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