About 6 weeks ago I was about to start a new job. Times were uncertain for me. I could feel my relationship strained by a lack of excitement, and lockdown had taken it’s toll on me both physically and mentally.
I was fat and lacking in confidence. Getting back into wrestling on Fridays helped but it wasn’t solely enough to feel like myself again.
I got a curious message from a friend. Someone I never thought I’d connect with fully because she was one of those beautiful people and I was merely ordinary.
When Marija (@marijatheromantic) did anything, eyes followed her every move. She glided through social interactions and displayed an unparalleled confidence and self-expression. People like me looked on in awe. To get close to her, I offered to help her with things, but over time she showed what a warm and beautiful human being she was, and doing things for her became a pleasure.
Her curious message requested that I help her out as a character in her upcoming show. It was to be a small part but one that she thought I was perfect for. She made me feel safe and secure by telling me there were only a few lines but that she felt a really good energy between us.
She wasn’t wrong. We caught up and she told me about the part after her partner served me dinner.
Being who I was I couldn’t help myself, I started making suggestions. Some of them she took, and others she didn’t but in every instance she was warm and inviting. Her body language showed me that she valued me. Everything I had to say and everything I had to contribute.
A week later we met for a line reading. It was a hilarious struggle between her vision for the show she had created, and my interpretation of the character I was playing. I saw in my head how the show could be elevated from the intelligent and political satire she had written to something truly irreverent and theatrical. By the time the producer Tim (@timothy.christopher.ryan) came to see how things were going, we had created a show that was powerful and compelling in it’s message, but delightfully camp and silly when it needed to be. He managed to elevate it even further.
Marija and I grew closer too. I shared some sensitive details about my life and she did the same. At that point our chemistry as friends and co-performers skyrocketed.
The brilliant monologues she had written started to mean something to me and I helped her see what her words meant to anyone in the LGBTQI community. She helped me see how personal they were to her experiences as a woman.
Several rehearsals later we were getting the hang of it. But we were stuck on one part. I was to wrap fabric around her and restrict her while she created shapes with her body, to convey a sense that her body was being manipulated and shaped against her will.
The balance between pulling the fabric too tight or too passively was never quite right and I started to experience her frustration with me. I was frustrated too. For me it felt as though the scene lacked stage direction, and changed from one rehearsal to the next. I couldn’t get it right because right was different every time.
On the Saturday before the week of the show we picked up our costumes. We then went back to her house where we prepared props, rehearsed, practiced the trickier elements of the show and ultimately wore ourselves out.
But that was not an option. That night we had to perform a scene from our show as a teaser at Trade Hall in Carlton. Marija, completely exhausted and emotional, fell into a heap. We had promised to catch each other at all times so I caught her, being what she needed, a friend. Somehow the storm clouds lifted and before we knew it, we were on our way to the performance.
Once there, the nerves became so real for me. I was about to perform as an actor for the first time in my life. I was so unsure of myself. But everyone around me believed in me. Beside me was Pistolina (@pistolina_), a stunning burlesque performer I had sketched 3 times before at life drawing sessions. I felt like an imposter.
My ever-comforting friend Marija addressed me with just the right words again.
“Just take your time setting up. I won’t start until you’re ready.”
And that was all I needed. The audience squealed with laughter. We were entertaining them!
When we walked off the stage, Pistolina came up to me and said that we were amazing. She told me I was hilarious. My heart was singing. Someone I idolized was genuinely entertained by me.
The partying continued til the early morning and Marija and I were ecstatic. As we sat in our Uber, Marija told me that she wanted to make the show funnier. I agreed, cautioning her not to lose the depth she had created. I think the exchange spoke to the way we had grown to really respect each other’s contributions.
The next morning it was my turn to be emotional. In truth, it likely had more to do with a lack of sleep but a few thoughts kept running through my head. We haven’t rehearsed enough, that damn fabric scene, and what if I let Marija down?
When Marija responded to my anxiety it was with warmth and compassion. I was not expecting it to be honest, mostly because I had established a pattern of meeting people who took any distress I was experiencing as a personal attack. Marija not only took responsibility where needed but helped create the space I needed to recover. In many ways she restored my faith in humans.
Opening night arrived. I knew for certain that 4 of my friends were attending. Backstage I was shaking, for this was it. I heard the crowd enter to take their seats and could only see Marija, in position behind the sheer curtains on our stage. I kept telling myself “Just like we rehearsed, just like we rehearsed.”
The music ended and that was my cue to enter. In a combination of all the confidence I had mustered from high school debating, life modelling and being a Leo star sign, I strutted out and delivered all of me. People laughed at every chance and it was clear they were laughing with me. What also helped me was that when Marija took her lines. I was looking at her and the face of a dear friend was all I needed to be at ease.
Then came the dreaded scene with the fabric. What happened next however was magical. She did something unexpected, my character instinctively responded and we had the audience laughing at a scene which ended up being contest between a rebellious archduchess and her servant, trying to dress her. Staying in character worked so well.
As each show happened, performing became easier. Each night it would end with me dragging her cake-covered half-naked body off stage followed by our secret high five backstage! Our bond became intense and we were enjoying the result of our hard work. By the final few nights, I felt comfortable improvising and so did she.
Marija’s exotic cake dance became more and more debaucherous too, with the added stroke of comic genius to keep playing with it even after the music had stopped.
It would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the seriousness to the show too. There was a message that had to be told.
I have since had audience members comment to me that the show spoke to them about many things. The way that social media controls us and our identities, the way that marriage sets guidelines for women to follow, the pressure for queer people to conform and chastise themselves, and the shades of grey which trap us into a cycle of self-sabotage.
Now that the show has finished, we are slowly slipping back into our normal lives. We have reached out to one another repeatedly because after-care following these things is important. My proudest achievement here was the bond between Marija and me. Her show is brilliant and I am grateful to have been involved.
I have learned too, just as I did with wrestling and with art, that I am indeed capable and that the only person holding me back is myself.
I can’t wait until our next adventure. Marija, I’ll eat your cake any day!
Eat My Cake was created by Marija Herceg and produced by Scratch Arts. It is a witty, irreverent critique of social media, censorship and our right to express our sexuality. The show stars Marija as Marie Antoinette and Andrew Rose as her faithful butler, Miles.
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