Friday, 9 October 2015

Circus Girls - A Profile: Missy Macabre

"You have to burn yourself to learn how to play with fire"
- Missy Macabre

As featured in the Channel 4 All 4 on-line series Circus Girls (click here)Missy Macabre is an alchemist of pain, a female fakir executing astonishing feats of endurance. Circus hurts, for sure, yet in her hands a naked flame is not an instrument of torture but an object of mesmeric beauty. In her ornate head-dress, Missy is a high-priestess of mastery over self, and exudes a serene confidence that has been hard earned over a decade performing a variety of lethal circus stunts: bathing in broken glass, driving nails up her nose (as a human blockhead), using her body as an ashtray or chopping block, working with whips, beds of nails, and, of course, fire.  Missy has an even longer awareness and history of circus in the blood. Missy Macabre's performance is a mix of fin-de-siecle decadent glamour with a twist of 21st century tattooed into it, and while often working internationally, and at Torture Garden, can also be found occasion in the Spiegel Tent on the Southbank, or the CafĂ© de Paris where the short was filmed. Here she is, in her own words:

The circus and the fairground has always been in my life. My family on my mother’s side were in travelling fairs, and circuses for nearly 200 years. My great-grandfather was a bare-knuckle boxer in the early 20th century, fighting his way through the fairs to being a professional, eventually becoming British and Heavyweight champion. He fought at the Royal Albert Hall, was in silent films, friends with Charlie Chaplin, along with other celebrities of that time, and, when he married my great-grandmother, they closed Brighton for them. He later toured the American show circuit as well. I always heard amazing stories as a child, and these really inspired me in multiple ways. 

I started performing when I was 17, with friends, and we started with cabaret, but I wanted to develop more professionally and went to do the course in clowning at Circus Space (now the National Centre for Circus Arts) at 18, while practicing walking on glass and eating fire in my spare time. This evolved, and soon enough - within about six months - I was having watermelon sawn in half on my stomach with a chain-saw, in the same show as a friend was doing a flesh suspension whilst we lit a lightbulb through his pierced cheeks. I then wanted to mix hard stunts like bed of nails or broken glass with a softer side of cabaret - fire-eating and luxuriant costumes - as sideshow was predominantly performed by men. That is how I evolved to where I am now.

Umut [Gundunz - the film-maker] contacted me through Jackie Le and I really enjoyed working with him. Actually it was quite rewarding to explain what I did to somebody who was so interested and respectful. We had several long phone conversations and if felt like I was talking to a friend. Umut is really approachable and open to ideas. He really wanted to get to know me and my history on a personal level prior to filming, which is unlike other film makers I have worked with! I enjoyed making the film - I'm used to filming so understood the process, appreciating the delays and the rewarding elements of it.  It was amusing squeezing everybody into my tiny flat for the background interview, and then relocating to the grandeur of Cafe de Paris to film my act. It's a fabulous venue, and I've worked there a lot over the years.

The act you see in the short is from my latest show with a new costume and it's great to have such a strong piece of footage recording it. When I made the act, I saw it as an evolution of everything that had gone before. I'm known for my big, gold headpieces and opulent fire acts, and I wanted to really push it this time. My inspirations come from Catholicism, fetish/medical fetish, Chinese opera, traditional circus/sideshow ballet russe, strong women etc etc... When I choreographed it, I also built on my past stunts used in other shows, and the new ones I can do. I like to mix it up! I like to improvise and see what happens. As long as I look good, and the music feels right, I'll do a good show.

I absolutely love the series Circus Girls. It's about time that somebody shone the spotlight on what we do, we're involved in such a rich a diverse community and there is a whole range here. I'm so inspired by the performers around me, and these films show why. When I first watched the series I felt nervous, of course, but again so proud of the girls and the crew, for really creating something magical! Being involved in something like this has made me look back over the past ten years at all the hard work as a professional performer channelling my passions, and this is a wonderful milestone to mark it. It also gave me an insight into who I am, because it's not often we get a chance to see ourselves through the eyes of others.

Where do I want to go from here? Well, I want to see where creating even more elaborate costumes will take me, especially when mixed with highly skilled performance and fetish. 

Still feeling the heat from the visit to the Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A (see post on "Alexander McQueen and the Circus Strongwoman" - click here), for me, Missy's words, like the raison d'ĂȘtre of her performance, incarnate Alexander McQueen's own vision: 

"I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things." 

And she does. 

See and watch her now as part of the Channel 4 All 4 online series  Circus Girls: Missy Macabre

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