Friday, February 17

My Final Show

Wah...its all over!! For so long when i had some free time i automatically thought: ok what can i do for the show.. No more! Now maybe i should think: ok what are all the other things i have neglected this whole term?! Feels very strange that its behind me, that i can start talking about it retrospectively, that there is no fear of ruining the surprise factor anymore so i can write about it properly now... So for those of you who couldn't make it, here is a description and the script, with some analysis of the effect:

There was a curtain bisecting the room, so the audience came in to half the space as it were, unaware that there was another half. I was already on stage in my 'dressing room' which was marked out by the lighting, and by a 'mirror' (dressing room style with light bulbs around it) on a dressing table as though against a wall, so the audience could see the back of it with all the wires hanging out. But instead of mirror there was a sheet of perspects inside the frame - so the audience could see right through it almost as though there was nothing there, whereas I, because the light was on my side, could still see a very clear reflection of myself. Then there was a black line of tape continuing the wall suggested by the mirror along the floor to the sides of the space on the black floor. There was nothing stopping the audience crossing the line as such, but it was clear that that was the stage area, the lit area, and their space was the rest of the room which was darker.

In the room was 'sofa', some clothes draped on it, a dress hanging against the back wall ready to be warn, a kettle and mug, ipod and speakers, tissue and bottle of water all on the floor, and make up scattered on the table. The ipod was playing an old funk song called 'The Truth' over the music of which a man speaks quietly "ever since i was a youth, i've always been searching for the truth, but having been told so many lies, i know only good music never dies". I was wearing a dressing gown, my hair scruffy up and doing some stretching/breathing exercises as the audience entered. This moved on to checking my posture in the mirror, different physical warm up exercises and then vocal warm up exercises. When doing sustained notes i got very close to the mirror as though looking in my mouth and the steam on the perspects showed my breath fluctuating - i could almost draw shapes with the steam. Later i also brought a mug of boiling water over to the table as if to drink but the steam again made nice patterns on the mirror. When the kettle was boiling, too, a little light was shone on it from the floor which caught the steam coming up - these effects were just the beginning of how little things in everyday life can so easily become art, effects, performance, when noticed, when amplified, when placed on a stage.

After a short while of walking round the room doing singing exercises my mobile rang.

"Hello? Who's that?! Ohhhh! hi!... oh my god how unexpected! How are you? Where are you?? oh. I'm.. actually I'm about to do the final show for my practical option of my degree, its er.. it like as important as a dissertation or something. yeah. Oh- heard from who? Oh you're in touch? I didn't know. No, no, Warwick, at university. Ha.. no i'm not nervous, i just have to sing, its cool, you know me, im... more than ready. Its not quite the same, and anyway i think very differently about all that now. No its only a small audience, but, its.. its not just about the music, its.. its the ideas.. i.. man i cant explain now i need to get ready. This is like, over a year's worth of catching up to do.. [start looking at skin in the mirror] Ok sure. Later then. No i wont be at home tonight, i'm staying at my.. at a friend's. Yeah. right. Well, nice to hear from you - weird. Is everything ok? Ok. sure. ok, bye.."

Kind of shaken by the call from the ex-boyfriend, i start to put on my make up in front of the mirror. The audience watch the whole process of the face being adorned by powder and colour and glitter and black lines and gloss and blush which is such a familiar process to women, especially in dressing rooms, and which is quite slow, but nevertheless interesting to watch when called into attention. I tried to show the performativety of everyday routines, of things which are not usually done on a stage, but before a performance takes place. While i put the make up on i sang 'people get ready' the gospel song - but kind of as an exercise..trying lines out in different ways, not really concentrating on it. As i finished i made a call on my phone to a best friend from school. While i talk i change into my dress:

"Its me. Guess who called me? Yeah in like 10 minutes, but guess who just called me now? Yes! How did you know? How out of the fucking blue eh? Straight back to highschool...and he's still in touch with some of them you know.. eugh. It's completely thrown me. Wish I hadn't picked up. Yeah i know. Aright, details later. Whatever. I need to block it out. Shit man. Ok Ok Focus. No but actually I'm so nervous! My voice is still recovering from my cold, i went to to bed at like 8 last night to rest it and been singing all afternoon trying to warm up work through it, its like..stuck. nah dont worry its ok, im exaggerating i guess. it probably wont sound any different to other people its just psychological. But the adrenaline might give it its edge back. Um.. i feel ok about it.. I just feel like i'm exposing myself to a new degree with this. [as i say that i take off my dressing gown and check out my body in a bra and underwear in the mirror before putting on the dress] And its an audience full of people who know me. All those familiar faces staring at me doesnt help. And its in a strange framework where i'm being judged from a supposedly official view, not just one of taste. I'm just so scared they won't get it... that it won't really say what i want it to say... and i'm not sure about my song choices now. No i am doing that one in the end, i thought there should should be some continuity between the work in progress show and this and that song is a good link, but i'm doing it differently. I wish you could see it! oh well, you are kind of here, you helped me pick the dress....i know. And then im doing a cover just straight. well not straight, but how i would. - it would be so much easier if could introduce it by saying 'i chose this because by doing someone else's song the elements which define my performance as opposed to my song writing are more distinct.' ha.. no no i cant. Its a show not an essay. I cant! I cant sing um.. 'as a matter of fact, this is all an act' and then be like 'footnote 31: reference Erving Goffman, the presentation of self in everyday life, p.12)! But thats exactly it, i want to explain my thoughts - it isn't just a show, or rather, it a show - usually if someone doesn't like or understand me on stage that's their problem, but here its like I have to justify everything.. [Nicki who was working at the lighting desk then speaks over a microphone and interupts me, saying]: Ladies and Gentlemen the doors for tonight's performance will be opened in 3 minutes]. Ah I have to go, i should finish getting ready.. im sorry i've been doing all the talking.. how are you? how's your project? when are you leaving. Ok i should be home for a weekend soon but i'll talk to you before. Thank you so much.. cant believe he called me! yeah, i will.. bye."

Then I finished putting my boots on etc, took my hair down, finishing touches, and tried out some lines from the song i am about to do in the 'final show'. The lights then go on in the other half of the room and ben, who is filming the show (also a frist year student like nicki) opens the curtain enough to let people through to the other room. The other room is set up like an auditorium with rows of seats that curve round and a raised stage ready with the piano. When the audience was sat, Nicki made a phonecall to me (this time only her side of the conversation was heard, not mine):

"Hi Lail. The audience is in, its pretty full! You probably have about 2 minutes. Are you feeling ready? No all of the seats are taken! Oh what does he look like? ... Is he wearing a funny hat? Yeah he's there, sitting right in the middle! And the tutors are together at the front. Yeah the lights are ready, the mic is on, everything is set.. Ok I'll announce you in a minute.. good luck!"

Whilst everyone was settling down i secretly (hehe) put on a beautiful huge mask with coloured feathers. So thought they expected me to come on exactly as they had left me, cause they thought i had 'finished' getting ready, the surprise element of a 'show' was still there when, after being announced, i walked on a sat down in blackout and then a spotlight came on revealing the mask.

As I sang the first song coloured lights were added. The result of the lighting, the microphone (which was over-the-top loud so it picked up every breath), the raised stage, the costume - all the performative elements - was to emphasise the fact that this was now a 'show'. And the lyrics of the first song, which was a reworking and upside down version of the work-in-progress show song, directly addressed the issues of 'show' and 'truth/reality'. Here are the words:

[quietly, creepy, seductive]

I won't tell you how I feel
I have nothing to reveal
But I'd like to eat you up
Your my three course meal
I wont tell you how I feel
That's not part of the deal
There's no blush, and there's no mask
There's no flesh beneath peel

[loud, attitude]

I won't tell you how I feel
I have nothing to reveal
But I'd like to eat you up
Your my three course meal
I wont tell you how I feel
That's not part of the deal
There's foundation on my face
Nothing real for you to steal...

But as a matter of fact
This is all an act
You and I both know
That it's part of the show

I can tell that you're wise
You can see through my guise
This face that I pull
Isn't me it's all bull...

[sing in quiet voice:]

If I tell you how I feel
Then all of me is revealed
And you can eat me up
And veto my appeal
If I tell you how I feel
Then nothing is concealed
The blush behind my mask
The flesh beneath the peel

I'll try to knock down
This fourth and final wall
So our eyes can touch
But its built up thick and tall

So I'll try and be honest with you
To take away the show
But its not easy
Can we take it slow?

I'll tell you how I feel
But then all of me is revealed
And you can eat me up
And veto my appeal
I'll tell you how I feel
But then nothing is concealed
The blush behind my mask
The flesh beneath the peel

[take off mask]

I feel so naked
Like you can see through my skin
With everything to lose
And no real way to win
The lies and the spin [vocal effects on this line]
Are wearing thin
I'm being betrayed
By my beautiful twin
Am I 'for real'?
Is this the real thing?
Who really cares...
Shut up and sing!


At the point where i took of the mask the lighting got brighter. Then at the end of the song the lights went off, and came back up with no colours, just natural and bright - no more effects. I addressed the audience as myself:

'Hi everyone, thank you so much for coming. Its really nice to see so many familiar faces. You'll have to bear with my voice, i was bad and went out last night so its a bit croaky today. I'm just going to do one other song for you. You should all recognise it. Thanks again for coming!'

All the contradictions between what i supposedly 'honestly' admitted here and the other 'truth' which was heard in the earlier phonecall were supposed to show how even at a point where no 'acting' is apparent, and the conversation seems at its least performative, the person can still be lying and acting and manipulating. The boudnaries between performance and honesty, show and reality are very blurred.

I then sang the other song, which was a cover of Aretha Franklin's 'Think', but mixed in with some of Jurassic 5's 'Freedom'. That song tried to bring in as many elements as possible which show my personal style of performing - how i would do it in a concert, not a play. As myself, not a character. When it was over I said thank you and walked off the stage and Nicki announced that the show is over. People were free to slowly make their way out of that space only to find it was a false ending and there was a third section back in the dressing room where i put on 'party time' on my ipod and am dancing around a bit to myself as i get into normal clothes. I make a final call, this time to my mother:

"Ima? Hi.. done it. Yup. Ok think.. i mean.. yeah, the performance itself went well. My voice held out. After all that, like 2 terms of work, I just got on the stage and felt like it was me up there. There wasn't any lies about what i was doing, and there wasn't any more time to prepare, so i just.. sang. I enjoyed it. The reception was quite good.. weird because the selection of people weren't there for the music exactly, so i don't know if they 'liked' it, but they were very well behaved. I mean..the focus was much higher than in a normal gig so that was fun to play with.. and the staging worked how i planned, except i was a bit blinded by the lights, but i could still see who was there. It was very intimate and very detached at the same time.. like, i was close, it was small, but all the lighting and the volume of the mic was over the top to emphasise that it was a show.. you'll see on the video. wah what a relief. Call me later i should go and see everyone.. get feedback.. the really scary part, haha. ok, neshikot, love you, bye."

Then, turning off the music and approaching the line of the dressing room 'wall', I took a deep breath as though about to go on stage, and step over the line. As my foot touched the ground on the audience's side the dressing rom stage lights went off and the house lights came on. I hugged some of my friends and was about to go over to my parents who had come to see the show only to realise people were still watching me. "The show's over now!" I had to say! After one false ending, this time, stepping from the 'reality' of the dressing room after-show scene, to the real reality of the after-show situation, the audience were confronted with not quite knowing if the show was really over this time. This again pointed to the blurred distinctions between reality and performance.

There is of course no real difference between the two 'spaces' - the audience was not 'told' to stay on their side of the line. But they did, and when i crossed to their side, the experience was quite strange for all of us i think.. The concert section was made more poignant because it was sandwhiched by the dressing room scenes - the whole process of before-show-after was shown to enhance each by contrast to the other. In the dressing room everyday life was put on stage and reality was made performative; In the concert the performance elements were stripped off through the first song and by the second song i was definataly 'acting' less than i was when i was in the 'back-stage' sections.

I dont know how much you can get from these descriptions but i think the show worked well in exploring some of the ideas which this project was grappling with. Mostly, i'm happy that the final show really was a performance (not a presentation), dealing with the issue of performance. And it was very fun to do create and perform..

Now I have to start thinking about the critical review. Thats 4000 words. We have a meeting coming up to discuss exactly what needs to be presented in this. But i'm sure that this blog will come in useful to remind me of the different stages the project has gone through!!