THE BARBETTE PROJECT
Gender Performance and Queer Bodies
Supported by Arts Council England, Jacksons Lane, The BindleStiff Family Circus 1st of May Award, and The NoFit State Circus Transitions Micro Fund.
A show 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 is the true story of Barbette*, a legendary gender-bending trapeze artist, woven with the lived experiences of LGBT+ people and circus artists today.
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. Each monologue will be paired with a set of guidelines meant 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 (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.”
The Barbette Series
A surrealist photo collage series. Stav's body parts (as photographed by Asaf Sagi) and historical images of Barbette (mostly photographed by Man Ray and Madame d'Ora). Inspired by Surrealism, Pedro Almodovar and Maya Angelou. Made for Practice as Research in my MA.