Goddess in Suitcase; part 1

Making the show for Telegraph Hill festival 2015

I choose itinerant self-employed work as it allows me freedom to be myself and to create. Girl in Suitcase is a theatrical performance art work, which engages the audience to draw the spectacle (and participate in further ways). I love making my own work and all the mistakes that go with it. The space, time and energy I take to create is sacred for me.

As a life model I am paid to please others primarily (though I enjoy it too), for their specifications. With Spirited Bodies I create a space for others to develop within (naturally the benefit is mutual). With Girl in Suitcase, while I am not without consideration for the audience, I am mainly doing the work for myself as well as the others involved, and for now (what is wonderful is) without worrying about selling tickets. If there is a very small audience that’s fine. The show is always a work in progress and without funding, it is subject to severe limitations. And yet, there is an unknown magic waiting to take place during the spectacle in the hearts and minds of all present. The unknown of what is Live, full of real life.

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I enjoy the process immensely and like to work with friends. Earlier versions of the show, from 2011 – 2014 were autobiographical, about mine and my Mother’s life and were sometimes one or two women shows. The recent show began its life with my friend Sylvie Rouhani and I wanting to make a performance relating to the cycle of the moon, and the ages of woman, or different phases of a woman’s life. I was ready to depart from the personal, and expand into the more universal, and that was a wonderful feeling, like I’d completed some sort of performance therapy phase.

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My friend Lucy Saunders had given me a book for Christmas – ‘The Alphabet Versus the Goddess’ by Leonard Shlain, and I was blown away by its feminist take on history and literacy. That inspired me to look at the ages of woman, through history – Goddess culture of the further past, and subsequent lower status of women since the Judeo-Christian-Islamic takeover. We started plotting the structure and themes in January and formulating the script in February. Sylvie was going through some upheaval in her life and could not continue with the show in March, so I asked Ursula Troche and Sabine Zollner to join me. The show was completed in the 3 weeks prior to performance with minimal rehearsals, but some new written and movement material from Ursula and Sabine.

Ursula Troche
Ursula Troche

While the process felt fractured and pressured towards the end, the show benefitted from being the product of 4 women finally, and I hope each of the women gained too. With Sabine’s belly dancing Isis, and Ursula’s call-to-arms poetry, we added to Sylvie’s powerful words. I also wrote parts as well as choreographed, directed and edited.

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Isis has an incredible costume (with enormous wings!) and sensual dance which brought a new level of spectacle. Here are some words from Sabine about her involvement in the show;

“I called Esther on a Saturday early March and found her in distress. She told me that the lady she worked with on the third version of her play – Girl In Suitcase – had just let her know she could not continue to work on it, but the performance date was already set – for 3 weeks later.

I had seen the first version of GIS in March 2014 but had missed the second performance where the play had developed further.
I knew Esther was working on a third version and that it was emerging from a one woman show to something else, involving the moon and poems and getting less abstract than before but more related to life models, female feelings and divine figures.
I asked more questions during our phone conversation and discovered that some things appeared like déjà-vues to me: the goddesses Isis and Artemis whom she mentioned had crossed my path before and I was particularly intrigued by the Egyptian Isis of whom I had a clear picture in my head without knowing what exactly she was about at that point. Everything seemed very obvious when Esther explained she hadn’t thought about costumes yet and I remembered a belly dance performance called ‘Isis dance’ I had seen 20 years ago.
I said I had some ideas for Isis as I have 2 Egyptian dance costumes and could add a special veil to them, actually called ‘Isis wings’.
I quickly realised that due to the pressing time scale, the roles and the fact that I’d do this with Esther and Ursula whom I had known for a while too was some sort of fate for me to push myself to try performing – something that I always wanted to try. I knew I could perform as a belly dancer (which I had done a long time ago) but never performed spoken lines!
So I offered to step in.
Said and done we had only two rehearsal dates which made clear that there had to be some improvisation.
I went through my oriental music, let Esther pick the pieces she liked best and then did a very loose choreography on them.
My first lines as Isis were single words – a sequence of unrelated nouns. Esther let me invent movements for these which was relatively easy compared to speaking them out loud.
There was also a short exchange of words between Isis and Mother Mary and I found myself keen to make this scene funny and entertaining.
I think I always liked to make people laugh.
So the day of the performance came and I was not very nervous at all. I knew the space and as people were drawing I knew how they felt as I draw a lot myself.
I also liked my outfit very much – my friend gave me a hair piece and with some help my chest had temporarily grown to quite an impressive size. I also re-discovered heavy eyeliner from a long time ago (which I haven’t abandoned after the play since).
I deeply enjoyed being in the play and as I was one with my role and within our group of three I couldn’t feel more comfortable.
Afterwards, someone asked me if I wanted to model for him which was rewarding and the artwork that was produced was superb.
I met more than one person whom I knew from before but who hadn’t recognised me which made me think that I must look very different “in real life”. I don’t feel different though. Some food for thought.
The least comfortable part was probably seeing the photos and video footage of the evening for the first time. I am very critical with myself – especially as I am not a professional dancer and far from being an actor. However, it was maybe alright. But I also understood that the footage doesn’t matter too much.
The magic of theatre is very closely related to the moment of the performance and everything that goes with it – the energy of the performers and the audience and how they interact. After the play it is over and if it is performed another time these dynamics could be of completely different nature.
And I was glad to have been part of this.”
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