Friday, March 16, 2012

What is a “Stage Fantasy”?

(Note: The content below is heavily biased to my own opinions and preferences, and thus certainly is not Gospel Truth, the only way to do a Fantasy.  Any time someone says words like “should”, “only way”, or “real”, you know your bullshit alarms should [ahem!] start ringing…)

What is a “Stage Fantasy”?

A Stage Fantasy is typically a staged presentation of BDSM leathersex scene, lasting a few minutes and using simulated sex (although there are fantasies which don’t feature anything sexual, playing for emotional content instead).  Sometimes a Stage Fantasy is serious, sometimes comedic, and sometimes performance art of its own.

A Stage Fantasy is primarily for entertainment purposes.  It is not a BDSM demo, and it is not a workshop; it should not try to be either of these.

The Stage Fantasy used to be a staple of leather contests; there was even a International Mr. Fantasy title (near the bottom of the page) from 1995 to 1998.  In recent years, the inclusion of a Fantasy component in men’s leather contests has largely drifted away, although the women’s contests continue to have them.  It is not part of the International Mr. Leather contest, so many feeders to that do not require a Fantasy, replacing it with a Speech (or sometimes with nothing at all).  The International LeatherSIR/Leatherboy contest does include a Stage Fantasy.  As part of being a “play”-oriented title, the contestants are expected to be active BDSM/sex/kink players and to be able to present such in the contest, guided by themes assigned randomly to each region.

Some contests do still include a Fantasy component in a limited scope, such as a themed costume or outfit (beyond formal wear/bar wear) or a solo segment where all contestants do the same base concept (such as an on-stage shower scene).  And at least the year I won it (2006), International Mr. Saliva (bottom of the page) was at its core a Fantasy-based title: best presentation of slobbering all over someone won.  (I fucking earned my light yellow hanky, let me tell you!)

Why Listen to Me?

I do have some experience here.  As noted above, I was International Mr. Saliva 2006, out-licking three other men and one woman for my title.  I also did shower scenes forMr. International Rubber twice, Northwest Image costuming for Seattle Leather Daddy twice (and advised several other contestants), and I choreographed two American Leatherman fantasies (my own, and Rusty’s the year he won), a solo fantasy for Mr. Leather OutGames, and my title contest fantasy this year.  Rusty’s title fantasy, my OutGames fantasy, and this year’s title fantasy were all re-presented at Northwest Sash Bash the next year.

I also have done over 15 years of country-western dance performance teams and I was part of the VisQueens (link is to a video of one of our best routines), Seattle’s leather/bear/drag performing group.

And of course, I have seen dozens of fantasies and erotica show pieces (which are often basically the same thing) over the years, analyzing the ones I liked (and the ones I didn’t) to determine what worked (and what failed).

A Fantasy Tells a Story

As noted above, a Stage Fantasy is not a demo or a workshop, it is a presentation.  In my opinion, a Stage Fantasy should tell a story.  In classic storytelling parlance, there should be an introduction, a complication, an action, a climax, and a conclusion, with the characters left in a different state than they were at the start.  If you don’t tell a story, then you are just providing a vignette, a view into a story in progress but without context and completion.

That may sound complex, but consider a common fantasy (or porno) “plot”: the sexy deliveryman brings a package and ends up fucking with the customer until they both are sexually sated (and then he leaves to deliver the next package).  You have your setting (the customer’s house), your characters (the deliveryman and the customer), your complication (the delivery of the package, the sexual attraction), the action (fucking), the climax (the climax!), and the conclusion (the deliveryman leaves).  Presto, a story has been told.  No one said it had to be a great story, just a story.)

Now consider the non-story vignette version: two naked guys fuck and cum.  Who are they?  Don’t know.  Why are the naked?  So they can fuck.  Why are they fucking?  Why are you asking these questions, just start jacking, man!  What’s going to happen next?  Doesn’t matter, since once you cum, you don’t care any more.  A vignette can be entertaining in its narrow way, but it isn’t a story.

For a Stage Fantasy, you have two types of people in your audience: those who want a story, and those who just want to see some action.  Stories pervade our society, so those who really want just the action are fine with a little story around the edges, but those who want story are usually not fine if you jump right into the sex.

Who Is Your Audience?

Doing a Stage Fantasy in a contest, you have two related but separate audiences: the Judges and Everyone Else.

For the Judges, they are likely looking with an analytic eye.  If there’s a specified theme, did you work with it well?  Did you make good use of your time (or did you drag things out way too long)?  Was the action clear (or was it blocked from view)?  Did you make good use of music and lighting?  If there was dialogue, was it clear?  And so forth.  You can plan on your judges paying attention to every bit of your fantasy, but you can also plan on them paying attention to every bit of it.

Everyone Else is just there to be entertained.  They usually don’t give a flying fuck if you adhere to a theme.  They care that it engages them — attracts their attention and keeps it.  The general audience is also very fickle: if they like it, they will let you know, but if they don’t like it, or if they are bored by it, they probably won’t let you know… they’ll just ignore you.  And when they ignore you, the judges will notice.

There’s actually a third audience: Yourself.  If you aren’t into the presentation (if it’s a sex scene that doesn’t turn you on) or you don’t like the theme, the judges will notice that your performance is lacking.  You need to make sure that you are engaged in the fantasy and that the fantasy engages you.  (These are separate things.)  And as any performer will tell you, your worst critic is yourself.  You notice everything tiny thing that you fucked up or that didn’t come off right, and no one can beat you up for these things as well as you can.

Keep Them Entertained

Here is the secret they don’t tell you about Stage Fantasies at contests: the audience could generally care less.  They are there to drink, to socialize, and to be entertained.  The moment you stop entertaining them, they go back to drinking and socializing, even if you’re still on stage beating on someone.

So how do you keep them entertained?  Aye, there’s the rub!  You can count on the audience giving you 20–30 seconds for free: when your bit is announced, they will all quiet down and pay attention for a few moments, just to see if you are going to do anything interesting.  (They want you to do something interesting.  They didn’t pay to attend the contest just to chit chat.)  Which means that by 20 seconds in, you’d better be doing something.  That doesn’t mean you have to start the sex part right away, just that you need to be obviously leading to something they want to see.

You know what they don’t want to see?  Something they have already seen before!  (If I see another military takedown and rape scene in my life, I may scratch my eyes out.)  20 seconds in and they will be thinking “Is this a familiar setup, something I’ve seen done before?”  And if their immediate answer is “Yes”, boom, they take a drink and start chatting with their buddy.  So if you are going to do “yet another military takedown and rape” (YAMTAR) for your Fantasy, you’ve got to have some story or staging there that tells the audience “You haven’t seen this one!”

Just because you are 20 seconds in an you’ve caught their attention, that doesn’t mean you’re golden.  Nope, what it means is that in another 20–30 seconds, you have to keep that attention.  There are three ways to do that: excel, innovate, or violate.  “Excel” meaning that while what you’re doing may be standard, it is also note-perfect, hot, and engaging.  People will watch the same porn over again, but only if it gets them hard; if you’re just doing that YAMTAR the standard way, people get bored.  “Innovate” meaning that while you are doing something that initially looks standard, you are mixing it up.  If you are giving a new twist on an old standard, people may be intrigued enough to watch a bit longer… if they notice the twist.  “Violate” meaning you aren’t even doing something standard, you are setting expectations and then twisting or changing them.  People are more likely to notice this and will allow you to recapture their attention.

Now you’re a minute in, though, and you’ve got somewhere on the order of three minutes more to go.  You can’t coast now, because the audience’s attention is drifting again.  If any segment of your Fantasy is going on and on (and on), you are giving the audience a “jumping off” point, an invitation to stop paying attention.  You have to keep Excelling, Innovating, or Violating all the way through, keeping the audience’s attention every 20–30 seconds through the entire Stage Fantasy.

And finally, you need to have Climax and an Ending.  In part, you can argue that this isn’t totally necessary — when the lights go down, the action stops and you leave the stage, and it’s over.  But a segment of the audience (and especially the judges) want to see that you have presented a complete idea, that you can follow things through and not leave it hanging.  (If you prefer: you’ll get a lot more applause if things are complete than if they just thud.)  How you present and complete your Stage Fantasy says something about how you plan, execute, and complete anything as a leatherperson.

(As an aside, go back to what I wrote above and replace “Stage Fantasy” with “Speech”.  A contest Speech should have a through-line, an idea that is introduced, built, climaxes, and concludes.  It should be aimed at both the Judges and Everyone Else.  After the first small chunk, it has to catch people’s attention and repeatedly keep their attention.  And so forth.)

Examples (Good and Bad)

The first full Stage Fantasy I did was for American Leatherman 2005.  I decided to go heavily for the Innovate tactic, intending to present the judges and audience with something they had probably neverseen before in a Fantasy.  Since I had been a country-western performance dancer and choreographer for over a decade, I decided to do the fantasy as a swing dance routine, telling the story through dance.  Using a cover of the Elvis song “Wear My Ring Around My Neck”, I (and my boyfriend/dance partner) alternated between a swing dance segment (repeating each chorus) and excerpts from a growing leather scene or relationship, building from dick sucking to fucking to flogging, culminating in a collaring at the very end, followed by a stage exit with an excerpt from “Teddy Bear” (“Put a chain around my neck and lead me anywhere”).  You’ll notice that in addition to innovating by doing a dance routine, I made sure that there was always something new for the audience every 30 seconds or so (but also always returning to something familiar to ensure that they touched base), and I had a clear build of intensity of the sex portions through the routine culminating in a clear ending which stitched into the very familiar music — there was no way someone was going to not watch the whole thing unless they hated Elvis.  (Was the fantasy successful?  While I didn’t win the contest [second runner-up], my fantasy scores were either second or third, so it was at least good enough.  I was personally happy with the fantasy, and it did get mentioned after the contest by other people, so it was memorable enough.)

One failure of a fantasy I saw a good 15 years ago was a “magic tricks with rope bondage” piece done at a San Francisco Bay Area contest.  While it was quite different, the fact that it required a lot of talking from the contestant was problematic on its own, and then the magic tricks didn’t show well to an audience 30 or more feet away.  It was slow, and quiet, and totally not engaging for the audience.  It would have been great for a demo, maybe, but the staging sucked so badly that it is still in my head all this time later as a hugely bad example.

Probably the best fantasy I’ve ever seen was Lori Ellison’s watermelon fantasy she did for International Ms. Leather, which I got to see her do two more times.  After cutting a hole in a watermelon and fingering it, fucking it with a strap one, tearing the hole bigger and fisting and then two-handed fisting it, she dumped the remaining watermelon smoothie over her head.  I do it a horrible disservice in this terse description, but suffice to say, you could feel both the women and most of the gay men in the audience squirming in their seats, appalled to be thinking “Fuck, I want her!”   Absolute minimal staging and props (watermelon, knife, strap-on), but by constantly changing/upping the ante, she kept the audience riveted.

For Rusty’s American Leatherman fantasy, we started with the old saw of the deliveryman bringing in a package, then violated it by having him push the horny delivery man out the door so he could open the package.  (Music: “Stand and Deliver”)  Then he opened the box and started pulling out inflatable sheep, plus some gloves and Crisco to start fisting one of them.  (Music: “Little Lamb” from Gypsy)  Then the box shook and out tumbled a boy dressed as a sheep (cotton balls glued on underwear and a t-shirt), and they wrestled.  (Music: “Dirty Deeds Done with Sheep”)  Finally, Rusty (who is a hair stylist) pulled out a pair of hair clippers (music cue: the very recognizable whistle/scream from Sweeney Todd) and chased the sheep-boy off stage.  Again, very regular changing of the theme, plus playing his personal life/career into the fantasy.

As an example of things to avoid, and speaking of music, at one contest I attended, the step-down speeches followed one of the fantasies, and the stepping-down titleholder made explicit negative mention of the song used in the just-finished fantasy, one of those pieces of music (this one from Nine Inch Nails) that has been used in so many fantasies that it triggered “Oh god, not again” reactions.  If your first reaction is to use something “obvious”, you’re in YAMTAR territory; reconsider.

“God Is in the Details”, but Don’t Overdo It

To me, this quote (which I picked up from Stephen Sondheim) means that perfection or elegance (God) reveals itself as you examine something closer.

From the reference point of a Stage Fantasy, a better one (closer to perfect or more elegant) will be created if you put more detail into it.  Just “winging it” with the barest story idea can get you  something acceptable (or sometimes, can get you an Epic Fail, but you will tend to have portions that are unclear, or too short, or too long (and thus boring).

So think about the story you are trying to tell.  Think about the emotions you are trying to evoke.  Think about the members of the audience you are aiming at.  (You are trying to make something hot for people into some given fetish or activity, right?)  Think about your music.  Think about your lighting.  Think about your dialogue.  Think about your props.

And then step back and put yourself in the place of the audience, at the event: would you be interested in and entertained by the Fantasy, at least to the degree those are desirable goals?  If the answer is anything but “Hell, yes”, go think some more.

All that said, another quote comes up: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.  Applied here: you can focus too much on the details.  First, you can’t depend on having variability of music or lighting, nor amplification for dialog.  Second, you can’t please everyone (or if you are trying to offend them, you can’t do that, either).  Third, this is a sex fantasy, so too much plot detracts.

And fourth and probably most important: while “winging it” tends to produce uneven results, overthinking it can suck all the passion out.  Practice the Fantasy enough to be sure of your blocking, your timing, and your dialog, but then leave it alone!  If it becomes routine for you, the audience and judges will notice.

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