THE MERCURY WALTZ is well underway, now: copyediting via the brilliant Paul Witcover, cover consultations, the bespoke edition in discussion. Artist Megan Weber is creating the cards that will tell the tale in the book trailer – to the music, of course, of Joe Stacey. (And what a huge pleasure it is, this collaboration, seeing and hearing the ongoing story reimagined by other artists!)
Chance is a relative concept: is anything truly random, does not the whole wide world and all of history link together in an odd, unbreakable, invisible chain? The butterfly flaps a wing, a boat capsizes in a storm; a lover winks, a child is born. But to a man in love with chance, a master player used to traveling the wild road with his partner beside him and a caseful of wooden allies, when that road winds down to one street and one theatre, perhaps cards become the daily way to duel with Fate, to tempt the gods to battle, to hoodwink loss and keep the game afloat. And if that game is true (no cheating!), no one can predict which card will next show its face, whether the deck is for lansquenet or Tarot, or what may happen when it does. Take your chance, then. Play the card.
In Helen Davies’ Gender and Ventriloquism in Victorian and Neo-Victorian Fiction: Passionate Puppets, she investigates the voiced and varied ethos of the puppet, exploring (among others) Dorian Grey, Trilby, Sarah Waters, and Under the Poppy‘s Pan Loudermilk via the novel’s opening scene – all of nine paragraphs, but it’s fairly indelible, particularly if you’re Pearl.
Though a ventriloquist’s dummy is not a puppet, the voice he, she, or it acquires comes most times from a human throat, and so may be presumed to speak if not for, then in tandem with, that human. As does, one supposes, the rest of the rig, arms legs genitalia and all. So this writer must respectfully and firmly disagree that “[Istvan] appears to lack awareness of how ventriloquism becomes synonymous with masculine penetrative power[.]” He knows. It’s what makes that scene so indelible.
And who cares? Do you? How about judges on awards panels? Or the reader shin-deep in BOOK who just wants to figure out if this is a piece of writing s/he wants to spend time with?
“This week, the chair of this year’s Man Booker prize, Robert Macfarlane, published an introduction to a new edition of M John Harrison’s Climbers. In it, he says ‘let me try to express a little of the amazement I feel when standing in front of the work of Harrison, who is best known as one of the restless fathers of modern SF but who is to my mind among the most brilliant novelists writing today, and with regard to whom the question of genre is a flimsy irrelevance’. Are we witnessing the end of the genre wars? … Well, not to publishers and booksellers, who seem the section of the literary world most wedded to genre distinctions: you’ll still find China Miéville and Lauren Beukes in fantasy, Ken MacLeod and Iain M Banks in sci-fi, Sophie Hannah and Ruth Rendell in crime, Brian Evenson and Kathe Koja in horror. We critics can praise them to the high heavens, but it doesn’t change where they end up in a bookshop. It does seem odd that historical fiction isn’t segregated in the same way (and ‘literary’ historicals – yes, Wolf Hall et al – sit next to ‘genre’ historicals such as those by Robyn Young or Simon Scarrow).”
Very pleased to see my work cited as one of these non-genre examples – writing books classified as, yes, horror, then YA, now historical, and all of them the product of the same sensibility and skills, illustrates both the reach and the limits of genre classification. Because it’s not always a limitation: those who like to read in a particular genre will give a new byline a chance simply because it’s in that genre, and that’s a boon to reader and writer alike.
But in the end, if you select your fiction (or films, or music, or theatre or whatever have you) strictly by its classification, it’s like ordering the chicken friend steak every time. Sometimes it might be great, and sometimes it might be, well, chicken-fried steak. And if you never order off the menu, you’ll never know what you might have loved, hated, swallowed, been nourished by forever … It applies to people, too.
To give pleasure takes work – the beautiful, hard work of shared creation. Here, the choreography of an erotic human/puppet encounter is determined at rehearsal, by Vanessa Ellen Hentschel, Joe Dimuzio, Steve Xander Carson, and Laura Heikkinen . . . and of course the Chevalier.
The creativity extended to every aspect of the production, including the masks offered to the patrons: wear one, and become visible to the players, to be acknowledged, to join in flirtation, or something darker …. Kat Thacker‘s artistry turned mulberry paper, linen, and silk ribbon into mystery.
[Photos: Poppy cast courtesy Rick Lieder, Chevalier and KK courtesy Diane Cheklich, masks courtesy Kat Thacker.]
. . . and allowing them to use you, as the narrative take shape, takes hold, and takes you over: this was the task today at the brothel, rehearsal with the beta testers, a very small group of patrons (thank you, Allen Grahlman, John Monaghan, Madison McEvilly, Nicole Rhoads and Michael Kitchen) who were the first to step inside this performance, and examine and experience it for themselves.
Afterward we had a talkback in the parlor, wherein impressions were exchanged and questions (almost) answered. The freedom within the performance – of the players; of the patrons, who might watch, or climb the stairs, or follow a certain floozy – was much discussed. The story is told all around you, in a strangely quiet second floor room, in the midst of a bawdy dance, in the glance one character gives another that you’ve been lucky enough, observant enough, to catch.
This landscape is about desire.
You’ll see what you want to see.
What happens in the making of a moment – a look between characters, refracted by a foxed mirror; a weighted phrase repeated; hard discussions of the past that is never, ever past, especially for our three lead characters – happens both in the moment of rehearsal, in the cool grey afternoon light of the third floor, and in the moment a patron will see it enacted, by an actor. Or a puppet.
Or . . . not see. This gesture, that frown, that shrug of silk or slow, strangled smile, all are made in the moment, and perhaps in that moment you are looking at Istvan, say, or watching Decca, when one of the floozies laughs; or perhaps that floozy glances bewitchingly at you . . . Like life, it happens once, and then no more. Keep your eyes open, dear patrons, when you pass through our doors.
We are pleased to note that the April 12 and April 20 performances are sold out, with the April 13 performance just about to do the same. The premium performance on April 19 has space available, still, for the especially desirous. And for those who have asked, you may indeed wear your own mask!
These HowlRound pieces by Jeffrey Mosser are completely fascinating, from both a creator’s and a consumer’s perspective. At a recent performance by The New Theatre Project, I was one of the audience members (if that’s the correct designation; I’d be inclined to say it’s not) invited to dance by a member of the company; I accepted with huge pleasure; it was another, physical entry-point into the world of the story, a way to go even deeper. [Photo: Keith Paul Medelis, TNTP.]
This has always been one of the engines driving the creation of the Poppy performance: another way to offer the story, a way for those so inclined to take the self into the brothel-world. The performance event doesn’t “replace” the reading of the book, or vice versa; they’re meant to be complementary. Both take place within the mind. Both are plastic, depending on a receptive intelligence to help create the experience; without a reader, what is a book? Without patrons, how empty is a brothel?
It’s my great hope that those who choose to be part of the Poppy in Detroit will find the experience a memorable one, will leave smelling it on their skins; will feel, as when we read a work that stirs us, that some willing, private mind has been in full conversation with our own. There will be as many stories of this brothel as there are patrons. And they will all be told in the dark.
Somewhere, Cora Pearl is smiling, and of course it makes perfect sense: Why not name a suite for the floozy who matches its glamour with her own glorious excess?
Here at the brothel, we have a similar offer in mind for our patrons; details will follow in early 2013. Cora, we are sure, would thoroughly approve.