Friday, August 6, 2004

Fantasy Land

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #240, August 6, 2004)

Fantasy is to the leather community what community theater is to the masses. A leather fantasy is a skit built around leather/BDSM themes and usually, but not always, performed as part of a leather contest. It is the leather community’s theater. I have seen some that were splendid, many that fell short of the mark, and more than a few that were utterly embarrassing. Generally, what made them embarrassing was that they were done with no regard for basic acting, stagecraft and storytelling practices.

My colleague, Robert Davolt, recently wrote an essay (Myth #48 in his “Myths & Mysteries of Leather” series) that was critical of the entire concept of fantasies. While I can’t argue with what he wrote (Argue with Robert Davolt? Are you kidding?), I submit that a little community education could go a long way toward raising the entertainment level of leather fantasies.

Prepare to be educated. Here are some helpful tips for those contemplating the presentation of a fantasy.

It’s theater. This is the time to dust off your high-school or college or community theater knowledge. You didn’t get the theater gene? Then get someone who’s theatrically literate to help you. You need to know at least the elementary rules of stagecraft to present a fantasy that works.

This time it’s all about you. Keep the focus on you, the contestant. I once saw a fantasy in which a gentleman was escorted to a barber’s chair, where his body disappeared under a barber’s cape and his face disappeared under lather. Then the barber exhibited his shaving, bondage and flogging skills. If I were judging I would have given the barber high marks—but it wasn’t his fantasy. The contestant was the invisible guy in the chair who didn’t really do anything. Moral: Keep the best lines for yourself.

Faces are more interesting than backs. There are few fantasies worse than five minutes of uninterrupted flogging during which nothing else happens. The only way to make a more deadly fantasy is to have both flogger and floggee keep their backs to the audience for the entire five minutes. If you must do a flogging fantasy, consider positioning yourself and your co-stars in such a way that the audience can see your faces and your facial expressions.

It’s supposed to be entertaining. Five minutes of unremitting flogging is not entertaining. Think of television—quick cuts for attention-span-challenged viewers. On stage it isn’t possible to be quite that manic, but one rule of thumb I’ve heard (thank you, J.D. Laufman) is this: Something—the music, the lighting, an entrance, an exit, a prop—should change every fifteen seconds.

Say it with music. Use music to support and enhance the fantasy’s action. Consider changing or varying the music throughout the fantasy rather than having one song or one droning rhythm track the whole time you’re onstage. And please, please be sure the soundtrack tape or CD is of good recording quality and has smooth edits and transitions between selections. If you don’t know how to make a good mix, find someone who does and let them help you.

Try not to say it with words. Microphones for spoken dialogue during fantasies can be a production headache, and voiceovers on the music tape or CD often turn to indecipherable mush. And what about those in the audience who are hearing-challenged or non-English-speakers? If no one can understand what is being said, the point of the fantasy can be lost. Consider instead telling the story without words. If you absolutely must use words, do the necessary planning and testing to make sure they will be understood. (See one contestant’s success story below.)

The biggest prop wins. I have seen it time and again—the elegant minimalist fantasy loses out to the ham-fisted one because the latter includes a 10-foot rope spider web, a 12-foot condom or a 15-foot gallows. (This is known in the trade as a “wow factor.”) But big props have to be designed, constructed and transported to the theater or bar where the fantasy is being performed. They cause all kinds of headaches for the contest production staff who have to move them onstage for the fantasy and offstage again afterward. Contestants who have to ship big props for long distances are at a disadvantage compared to contestants who are relatively close to where the contest is being held. Consider building props that look big but are lightweight, collapsible and portable.

Or consider using other “wow factors” like good storytelling and presentation. At this year’s Mr./Ms Olympus Leather Contest, contestant (and writer) Toni Pizanie’s fantasy consisted of standing on stage and reading a piece she had written—the story of how she came to be on that stage that evening. No big props, no throbbing music, nothing changing every fifteen seconds. Just words—but she was charming, spoke clearly and had a good story to tell. And she had that audience in the palm of her hand. (It helped that she also had a good sound system at her disposal.)

Use simple lighting. Find out what kind of stage lighting flexibility will be available—you may be limited to “on” or “off.” (If you’re lucky you’ll have a spotlight to work with.) The time to discover this information is while you’re planning your fantasy, not when you get to the theater or bar to present it.

The contest production staffers are your friends. Treat them nicely—their efforts are going to make you look good onstage (or not). Make their job as easy as possible, and your job will be easier, too.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Rehearse before you get to the venue and, if possible, rehearse on the stage where you will be performing the fantasy. Don’t think that not rehearsing will make the fantasy look “spontaneous”—not rehearsing will more than likely make it look amateurish.

Prepare for the unexpected. No lights? No sound? Missed entrance? The show must go on, so make contingency plans. This also applies to other people appearing in the fantasy who become ill, props that are lost in shipping, soundtrack tapes that are mysteriously erased—have understudies and alternative props available and carry duplicates of soundtrack tapes or CDs. If you ship props or costumes, plan ahead so that you ship them with plenty of time to spare.

It’s not a scene, it’s a fantasy. It’s not about you getting off onstage, it’s about you entertaining the audience (and, if you’re lucky, getting them off). Keep your priorities in perspective here.

Finally: Know what reaction you’re trying to inspire. International Ms Leather 1995 Pat Baillie once explained to me the effects a good fantasy can have on an audience: it can “make ’em hard” (or, based on gender, “wet”), “make ’em laugh, or make ’em think.” You get extra points for doing two of the above; come up with a fantasy that does all three and you stand a good chance of winning the category, if not the contest.

No comments:

Post a Comment