alexis d. lea
behind the red curtain
…This is how we said hello last night / a flurry of backstage readiness / you gave me this
For as long as I can remember, my parents would take my twin sister and me to the theatre and the cinema.
My parents both started as artists in the theatre. I can still remember the feeling of absolute wonder getting to see backstage after or before a show, the world behind the big red curtain was a fascinating mystery. There were sound decks with a plethora of blinking buttons, lighting rigs with all the colours of the rainbow, deep costume closets, old pianos on dusty wheels. It was here I realised that magic and play existed beyond childhood, too, and I wanted to be a part of it somehow.
Knotting / Twisting / Zipping / Tying / Quiet pleasures behind the curtain / Before / Unknotting / Untwisting / Unzipping / Untying / Unabashedly / to a resounding orgy of applause
I was fourteen when I got my first camera. I would take self-portraits in quiet places—my bedroom or the local graveyard, sometimes alone or sometimes with my sister. Looking back, this helped me process the often complex feelings of moving around to different schools and cities as my parents worked in the nomadic world that is film and television. Adapting quickly became integral to feeling a sense of home and the camera gave me a sense of familiarity and an excuse to connect with others as an introvert at heart.
Stretching your hem to meet your shape / you can taste the audience in the void beyond the stage / you've mastered us before / suspended in a universe stripped of noise / permission given / to collectively revere you
When I was nineteen I moved out to go to university on the west coast of Vancouver, Canada. A friend at the time had raved about a show she saw that was unlike anything she had seen before. I was intrigued and decided to go on a whim. It was bucketing rain on a chilly winter night and if not for a buzzing red light at the end of a camouflaged alley way, I would have missed there was ever a door there at all.
My memory of this night was that of an instantaneous coalescence of music, movement, storytelling, visceral expression and a celebration of the body that I was longing for and hoped existed somewhere, I just hadn’t seen it until that night. The show was a highly-politicised, inclusive, feminist FUCK YOU to a culture of policing bodies and forms of expression deemed “alternative” by the world outside the venue doors. Here, I truly felt like I belonged for the first time in my life.
Arched backs / adrenaline bends into the night/ stomping the stage / lashes for days / a roar that fuels / elastic bows and air kisses / to the back row / feeding our insatiable axis / after / alone again / a replay of euphoria perks a smile / just under the cheeks
It has been twelve years since then and I am still captivated by the artistry and voices of those who take to the stage but it’s my belief that the magic we experience as the audience begins behind the red curtain: backstage. A world few are privy to but many are curious about.
Sometimes it’s the flurry of costume change chaos or quiet pin drop moments of a pacing performer running lines in their head, eyes closed and waiting for the kettle to boil that sparks me to take an image.
Other times, it’s the comedic and quaint makeshift broom closets with handmade curtains that smell of passion sweat and mixed perfumes.
It’s creaky wooden floors making sounds during vocal warm-ups, it’s the intricate focused faces during corsets lacing, getting to the final leg of a knee high-boot zipping or the rowdy giggles of nervous anticipation as someone’s toes climb into the cage of high heels for the night that sparks something in me to capture this.
Opening the backstage door to a waft of break-a-leg whisky shots, dusty prop relics piled high form shows past and pasty glue feels like home now.
A rare and unfiltered world I’ve fallen in love with that encourages personal creative rituals, oddities, goodluck charms, wicked humor and cuddled conversations near the mirror with everyone vying for a last look before curtain call.
The faint sound of torch songs / reverberate the walls / making my way through
a backstage hall / history is whistling / blush powder brush blows / hello darling / a
revolutionary of our time / sits here / in the mirror
It is behind the curtain where the extraordinary dynamics of what unpeels on stage begins. A profound sense of solidarity that has always been palpable in this temporary chosen family who’ve all shed the skin of the outside world to arrive here, together, and transform for an audience and bring to life a world of intrinsic wonderment that was thought to have only existed inside of us when we were kids.
This month marks seven months, the longest stretch of time since childhood since I’ve not been able to venture down a maze of dark corridors and into the tiny shoe closets of backstages.
However, the resilience, hope and community activism I’ve seen rise up in this time stirs the same sense of inspired oneness that I feel when I’m backstage.
ALEXIS DESAULNEIRS-LEA is a Melbourne-based portrait and travel photographer and the image editor for the international print magazine, Archer. In November 2018, she launched Cat Scratch Studio, an inclusive artist-friendly studio space for hire, that provides creators of all kinds a space to flourish, collaborate and connect in order to encourage knowledge-sharing amongst diverse creative groups to bridge community and industry gaps. She pulls inspiration from nature, music, fashion, performance and in particular her travels, which have led her to Central America, Europe, Africa, adventurous road trips across the United States and camper van trips around Australia. Alexis is currently working on film and editing projects after a long hiatus from moving pictures and is soon-to-be launching interactive online workshops for the performance and photographic community.
(performer credits: 1. Pancetta Love, 2. Whiskey Falls , 3. Velma Vouloir, 4. Raven, 5. Mama Alto 6. Weird Alice (centre) Lyra La Belle (L), Velvet La'vim (R)