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.
- Writing wise, very strong, its going to need to be performed dynamically. Reminded of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Fleabag, A Midsummer Nights Dream.
- How does the Barbie bit fit in with the rest? It feels like three different shows, or three distinct stages to a show.
- The French narrator character? Is she an unreliable narrator?
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.
- Get someone else to operate your sound, particularly the first cue when you’re wearing an eye-patch. What about your lighting? Use of a shadow. Think bigger.
- Vocal delivery too fast at times, let it breathe.
- The Barbie bit was funny. The house poem was evocative.
- Raw and personal, but held. Feels like a privilege to be allowed to see, non-apologetic, not holding out for laughs, but getting them anyway, on your terms.
- You’re showing a side of the issue that we don’t normally hear of, we were totally in the unknown, we couldn’t have known.
- ‘You’re a long way from Cherry Tree Lane now.’
That final line belongs in a poem.
PS: Title image by Franz Fiedler, 1920’s