Photo by Patrick Baldwin. Jenny in a pink corset, black hot pants, fishnets and black heels and Macheath in black slacks with suspenders, patent leather shoes, a clean white shirt and dreadlocks, circle each other like matadors holding an orange mobility cane between the two of them. They stare at each other intensely. Lighting is pinky/red, and scantily clad ladies are in the background playing various musical instruments.
I’m opening this with a question, because I feel like genuinely don’t know the answer. Is sex visual? By this I don’t mean intercourse. I mean looking fierce and sensual, and… well, sexy. I ask this because of my research on images and visuality in theatre, and because of the character I’m playing in Threepenny and the inevitable journey I have been going on with her over the last few months.
Photo by Patrick Baldwin: Jenny has her legs wrapped around Macheath’s waist. They are in a tight embrace. Mac dips Jenny low with a serious expression on his face. Jenny smiles.
Jenny diver is a hooker, a slut, a lady of the night, a whore. She sells sex. That is how she makes a living. If the above photos are any indication, the costume certainly makes sex visual, at least on the feminine side. I’m basically tangoing with a man wearing only a corset, heels and my underwear… ya know, like you do.
In process, I’ve been very aware of the sort of “male gaze” and such that seems appropriate in this setting. She invites them to look, so they do. Looking means they’re interested, which means she might get money which means she gets to eat that day. She also allows them to touch, particularly in the case of Macheath (though there are others in the play as well. I myself would not allow that kind of contact without at least a few dinner dates under my belt, but she’s… use to it. It’s her job.
Interestingly, there are a number of points in the script where it indicates quite clearly that Jenny is also looking at the person she is in dialogue. It became a bit of a running joke in my head that in one of the scenes between Jenny and Mac, a character says, “What are you looking at him like that for Jenny?” and I routinely forgot to look at Mac. Also, in the tango that Mac and Jenny do, there have been a number of clearly choreographed moments where we are either looking at each other, or away from each other. They are deliberate, visual moments. Those, I think are less about “sexiness” and more about passion and connection in a relationship. Regardless, I think it’s related given the characters and the setting (a brothel). They are two very sexually driven people, and their relationship is defined in a lot of ways by sex… as well as love, violence and a few other things.
So contact between Jenny and Mac is definitely visual, or at least is presented in that way. In my acting process, it feels much more visceral or tactile, both in my interactions with Macheath and other characters. As soon as there is physical contact, that’s when I feel like I can “see” them and therefore look and interact. Otherwise, they are either indiscriminate blobs in the distance, or they just sort of disappear, or maybe aren’t there all together. Obviously, when they speak, there is some ability to make contact. But as I’ve just said, much of the interactions are about looking and are therefore silent.
Also, in rehearsal, the choreographer gave me some very detailed ways to stand and move as Jenny. I.e. specific ways to hold my body, walk, how I put a hand on a hip, etc. These little changes, apparently, make her physical appearance much stronger. Getting that into my brain and body has taken a while as I have no real context for how or why that would be the case, and some of the movement feels pretty far from my own movement vocabulary. I’m going pretty much solely on what I’ve been told, how I’ve been directed and what has been described to me.
Along those lines, a friend of mine who saw one of our first previews mentioned that he didn’t think I was moving “like a whore”. He thought it was down to my shoes, which I was admittedly having some problems with as I don’t normally wear heels, and the ones I have are not the most comfortable things in the world. I also wonder if some of my potential problem was getting use to the body positioning and movement I had been given. I certainly can feel that my movement throughout this show has become more confident and comfortable as we get further into the tour, and to be honest, I’m not too bothered about looking like a whore in the stereotypical sense. (If we were casting this show traditionally, Jenny would probably be about 10 years older than me anyway) It does bring about an interesting question though… What would normative movement for a whore be? What would it look like? I actually have no idea how to answer that.
So I guess the general question I have is, is sex visual and if so, what does it look like? I can make some guesses based on my experience, but am curious to know what others think.