“The audience will be dazzled by light-shows, multiple costume changes, dry ice and excessive amounts of glitter”
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGE BY LEE PULLEN
“IMOGENÉ is more than just a concept – she’s a sensation; an over-the-top diva on the brink of pop immortality. But first – due to time constraints related to the physical demands of binge-watching five series of Poldark – she must enlist the help of the audience to create her ground-breaking new album in time to present it to chart-topping music producer Mark Ronson.”
Part improvised pop-concert, part confessional clown show, IMOGENÉ is a fourth wall-breaking, hilariously-interactive show. The audience will be taken on a ride of riotous music, physical comedy and wild monologues that explore gender identity, feminism, polyamory, sexuality, rape culture and consent.
Like all concert-goers, the audience will be dazzled by light-shows, multiple costume changes, dry ice and excessive amounts of glitter as they help IMOGENÉ to create her brand new album.
DIVA chatted to Imogen Palmer, the woman behind this wild queer improv show, to find out more…
DIVA: Where did the idea for the show come from?
IMOGENÉ: IMONGENÉ is a bit of a childhood dream come true. I love pop music and grew up pretending to be The Spice Girls on the playground (always claiming Baby Spice) and performed Eternal Flame, complete with dance moves for the Year Six school leavers’ assembly. Why they let us do this, I still don’t know. Fast forward to 2016 and about seven years of performing improvised theatre and comedy, I started to play around with solo and clown inspired improv. I liked the idea of being unapologetic about this like Beyoncé is in her work. Whilst teaching an improvised singing course with the amazing musician/theatre-maker Jack Drewry I had the idea for the character to sing.
A lot of my play-writing circulates around rewriting heteronormative genres for queer and female leads so it became very apparent over the course of development that the character would talk about subjects such as sexuality, feminism and consent.
What can audiences expect from the show?
An immersive pop concert style, interactive comedy show with outrageous physical comedy, plenty of costume changes, and some politics sneaked in through the wild monologues of the character.
What was the process of taking it to the stage?
IMOGENÉ was born incrementally over the period of three years (plus the many years of training/life experience beforehand!) Jack Drewry and I spent a few days using magic Ableton software to create the songs to improvise to. I spent a few years testing out work like this, watching recordings of the show back, kept what worked and let go of what didn’t and slowly built the show from there. In 2019, myself and new musical collaborator Jack Orcozo Morrison, worked with the phenomenal clown teacher and artist Deanna Fleysher on the show and her insight transformed it into the all singing, all dancing, multiple costume fabulous experience it is now.
How do you link queerness and clowns together?
My understanding of clowning is that it is the immediate connection between the audience and performer where the performer allows themselves to be seen and sees the audience as individuals seeing them. This can be very vulnerable and also really healing. I believe connection and vulnerability can help heal divides and create conversations between groups of people who may feel separate or alien to the mainstream. When I share my queerness on stage through the medium of IMOGENÉ, who is a loud, proud and unapologetic character, I feel like I am creating a meaningful connection between the audience and a queer person. This can be powerful for queer people seeing themselves represented on stage and for also for people who don’t necessarily know anyone queer.
Who is the show for? What audiences will this appeal to?
This show is for pop fans, comedy lovers, queer and feminist audiences. It is also a family friendly show that parents or guardians can bring their teenage (14+) children along to. I had one family group speak with me after the show to tell me how much they loved it and how their teenage daughter had been inspired to try improv.
What has the reaction been from other audiences?
So far the response has been really supportive across the board. I used to get a bit nervous when big groups of guys who don’t look like a typical queer crowd come in. but I had one group of (what looked like) proper LADS stay behind to tell me how hilarious they found it. My brother came to one show and had to avert his eyes when I came out in my pretty skimpy leotard and made reference to my ingrown pubic hairs.
How does the interaction with audiences work?
As the character, I chat with audience members about their lives and experiences to help inspire songs which are made up on the spot. A part of the show is about consent so something I try to do is read the audience member’s body language and how comfortable they are. If they are hating being spoken to, I move on to someone else. I understand that being interacted with is not everyone’s cup of tea!
What pop/queer icons inspired the character?
So many! Beyoncé for being an unapologetic diva and boss, Janelle Monáe is a style and queer icon. I did a call out on social media for videos of divas of any gender and watched a bunch of things from Prince to Whitney Houston. It’s always hard to know what has stuck in the performance but interestingly a friend told me I did a move on stage which reminded them of Prince!
Kesha is an important inspiration, both her old school trashy pop phase and the album Rainbow which has been hugely impactful on me: the whole album is a love song for survivors of rape and sexual assault whilst being funny and clever and emotionally intelligent. All my love is with her during this prolonged and traumatic courtroom battle with her abuser over her contract.
There’s a movement bubbling in Bristol and London as queer artists are discovering clown… the queer clown revolution is coming, watch this space!
How do you use comedy to dismantle the patriarchy?
Being a visible, out there person who looks like a woman and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. I love using comedy to lure people into the primarily entertaining show and then sneakily jab them with some politics….it’s very satisfying.
You can catch IMOGENÉ at VAULT Festival from 26-28 February 2020
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