12. Outrageous Beauty Revue

Joe Cocker - Outrageous Beauty RevueIn the late 70's we started our public performances by doing long ritualistic plays. Over the years, the group branched out to do many different kinds of live and video pieces, including The Outrageous Beauty Revue.

I never staged Lysistrata because what was supposed to be a one-night semi-real take-off on a beauty contest transformed, right before my eyes before the first show had ended, into a tacky, wacky stage revue which caught the imagination of the press. We did this show for three years, usually once every week, but often twice a week. The Outrageous Beauty Revue looked like tacky entertainment performed by untrained people just for fun. This was how my cast also thought of it and of themselves. One of my major failings was that I didn't pass on the deeper purposes, magical influences, and hidden dimensions of our performance work.

I quickly saw that the O.B.R. was the apex of my work until then. In the ritual pieces and in the workshop, we were battling the social fragmentation and isolation by underground channels, avoiding standard rules and criticisms and values. But by using an entertainment channel to subvert entertainment, we broadened the attack and our vulnerability to attack.

The O.B.R. was a cabaret show that tried to short circuit the cabaret limits of time and stage. It did this by being a show of people who were having fun and who were living their fantasies -- a show that included the audience directly in the action -- an unpolished show that flaunted nudity, eroticism, and gore in a silly, child-like playfulness -- an ever-changing show with pregnant sex symbols, nude girls, crippled rockstars, men as women and women as men without any sexual meaning. This was very uplifting for some people. If we could be on stage doing silly things, it is possible for anyone to do what they dream. But it was also very threatening for a lot of people. My singing took away their excuses for why they were not what they wanted to be.

The Meat Act

It looked like entertainment; but it really was a medium to spread the playful communal spirit which we had worked years on fine tuning. This underground spirit of communal fun, of playful folly secretly sucked the audience in. This spirit allowed us to do things, which would normally be violent or sexual, in a freeing, playful innocence. This became obvious when I tried to let noncast people do acts in the show. They never reached the intensity or the tightrope edge which the cast took for granted.

The Meat ActThe tacky, wildly colorful, loud show of bad taste was really a cover, a distraction of the audience's attention, so that the hidden magical trace could take them over. A trance can be cast by showing them something out of their reality. Little kids often become frozen on the spot when they see me, my special body, in a cafe. We just greatly magnified this trance process in the show by throwing out many of these trance inducing images of taboos, of crip rockstar, of pregnant nudes, of silly sex and violence. Then the real show happened within this inner trance.

There was a vision in the show...the vision that has led me throughout my work. Art comes from the soul that anyone can tap into. I created the show from modules that I could combine in countless ways. Each module was a fantasy either of mine or, more often, of the person in the act. I worked on a module just enough to make it performable. But I would not allow it to be polished, refined. I wanted a module to grow and change in performance so the performance and the audience would get the full evolving magic. I kept changing the order of modules to encourage fresh evolution. I took modules in danger of becoming polished out of the line-up, putting them into an ever-growing module library to be pulled out when the need arose. In this way, the show was always evolving into something new while remaining what it was. I have used this module structure in my recent ritual work, giving me the ability to do complex rituals lasting from 5 to 48 hours without killing myself.

Paradise By The Dashboard LightThere was tremendous pressure on me to polish the show up to make it more sellable, more entertaining. This pressure did not come from the critics, but from friends and cast members. "Add rimshots, tighten it up. Then the show will be a commercial success." "We should rehearse more, then we could be good theatre, good music." But the vision was not about commercial success, nor reaching a lot of people, nor about good entertainment, nor art. The vision is to create trances and realities which will bring change. This is my vision. The vision has me. I am its tool. If I had not stayed within the vision, I would have been lost within artistic pressures. Art should be a vision quest.

Other kinds of pressures were to change the content, the tools, and the focus of the work. People always say they like the work because it is strong, but I should get over my obsession with sex and nudity, and get on to more important issues; I should not get "stuck" in one vision. What they do not realize is what they like about the work, the strength, comes from being committed to a single vision, no matter what the current trends and fashions are. I cannot imagine more important issues than sex and freedom symbolized by nudity. But, as this paper shows, these are not my ultimate focus. Sex and nudity are powerful digging tools to reach the intimate community. By limiting the tools of art, art itself is limited.

Photos (from top to bottom): Mary Sullivan, Dave Patrick, Dave Patrick, Mary Sullivan

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