Sunday, 14 August 2011

Trapeze Artist Dons Clever Clogs?

So one minute I'm a run of the mill trapeze artist, the next, two Senior University Lecturers ask me to be involved in an academic research project. Sounds unlikely? Or rather like the start of a bad vicar and actress joke?

Now the lecturers happened to be women. I used to imagine that female academics wore sensible shoes, flat pleat skirts and had bad hair do's. Yes, I imagined a rather clever version of Hinge & Bracket (Ok they happen to be guys dressed up as women).

                                                                Hinge and Bracket

     Miss Jean Brodie was the second image that came to mind...

Racking my brain my next thought was of  the precocious, pre-pubescent Hermione from Harry Potter. It is all down to perceptions I guess.
So my ideas and experience of possible academic role models was somewhat limited, polarised and biased. 

Anyway the invite was very exciting. It was to be the "industry practitioner" in a research project funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council AHRC , called "Environments for Encounters". And...

All those dusty stereo-types got blown out the water!

This warrants a couple of introductions;

Dr Alice O'Grady  Leeds University Performance & Cultural Industries, 
Lecturer in Applied Theatre and Inventionist Performance - Runs marathons, pimps her camper van, has a real mirrror ball in her toilet & sports THE coolest tattoo EVER, (I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you...)  and been to more club nights than Boy George.

Dr Rebekka Kill  (yes that is Dr Kill - now how cool is that!),  Leeds Metropolitan University
Subject Group Leader for Film,TV, and Performing Arts, Faculty of Arts Environment and Tecnology, aka The Duchess, Performance Artist aka Ms Pig, DJ Diva and icon to Leeds tranvestite community of Speed Queen, and been to more festivals than Rolf Harris.

Right to left Rebekka Kill, Alice O'Grady and film maker and University Lecturer Laura Taylor, in Bruges.

Getting to know Alice and Rebekka (and Laura the projects film maker) really taught me a thing or two both in terms of research and in terms of my preconceptions about academics.

I put together a cast that included theaformentioned academic/performance artist Rebekka Kill, two contemporary clowns and myself a trapeze artist. Steered by the ever incisive Head Researcher Alice O'Grady this is what we came up with a series of interactions; Invitations, gifts, tests and dismissals. The gifts might be edible but could just as well be courtly dances, trapeze acts or animated narrative games with actions dictated by the throw of a dice or the turn of a card...

1. We, the performers had to look amazing - we had to be in contrast to the vivid colours and wild patterns of the festival. The look we went for was gold and ivory - Restoration period dress - with  twist! Deeply impractical, distinctly uncomfortable but highly noticable at a festival.

2. The characters promenade to The Heavenly Court of Madame Fantaisiste. We often collected fellow revellers/courtiers en route.
3. Our guests are welcomed in to the beautiful opulent sensual environment of The Heavenly Court of Madame Fantaisiste.

 4. The guests are "gifted" with dainty delicacies, dancing, trapeze acts, secrets, theatricals and more...


5. Our guests are accessorised to ascertain whether they have the bearing of Madame Fantaisiste and then subjected to a "test" to see whether "she" ("or he"!)  is "her". If she (or they as in the photo below) fail, they are politely dismissed and the invite is extended to other participants.

There are interviews and footage at  Environments for Encounters

Or click on the research prequel Exploring Festival Performance As A State of Encounter for brilliant anecdotes from festivals.

The project was amazing - for further blogging about it go toThe Heavenly Court of Madame Fantaisiste - "Relational Performance".

As for my opinion of women academics - well  we not only worked hard but we also certainly played hard and we had amazing and enlightening experineces at all three festivals.  I now have an added incentive not to judge books by covers. Shortly after signing up for the project I started an M.A in Creative Enterprise at Leeds Metropolitan University. Not only because I thought maybe I was a bit of a clever clogs. Not just for the opportunity to develop my creative practice and certainly not for the academic prowess - but because I thought a bit of my colleagues academic cool might rub off on me! Now where was that tattoo studio you recommended Alice?!


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