This past weekend, we attended and performed at the Día de los Muertos edition of the Chicago Poetry Bordello. For those of you unfamiliar with the Chicago Poetry Bordello, the basic premise is that it is a bordello with amazing entertainments, but instead of tricks, you get poetry. So there are a couple Poetry Whores who give teases of poems throughout the night. If you like one Poetry Whore in particular, you go to the Good Doctor or a Regular who will provide you with a token in exchange for cash. You then ask the Poetry Whore for a private reading in a backroom. She or he will give you options and provide you with your very own personal reading. You can also ask questions, etc. When the reading is done, you give him or her the token. Voila!
In addition to the poetry, there are other entertainments. Usually it is a combination of live musical guests, burlesque dancing, and some good historical fun. This session had the wonderful artist Gaea Lady performing an amazing burlesque dance. Her act reminded me of a whirling dervish; she spun a cloth around in a masterful way while removing her clothing. Then the Windy City Rippers performed a few sets, using a combination of accordion and theremins. Man, I love theremins; they are so freaking sweet!
And then there was us. We were asked to put on a séance for the event. It was a lot of fun. I did a bit of research to learn about possible ways to fake spirits during our séance. It was interesting to read about the old tricks that 19th and early 20th century mediums used. One of the most famous spiritualists were the Fox Sisters and they used the bones in their feet to make knocking noises! There were other techniques like floating instruments and body parts. I really liked one bit where there was a violin on display that would start “playing” by spiritual hand. Either there was a second violin that was played off stage or a tiny string on the violin that would be moved discretely by a helper. Very interesting stuff.
The basic premise of this séance was that the Duke of Chartreuse was here to bring back loved ones from the dead. I played a skeptic who is won over by his knowledge of my tragic past. We wanted to do the bell trick. We had a curio case with a bell inside of it that was supposed to ring in response to questions put to my old fiancé. We agonized all week about how to have a second bell ring covertly. Do we attach it to the table and knock it with my knee? Will it be too muffled under my skirts and tablecloth? Do we have someone off stage play it, etc? And then the solution was simple:a bell sound on an electric keyboard. It worked rather well. The audience started to get into the grove of it when our amazing pianist played timely bell sounds.
After I am won over by the Duke, he started to feel a presence of someone horribly murdered. This part included knocking, a nod to the Fox Sisters. The mechanics of the tapping was another dilemma for us. I had actually taped percussion instruments to my legs. I was going to rap them together at the appropriate times. However, somehow the noise was too muffled (we had practiced in my long skirts too!) and sticky taped sounded. It’s really hard work faking ghosts for people.
Thankfully, we had pounding from the backroom that worked better. Then Madam Black-Eyed Susan burst from the back, speaking of something unnatural there. Then the ghost of Catherine came out with revenge on her mind. The Duke was gratified that in all of his years, he finally summoned a spirit…except it was the one he killed. So they ran around the room, while the Duke tried to convince her that they should take the show on the road. But the ghost would have nothing but revenge.
So yeah, good times. Next time, I’m going to bring more electronics into the bit. Bwahahahahhaha!
So definitely check out the Chicago Poetry Bordello the next time there is an event.