The Show Must Go On

There are two kinds of people in the world: People who were at Amanda Palmer’s show at Turner Hall last night and people who weren’t. I’m sorry if you’re in the latter group. As a consolation, you should check out her new album, Theatre Is Evil.

Amanda Palmer is a singer-pianist and the voice of the punk-weird band Dresden Dolls. That description doesn’t cover the half of what she does/is or what she brings to the stage. Her music is cranky and heartfelt and clever, sometimes crushingly beautiful and sometimes really loud. To give you a sense of her aesthetic, here’s the suggested dress for her shows, from the “What Do We Wear” section of her website’s FAQs page (I guess the kids look these kinds of things up on the internets before they go out now.):

we wear the vestiges of scavenged royalty.

we go to our local thrift stores and rid them of their tuxedoes, tattered gowns, and costume jewelry.

if it glitters, we own it. we like vests. we possess hats and caps and fascinators.

under it all, we sport highly durable dancing shoes.

we dress to cry. we dress to dance. we dress to crance.

if it makes dancing impossible and relegates us to masochistic spectators, we leave these items behind forever.

we carry satchels.

I was wearing sensible Converse and the rest of the audience was full of the strange-hatted and glittery, so I think Milwaukee passed the test. It was fantastic people-watching — the woman with the WAC hat and tutu, the one with half a pheasant on her head, the tuxes and corsets, the eye makeup that redefined the word “eye” — but the real show was on stage. I was most impressed that even though Amanda was recovering from bronchitis, she still managed, after blowing her nose, to do an audience belly-flop while singing a flawless tune and efficiently draping the audience with the massive train of her gauzy dress. I was also kind of stunned by her ability to communicate to the audience — with what? her hands? I didn’t see them move. Not her mouth … she was singing … I don’t know how — where she wanted to go and when she wanted to be surfed back to stage. Beyond the physics of audience surfing, her whole performance was inspiring, a revelation in some ways. I’m sure I’ll crancing to her music and thinking about the show for a while.

In my performance work, I’ve been exploring the risks and limitations brought on by my dystonia, the movement disorder that makes the right side of my body contract most of the time. With dystonia, some days are better than others. On a bad day, I have many involuntary movements (head shaking, hand contortions, grimacing, foot dragging, etc.) that alter my body language significantly. On a really bad day, I’m nearly paralyzed.

What happens when a bad day (or a really bad day) is also a day I’m scheduled to be up on stage? It’s something I’m working through and I’m sure I’ll write about it more here. For now, though, I’m going to take inspiration from Amanda Palmer and her ethic that, as much as humanly possible, the show must go on and sometimes, maybe the illness becomes the show. When she lost most of her voice from the bronchitis last week, she used extreme audience involvement to get through a couple gigs in Europe (This is taken from her blog.):

i have bronchitis. … after almost canceling the shows in paris and cologne, i went ahead and did them.

i used some brilliant tricks to survive paris….i tweeted for sign-making volunteers and did karaoke, i asked for volunteers to come on stage and sing.
i sang shit an octave down, i dealt, i made it party. and it worked.

Sandy, Schiller, and the Shaper
By Morales Writes | November 05, 2012 at 11:53 AM MST | No Comments

OK, just one more post about the Ode to Joy:

Last week I pulled out a couple of lines that I love from the German, including “seid umschlungen” (“be embraced,” in the command form), which, as it slides through that “schl” in the middle, sounds to my Anglophone ear like one is getting a great, sloppy hug from a drunk friend, rather than an embrace from the pure manifestation of cosmic Joy herself. And in fact, the next line—“This is a kiss for the whole world!”—kind of sounds like something that drunk friend might say, just loving absolutely everybody who showed up to the party. Maybe Schiller was drinking when he wrote it. There sure are enough references to wine in the poem.

This week, there’s another section that keeps coming back to me:

Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?

Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?

Such’ihn über’m Sternenzelt!

Über Sternen muß er wohnen.

Do you fall down, you millions?

Do you sense the creator, world?

Seek him above the starry canopy,

Above the stars he must live.

The whole composition (the poem, yes, but especially Beethoven’s setting of it) is filled with a glorious sense of the modest reach of human understanding, even when we are illuminated inside with the drunken, reverent fire Schiller mentions at the beginning of the poem (OK, so the poet was totally drinking when he wrote this). But that surrender to our limits is never more expressly stated than in this “Ihr stürzt nieder” line, calling listeners to their knees.

These lines hovered in my mind all week and I kept thinking about the word “Schöpfer.” It means “creator,” in a religious sense, but something seemed off to me. Digging into the German etymology, I found that it means more literally “scooper” and before that, in the Old High German, “shaper.”

Ah ha, my Shaper.

I can see how, as central as scoops and spoons are to human technology, the concepts of “something shaped” and “scoop” could get carved out of the same linguistic wood. I think deep in these words inheres a sense of utility, of purpose. That raises some things I’ll turn over and over in my mind for the week:

Have you acknowledged the shape the Shaper intended for you? Are you doing the task you were shaped for? Are you scooping the right stuff into the universe? And wondering, starry-eyed as a poet, at the natural world we are formed from, do you fall down on your knees before your Shaper?

Looking at the photos my niece sent this morning of Brooklyn’s recovery after Hurricane Sandy, I think a little falling down might be in order this week. A little acknowledgment of the limits of our understanding, a little more attention to what we were shaped for, this transcendent but still human joy that ought to burn hot enough on spirit and stars and music, not fossil fuel.

November 12, 2012 Blog Posts