THE BARBETTE PROJECT
Gender Performance and Queer Bodies
The true story of Barbette*, a legendary gender-bending trapeze artist, woven with the lived experiences of LGBT+ people and circus artists today.
A work that's part historical research, part autobiographical explorations of gender then and now, in a mix of theatre, circus, video projections and live art.
This show is currently being researched and devised by Stav Meishar and a small team of LGBT+ artists. We're looking at how concepts of gender set by society are affecting us and trying out different exercises to explore these themes, drawing on our own experiences as well as survey responses we’ve collected from LGBT+ people, particularly those in the circus industry.
The result will be what we call "open source play" - a road map, a script that leaves space for any performer (or multiple!) to combine their personal history with Barbette’s story:
We’ve taken key moments in Barbette's life and written them as 1st person monologues. The monologues are accompanied by sets of guidelines and exercises to help performers engage with the themes and create performative responses to it - a dance, a poem, a drag act - using their autobiographical experiences as raw material, as reflected through the lens of Barbette's life.
Eventually, any performer who relates to these themes could use our “open source play” to make a show that’s totally unique to them.
How we approach our research:
Barbette's story will serve as a lens through which we will explore questions of gender performance and body expectations: What kind of the pressures does the performance industry puts on artists' bodies, on how we look, perform and behave? How does our industry's approach to bodies and gender contrasts or reflects society's expectations of women and men? What kind of performances do we put on consciously and subconsciously in our everyday lives?
*Barbette (December 19, 1898 – August 5, 1973), born Vander Clyde Broadway, was an American female impersonator, high-wire performer, and trapeze artist from Texas. Barbette performed his acts in full drag, maintaining the illusion of femininity until the very end when he would pull off his wig and strike exaggerated masculine poses. In the early 1920s he traveled to Europe and appeared in such venues as the Casino de Paris, the Moulin Rouge, the Médrano Circus and the Folies Bergère. It was there that he reached the peak of his fame and became an inspiration to a number of artists, including Jean Cocteau and Man Ray.
"Barbette," wrote Cocteau, “transforms effortlessly back and forth between man and woman. His female glamour and elegance are like a cloud of dust thrown into the eyes of the audience, blinding it to the masculinity of the movements he needs to perform his acrobatics.”