Friday 30 September 2011

Tales from a rehearsal

AnnalyticaPosted by Annalytica

The following events all happened at Lashings rehearsals, but not all at the same rehearsal.  I'm putting them together to give a flavour of what a Lashings rehearsal is like, for the curious.

It's Sunday evening. The Lashers are making ourselves comfortable in the activist resource centre where we rehearse. A handwritten poster proclaims that anarchism is about everyone taking responsibility for their surroundings. The clutter in the room suggests that this message hasn't been entirely taken to heart - but all of it, from flyers to camping equipment, tells a tale about the various activist and campaigning groups that use this space. It's like a sort of activist Room of Requirement. Whether we need a screen for changing behind between acts, a bell to ring during the sci fi skits, or glue to attach eyes to sock puppets, we can usually find it here. OK, our requirements are a bit different from those of most activist groups. But the room still manages to meet them.

We sit ourselves down on the sofas, and Nigel Newt the Amazing Token Boy puts the kettle on. After a few minutes catching up on how everyone's week has been, it becomes clear that we're all feeling a bit low on energy for various reasons.

"Warm-up game?" suggests Galatea. There are murmurs of agreement. She leaps up and snaps into Ringmaster mode. Despite being exhausted herself from working three jobs, she summons up the energy to whip us into shape, and it's infectious.

"Rrrrright! We're going to play a game called space jump! Someone will go into the middle and act out a scene. When I shout "Space Jump!", that person will freeze, someone else will go into the circle, and start interacting with them in a completely different kind of scene. Lilka, you go first. You have just found a cat wrapped in gaffer tape. Go!"

And so the game begins, getting more bizarre as it goes on. By the time our increasingly nonsensical improvisations have reached full circle, and we're back to Lilka and her gaffer cat, we're all feeling much more alert.

Before we get started on the rehearsing, there's business to attend to. Nigel has completed his probation period of 6 rehearsals and one gig, and it's time for the rest of us to decide if we're happy for him to become a full member of the group. For a group that works so closely together, it's important that we can all trust and feel comfortable together, so we spend some time getting to know new members and giving them a chance to get to know us before they officially become Lashers. Nigel leaves the room briefly, and we vote unanimously that he should become a full member and welcome him back in. With that decided, we get on with rehearsing.

Sebastienne gets the rehearsal started with a kinky version of Favourite Things. We've performed this before as a duet, and she'd like to try it as an ensemble piece to end the first act of our upcoming show. Those of us who aren't comfortable being in the more sexually explicit acts decide to sit this one out, but there are more than enough willing participants to choreograph a convincing orgy. As Sebastienne directs the act, reminding everyone to get consent from their co-performers, a scene combining apparently spontaneous abandon with carefully symmetrical staging takes shape before me. I'm quite glad not to be performing in this one, not least because it means I get to watch it.

Something about this act is troubling me, though. Much of the comedy in the act is drawn from the contrast between Maria's raindrops on roses and the other characters' rather more X-rated favourite things, and from Maria's distaste for the decadent scene surrounding her. I can't help but feel she's being mocked for enjoying simple pleasures, and for being uncomfortable about finding herself unexpectedly in the middle of a massive kinky orgy. Personally, I'd be pretty uncomfortable in that situation myself. By the end of the song, Maria has decided to join in. To me this suggests that she only becomes accepted into the group when she "converts" to kink, and as a vanilla member of Lashings, I'm not happy with that message. I raise this worry with the group, and there's a pause while we reflect on it.

After a while, Carlotta makes a suggestion.

"You know the bit at the end, where Maria says "Mount me on springs"? Well, that doesn't have to be a sexual thing. It could be that this character just really likes springs. And we could make that a running thing throughout the song. She could have a slinky that she's playing with, and all the while she's kind of oblivious to the orgy, because she's enjoying playing with the slinky so much."

I think about this. "That could work.....I do like making the point that it doesn't have to be boring or laughable to enjoy non-sexual things, and that it's OK for her not to want to join in."

"And then when we get to the "Mount me on springs" line," Carlotta continues, "We could all lift her off the chair and bounce her across the stage."

Sebastienne claps her hands in excitement. "That would be amazing! And it wouldn't just be that it's OK for her to love springs, it would be about the rest of us all joining together to help her realise her fantasies, because they're just as valid as ours."

Itcia joins in:. "The brown paper packages could be bursting with springs!"

I nod thoughtfully. "Yeah.... I like that."

The next 10 minutes or so is spent practising lifting each of Carlotta and Itcia off a chair and bouncing them across the room. Having figured out how to do this safely, everyone wants a turn.

"This should be part of the initiation for new Lashers," says Galatea. If you've never tried being lifted and bounced by 4 trusted friends, I do recommend it. I still don't really want to perform in Favourite Things, but I'm happy that it's been made more vanilla- and asexual-friendly. Having achieved a version everyone is happy with, it's time to take a break.

Rob produces pots of hummous from her bag. Nigel makes more tea and I nip out to a nearby shop for some extra supplies. Sebastienne declares that chocolate and caramel digestives dipped in sweet chilli hummous taste surprisingly good, and we don't entirely believe her, but feel compelled to find out. Turns out she's right, and it's hummous-coated digestives all round.

Then it's back to work. Galatea has written a poem, telling the disturbing story of Pygmalion the sculptor and his creation of her namesake, the statue Galatea, brought to life by Venus to be Pygmalion's wife. Her poem brings out the chilling implications of a man creating a woman according to his own desires, and his ownership of her. I read it through aloud a few times, and as I read, Galatea develops a dance and Florestan begins to think about writing music.

"Ooooh, I have a really good idea for this part," Florestan enthuses. "At this point I’ll use some kind of effect to make the music sound like it’s coming from another room......and the room is in another dimension." I'm intrigued as to how this would sound. Meanwhile, Lilka, Sebastienne and Galatea are trying to figure out how best to position Galatea's arms so she looks like a Greek statue, I'm practising pronouncing "Propoetides", and Nigel is perfecting his creepy Pygmalion face.

Finally, we take a look at a new song, also written by Galatea. I'm Queer is like "It Gets Better" in musical form - a song about coming out and being welcomed with open arms into the queer community. It conveys exactly the kind of warm, inclusive feeling we aim to create at Lashings shows. We're having some difficulty keeping in time, so Florestan, who conducts a choir in her spare time, decides to conduct our sing-through. As she looks around for a suitable baton, Carlotta hands her a riding crop. Florestan looks at it doubtfully. "You can't bring someone off with a riding crop," she complains.
"That hasn't been my experience," responds Lilka with a smile.

By the time the rehearsal draws to a close, my initial tiredness has given way to excitement about our next show and all the new acts that we'll be performing. Next Sunday seems much too far away.


  1. Hey, it was lovely to meet you at the BadRep party last Friday!

    I wondered what rehearsals were like, this is a great article. Lovely to see how everyone's feelings on the acts are taken into account.

    I'll just reiterate my plea for Lashings to COME BACK TO LONDON, shall I? ;-)

  2. It was great to meet you too, and yes, we must definitely do some more London shows!

    One of the things that makes Lashings so important to me as a safe space is the way we do all try to acknowledge one another's feelings, and make sure nobody feels under pressure to do anything they're not comfortable with. In the example I gave about Favourite Things, I had a fairly thought-through argument about why I wasn't happy with it, but equally sometimes someone just doesn't like something and can't really articulate why, and we try our best to take that into account too. I've found working in that kind of environment very affirming.

  3. Any chance that "I'm Queer" will be on Youtube? I'm too far away to chase you folks around performances to hear it, but it's my newest happy-song...

  4. One day! Just as soon as we have a decent quality recording of it we'll put it up.