This evening, in a library in Canada Water, I made a tough decision in a feather boa and long blue opera gloves having just finished singing “My Way”. There was a young dancer who I thought of in the light of a protégé. I wanted her future to be safe…
This is the second time this month that I’ve dressed as a woman, and the second time this month that the woman has been a singer. It hasn’t been my choice on either occasion. Strange coincidence, or past life rearing up to bite me? The first time was in Milan, where I was a murderous French opera singer. This time I was a little less glamorous – I was Carl, a computer programmer who moonlights as a female musical entertainer, and usually passes. My set, I discover, involves singing Tina Turner, but my character is terrified that people will catch on that I’m lip syncing.
It’s a show called Disaster Party. You have a headset, a character and a costume. These are allocated to you when you get there. There were, I think 14 of us. Some were actors, some directors, some critics and some members of the public. We had booked the show through The Albany, Deptford. After I booked they asked me what I wanted to eat, from a chip shop menu. I ordered cod and chips. Free dinner! Or free theatre! Certainly for a tenner it’s one or the other. Although I guess it’s the audience that does the acting so on one level it’s me working for free.
Everyone has a different track playing through their headset. It gives instructions, and you have conversations where you hear your side of them and then say them out loud to someone else, who does the same back. It puts you in a strange headspace, half listening to the voices in your head and half trying to communicate with someone else’s words. It’s like a holiday inside someone else. I’m not sure I’d choose to go on holiday inside my character, but that’s where I was put.
There’s a willingness involved in all this. If an audience member really won’t participate then it could be troublesome. I remember one guy at Carol three years ago with folded arms. “Oh don’t talk to me, don’t involve me, I’m a critic I’m just here to observe.” He eventually got brought in but he was uncomfortable being shifted from his identity as the guy that just watches. Carol ain’t a show to be observed. Nor is this. But it was heartening to see people who were clearly shy of public speaking delivering these often provocative and bizarre scenes and sometimes getting lost in them. Many people were playing the opposite gender to the one they present daily. I was playing an excellent female impersonator in just a boa, earrings and gloves. All of this just added to the fun. It was like a kid’s party, where we all play dress up and then play a silly game. Although the game doesn’t stay silly. The game gets grown up. Which just adds to it.
FanSHEN keep making challenging and thoughtful shows for small audiences – shows that leave you thinking. It was fascinating to see this form working and to be part of it. Making a show that’s dependent on technology and willingness is a bold move, and tonight it went off with style.
Plus when I arrived, they offered me a free glass of wine. After all, it’s a Disaster Party. Here’s my library-wine. I’ll leave it up to you to guess if I drank it or not.