror but I have a real appreciation for some of the movies I've watched over the years. The one that stood out to me the most was the movie Audition. I hadn't see Audition in years and the scene that I could best remember was the horrific torture scene at the end of the movie. Was I supposed to say SPOILER ALERT? I started to do research for my number and in re-watching the movie I was shocked by the change in my take-away from it. The torture scene is super intense. The part I found the most upsetting was the scene where the main character is auditioning women to be his future wife. The women thought they were getting the chance to audition for a movie. It was really disturbing to me that the men in the film were not only tricking these women, but objectifying them on camera. It made my perspective on the ultimate torturing of the main character change a little bit...
After watching the movie I thought a lot about what a tribute should look like in terms of a burlesque number. Since beginning burlesque, I've made a point to see every show I can and immerse myself in the scene. I've seen some amazing performances by some of the most respected performers around. I've had many teachers and mentors who have inspired me and let me pick their brains. A lot of burlesque numbers are tribute numbers, whether it be Nerdlesque or not. I wanted to come up with something that makes a tribute number engage and I mean really engage an audience. Sometimes when you're so passionate about something you get really wrapped up in showing what you know about it instead of bringing the audience in to teach them about it. It's really important to separate yourself and your knowledge of the subject and try to look at it from an outside perspective. Here's what I came up with:
The number needs to work even if the audience has never seen/heard/fucked/read whatever it is you're making a tribute to: Meaning that- if you strip away (stripppp) the story you already know, will the audience still have an emotional reaction to your piece? If the answer is "yes" then your number is versatile enough to straddle both the group of people who know what you're honoring and the group of people who don't. When you don't acknowledge that people might have no idea what you're trying to do then you risk alienating them. This absolutely does not mean that you can't do a super plot heavy number filled with layers of detail. It simply means that the number needs to be entertaining in its own right.
The number has to appeal to people who love the thing more than you do: This is an obvious one. There are people out there who can recite entire scenes from the movie Audition. People who have written about it a lot more than "Gee, that audition scene in Audition was really fucked up." Those are the people who are going to revel in the special details you add to your piece. They are going to be the people who get it. These are your people! The details you add are a nod to them and their appreciation.
I thought a lot about these two things and how I had seen them executed in different ways. I thought about what worked for me as an audience member and what didn't. I thought about the way I could take what I learned from those experiences and start using it as a skill to craft better performance pieces.
For my tribute to Audition I started out the number inside a cloth bag.
The "thing" in the bag is one of the creepiest things ever....besides what's in the bag.
In listening to my own rules I was nervous about the choice to start the number this way. (Also, fuck that GIF that keeps creeping me out over and over) I could not rehearse the number in my apartment without a) someone laughing at me b) dogs attacking me c) giggling at myself.
(Are you all picturing me giggling inside of a bag? Good! Now look up at that GIF! DO IT! AHHH!)
I had to deal with the possible outcome that the lights would come up and people would laugh at me. Then I remembered this modern dance class I took as a teenager. We did a bunch of dance routines from inside these body sized pillow cases. Mostly they looked strange and alarming and not funny despite how worried I was that they would be. The movement inside the bag would decide the mood. I also decided that I could deal with people thinking it was funny initially because I promised myself that I would cater to the people who had seen the movie and the people who hadn't.
I decided to use the song Heartbreak Hotel as it suited the plot of the movie and I had two really great versions. One by Hanni El Khatib and one off of the VIVA Elvis album. Choosing how to splice them was tough and something I might continue to work on.
I choreographed the number to have a classic burlesque feel mixed with some edge. I tried to contrast sweet and slow emotions with harder more violent ones. I felt like this illustrated the energy in the movie. It also works to provide contrast in the number in general. For props I used a large syringe and a spool of wire. Both of these are heavily featured in the torture scene of the movie but I made sure make them work for me in my number too. I did suggestive things with that syringe, I'm not going to lie, and I used the wire as a sort of fucked up feather boa and used it to tease audience members. I added some scarring to my leg, to pay homage to the movie, but didn't stress about explaining it because it was such a minute detail.
For my costume I paired a classic style rhinestone and fringed bra and sequin panties (that I made!) with a black corset and rubber apron. I worked to fuse the dark of the horror with the glam of burlesque and I think things came together nicely.
The apron is a good example of using a prop that was part of the movie and making it work for the whole audience. The female lead in Audition wears a rubber apron during the torture scene and the image is on the cover of the movie and movie posters. So anyone who has seen Audition will get the reference.
A slick, black, rubber, apron when tied the right way actually looks pretty sexy (I swear) and has lots of ties that need to be undone. I was able to add a slow and fast remove using the apron that added to the piece without needing a complicated story line.
When I got to Oberon to for Tech rehearsal the crew was fantastic. They were able to do some great lighting that added to the "bag entrance" and made it seem at least more abstract than funny.
The number went over really well with the audience. Of course there were things that I felt were off. After seeing it on video, I have choreography changes in mind, but for a debut of what could have been a really weird number, I feel like I have added another will-be-solid piece to my repertoire.
I'd love to have more discussions about what makes a good tribute number. I've seen some AMAZING Nerdlesque about subjects I know nothing about and it really boils down to a really well-crafted number. It's awesome to have so many examples of good work to learn from.
That's all for now! Here's another selfie from Sunday night- only it's not of my butt or of me in a bag:
Here are some more photos of the Number taken by Jonathan Beckley:
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