Recently, I went to a poetry reading expecting the usual deal–a reader in front of a microphone with a fist full of papers, reading them. No problem. But then, my friend and colleague Ashley Inguanta took the stage, carrying a cardboard box. She needed a table, and a man and I grabbed the nearest one and set it on the stage. Meanwhile, she constructed a music stand and set her papers on it.
She read. And then, at one crucial point in a piece, she stepped over to the box, pulled out a hunting knife in a beautiful leather case, and showed it to the audience. The tension in the room was palpable–what was she going to do with this knife in front of all of us?
She wrapped a thick lock of her curly, dark hair around her index finger, lifted it up, and, without a mirror to guide her, sliced off this lock of hair. The audience gasped.
She returned to reading and pulled out more props as they fit into the imagery, including a peach, which she sliced in half with the same knife she’d used to cut her hair. At the end of the performance, she lifted up a camera and took pictures of the audience. The performance was mesmerizing and left a strong impression.
I’m new to performance art, but I’m planning to perform with props at a reading in a couple of weeks. I think that the props should punctuate the work, highlighting images and bringing in new, tangential ideas, rather than being distracting. These two things–performance and distraction–can be difficult to balance. You don’t want to tip into distraction and pull attention away from all those hours you put into writing.
Naturally, writing is meant to stand on its own. But watching a reading can get boring, frankly. You need a good story to pull you through, whether its tangent comes in the form of fiction, poetry, or nonfiction.
How can performance add to the story? That’s what I’m trying to figure out now.
Here are my props, as of now: an old, wooden violin with a broken string, a roll of toilet paper, a jar of Vaseline, a baby doll with one eye, a stuffed dog, and a toy (child’s) camera. Now, what will I do with them?
I’m thinking of tuning the violin so that I deliberately break a string, since the strings are old. That’s as far as I’ve gotten, but I have time.
I will return to this blog topic after I have done my performance, and I’ll let you know what I learned.