Wednesday May 25th 2016
I’m sick. Even though I was ill on Saturday morning, I was able to sing through two almost two hour prayformances, but I got sicker on Monday (our day off.) I thought I was getting better. Thoth got sick on the plane, then passed it to me. It’s no surprise. We were stressed out after traveling hundreds of thousands of miles up in the air in a metal tube in the driest, germ-ridden air imaginable, for 10 hours. I am proud I got myself to sing this past weekend, and I’m sure I’ll be able to sing tonight. Even 3 years ago, if I got sick, I wouldn’t sing. My voice is my livelihood, but I don’t have to sing so fully when I’m ill. Singing when sick is very humbling. It takes away a lot of my strong suits when it comes to prayformance. My high register is unreachable, I can’t sing sustained notes of any kind and I can’t wear makeup. It makes me feel very bare, but the space we sing in here lends its self well to the sounds I’m able to produce. I can pop out a note and the reverb will sustain it for me. I don’t have to force anything. I wouldn’t dream of hurting myself for the sake of strangers watching us perform in the street.
Not wearing makeup the past two prayformances was eye opening for me. It showed me how much I rely on makeup in performance. I don’t need to. Many actors wear nothing on their faces when performing because they sweat too much. My husband doesn’t wear very much makeup for the same reason. Just a little gold on his cheeks, some black eyeliner and a little lipstick. It’s the same every time, too. For years I’ve been challenging, sometimes forcing myself to do a different look every single day. There’s no reason if I don’t feel like it, especially in public performance. If we do a special indoor show, I can put my creative skills to use then. This doesn’t mean I’m not going to wear makeup in public again, it just opens it up as a possibility. Now that I think about it, it’s incredibly stupid that I thought I am nothing without my fanciful makeup. For a few years, I thought I had to wear incredibly complex headdresses with tulle and feathers in order to be beautiful for prayformance. What nonsense! Prayformance is about what’s in my heart, in my soul, not what’s on my face or in my hair. That’s superficial. I always said I do makeup and fanciful costumery to express what’s inside, but that’s not always true. Sometimes I do it because I feel like I have to, like people are expecting it.
My sister did a show recently where everyone wore black. She had on black jeans and a black shirt. She even had her phone in her back pocket. No makeup, of course. My sister rarely wears makeup. The show was about the actors physicality and their voice, and I was spellbound for the entire hour and 15 minutes. My sister did three dance numbers, which were fantastic. She’s a good dancer! Another actor I saw a few years ago does all his shows in dark clothes, sometimes his face is smeared with blood or grease paint, but that’s it. It’s the man’s face and body that captivates the audience, not what he’s wearing. And I am transported into their world for the length of the performance because of their commitment to it. It’s always magical and inspiring to witness that.
Theater is simply heightened reality. Playing violin and singing our original duets full out in a public space is heightened in and of its self. Take away the makeup and costumes and people still enjoy it. Physical additions add a more heightened effect, but it’s not necessary. We are fantastical simply by being what we are. What I’m realizing is I should do things because I want to do them, not because I feel like I have to. If I feel inspired to do elaborate makeup and dress, then I should do it, but there is no expectation from anyone. Only a few people comment on how I look. Our photographer Dan especially does because he is our photographer. I enjoy dressing up when he comes to see us in Central Park because I get some great shots out of it. I think this past weekend has brought me one step closer to feeling comfortable being myself and not having to apologize for anything. That’s what prayformance is all about, boldly being yourself, whatever that happens to be. Happy, creative, angry, depressed… It’s about letting all of our emotions out through music.
We invest in flights and housing in different countries in order to perform year round. We’ve been doing this for almost 8 years, and it works incredibly well. It’s the only way for us to perform regularly that we’ve discovered, which is imperative for our health, and sanity. I have a dream, though, to tour our operas indoors with sets and lights and actors and musicians. The reason I hesitate is because we’d have to settle down for a while and invest a good deal of money in order to make it happen. Performing regularly in public is beneficial and feasible for us in every way, but I have a dream for something much bigger. If we stopped prayforming in public for a long length of time, it would be very hard for us. Unless we were provided a grant or commission. The only way we were able to record “Esh and Ee-ay,” is because we invested our money to create it. I can’t imagine how actors feel when they’re unemployed for months on end, like many I know. A few actors I know have learned to combat this problem by writing and putting on their own shows. Even with last year’s commission, we still needed to perform all year round to keep ourselves alive. It’s hard to imagine taking the time off needed to put up an opera on our own.
This feeling is what is stagnating my desire to write another opera. The synopsis for Ee-ay’La took months to write, but our operas need to be seen indoors to be truly appreciated. “The opera is lost to the public.” a friend once said after coming all the way from Edinburgh here to see it. We have enough music to play in public. Every public audience is mostly seeing us for the first time, so continuing to write more music isn’t needed, unless we truly want to. Getting it staged indoors is what is needed, but that is a precipice I am terrified to jump off. I started writing “Ee-ay’La” because I felt we needed to write another opera, but we don’t. We don’t have to do anything unless we want to. That’s the great thing about performing in public, there is no expectation of you, but that’s also the downside. All motivation must come from within. When people expect things of me, I’m inspired to deliver. That’s why we were able to write “Esh and Ee-ay” in 8 months. We have no expectation now, so writing is uninspiring, daunting and overwhelming. Not that it wasn’t all those things last year, but there was an excitement that we would be performing the work for lots of important people at the end of the year. Public performance keeps us alive, but it’s unstable. Investing in a show might help us to be more stable, but it’s the scariest thing I can imagine doing. We bought two one way tickets to Amsterdam 7 years ago, and look where we are now. We’re pretty successful for being out-of-the-box, on-the-edge street performers, but I want more than that. It feels like we’re on the cusp of something new, but I don’t know if we have to take this big, dangerous plunge to make it happen like we did 7 years ago, or if things will fall into place to make it happen, just like it did 7 years ago.
It’s possible I feel this way because performing in the street is considered an illegitimate way to be “successful.” We get questions when we’re performing in public that jab at me like bee stings. “Are you performing anywhere?” “Do you perform in the opera?” “Are you famous?” All these questions revolve around how many people perceive public performance, and pull me towards my desire to perform indoors. They seem to want to be told we have rave reviews from theater critics, we tour with an opera company, and we are legitimately respected artists, singers and musicians. When we performed our commissioned opera, we were treated with such respect and awe, same when we performed at the documentary debut. We are treated with that same awe and respect in public, but people don’t understand how something so good is happening on the street. If that perception didn’t exist, then I probably would be completely content living the life I live. It’s difficult to be perceived as less than I am because of how I choose to share my art. Children don’t see us that way. The little girl in the vlog from Sunday didn’t feel that way. She was transfixed, transported and amazed.
It’s only when people grow up that they’re told what to believe and what to think. People are taught that street performers are less than because they’re along side beggars and homeless people. I think our job as performers bringing great art into public spaces is to challenge people’s idea of where and how great art should be seen. I think a lot of people assume that talented people’s work is naturally seen in fanciful, elite venues and they’re famous. We perform our work in tunnels, hallways and parking garage entrances. Living a life out-side-the-box is hard for the very reason that people judge you and try to make you feel like you should change. It’s my duty as I grow up to learn that how people perceive how I live my life doesn’t matter, as long as it makes me happy and what I do touches people. I do the work however I can to reach as many people as I can. I never looked down on Thoth because he performed in public. He makes outdoor venues his own, and he is passing that knowledge on to me. We don’t have to wait around for someone to pay us to put on an opera, we do it ourselves.
I am finding my way, one prayformance at a time.
“It’s not every day people follow their hearts and dreams as both of you have. Stay beautiful and proud and always original. The world is already full of way too many carbon copies.”