‘Nostalgia will kill the good girl. The truth is you should not waste your time on being good.’ Lisa Marie Basille, Apocryphal.
Just this week two of the biggest burlesque and cabaret producers have been accused of sexual harassment, and a plethora of victim statements are being amassed. This hot on the heels of Weinstein’s trial, where the sentencing sent a clear message. No one is untouchable, those brave enough to speak out will be believed, and people are going to have to get used to having more uncomfortable conversations.
I announced an upcoming performance of ‘Testy Manifesto’ on social media earlier this month, stating that it made ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ look like ‘a prance around a sunny unicorn paddock in rainbow flip flops.’ As I was rehearsing for the performance last month I longed for slipping into that old show like a comfortable pair of shoes. I began to lose heart and really doubt myself. I know I have every right to tell this story, and to get me through I had to focus on why I was telling it, and more importantly who I was telling it for.
Since the having the feedback from the performance at Cabaret Playroom in November, I’ve developed a few things they mentioned. The French character now appears three times (much like the Doctor character in ‘Frontal Lobotomy’) and speaks for longer. Learning lines in another language was a new and perilous challenge. The blocking of movements and a more effective use of the space was a priority this time around. When I performed in November, my main aim was to learn the words and somehow get them out. I noticed from the video that I only really used one area of the space, and the actual shape I was making with my body rarely changed. This time I experimented with movement and shape, seeing what came out instinctively as I repeated the words. I’ve still been very sparing with movement, I can be bolder with this.
I added three new poems to the extract, it now runs at just over 20 minutes. I haven’t worked with a director or anyone to give me an outside eye as yet, I just simply don’t have the money, or the timing have been off. I am relying on a video of the performance from the end of February, where I performed the newest instalment at Moving Voices at The Art House in Southampton. I watch many performances for my job, and here guide students as best I can through awareness of the playwrights intentions and the individual qualities of the actor. Here I am trying to navigate what my own intentions are, and seeing what my own qualities and short-comings as a performer are, and doing my best to stay as objective and encouraging as possible. I watched the video and made some notes....
A woman approached me after this performance and said she was captivated. She added that she’d seen plenty of one-woman shows that seemed to have all types of cash and gimmicks thrown at them, but nothing like the heart or potential of this show. She then added that she was a domestic abuse survivor too, and I hugged her. What she said next interested me. I have a placard I hold up in the show with the words ‘High-functioning domestic abuse survivors need support too.’ Last March when I took part in Million Women Rise, the protest to end violence against women and girls, I was waiting on my own at the start of the march, feeling pumped to be there but more lonely than ever, and I saw a sign that said that statement. On a little placard, scrawled in felt tip, were words that seemed to speak directly to me. I took those words and used them on my own banner for the performance. And the woman that approached me after the show, said the same thing; “Your sign was true, we’re ok actually, but it’s still not ok what happened to us.”
I’m not a typical victim, I have privileges other survivors don’t. The people that don’t understand why someone would return to their abuser don’t understand how coercive control works. The same people don’t understand why someone wouldn’t report a sexual assault or sexual misconduct until months or years later. It’s an insidious, gradual erasure of self. It makes you doubt everything you thought you knew as truth. It isolates you and prevents you from trusting those who might be able to help. On average a woman returns to her abuser after a violent incident 9 times. Think about that. Domestic abuse is the biggest killer of women worldwide. Think about that. Statistically nothing is more life-threatening to a woman than a partner who believes that if he can’t have her, then no one can. I’m ok, but there are many who weren’t, aren’t or won’t be.
There is a place for dialogue in the writing of this performance. It will have to be me talking to a voice-over, but within it I will examine and expose what a conversation with an abuser sounds like. To do this I’m going to have to recall actual conversations that I had, but I feel ready to do this now. In fact, although I doubt my own abilities as a performer fairly regularly, I don’t doubt for one second the importance of the message, why I’m doing it, and who it is for. And that is worth some discomfort.
Sans choix, nous sommes plus mortels que morts.
An old friend I met the other night told me that when him and his ex-girlfriend broke up, she wrote him a long letter afterwards (on an actual typewriter) explaining how she felt. In response, he wrote a series of poems, self-published the anthology on amazon, and bought two copies, one for his shelf, and the other he sent to her - with the handwritten inscription “This is how I feel.” I was deeply impressed. We spoke about how poetry was so pure, in that finding the right word, the right series of words, considering their musicality and playing with metaphor was very satisfying and could help pull you out of a dark place.
On New Years Day I wrote my first new poem for probably six months. I wanted to try writing an Ode, as I hadn’t attempted one yet, though thinking about it, the whole of ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ is an ode to Tom Waits. I climbed up a big hill that day, and decided when I got home to write an ode to the hill. I made the mistake of titling the poem before starting it, and that kind of dictated where it went. It didn’t turn out very Ode-y. It got heard for the first time at Poetry Platform this week, and I followed it up with Pablo Neruda’s ‘Ode to Wine’ so the audience could hear a proper ode from a proper poet.
This morning, Lisa from Cabaret Playroom and I had a phone conversation where she gave the audience comments and her own feedback from my first extract performance of ‘Testy Manifesto.’ This is what the audience wrote - it’s all here, I’ve left nothing out!
Write one line to the artist about their work
Really enjoyed it. Your act is brilliant
Brilliant concept, lovely monologue
Very disciplined work. Well done
Some lovely writing and moments of performance
Enchanting, commanding and a bit Shakespeary
Very well done
Beautiful, honest and powerful
Mesmerising to watch and listen to
Very powerful and a beautiful rawness
Write a publicity quote for the act
Wonderful leftfield fun with arresting moments of pathos
We all have skeletons in our closet. Barbie is one of them!
Enchantress shares thought babble
Poetry of beautiful clarity and honesty
What was your favourite/ memorable moment
Barbie and the surreal text to link sections
Her honey voice and nice tits
The poetry - and the skeleton part was great too - scary
The Barbie jokes were funny
Barbie made me laugh with her ‘edifying’ comments
One thing to consider for future development
Smooth out the technical difficulties. Ten Ten Ten across the board!
Director. Performance needs shaping/editing
Shakespeare went over my head and so did she
Not sure about the French intro & outro
Keep going with it and keep in this direction
Why take off eye patch and beret so soon?
More movement to go with the storytelling
Just brilliant! Your poetry is really powerful - at times you could have let it breathe a little more (slower pace).
From the notes I made, Lisa’s lovely, helpful feedback, and through interpreting these comments, I’ve made a list of things to edit/change, develop and interrogate. I’m much harsher when giving myself feedback, but believe me when I say I have taken onboard all of the positive things too.
With much love,
The Ode to Recovery
And speeding up on the approach to a blind bend
Braking in a breath
Only a moment
The next kerb in view
Snatches the wheels and flips the car
Then the straight road reappears.
And a walking fire hazard ignites a tree, she also can’t see
That putting out the fire
By rolling in the dirt
For the next pair of eyes just flint
Until at last the countenance clears
And the question is answered with a gunshot and screech
I’m checking for holes
They say it takes a village
And the next time you sing
Will be the only song you’ll need
It’s bleak, today
But my heart is pounding for the right reasons
Taking in a breath
Look up for a moment
The next track starts to play
Sure, a good deal of it is classic PTSD
But maybe your bad points are just your personality
I know this ode to the road to recovery wasn’t really an ode
Neither is the road
But the signs get easier to read I’m told
They say climbing a hill diagonally
Makes it easier to do
This somehow seems absurd to me
I make it difficult
I save my breathlessness for the view
Am I still here if I’m not speaking
They say don’t go around, go through
Still my heart is pounding for the right reasons
But all along I knew
PS: Photo Credit James Millar. Thank you!
‘It only believes, in a pile of dead leaves, and a moon that’s the colour of bone.’ November, Tom Waits
All feedback is helpful. Even the more negative feedback, depending on how vulnerable I’m feeling, has a use somewhere. I often feel that the things people say to me after a performance, reveal a lot about them and their own experiences. When I was performing burlesque regularly, sometimes a well-meaning woman would approach me after the show, either when I was leaving or at the bar, and tell me how much she enjoyed my act, and that she was glad that I wasn’t skinny. This proves, at least to me, that anyone else will view my work through their own lens, and that it’s up to me to take on whatever is helpful, which it all is, in a way.
I’ve had a lot of very useful feedback on the first extract of my new show over the past six weeks, and it’s time to record some of it here to try and make sense of it.
At the start of November I presented the very clunky beginnings of ‘Jeu Jeu la Foille’s Testy Manifesto’ (still not sure if I’m keeping that title) at Lost and Found at the Railway in Winchester, It’s a unique gig; all the artists and audience sit in a circle, and everyone shares a couple of songs, poems, and whatnot, then the audience can ask whoever has just performed a couple of questions, and a bit of chat happens, then the next performance. It’s informal, lovely and inclusive, a good place to try something I wasn’t at all comfortable with.
My bit was fairly intense, I remembered that I’m not good at answering questions, or even speaking properly when I’ve just performed. Nerves and cider got the better of me, I forgot nearly all of the lines I’d tried to memorise for the past two weeks, and I hadn’t rehearsed at all with the skeleton puppet I’d decided to add at the last minute. So I faffed about a bit with the props and read my words from a folder. People said they enjoyed my writing, they showed me images on their phones that it reminded them of, they told me to think big, they asked me if what I was doing was ‘performance art.’
A couple of days before Lost and Found, I had done an extract performance of Frontal Lobotomy for Write a Note in Southampton. Normally I have debilitating fear before performing, and am impossible to speak to directly afterwards. I honestly really enjoyed this gig, it was like putting on a comfortable pair of old shoes. I know I know Frontal Lobotomy, and I know it works. At least by making something new, I can now direct my abject fear onto that, and I’m doing my best to continue performing the old show, though it seems like every prop and item of costume has worn out and needs replacing.
I also made a very unimportant announcement that after April 1st 2020, which is my 10th birthday as Jeu Jeu la Foille (the anniversary of my first burlesque performance), that I’m not going to perform any of my old acts anymore. There are three left that I perform on request, the seven or so more I made were retired a while back, some only made it to the stage a few times, two not at all. This doesn’t mean that I won’t still perform as Jeu Jeu, but it will only be what I made after April 2016. I’m letting all the old burlesque acts go, though I may end up doing one final send off.
The real challenge for me over the month of November was getting something performance ready for Cabaret Playroom. I had a drastic reshuffle of what I was going to perform after feeling the difficulty of Lost and Found. I rearranged some of the poems, cut the poem that was most explicitly about domestic abuse, put a ‘softer’ poem at the end, added two new bits of music, and reintroduced a French narrator character to bookend the whole thing a bit more theatrically. Once I was as happy as I could be with the structure, I approached three friends and asked them if they wouldn’t mind me sending them the extract to read, and letting me know their thoughts.
I received such varied and generous responses, and I’ve paraphrased some below. All three readers had seen the full Frontal Lobotomy this year, so they knew the kind of thing they were in for.
Even to respond to their feedback and answer their questions was really helpful in cementing exactly why I was saying and doing this script. I also realised that I was asking a lot of the audience, and was going to have to trust myself. As well as all the specific notes, I received a lot of encouragement and practical help from this point on. It had been me and four walls for a long time, and so I was brave and asked for help. I covered my skeleton puppet in brown paper, and a very practical person performed emergency triage on him. Together we discovered how to edit music cues on GoButton. I spent a week frowning and talking to myself. I painted some old ballet pumps silver and bought a dress that I’d be unlikely to wear in real life...and was less than £20.
Cabaret Playroom is a long-standing event and testing ground for new cabaret work. There were five other artists/groups performing new work last week. The audience filled out feedback sheets, we will receive a video of our performance, and a skype meeting to discuss the feedback given. There was one other performer on the line up who was concerned that his piece was more on the performance art side of cabaret, and was worried that he’d stick out. I reassured him by assuring him that he wouldn’t be the only weirdo, and adding that my piece was ‘depressing as fuck.’
I had three friends in the audience who spoke to me once the whole show was over. So what follows and rounds off this blog, is some of the paraphrased feedback from them that I’ve retained, and the conclusions I drew from it, intermingled together. It’s keeping me going, and its made me want to carry on with making this thing.
That final line belongs in a poem.
PS: Title image by Franz Fiedler, 1920’s
‘What you’re doing is not important. What is really important is the state of mind from which you do it. Performance.’ Marina Abramovic
When I read over old diaries I can usually remember exactly where I was and what I was feeling at the time, no matter what I was writing about. I have a whole shelf of old diaries, and many more have been lost over the years. The most precious is a lockable Minnie Mouse diary that I kept when I was 8 to about 10 years old. Occasionally when I am drunk (brave) enough, a good friend will be treated to a spoken-word rendition of 9 year old me, and we fall about laughing at how much of a twat I sound. When I read over the past blogs I often cringe...that was me, on that day...I’d write it differently now, I think. One of my biggest fears is that someone one day will find and read the dairies I’ve kept over the years, and discover how boring I can be.
The podcast I spoke on in June (the one about Tom Waits) was released in August. I must’ve listened to the first of the three episodes about 20 times, hardly daring to believe that actual words were coming out of my mouth that I could actually hear. The second episode I probably had on three times, by the third time I think I had to stop it halfway through, as my Inner Shitty Committee was getting involved, telling me I was banging on about death too much. By the third episode I gave it a once over, decided that the entire time I was talking it was largely incomprehensible, and then got on with my life. I’m still glad I did it though. It was gloriously me.
In September my clothes came off on two occasions, for the final Barelesque and Naked Girls Reading. Both were tremendous in very different ways, for what those events and the people involved stand for, and what it meant to me to be able to take part.
I had a very comforting and useful conversation with a good friend a few days ago. I told her about the new show I was working on, that I had a whole load of poem words, but couldn’t think of any images to go with them, that I didn’t know how to guide the audience through a performance about domestic abuse, that I wanted the audience to ‘like’ it, whatever ‘it’ ended up being, because it might not be a performance, it might be a book, or a short film....She said that by ‘liking it’ I really meant ‘liking me.’ She said that it wasn’t up to me to curate or host the audience through their experience of me, but to turn up and be me, at least to begin with. There was a whole lot more to it that I’m still mulling over.
And I realised that I’d put in some good thinking and writing work into this new thing I’m working on, working title is ‘Jeu Jeu la Foille’s Testy Manifesto’, but I hadn’t done much of the actual physical work of learning lines and practising saying the words. I did an open mic performance at Poetry Platform last week, I felt hugely underprepared, and the room was full. I did the Barbie speech and two new poems. The feedback I pressed for afterwards was that I can let it breathe more, it felt too much like one big blurb. It was a shock to the system to be reading new words for an audience, my face felt like it was burning the minute I sat back down.
I agreed with the letting it breathe advice, and have decided to cut one of the poems from the Scratch performance I’ll be sharing for the first time at Cabaret Playroom next month. I’ll include the discarded for now poem at the end here. I’d been exploring feminine archetypes in my writing, and I wanted to write something from The Huntress, and I’d stumbled across a feminist re-telling of the stories about Jezebel from the Bible. I don’t mind the poem on the page, but I find it a bit icky to say out loud; the name Jezebel is very loaded for me.
And so I’ve made the decision to turn up as me, to this performance at the end of November. A polished and prepared version of me, who has learned her words and practised saying them out loud. Maybe she has been brave enough to ask someone else to read or hear her practising her words. She’ll listen intently to what they have to say, because she has very little else to go on at this time. And so what will happen is that Vicky will do all of the work, some of it while crying, and that Jeu Jeu will miraculously appear at the last minute, and take over.
I’m bringing all new poem words to Cabaret Playroom on November 28th at The Albany in Deptford, London. There are several other artists and groups performing all new work too, and its hosted by Tricity Vogue. It’s now six poems that I’ve settled on showing, and an odd lecture on Barbie. I think it is the best of the writing I’ve done, I’m oddly quite proud of it...even though it is angry and bitter in places, but I’ve written a kind of disclaimer into the first poem, I tell the
audience that ‘I haven’t chosen the easiest things to say, there isn’t an amicable way, but I promise you I’ll be ok. And so will you, no harm in peeking.’
And so I’m thinking of this performance like it’s the first window in a house I’m gradually building, and is forming all around me, but I can’t quite see it completed yet.
With much love,
Her laugh comes from a deep place
The belly heaves and sighs
Her cries outweigh her fluid intake
The eyes leak and run
She moves with hesitance and purpose
The feet are hard and wrung
Strong calves resting on weak ankles
Crooked teeth held by strong gums
Poisoned lungs surrounding a too big heart
She has an irrefutable aim
She animates the inanimate
But the circle is never quite complete
She appears in a puff of smoke
Skating on thin ice
Complete with a plume of feathers
Eyelids and nipples at the ready
She takes aim and bashes back
A canon fire of accusation
A roundabout of crown prosecution
A slide of reticent depression
A hand that guided sharp compressions
A brief brush with religious obsession
A long tussle with a previously learned lesson
She reclines precariously in a sliding window
And they call her Jezebel
The world has gone mad, and it feels like the only appropriate response is to get madder. I, however, am in a love bubble. So I am shaking my fist at the world from inside my bubble. I thought I’d lost my writing mojo until last week; even the morning pages that I remembered to do felt hollow. Where had all my ANGST gone?! I did a spot of open mic for Poetry Platform and FAP with Friends in the Attic in early June, and rather than reading any of my own stuff, I shared an extract of ‘Belinda Blinked 2’ by Rocky Flintstone. It involved a particularly ludicrous sex scene in which Jim Stirling reveals his penis transplant result to Belinda. Fun. Boundary-pushing. LOLS. I was a guest performer for ‘Moving Voices’ at the Art House at the end of June. They got the first half hour of ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ and some of my cold germs too. My band and I got to go to Barking for Clout! Festival a few weeks back, and it was the loveliest theatre and the most fantastic people. Studio 3 Arts is a great community centred theatre in Barking that is headed by my good friend of many years; Liza Vallance, so naturally she had to read the Brain Haiku. AND, I was on a PODCAST! A podcast made by and for Tom Waits fanatics. When I was writing ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ I often listened to the Song by Song Podcast, in which Sam Pay and Martin Zaltz Austwick set themselves the monumental task of discussing and analysing Tom Waits’s entire back catalogue, song by song. I wrote to them a couple of years ago to tell them about the show, and got a lovely reply, but heard nothing else until a couple of months ago, when Sam asked me to come and discuss ‘The Black Rider’ with them. This was the first Tom Waits album I listened to, I remember I borrowed the CD from Lewisham library, something like 20 years ago...We also discussed Robert Wilson, The Tiger Lillies, it was me ‘on a stick’ as one friend commented. So far summer has been excellent!
The New Stuff Update: What was 8 new bits in May, is now 18. That’s not too shabby for someone who thought she’d lost her mojo. I finished 3 poems that had been hanging around my notebooks last week, and even arranged all of the bits into an order. I still don’t know what I’m looking at, but I found out yesterday that I had been given a 5-15 minute slot in Cabaret Playroom at The Albany in November, so that at least gives me something to work towards.
My only plan is to keep writing, keep sharing the new stuff at the lovely open mics in Winchester and Southampton, and have something more or less finished by the end of the year. I’ve been asked to perform an old burlesque act here and there at recent or upcoming events, and it feels like a gift to still be able to offer up ‘Past Jeu Jeu’, who I loved, but who needed to grow up. Bringing ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ around again has been wonderful, finding new audiences for it, as well as recognising the familiar faces who championed that show from the start, and never deserted me, though I felt totally alone and lost until only a few months ago.
Last week, when I was having a few ill days, I read something vaguely poetic I’d written back in April about passing my ex-partner on the street that day. A restraining order keeps him out of my neighbourhood, and two further non-molestation orders mean that he isn’t allowed to contact me, but at the time he was still at large in my home town, and I didn’t ever feel safe. That poem will never be performed I don’t think, but it prompted me to write something else about the last time he emailed me, long after we had separated. I called it ‘Famous Last Words’ and I decided that it was the last thing I was going to write about him, about the last thing he wrote to me. I’ll include it at the end here.
Things are better these days, but I’ve been changed by it all. For a start, certain song lyrics upset me in a way they didn’t before, I wince, and then I get angry. From my own experiences with domestic abuse, and the research I carried out when I tried to make sense of my experiences, I have learned two things: 1) I was very lucky, it could’ve been far worse. 2) I am one of many, far too many. And so in writing this new thing (18 bits of a new thing) I have been looking more outwardly, seeing intimate partner violence as part of a wider, systemic issue, as well as an experience I am still trying to personally process. I think that is probably where my writing is headed next.
Famous Last Words
My famous last words aren’t flowing today
But the lines of pursuit
And the sordid promises
The endless gifs and google translations
Double-speak and fake news
Blatant infidelity, pretend empathy
They’re on chrome spun display
The truth isn’t showing up today
But the lines of self-pity
And the shattered sentences
Suspicious forward slashes, dot dot dot
I miss her, still nothing
Bubbles break and views are bleak
A pile of charisma slumped by the bandstand
The truth is on full beam
It’s just pointed a different way
I read something I shouldn’t have today
The lines wove like a net around me
And the words were utter filth
Twisting flesh, ploughing the need
Pitiful cries, I’m struggling to breathe
You fed me burnt chicken and red wine
Tentative messages and tender rituals
Until I was within your grasp again
It’s fine, honestly, I’m OK
While the lines around my eyes deepen
My chest tightens
My nose and tongue grow, my ribs start to show
Stomach lining spews and vents
Instagram feed, a sickening need
Bargaining tools, re-established rules
I’m in deep shit now, but what’s worse is the shame
The power is in knowing today
I tell more lies when I’m chased by you
And my words can murder
Jealousy sucks and whimpers on speed
Fabric strips taunt and a sniper points
A pressure cooker spews hot pink liquid in the road
Your dilated pupils spell out horror
Playing a reeled timeline of constant pain
There’s some peace in remembering today
Some lines can be cut before they take hold
And though word snares are rare
Submitting of will and fractured ego
God’s voice or a damaged psyche
I take comfort in knowing at least I’m not you
Bolted doors and the cocooning paper
They steer me away, keep me clear of your gaze
I really had to hand it you today
That one line email really got up my nose
Five carefully selected, your famous last words
You knew it would rile me, I nearly replied
A voice said stop, the mist retreated
I skip for joy having nothing to say to you
Sticky lies slip, the net slackens
I reported your arse
Now get the fuck out of my face
I’m nearly at the end of the notebook I started back in January and inscribed with ‘Early writings for Jeu Jeu la Foille’s New Thing.’ Later on this year I added underneath ‘A show about defeating a monster.’ I’m not sure if it’s about that anymore, I don’t know what the new thing is about. The notebook began sensibly enough - with lists - but it’s recently devolved into my usual ranting space. The pages in between have all the poems. I’ve written three more pieces since the last blog, and three short monologues - in French. It turns out that a book I’ve needed to read for some time finally found me (see title), and this inspired me to write something in French, and to explore the idea of protest. I have set myself a very difficult task if I want to perform this successfully. I gave my new character, with the beginnings of a costume, an introduction at Poetry Platform this month. It was a bit of a disaster, but I promised to get better. A friend in the audience told me that I spoke French with an Italian accent....
Full ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ came back to life on June 1st, and though I was nervous as hell for the first ten minutes, and it was hot and sweaty, I got through it and I couldn’t be happier. The audience were mostly the friends of FAP in the Attic, and many had performed already that day. I have a lot of respect for these people, and I didn’t want to let them down. I also had my youngest ever audience member that day; an eight year old girl, who attends FAP regularly with her Dad. I have an age guidance of 16+ for ‘adult themes’ as although it’s harmless enough (I think) it’s not really a show for the kiddies. The girl held up the brain model during the lobotomy demonstration, she was thrilled, as was I.
The full show runs at 50 minutes, I’m happiest with this trimmed version, it’s tighter and less fussy than me trying to stretch to an hour. As I was rehearsing for this performance, I found myself comparing the writing in Frontal Lobotomy to what I’m working on now. My new stuff feels more confident and less clunky somehow, but I am still very fond of rhyming. I’ve popped my head up at a few poetry open mics recently, and it feels very different to be holding my words in a folder, wearing ‘normal’ clothes. No one is getting covered in lipstick at these events, and in an odd way it seems this is what I’m known for now; a trail of (consenting) victims, myself included.
I have incorporated a prop into one of my pieces of writing. Last November I was lucky enough to meet the writer Tom Sharp at a Halloween party. During one of his spooky poems we passed around a smooth wood carving of a raven. I was taken by this idea of something tactile for the audience to experience alongside the words, and liked the low-level, non-threatening participation. It was probably in January, during a discussion on how the media portrays women in one of my Freedom Program sessions that a woman from the group said “Barbie is such a slut!” Me being me, I piped up with something along the lines of “Well I saw a documentary on Barbie not long ago. When she was originally made it was because before then little girls only had pretend babies and kitchens to play with. Barbie was the first adult doll made, she had loads of jobs, Barbie is aspirational!” I wasn’t all that interested in playing with dolls as a kid, and I think I’ve always been slightly suspicious of the idea of Barbie into adulthood. But here I was defending her. And so I did some research into Barbie, with the question in my head; Who taught us to be threatened by Barbie? I found out about her jobs, pets, education, relationships, height and weight, and I tell the audience these things while they pass around my naked Barbie-doll prop. I keep adding to this section, and I like to say it through a microphone if available - I don’t usually use a mic in any performances, but it feels right for this part. The last time I performed this monologue, a woman in the audience plaited Barbie’s hair for her.
I have a performance at The Art House in Southampton, as part of Moving Voices at the end of this month, where I’ll be doing a half hour version of Frontal Lobotomy. And on July 10th me, Bobby Cool and the band are off to London, to perform as part of Clout! for Studio 3 Arts in Barking. Then I’ll be reading naked with wonderful women on July 25th at Fontaines, again in London. The theme for this Naked Girls Reading is ‘Trash Fiction’, and I’ve chosen two extracts (not my writing!) that are very funny and very filthy. As ever, I’m proud to be part of the naked club. My body, my choice, and all that.
I’ll say goodbye to you for now with a new poem. Is it sad? I find it sad.
Where will I go?
The front door is painted white
We live at number one
A crunchy pathway running alongside
Overshadowed by a pylon
The hallway is so narrow
We can’t fit more than two
Shrilling phone on the wall, treacherous stairs
It echoes everywhere you go
There is a table laid for four
We always have some mess
The gap dividing houses closes over the years
Replaced with a slab of wood, crumbling step
The vocal chords of the house are there
And we have little privacy
Those three walls have stories to tell
The shabby windows say it publicly
The garden goes on for miles and miles
Stopped by a tin shed
The bones of passed on pets slowly sink
And rotten cooking apples play dead
There is a constant dripping tap
The floorboards don’t dare creak
The open fire leaves dust in every splinter
The roof is just starting a 20 year leak
The front bedroom tempts me with perfume and high heels
The middle room is warm and dark
Our bedroom is only accessible by passing
Through a portal into Narnia
It’s the place we can escape to
When the shouting gets too loud
A multiverse can be created with bunk beds and wardrobes
Just wish the toilet wasn’t all the way down
I can fit inside that drawer
I’ll roll you up in a quilt
Let’s pretend to be radio dj’s
You’ve ruined another perfectly good story
Steps on stairs indicate guilt is coming this way
Let’s pretend we didn’t hear
Passing the baton of blame
The vocal chords gone slack
The house heaves a sigh of relief
The dust settles, the sticky soup of secrecy sucks back
Perhaps some things are better left unsaid. I was able to say some words that I needed to get out at an intimate performance afternoon this weekend. I’m still not really sure how I feel about it all, although the gig was lovely. I know I fluffed some words, but some of it landed I think. The words were seven new poems, with the unimaginative titles of ‘Introduction’, ‘Bumbling Along’, ‘September 3rd 2017’, ‘Cornwall Sonnet’, ‘I Plead My Belly’, ‘The Rules of the Game’ and ‘We Will Not Be Silenced.’ The titles are for my reference, it’s unlikely I’ll ever state the title of a poem before saying it, as I hope these poems will part of a larger anthology exploring a central theme - as ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ was. When I co-devised with ‘The Mist:We Are Not Cakes’ (pictured), we used an anthology style of theatre too; taking various writings and ideas from the Russian Surrealist OBERIU authors, and weaving them into an anarchic cabaret of sorts. I think we gained as many enemies as we did friends with that show, but the three of us had agreed when we started working together to not be boring at all costs. I read the poems in one go on Saturday, like a monologue. I explained to the audience beforehand why I wouldn’t be stopping to introduce each poem like we often see poets and musicians do. I also said that I had tried to keep Tom Waits out of my new stuff, but that he had crept in a couple of times.
There was one poem that needed the title said out loud, and that’s because its a past date. I wrote that very short poem on September 3rd 2017, in response to a moment, as I was processing it alone later. I posted it on facebook, a distant cry for help. It was a pivotal moment for me I now realise, and although the poem is not ‘new stuff’, it’s the reason I’ve carried on writing. Shortly after this date I began ‘The Artist’s Way’, in some attempt to recover my creativity, and had completed all of the morning pages and artist dates I could manage by the end of the year. I didn’t write a new poem or story for a whole year, and I probably didn’t get my writing mojo back until March of this year. All of 2018 feels like a stain that won’t come out.
When I first starting writing ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ I ploughed through the ENTIRE back catalogue of Tom Waits; collecting phrases: ‘Tom Waits on Women’, ‘Tom Waits on Heaven/Hell’, ‘Who is Tom Waits to Me?’ And so on. And these phrases were what I hung my ideas on. I joke about the plagiarism, and there are references to other sources too; I’ve quoted a small chunk from ‘JD Salinger’s ‘For Esme - with Love and Squalor.’ Tom Waits was the focus I had before, he’ll probably appear in my writing again and again, but I’m not making him a feature this time. No, this time the primary source that I’ve had to refer to are the diaries I kept from when I began ‘The Artist’s Way’ and still write. Diaries that capture my frustration and anguish, grief, hope...but are ridiculously mundane. Or at least I think so.
I watched a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert ‘Your Elusive Creative Genius’, where she describes her creative process as being her turning up to do her job, doing all the legwork, and waiting for the ‘creative genius’ to appear. I’ve paraphrased it badly, but it reminded me that waiting for inspiration to strike is only half the battle, and most of writing a new ‘anthology show thing’ is very hard work that you have to do. So I did my diligent research, picking out words, phrases and images from those diaries. I wrote ‘Cornwall Sonnet’ a while ago this way. I’ve focusing recently on diaries from January to early March of this year, and there I am, asking urgent questions, and starting to relate my experiences to a wider context. There is a whole lot of ‘Why Me?’ In those pages, even makes me cringe to write it.
I think when I finished The Freedom Program, having found a kind of warped solidarity, and the blackest of humour with those women, and when I went on the End Violence to Women and Girls March on March 9th, and had to fight back tears...of what...joy? Too painful for joy, but oddly joyful. I finally got over myself at that point. And now I’m afraid of what I’ve written in those diaries; one line said ‘I feel like a copy of a copy of a copy.’ Particularly frightening are the dreams I’ve written about while the abuse was happening, and I was in denial. All the flesh falling of my legs, a cow biting me, burn scars and bandages. But thankfully all that is behind me now, and I’ve even been caught smiling when I think no one is looking.
It’s also been oddly joyful to rehearse ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ again, just trying to remember it all, and which prop goes where, alone in my living room. I cut one of the poems that I’d recorded as a voiceover, I decided it slowed everything down, and its now an orphan that I might adopt into the new anthology. I’m performing the full show again for the first time in eighteen months, at the Railway in Winchester on June 1st. I’ve performed the 15 minute extract there a couple of times, but the last time I did the whole show in the Attic was July 2017. I’ve had to change a bit of wording in the introduction to cover the gap in time, or draw more attention to it, I don’t know. The show has been stuffed back into the suitcase for now, I’m hoping to receive a bit of outside eye feedback from a friend who has worked on the show with me before I perform it again in June. I have no more full show gigs booked, but Winchester is a good place for poets, as is Southampton, and I just need to see if I can get through this one first.
With love JJ
I want to this blog to be about my creative process again. I feel like it’s become too focused on my inner world and outer issues, and not really connected to my output...which has been sorely lacking. Although my fifteen-minute version of ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ was a hit for a small but appreciative audience on a snowy afternoon earlier this month! And it’s being unleashed again at Chaplins Cellar Bar in Boscombe this Tuesday. So no one is safe. And I’m thrilled to be performing the full show again on June 1st at my spiritual of the The Railway in Winchester. A quick annoying plug there.! When I’ve read back my morning pages from last year I’ve sometimes been annoyed by my own voice. And I try to reassure myself that it’s ok; I’m clearing the debris, floundering in the fog...It’s ok to be rusty. I find that writing on this public platform helps me chip away at what has been nagging at me, but in a crafted and proof-read way. And that in itself is a creative process.
For me there is nothing better for blowing off the cobwebs than taking part in a three day theatre workshop, and I’m grateful to ‘past me’ for having the wherewithal to book up for Peta Lily’s ‘Alchemy of Archetypes’ - which happened last week. Peta’s opening question for our group of twelve was that if we had a magic wand or ‘stick of curiosity’, what would we want to have appear or be led towards by the end of our three days together? We answered individually, and I was so touched by the responses. Mine was that I NEEDED TO KNOW what I was going to write about in the new show I WAS DESPERATELY TRYING TO WRITE. I didn’t shout, but I think my frustration was clear, as a few of the participants (we soon became good friends) approached me to ask about the show I WAS TRYING TO WRITE. Why have I not learned by now that I don’t NEED TO KNOW anything? I knew I was doing the workshop for fun and laughter and connection, and I got plenty! We explored nine mythical archetypes using movement, masks and voice, they were; Mother, Child, Trickster, Fool, Devil/Lucifer, Lover/Romantic, Death, Crone and Hero. Each archetype has a centre or physical focus, and a mantra that they can repeat internally and externally to create an overall ‘feeling.’ What struck me about how the workshop was structured was how well Peta built in opportunities for us to check in with ourselves and each other throughout the process, allowing us to give each other bits of feedback and encouragement. This was important as the work was experimental and often felt quite otherworldly and heightened. I felt challenged, but never unsafe. The importance of feeling over knowing was with me throughout. And since then, the dreams I knew I was having but couldn’t remember, are hanging around for a bit longer in the morning.
There was a particular archetype I had in the back of my mind, and it wasn’t on the list above. I wondered if there would be something in one or several of the masks that would help me encapsulate it neatly, write from it freely; all the while keeping the veneer of my carefully constructed Jeu Jeu la Foille character, so audiences would never know how ‘true’ my writing actually is. A good friend who has seen ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ several times asked me recently how much of me was in that show. It was a difficult question to answer, because it’s all me and also nothing to do with me. I remembered last week that I’d unknowingly worked with archetypes for that show; they were reoccurring characters from Tom Waits songs, and the all the costumes I switch between during the hour represent them, visually at least. Those costume changes became the arc; my background in burlesque saw to that, where in a sense the costume IS the narrative. Anyone who has ever rehearsed a strip-tease act knows that it’s ten per cent artfully getting undressed, and ninety per cent grumpily, fussily and fumbily getting dressed again and again. What the costume is, and how and in which order it is removed, and most importantly WHY, is the whole point...otherwise keep it on and do something else. An afterthought on editing this is; Maybe the WHY is that you love your body and want others to see how much you love your body? I yo-yo’d between scrawny and somewhat ‘fleshier’ throughout the time I was regularly doing burlesque gigs. I panicked over not fitting into my costumes which I either couldn’t afford to replace, or didn’t have time to remake. But whatever shape I was in, whatever I thought of myself that day, the audience still got a performance. Shit went wrong all the time, and I always made it difficult for myself with thousands of props. Looking back I was incredibly sloppy, or nervous. But I mostly got away with it because I was often ‘the funny one’ in a line up of Glamazons!
The archetype of Lucifer has a mantra; it’s, ‘I am beautiful, and I can do whatever I want.’ I found playing this archetype very special, but I chose to play the Trickster mask in the final part of the workshop, I needed his energy back in my life! Lucifer’s mantra I can use to help with the sloppiness and nervousness. I’m not getting rid of the props.
In truth the archetype that has been nagging away at me, is far messier and grotesque than I would like. Everything thing I’ve written so far for this elusive new show seems to have a glaring trigger warning or health advice, “CAUTION: MAY INDUCE CRYING IN READER.” So, I needed to know the path I was on with this, and whether it was worth my sanity to persevere. Plus, funding applications, ugh. They need a description. I wrote the ‘blurb’ for ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ before I’d finished writing the show, but a ‘blurb’ for what I’m working on I just cannot see. Ugh.
I am halfway through a course called The Freedom Programme. It’s based on a book by Pat Craven calling ‘Living with the Dominator.’ The course is for domestic abuse survivors, and the Dominator character is an abusive man. It’s very gendered, though recognises that domestic abuse is a broad and complex crime. All of the people on my course are women, whose perpetrators are men. The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently going through Parliament, and you can read the draft proposal that begins with the statutory definition online.
The Dominator is the Archetype, but ‘he’ has several different ‘masks’ which characterise certain behaviours or tactics. These are; The Bully, The Badfather, The Headworker, The Jailer, The Sexual Controller, The King of the Castle, The Liar and The Persuader. The Dominator puts rules in place to control their ‘submissive.’ These rules constantly change, and so do the tactics to keep them in place. Not always, but often the Dominator resorts to physical violence when the constantly changing ‘rules’ aren’t obeyed. Even as I write this I’m making notes in the little book to my left on how each ‘mask’ might be physically represented or played....see....this blog....creative process...ha! As well as the Dominator masks, are the counter-masks; The Lover, The Partner, The Goodfather, The Truthteller, The Negotiator, The Confidence-Booster, The Liberator and The Friend. “Not a Saint that we are seeing, just a Decent Human Being.” So the Decent Human Being is also an Archetype...? I also started thinking about the female other to the Dominator, and arrived - perhaps too quickly - at Dominatrix, and was reminded of a conversation I overheard, where one person was saying to the other that she knew of a dominatrix who made her clients read feminist literature out loud in their sessions....and I thought back to ‘The Scum Manifesto’ and the latest series of ‘American Horror Story.’ Could this character be recalled like the Doctor is in ‘Frontal Lobotomy’? In any case this is whole rabbit hole of research (nice choice of words?) that is completely out of my comfort zone, but then again, so was brain surgery!
A few weeks ago my mind was spinning, and not with juicy creative thoughts, but horrible paranoid, and often violent flashes of panic. With what took seemingly colossal effort, I wrote the following poem. It’s new and raw and came from a place of desperation. But I felt better as soon as I started writing it that night, and so I’ll leave you with it.
The rules of the game are
We play until you lose
You’ll do what I say
Come when I call
The rules at school don’t change
I’ll tell you stories about demons and ghouls
Until you obey my rules
The rules are
They aren’t the rules
Until I say it’s cool
As a rule of thumb
You’ll lose if you ignore
The the sake of your soul
You better follow my rules
Don’t spread the news
About you breaking my rules
I refuse to excuse
My need of these rules
Your ignorance of the rules
Only fuels my desire to crush you
Have you any idea
I love you
Photo credit: Gemma Betts 2012
I’ve tried to make a new addition to this blog for several months now, but every extended piece of writing seems to turn into a diatribe of some sort. I got my Performing mojo back. It was forced upon me at Dice Festival in October; a unique performance art gig where six acts each have a number and a dice is rolled. Last time I did a burlesque act for the festival, and my number didn’t get rolled, this time it got rolled three times. On the second, third and sixth roll. Between the second and third roll I had barely got my costume back on. The amazing stage management team stepped in and got me set up. I really had a chance to play with the ending of that 15 minute extract, which is largely improvised depending on the setting. This time the audience had seen the same extract twice already by the final showing, and I really wondered what more they could get out of it. I hope that I delivered a bit more each time, or that something I said dug in deeper. The people who run Dice Festival are truly wonderful, and I hope it continues.
It’s been well over a year since I performed the full Frontal Lobotomy, but I’ve enjoyed breaking it into chunks and seeing if it works better over a shorter duration. I performed some sections of it completely stripped down, no costumes or props, at the Art House in Southampton, this November. It was for the album launch of Grant Sharkey’s and Dave Allon’s ‘Beasts.’ An album of no words, and Grant is famous for his extensively researched words; so I was to be the words. I hardly ever use a mic, I’m a teacher. When I used to use a mic in my early versions of the show, it felt wrong, and it got in the way. I explained to the Art House audience that I’m normally in a costume, surrounded by props, but that as my first public reading of my poetry was standing in that very same spot, where I was drunk and humiliated, I felt it fitting to be more naked than usual for them. Two nights before that ‘Beasts’ gig I had sight-read and brought two of my own choice of readings to ‘Naked Girls Reading’ in Fontaines, London. They were ‘Song of my Returning’ by Phil Ochs, and an Extract of ‘The Poetry of the Red Shoes’ from the Kneehigh show. I cannot describe how it feels to read for an audience naked, and I always come away from these gigs feeling different.
There had been an eruption building in my personal life behind the scenes of all of these outward looking ventures. In a weird way the gigs have kept me tethered to a reality, kept me looking beyond these four walls. I found a kind of incredible life in secret, but it was unsustainable, and eventually exploded. And I feel relief for the first time in a long time. Knowing what once burned brightly has been dowsed. What could be healed was healed in its own way.
And with some respite from work-related stress and a bubble of safety and familiarity in the place I call home; I’m gathering momentum for a new show, and a new tour of ‘Jeu Jeu la Foille’s Frontal Lobotomy.’ I learned so much previously from the creation process and subsequent tour of that show, and I’m on the lookout for festivals and quirky venues. The morning/evening/anytime pages I’ve methodically kept since September 2017 are slowly becoming more loaded with metaphor, and I sense patterns and reoccurring images when I read them back now. Plenty of themes but no form yet. Last time I immersed myself in the world of Tom Waits, and the show structure and writing came easily. This time I feel like I’m making my ‘difficult’ second album.
Pictured below is the ‘Fraggle Rock’ lighthouse, Falmouth, Cornwall. Xx
Jeu Jeu la Foille
Tom Waits and puppet obsessive. Loves clowns, performs burlesque striptease on occasion, enjoys crafternoons.