project

The act of begging

In act #1 on March 23, 2009 at 00:12

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Last Sunday I performed my first little act before the showing of “Uniek” from Jenny Beyer and Chris Leuenberger. I had placed myself in the stair well of the Dansateliers building. Audience entering the building would run into me after climbing the first staircase on their way up to the second floor to pick up the tickets. I created a little theatrical space for myself in the right corner in front of the window. That space was simply defined by a cardboard box, that I had taken out of the trash the day before. Also there was a selfmade money box with some change in it, and some more cardboard where I had writtten the address of this blog on. It looked as if the homeless guys, mostly lying in front of the building obstructing the people of entering, had suddenly moved in. But no worries, it was just me. Nevertheless I like the fact that I played around with that image of the homeless who are such a part of the street. I had placed myself on the cardboard, wearing nothing more then an old second hand Armani jeans, and a recorder (blokfluit) in my hands.

For this first act I had placed myself in the role of a beggar. The beggar, a figure who has no possession, no house, no job. He lives mostly outdoors, living of the money that people give him. We see beggars as people who have fallen low. Having made the wrong throughtless decisions in the past, they have lost everything what they once may have possessed. They are way down on the ladder of society.

I wasn’t so much interested in playing the role of someone who has lost everything in his life. But I was interested in the act of ‘begging’. Not begging for money (though I couldn’t resist to have a moneybox out) but begging for attention, begging the audience not to leave, to stay with me and to look at my performance (the act of begging itself).

I have forgotten to explain how I was trying to seduce the audience. I had something to offer my passers-by, and that was music. I was singing for my audience and playing the recorder. Sometimes I just improvised something (though I am not a professional in singing nor in playing the recorder). Mostly I was singing or playing the song “Wooden Heart” from Elvis Presley which I had changed into “Iron Heart” for obvious reasons.

I loved the confusion on the face of the people entering the building. Who is this guy? Isn’t the performance supposed to be on the top floor? Or the once knowing me. What is Johnny doing here? He wasn’t supposed to present anything today, was he? Shall I stay watching or shall I just go up and pick up my ticket? Am I supposed to look at this? Frankly, most people passed me by. Perhaps I should work more on my ‘blokfluit-techniek’?

This experiment was very challenging in the way how I had to perform it. The safe way of performing it, is to hide myself behind a theatrical boundary. I wouldn’t look or talk to the people. I would stay in the theatrical space that the cardboard would define. My attention would go to playing the recorder or singing. Singing to no one in peticular. Like a madman talking to himself. Lost in his own world. Locked up in his own bubble. I would then be a figure that can be observed. A beggar playing some music for himself, because he likes it or because he has nothing better to do. The figure is inner focused. He doesn’t notice and doesn’t care about somebody passing him by. He doesn’t confront the people who notice him. He has no direct interaction with the world around him. He becomes as an installation in a museum. You can observe it savely from a distance for hours. You can find it interesting, sweet, clever, perhaps even touching… But honestly, is it really that interesting seeing an amateur like me trying to play music? The idea of popping up as a beggar can be funny as a performance, but I felt it wasn’t satisfying me. And also not the audience, because they didn’t bother to stop watching.

It became interesting when I would direct my attention and my music directly to the people passing by. I would be like a violin player in a Venitian restaurant who stays hovering around your table when you are having a date with a lover. You make a really big effort to listen to the music. You really try not to be annoyed by this invasion of your private space. Of course you are charmed the musician is playing for you, but you didn’t really ask for it, did you? But you don’t want to be rude so you keep on pretending you are enjoying the music. In the same way the audience got surprised by my music. Suddenly there is this guy on his knees with a recorder in his hands looking you in the eyes with all his charm and playing for you. It’s hard to ignore it.

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There were also moments that people would pass me by and I would follow the people with my voice. With raised voice I would use parts of the song to give them a feeling of guilt that they didn’t bother to look at me. “…and if you say goodbye… then I know that I will cry….. maybe I would die… cause I don’t have an iron heart…” Suddenly the audience really becomes part of the performance. There is no theatrical boundary anymore. And if there is, they are within the boundaries. The act of begging forces people to become part of the game. Whether they like it or not… The beggar as protagonist, the passer-by as antagonist, even when he ignores the presence of the protagonist. The beggar cannot exist without somebody to beg to. Just as how a performer cannot exist without an audience to perform to.

It wasn’t easy for me to play without boundaries. First of all opening myself up to the environment and direct my attention fully to the passers-by, seducing them to stay with me. As a professional entertainer you have to feel when the audience starts to lose their attention. And if they do, can I keep responsive and fluid so to keep the contact alive. The last solution is to follow them, give them a sense of blame, become angry and mad. As a person I am not intrusive at all. And this performance was demanding that from me. I was not able to keep it up. I modulated between staying within the boundaries of the theatrical space and then once in a while breaking out of it to make direct contact with the environment when I would feel strong.

There was one beautiful moment. I gathered all my courage got myself on my knees ready to use all my charm. A young woman would pass me. And I started singing “… treat me nice … treat me good … treat me like the way you should …“. At the same time offering a branch of the willow buds that I had with me. It was a moment of full surrender. And she was seduced. She took the branch with a bright smile. Went into her purse and gave me a 1 euro coin. Victory!!!

This performance asked a presence of moving into the unknown, a presence of full surrender to the reactions of the audience. I very much want to quote from another blog where they talk about the mind of ‘the joker’ or ‘the fool’ (as  the figure you can find in Tarot).

No man in his right mind ever seeks to leave the comfort and security of his home and wander off into the dark dangerous forest, filled with mystery and the stalking threat of death. The Fool, however, is not in his right mind, and thus runs off boldly into the unknown… The Fool is a “card” both literally and figuratively in the sense that he makes you laugh. His advantages in the game of Tarot, they say, are that he is exempt from the rules and he can never be lost to another player. The Fool, then, could be that part you hit at rock bottom, the ground of your being which you can never lose and which just sets you laughing – because that’s all you have left. The only place to go, from there, is fortunately up.

photography: Ania Molenda

photography: Ania Molenda


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