The elusive, unattainable yet wholly embraceable for the briefest of moments Jasper Baelian Black. I’m going to throw modesty out the window for a moment and say that he is my greatest creation and achievement to date. Yes, I know, I have a venue, yes, Mama…blah blah blah I get it. No. Jasper is where it’s at baby…and I’ll tell you why.
Because he’s me. Wholly and utterly in the darkest recesses of my mind…he is everything I could have been , would have been, wanted to be, hated, loved, was terrified of, lusted after and dreamed of. When I was scared of the bogeyman under the bed, Jasper was it. When I grew into puberty and fantasised about the tall, dark and handsome blue-eyed stranger spiriting me away, locking me up and doing nasty things to me…it was Jasper I saw. If I had been born a boy – give or take a few ‘life influences’ that obviously would have changed a few things…yep, Jasper again.
He’s had many incarnations – from the wonderful Tier twins Dominique and Cesar and the brooding, sulking Baelian Osoko of my Dark Realms RPG days to the hybrid Mama-Yelisavata-Veritas-Jasper thing that I loved to torment my audiences with onstage when I started my burlesque and cabaret journey.
His influences have been woven together from childhood – like a rich tapestry I gathered them all together to spawn my own breed of anti-hero. Shades of Lestat, Alex DeLarge, Jareth, Jay Gatsby, Mr Darcy, Christopher Dollanganger, Lasher, the Marquis De Sade, Julian the Shadow Man, Jean Valjean, Peter Pan, the Emcee of Cabaret…and a few choice human beings I have known and loved in life (most likely I was attracted to them for the very reason that they reflected this part of me- in the end, it’s ourselves we fall in love with, no?).
Being a female and playing such a powerful male character has allowed me to explore facets of myself that I always knew existed, but was never able to express or attain – in life or on the stage. It is a wholly different experience to playing Mama…or any other female character I have dabbled with over the years. Unlike Mama, it relies solely on its’ own energy…its’ aura…its state of being. It does not have the luxury of a male body to be able to do a quick ‘striptease’ and wow the women. Unlike Mama, I cannot sit on someone’s lap and rub my boobs in an audience member’s face in order to distract them if I forget a line, falter onstage, lose my confidence. Which is often.
And yet, somehow, Jasper is still the most powerful and affecting of all my stage personas. Love him or hate him, you’ll never forget him…and his impact on audience members lingers far longer in those niggly little bits of their brain than Mama ever could.
Now don’t get me wrong – I love Mama…but Mama, to put it bluntly, is not real. She is a mask I put on to be nice to the audience and amuse them. She is shallow – in that while she toes the line of feminine dominance and power and was designed as a vessel for encouraging women to be all they can be and to trumpet the cause of burlesque – she does not have many layers at all. She serves a purpose and it is a noble and good purpose at that. She entertains…she makes people laugh. They have a good time and they enjoy themselves…she offers escape for a few hours and a generous bosom to nurse your woes. She makes women feel good about themselves. It’s all very wonderful.
But I don’t believe in her. Her message is not my message…at least not the way I want to say it. It’s not enough for me to get up there and tell people that they are perfect the way they are. There are deeper truths that I felt were being missed, fundamental beliefs from the depths of my soul that went beyond ‘you go girlfriend’ and yet another semi-misandristic joke.
I don’t beat myself up about it…the women love it, and in some cases the things I say are true. Besides, it is the life of an entertainer, to pander to the audiences every once in a while. As long as you have a balance.
Which is where Jasper comes in.
While he had been germinating within me for decades, his birth was rather abrupt and – if you ask those who were there at the time – violent. I had reached a point in my life where I was dying…I felt dead. Used up, spat out…sucked dry like a battery for audiences, friends and lovers alike. Betrayal upon tragedy upon bad luck upon those damned humans doing that ‘need to be smacked’ thing had driven me to the point of nothingness. I was beyond angry, hurt, bitter betrayed…I was empty. I don’t think I even had the capacity to feel anything at all.
And then there was that niggling, hissing, jeering, mocking little voice in the darkest recesses of my mind…telling me to stop being such a pussy and give people the what-for. That little id telling me to fight back. But it was more than that…truly…it was a call to arms. It was my very soul reaching out from the blackness and demanding that I drag my sorry, broken and bruised ass up off the floor and actually be the fucking change I wanted to see in the world (yes, in those words). Stop dicking about, it said, and use what you have and where you have gotten yourself to actually start changing people’s lives.
The little bastard should have added the disclaimer ‘by the way, some people will hate us both for this…’ but he either neglected to mention it or did it on purpose. It could go either way, really, I wouldn’t put either past him.
Allow me to say, at this juncture, that I am well aware that I speak of Jasper as if he is real and separate to me. I have woven so much into this character/persona/entity that it has most certainly taken on a life of its’ own, and many writers worth a dime will often refer to their great creations as their ‘muse’ and wholly separate from themselves. Anne Rice talks about Lestat as her mentor, her lover, her muse and her child…I know exactly what she means; and the last time I checked she was doing pretty alright for herself with this ‘muse’ of hers. So call off the men in the white coats, I’m no more insane than any other artists and I will speak of my boy whichever way I want.
One thing I was not prepared for was the backlash that followed dear Mr Black’s ‘rise.’ I expected people to be bewildered and afraid of him, but I perhaps put too much stock in the belief that people would just see it as another of my onstage personas (whether they liked it or not) and would laugh it off with that ‘you weirdo Nat’ shake of the head my mother gives me.
I got a few of those, along with a handful of rolled eyes and ‘of course you did’ comments. But most of the reactions gleaned fell into two distinct categories. Love…or extreme hatred.
The lovers couldn’t believe that I had been hiding him away all this time…and while their adoration was generally reserved for my supposed ‘performance prowess’ and ability to bring this character to life, there was (and still is) a goodly portion of fans who are utterly, completely and irrevocably in love with the man…and prefer him to me. So much so that they will buy me Jasper’s ‘drink of choice’ on a non-Underground night in order to try and ‘coax him out.’
The lovers never bothered me, I found their reactions amusing and entertaining…and I could hardly fault anyone for preferring Jasper to me when I was doing the exact same thing…ultimate fangirl (or boy) shipping on the broody, dark, sulky male…only difference was that this time he was in my body and not on the television or cinema screen.
No, it was the haters that stumped me. I just didn’t get them. There were a few who blithely remarked ‘it’s just not my thing’ and left it at that (which is fine, to each their own…I am aware that the subject matter Jasper encompasses and deals with is less than savoury and not your usual light-hearted faff and feathers fare). There were those who suddenly decided that they did not like the Underground because of the dark materials discussed within – those who once attended the show on a weekly basis and all at once found a million reasons not to…I’d smile and nod at this and say I completely understood, choosing not to ask them why it had been okay only weeks earlier for Mama to say the exact same things in the same show with the same subject matter and the same acts. I’m sure there was a logical explanation.
Or perhaps not, for when I lamented the loss of my audience to a friend he calmly looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, but Mama’s a girl.’
This, of course, stumped me even more. ‘But I’M a girl,” I retorted, ‘What the fuck?’
The answer came in the same nonchalant manner. I may indeed have been a girl, but Jasper was not. And the sorority didn’t like a boy pointing out all the reasons that they were a sham. Even if it was only a girl pretending to be a boy. And the boys? They didn’t like a girl pretending to be one of them getting away with things that no boy would ever be able to do.
‘And getting laid a lot more than they ever will because of it…’ the friend added. ‘You’ve singlehandedly alienated yourself from everyone alive. Nice work.’
That of course made the anger set in. It was a gross generalisation, but in the beginning that was exactly what it felt like. Regular patrons, people who had followed me for years, who had hugged ‘Mama’ so tight you would have thought she was their actual mother, would not even say hi to me anymore…even out of character. People left in droves…sour faced and sullen, angry that their Mama had been murdered by some horrible boy-thing that was not nice to anyone (I am not even kidding, someone actually used the word ‘murdered’). Some of my STAFF started to turn on me, to backtalk to Jasper, to get angry and combative and lament that ‘Natty was gone.’
It took me a long time to figure out what the problem was…though to an outsider it would have been obvious.
I had changed. My little death of spirit had twisted my soul and my nature into something that was not as nurturing and giving as Mama. Of course, those traits were still there…but they were behind a wall, not easily attained…it was no longer a free-for-all-you-can-eat-buffet of my energy, love and light. The battery had run dry…and left something bitter, angry and very very determined not to let it happen again in its’ wake.
I remember a speech Jasper gave on New Year’s Eve – about a new world order and the death of the old. ‘Mama is gone,’ he said…’I’M Mama now.’ You could literally feel half the room go into mourning…for themselves.
This madness continued for a good long time – in some cases it only just fell short of people getting physically aggressive with me. Girlfriends had to threaten to leave their boyfriends over ridiculous jealous sulks when Jasper paid them attention, Alpha males and females by the dozen tried every trick in the book to establish some kind of dominance over him…and when they couldn’t they would resort to insulting the host body and pointing out the obvious lack of male genitalia…like it made a difference. One friend tried to convince me that a girl he was ‘in love with’ would not date him because her heart belonged to Jasper. Another told me that she ‘understood completely’ what I was doing and trying to achieve ‘but I don’t understand why I have to be subjected to him when I come here to see you.’ Apparently it is customary to drop a character in the middle of a performance to say hi to friends when they want your attention.
The women’s reactions were the most fascinating of all. They would flirt, woo, try to charm…some would succeed – but Jasper has always been a fickle boy with the attention span of a 5 year old. You’re a new toy while you’re new…and then we drop you and pick up something else. We may come back and play for a bit…but only if we feel like it.
Some girls accepted this – most were so ridiculously outraged that I had to refrain from laughing on many an occasion, had to bite my lip in frustration and finally allow Jasper to blurt out an exasperated ‘Are you fucking crazy? This isn’t REAL’ for my benefit lest I hit someone.
The fake-feminists were always pearlers too. They were either appalled and called me (okay, him) a misogynist or they would try seduction…and get huffy and throw the misogynist line in when dominance could not be established. I remember one such ‘token power female’ eyeing me at the bar after a flirting fail and declaring ‘I don’t like you.’ I think she was rather miffed when Jasper shrugged and replied ‘Like I give a fuck, I don’t even know who you are.’ Then there was the girl (a supposed friend, mind you) who harassed me all night, interrupted the show with drunken heckling, told everyone in the room I was a horrible person, tore at her clothes and threw pieces of them at me and finally had to be removed from the premises after Jasper dumped a glass of bourbon and coke over her head (don’t judge me…she’d been at it for hours before we got there).
I could go on – it still happens today, I have never, ever experienced the madness of the masses the way that I have since deciding to give voice to my innermost demons. Rumors started circulating in the burlesque industry that I had lost my mind, that I was having gender-identity crisis, that I was using Jasper as an excuse just to be nasty to everyone – some twat of a performer who shall go unnamed actually went so far as to warn people away from attending Underground nights because ‘they just walk around being mean to everyone.’
Of course all this did was make me angrier, less willing to give in…how dare they not understand my art? Who were they to tell me that I had to be pretty and faffy and nice all the time? Why was it all okay as long as I was a GIRL?
I’m a pretty good actress, but I can’t hide everything all the time…and as a result of all this Jasper just became more acerbic and nasty…and for a while it looked like the whole thing was going to fall into a heap.
But then something interesting happened.
NEW people came. In droves. People who were looking for something different…broken people, people who sought more than the everyday offerings of entertainment…and life. Like moths to a flame they began to orbit around my little blue-eyed emo boy in the hopes that he could…what? The Gods only knew. I was so disheartened by the loss of my old self and world that this sudden onslaught of adoration bewildered me as much as the hatred had.
Of course I was mistrustful…who wouldn’t be? And it was not in Jasper’s nature to open the door wide and make with the love. Yet these people stayed. With nothing…no encouragement, no love, not even the hint of kindness. They saw something in him and in me that made them want to be a part of this new world order.
One middle aged woman remarked to me one night…”You don’t understand…I hated you when you started. I thought who the hell were you to make me question myself? But…I’ve realised…I love you, because you’re real. You say it like it is…and it’s so powerful. You’re so sexy and so real and…fuck the world. You make me want to tell everyone to go to hell and just be me. Can I kiss you?”
And any doubts that I had that I had created something extraordinary started to fade away…
All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015. Natalie Ristovski.