18 May Lights, Camera, Action- a postperformance conversation

This is a online conversation me and the Lionsmouth had after a performance in London in 2015. The performance itself you can view in the video beneath the text. We had this conversation after sharing many thoughts about performance and rope and we hope you will find it interesting. 

Hedwig: I had this thought, of rope bottoms always being so quiet, so demure, sitting silently awaiting what ever is coming their way. Strength that you see is the physical kind, and very often the actual voice of a rope bottom is left out. Is this something that you have experienced? How did it feel to start the performance differently?

The Lionsmouth: I have definitely experienced the expectation that I be passive in ropes or in rope environments. It’s my impression that lots of rope bottoms enjoy that kind of rope space where they can close their eyes, float away, and take what’s coming so it’s not necessarily negative. But that is not how I usually bottom. So the idea that we would start the performance with me talking, and also with the typical rigger/bottom positions reversed (me standing, you kneeling and waiting) excited me in that it subverted that a little bit. I like to feel strong (emotionally, physically) and active in ropes so starting the performance like that put me in a really good headspace.What was it like as a rigger to wait for my cue? And where did you get the idea?

H:As a rigger, waiting for the cue of someone else is always somewhat of a frightening experience. The obvious control becomes dissipated, but even though that might be frightening, I’m doing this for the challenge. First time I did it was a couple of years ago in a performance with Asherah, having my eyes and face wound up in red ribbons, but at that point I had not clearly thought about the intention and philosophy about it. I had an experience last summer with Berg Borg and Sans Blague in Sweden. We did a collaborative rope performance piece in which me and Berg Borg responded to Sans Blague’s verbal cues, relating them to our interpretation of what they said. It was one of my most intense rope performance experiences ever, and gave the ropes even more of the role of being a conduit.

We assume the things we play with in performances are understood by everyone simply by them watching, an assumption of shared intentions and projections of the rope as a ritual, such as the ways in which we interact before a performance, how we consent to do the things we do. I want to move away from those assumptions; the position of the rigger and the rope partner and assumptions of consent. Those were some of the ideas which Berg Borg and Sansblague planted more firmly, and which I seek to explore.What was the process for you like when we started working on this performance?Had it any effect and if so, what, on how you felt about the outcome?

TLM:I hadn’t given a rope performance before, so I didn’t really know what the preparation process would be like. We haven’t tied together all that much, so most of the physical rehearsing we did was quite technical – figuring out TK and futomomo placements that were easily sustainable for me. This was really helpful in not worrying about those things during the performance.

A lot of the rest of the process was talking – throwing ideas back and forth. You brought a lot of awesome ideas, probably too many! and I saw part of our preparation as streamlining them. I didn’t think about it at the time but our discussion was not just a preparation for performance, but basically a negotiation. It looked a lot like my negotiations for scenes in general, in that we discussed lots of things and I didn’t know how many of them we would end up using, or exactly how.

One idea of yours I loved but which wasn’t practical in the limited time we had to prepare was to use a recording of our negotiation as a soundtrack to the performance. I think seeing the interplay between pre-rope discussion and the rope on stage would have been exciting and raw. It wouldn’t just have shown explicit consent and my input into what was happening but also the tensions between how discussions beforehand and emotions in the moment. ‘I agreed to this but now it’s difficult and scary’ is always a fascinating juxtaposition. I like to think that even though we couldn’t use this idea, our negotiation was very much present in our performance. I remembered our discussions with an ‘aw, fuck…’ as you got the tongue clamp out, for instance. You also verbally checked in with me a few times – I don’t know how unusual that is for you when performing, but I felt like our collaborative preparation made it easier to communicate in the moment.

It occurs to me in writing this how the language of kink references performance – ‘scene’, ‘play’, ‘roles’ etc. We made this aspect explicit in our performance with the ‘lights, camera, action’ and ‘cut’. How does this fit with your view on rope or BDSM in general – to what extent do you see it as theatrical or performative? I have my own thoughts on this but would love to hear yours.

H: I think to some level, my thinking is that I Am not The Masochist, nor The Dominant, I am not what I am doing. It is instead a doing, constantly changing/evolving. I engage in these practices, in the same way as gender becomes performative. But I have also found, that there is a part of me, which in the performative sense becomes more and more of that which I perform. Every time we do something of our kinky stuff, I become more of it, the more we explore. I think there is always someone or something watching. Not necessarily an audience of others, but we are definitely seeing ourselves, feeling ourselves. We create illusions anchored in reality. The sensations are real, the meaning that we attach to the interaction is real, in that moment, so for me, I think it is more performative than theatrical, at the basis of it. Then nonetheless, when we add the element of a staged performance, there is the added element of the theatrical, trying to convey something beyond showing how awesome I am because I can suspend someone. I want to tell those who are watching something, or at least make them feel something they have not felt before, or even perhaps making them a bit uncomfortable.Some of the amazing performers out there certainly move towards even more theatrical than I could ever imagine and while I don’t aspire to that primarily, I still wish to tell stories.

There are tensions about in regards to the debate about performances in kink contexts, how the rehearsal might remove some of the ‘authenticity’ which I think is bull. Of all of the performances I’ve done, the ones that have been the best have been the rehearsed ones, no doubt. It is therefor interesting how you said that the rehearsal and the development of what we did in itself felt like a negotiation as well as making you feel empowered. It is something that I will remember for the future.

How do you feel about this, is BDSM performative or even theatrical to you?

TLM: I agree with what you said about the parallels between gender as performative and BDSM as performative – I hadn’t thought of it in quite that way before. I don’t think authentic and performative are at odds with each other, though I’m always suspicious of an obsession with authenticity. Have you read this essay (http://titsandsass.com/seems-legit-authenticity-performativity-and-sex/) by Kitty Stryker about authenticity and sex? This often comes to mind when I bottom. My responses, the noises I make, the way I move are in some sense for an audience, even if that audience is only my play partner. But they’re also very genuine expressions of my experience. When my play is public, whether it’s explicitly for an audience or not, I think this can cross over into theatricality. People watching me get dropped onto a futomomo can’t literally feel my pain – they read my experience in how I react. So when it hurts, when it feels good, when I’m scared, there’s no point in just feeling it. I want to embody it too. My reactions are how I give something back to a top, or to people watching – how rope can become a story, not just a series of physical positions.

H: That is so very beautifully put, and I think an apt description of what we do, both in play and performance, the story, which finds its own protagonists and narratives, sometime consciously, sometimes by accident. I have a bit of a bone there to pick, because I have probably been known to use the words ‘I don’t believe it’ when I have seen pr0n or other erotic expressions that have felt less than authentic. Even more so, I think if we start to remove ourselves from a discourse which speaks about what is ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ we would open up new, interesting avenues, because our reactions could engage with what there is, rather than what we want to project. Then again, sometimes, it is so artificial it is like trying to eat food stuffed with additivies.

I don’t really know why I wanted to have this conversation with you, but I felt it was somewhat an important one to have. Some of the things we need to speak about are obvious; like the rights of those performing (including issues of consent and workers rights), but those where we speak about what this performance culture does to us, as communities and individuals as at least as important. The rope performance scene is expanding at a neck break pace, and it very easily becomes a question of the most flashiest, coolest, most scripted performance wins. I don’t want to win, I just want to challenge those around me, honour my partner and not trip on the ropes. Thank you so much for going that with me, and for having this conversations with me. It was superfun to do rope together with you.

TLM: And thank you!

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