Years ago I participated in a five day theatre workshop called "Leap In The Dark". While the title suggests those participating would be going into uncharted territory, thinking back on the process, it now seems like the exercise was more training to take a leap than a leap itself. The exercises we were led through were designed to open us up to risk-taking so in the future we wouldn't be afraid of taking the leaps in the dark necessary to the creative process. When you decide to make a career in the arts there are no guarantees of success; everything you do is a risk. The more willing you are to throw yourself wholeheartedly into something without worrying about the consequences, the better.
These aren't blind leaps of faith based on some faint hope there will be someone there to catch you when you land. Instead you do it based on the faith you have in your own abilities to do what's necessary in order to complete whatever it is you've set out to do. Personally I always go through a period of agonizing before throwing myself off that precipice, but once I commit there's a great feeling of liberation and freedom, almost like flying, or at least tightrope walking without a net. If you fall you're going to splat resoundingly, true enough, but think how wonderful you'll feel when you succeed. The only way you have a chance at making any dreams you might have come true is by taking some sort of risk. You can drift through life feeling mildly frustrated all the time and safe, or take the occasional chance and reach for your dreams.
It was reading the re-release of Martin Millar's Dreams Of Sex And Stage Diving by Soft Skull Press which triggered those thoughts. Originally published in 1995, the book is set in familiar territory for fans of Millar's work, the streets of London, England's Brixton. With poverty, homelessness, and unemployment rampant, the fact that the young punks who populate this book have dreams at all is remarkable, no matter how trivial or silly their dreams might appear to us or anyone else. The dream around which this book revolves belongs to one of the most unlikely, and frankly unlovable, heroines you're liable to meet. Elfish brings new meaning to the word misanthropic as she stomps her unwashed way through people's lives in her oversized motorcycle boots and bad attitude.
There's no lie she won't tell and nothing she won't steal in her quest to wrest the use of Queen Mab as a band name away from her ex boyfriend Mo. The two of them had not only been partners but also band mates, and upon the dissolution of their relationship she demanded rights to the name, in spite of the fact that she had no band and what looked like little hope of ever forming one. Prospects are looking particularly bleak when she discovers that Mo's band has a gig scheduled in ten days time. If they perform just once in public using the name she knows her hopes will be dashed. However, she's able to convince Mo to accept a bet which will see her win the band name if she's able to recite a speech from William Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet about Queen Mab on stage prior to the gig and then have her band open the show. If she loses the bet Mo gets to do anything he wants with her.
So on top of learning the 43 lines of the monologue, Elfish also must somehow put together a band within the next ten days as well. For most of us this would be a daunting task, one few of us would even consider taking on. The risk of making an absolute fool of oneself in public over something as apparently trivial as the name of a band just doesn't seem worth it. However Elfish is not like most of us and she's used to plunging headlong into the unknown. For while she may be well known as a self-centred and selfish individual, she's also equally renowned for her capabilities as a stage diver.
Small and wiry, she's wonderfully adept at working her way through the throngs of people in front of a stage, eluding whatever security is on hand, climbing on stage, and then flinging herself head first into the audience where her fall would be cushioned by those below. Crammed in as they are, most crowds have no way of getting out of a stage diver's way and can only defend themselves by raising their hands in order to fend off flailing boots, elbows, and other assorted body parts that have the potential to cause injury as they plummet earthwards.
Much like she would dive off a stack of speakers, Elfish dives headlong into her quest to memorize her speech and coerce, bribe, beg, and lie to get people to join her band. Like the audience at a gig, those she chooses to descend on are defenceless against her onslaught as she preys upon their weaknesses and fears. Whether it's the bulimic actress she bullies into helping her learn her lines with false promises of hooking her up with a fundraiser for her theatre company, the homeless guitar player she falsely assures of a place to live, or one of the many other lies she spouts in order to see her dream come true, they all strike a soft spot in her target as surely as a well-placed boot to the kidney.
Mab is the queen of dreams, and as she might visit us in our sleep to inspire us with thoughts and ideas, so Millar has Elfish visiting upon his cast of characters the inspiration to overcome their apathy and anguish to make their own tentative steps towards fulfilling their dreams. While they all might despise her for the methods she's used against them, without her they would have never done anything to change their circumstances, to take a chance on living again. Fairies aren't the pretty little things that Walt Disney or others would have us believe them to be. They are selfish beings who think of little else but their own pleasure, and often times that pleasure takes the form of poking and prodding humans in uncomfortable ways. Without intending anything of the sort, Elfish assumes the role of Queen Mab for all those she comes into contact with, inspiring them to work towards the fulfillment of dreams they had almost lost hope in.
In Dreams Of Sex And Stage Diving Martin Millar has brought a fairy to life on the streets of Brixton to remind us that sometimes the path to making our dreams a reality isn't an easy road. The spark required to overcome our fears, to make that leap into the unknown, isn't always the nicest of experiences, but without it where would we be? Millar's abilities as a storyteller allow him to weave a modern fairy tale which, in spite of its desolate setting and the depression of its inhabitants, manages to make you believe that dreams can come true, even when the only rainbow in sight is caused by an oil slick in a parking lot. Heck, if this bunch of losers can make things work out for themselves, it shouldn't be too hard for us now, should it?