After auditions, I was ecstatic to start practicing my first routine. The next show was five weeks away and the director told me that I wouldn't be taking the stage until the show after that. My heart broke. To be invited to the sandbox and not allowed to play was the worst. All the wind had been taken out of my sails. Her reasoning made sense. I could hardly argue. I mean, they'd been planning this show for months already and I couldn't possibly come in with only five weeks and pull a routine out of my ass. Or could I?
The name of the show was Cabaret Le Freak. They wanted a dark, moody, circus, sideshow feel. All the best ideas were already taken. There was a ringmaster, a lion tamer, a knife thrower, a tightrope walker, a snake charmer, a bearded lady, a mermaid, and even clowns. I'm sure there were more, but I don't remember them all. It was a big production after all, and I wanted to be part of it. So, I approached the director and asked if I could show a routine by the following week's practice would she consider adding me to the lineup. She said yes.
I was elated. But I needed an idea. What could I do that fit the theme that wasn't already taken? Not sure how I landed on the idea. I mean, honestly the whole thing is a bit distasteful now that I'm looking back. Society's treatment of the mentally ill has never been great and the fact that they were once paraded around with the circus for people to gawk and stare at is really a sad and terrible thing. But at the time, I thought, Fuck yeah! I'll do a straitjacket escape! I messaged our director, and she said do it. So, I did.
My song was Grease Paint and Monkey Brains by Rob Zombie. I took two old chef coats and a handful of buckles and straps and turned them into a straitjacket that I could easily remove. It worked. I remember practicing that routine in a four by six-foot space in my bedroom over and over again. I showed it to my husband after the boys went to bed. He said it was great. I took it to practice and presented it to the troupe. The director and emcees loved it, I was in the show. The rest of the troupe didn't agree. I witnessed so many sideways glances and cold stares. But I didn't care it had been a part of my life from my very first kiss. Plus, I wasn't there to make friends. I was there to perform.
And perform I did. I practiced every day. Show night came. I remember so little. There were hair and makeup artists. My hair was teased into a wild mane, my makeup was thick and dark. It was quite the shift from the cheesecake/pinup girl who auditioned. My performance was cathartic to say the least. There I was a woman who had been censored and shamed most of my life. Told that I was too much, too sexy, too intense, too exposed, too horny, just too much. I believed it too in a way. I let society put its shame on my body. But that night, I broke free. As I writhed and rolled on the raised bench placed on center stage under a spotlight, I showed the world my sexuality. I showed every part of me that had been censored and shamed. I showed it and 1500 people cheered. They whistled and shouted and clapped their hands wildly. As I tore off the makeshift straitjacket, I stripped away decades of conditioning. Society had deemed my sexual nature as inappropriate. I'd been labeled a slut, and a whore. For years, I wore their scarlet letter right next to my heart on my sleeve. And there in that moment, I reveled in it.
Here's a picture my husband took shortly after the show in the lobby of the theater. This is the look of pure and utter bliss.
photo credit for above: Ed Wilson