August 6th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

Theater with kukla_tko42: The Bonny Swans

A couple of weeks ago, kukla_tko42 calls me ... a too rare treat, for all that I know how busy she is so I shouldn't complain. It turns out that her acting troupe was booked as the lead off entertainment for a local goth scene quarterly event, the Armageddon Ball. thesigother usually plays her leading man roles, but that night he was going to be busy with his kids. So even though I'm not in the troupe, she offered me the part. Basically, the deal was that the actors would get paid in food and in free admission, and she would get the added incentive of being able to advertise (and sell program book ads) for her upcoming fund-raiser, a performance of Midsummer Night's Dream. (Buy tickets here.)

For me, it meant a chance to get out of the house, to listen to some cool music, hang around stylishly costumed people, see some friends I only see a couple of times a year, get a free meal out of it, and best of all, spend time around four of my favorite sexy femfen: kukla_tko42, allura629, professor, and bakadragon. And it meant I got to be on stage, and you should all know by now that anything involving theater is sacred to Dionysus and therefore to me. So for me it was a slam-dunk obvious easy win-win scenario all around. As I often remind people, perhaps too often, I can refuse Kukla nothing, but this time the real favor was from her to me.

The performance was a roughly six minute mime show, acting out Loreena McKennitt's song "The Bonny Swans" to the accompaniment of the song. To synopsize, it's a story blending a couple of the standard fairy tale themes and at least one of the Child Ballads, sung to an original rocked-up semi-Celtic arrangement. If it weren't for the fact that I can't stand McKennitt's voice, it'd be the sort of thing I like; as it is, I'd rather read it than hear it. But anyway, the plot summary: The oldest of three princesses drowns her youngest sister in the river out of jealousy for the youngest's boyfriend. The corpse washes up against a miller's dam; the miller's daughter, at first thinking it a swan, retrieves the corpse. When they see that it's a noblewoman's corpse, they (for no given reason, it's a fairy tale thing) make an enchanted self-playing harp out of her corpse and present it to her father the king. Once back home, the corpse harp begins to sing ... and names her murderess.

Kukla doesn't have infinite faith in my acting capabilities, and it's a fair cop. As an actor, I make a halfway competent spear carrier. But as she had choreographed it, the role of the king wasn't terribly demanding; she didn't even bother to invite me to the single rehearsal they held, squeezed in between the rehearsals for Midsummer Night's Dream. My role was primarily to lead Kukla (the queen) in for her grand entrance, then re-enter for the finale and broadly portray my grief, then shock, then anger. It may have come easier to me than to some; having once taken a brief seminar in comedia dell'arte, I had at least a little practice playing up my emotions enough to be visible on a dark-ish stage, without the benefit of voice or subtle facial expressions, to an audience fairly far away. The Professor played the villainess, Baka the victim, and Allura the middle daughter and (with a quick costume and wig change) the miller's daughter. Two guys I don't particularly know played the boyfriend and the miller.

How'd it go? Well, like everybody amateur or semi-pro who's ever been up on stage, I could nitpick it to death, especially my own performance. Two people picked up their cues late, one of them (the miller) late enough to confuse the audience briefly. And I broke one of the cardinal rules of theater, by adding a bit of improvised choreography and throwing it at Kukla without warning, gambling that she'd catch it quick enough; she did, but if she hadn't, it would have looked really crappy.

But for all the nitpicking that any of us who were up there on stage could do, the performance had a lot of things going for it. One of the reasons Kukla agreed to this was that, having run faerie court at Ren Faire many times, she could pull fabulous costumes for this out of her closet in a heart beat. And all the girls, of course, looked beautiful, which never hurts with an audience. I'm told I did a great job of pulling off the regal look and bearing, wearing a crimson with gold trim long open robe over my usual club gear (cargo pants, black leather vest, white poet shirt) with a page-boy wig and a Halloween costume store crown. The postures for that costume come easily to me after all those years in the SCA. (It wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done giving back that wig after the performance. It looked remarkably like my original hair.) About half of the audience seemed to know, or at least to be able to follow, the song, and were very enthusiastic to see it acted out. But even those who obviously couldn't follow it (and I don't blame them, that's what I hate about McKennitt's voice is that it always gets completely lost in the music) ate it up with two spoons. We were a huge hit, and got long and thunderous applause.