In the last blog I think I had just finished a creative writing workshop, and was trying to create a new piece of writing for ‘Testy Manifesto.’ I had decided to cut two poems that were more explicitly about domestic abuse, that I have performed live and to camera, and substitute them for a longer piece about Paris, that was in answer to a book I read a while ago on urban drifting. The poems felt too direct and personal, and a bit preachy. Something I learned from the creative writing workshop, that with autobiographical writing, sometimes what you leave out, is just as important as what you leave in.
I ran the complete show for my friend in Yorkshire. It’s only 45 minutes long, but I was tired and sweaty afterwards. They gave me lots of useful feedback, asked questions on things that I hadn’t even considered, and gave me their full support and presence. I filmed the performance and watched it back the following day. And the overriding feeling was that I could be having way more fun, I could be owning it far more, I could be less stiff and more charming. I have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks before the show in Guildford, and I know that no matter how many times I rehearse, the show doesn’t exist without an audience. It’s hard to find the pleasure when there are no other people in the room. The enjoyment I feel when I perform ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ only came after I had performed the show many times, I was still able to summon it up for the live streams I did in February, but that’s only because I have already learned how to have fun with that show.
I often say flippant things about ‘Frontal Lobotomy’, saying it’s about Tom Waits and experimental brain surgery, and glossing over the deeper, more personal truth underneath the trappings and troupes of cabaret and the music I love. No I didn’t plagiarise Tom Waits, I wrote it in answer to his words, music and character, from the place I was at in my life at the time. And if you scratch the surface there is something much more messy and raw underneath, I think some people might sense that, but no one can tell what is me and what is Tom, and that’s deliberate.
‘Testy Manifesto’ is much more exposing, and I do still take clothes on and off, Jeu Jeu is a semi-retired burlesque performer after all. But there is no one to hide behind now, no Tom Waits filter obscuring the view, though Tom subtly makes his presence known at points. The words are risky, the images are riskier. Writing and rehearsing this show for the past two years has been like constantly beating myself on the head with a stick. I just want it out and done. I’d like to perform it more than once, then maybe I will start to enjoy the beatings. I’m impatient for the days when it just feels like fun. I hope I get there.
The friend I shared my progress with last week asked me if I would ever consider performing the show as purely a spoken word piece, without the costumes and puppets. I asked myself if it would it stand up on its own, just words, and am I just using the other elements as yet another filter? It would be interesting to try it stripped back, but not yet, I’m still not ready to give up the props.
I’d like to share a poem I wrote off the cuff and shared with a small group of friends last month. We all wrote our own poems, with prompts from the poetry Ouija board that I made for a workshop interaction piece a few days earlier. You move the planchette together across the squares, and when you land on a square that square has a poetry prompt, that you all write individually. I remember that sharing our poems that evening was a very special and quiet moment, in amongst an almost constant soundtrack of laughing and singing.
Spicy mulled wine sipped from heatproof glasses
Creamy drips melt and slide
Gingham ribbons flutter from branches
The pomegranate stone she looks at me
Victoriously, gloriously, uproariously