Are you ready for a cheeky dance comedy that promises that you’ll see plenty of bums?
Exploring first-world problems through a series of dance and physical theatre sketches, Derrière on a G String is a new production from choreographer Alfred Taylor-Gaunt.
The production will run at Sadler’s Wells in London.
I caught up with Alfred Taylor-Gaunt for a behind-the-scenes look at Derrière on a G String.
What was your inspiration for the show?
I’ve always loved physical comedy, because everyone can enjoy it. People of all ages, all over the world, laugh together watching Mr Bean – I think there’s something rather magical about that.
I’m particularly fond of the sketch comedy format, because everyone has their different favourite bit, and even if you don’t really engage with one sketch you know it’s going to be over in three or four minutes max.
I also love classical music, and I think we all have the potential to love it. But, as with Shakespeare, it’s often associated with an elitist culture, which can be rather inhibiting.
I wanted to create a show which anyone off the street could walk into and end up laughing and really enjoying themselves, while listening to Brahms or Strauss.
I often felt a lot of pressure as a choreographer to be creating shows that conformed to the format of other dance shows, but I liked doing short stories. The ones I did went down well, so I thought – why not do a show of just that?
There was a worry that a full evening of short dance-comedy sketches wouldn’t work. As far as I’m aware it hasn’t been done before, but I needed to check there wasn’t a reason for that – so, we did a week-long workshop run to try it out on an audience. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and here we are.
How difficult is it to create dance as comedy?
I do think it’s particularly tricky compared to plain dance or normal sketch comedy. With abstract dance, I feel you’ve got such a free reign – you can do what you like and call it your ‘art’. You don’t have to worry if the audience is going to be enjoying themselves for the duration, because it’s about what you ‘explore’. I tend to think that’s a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Whatever I’m trying to express, my audience has spent time and money to be there to see it, and I want them to have had a nice evening. Artistic expression and entertainment value aren’t mutually exclusive, but it creates the first of a few challenging parameters you vow to keep yourself within.
There’s the challenge of moulding what might be a funny idea into a sketch that can be told on-stage and only through movement. Then, the much bigger challenge of finding an existing piece of music that tells that story. It’s extremely frustrating to have had a great idea or found a perfect piece of music and to have not been able to pair them. I think that’s the main challenge of working in this form.
Next, is the comparison to normal comedy sketch shows. Without any words it’s much harder to tell the audience the basic bits they need to know before getting into the joke or the story. For radio or television writers, they’re always trying to avoid obvious exposition, whereas in this format it’s difficult trying to find the opportunities to put it in.
I’m always frustrated when watching dance if I don’t know what’s happening or where we’re supposed to be. It means I often rely on costumes and props to let the audience know exactly where we are the whole time – which makes this show a lot more tech-heavy than most sketch shows.
The workshop production had over two-hundred and fifty props in 45 minutes, and it looks like there will be twice as much in the full version. For a production of this scale that’s an awful lot. They end up as choreographed as the dancers – each one has its own track through the show – behind the set to down-stage-left, moved up-stage-left, taken off-stage-right, reset at the interval.
I can’t wait for the day we can afford more backstage staff. The one’s we have are moving constantly – and they don’t even get a break between shows because they’ve got to clean up all the mess – and the blood – in time for the next performance. All hail the tech crew!
Is anything involving someone’s butt inherently funny?
Well, I suppose it’s going to either be funny or saucy and I don’t think audiences will complain about either of those two things. I’m not really a fan of toilet humour myself, so I think for me the bums are supposed to be cheeky rather than comedically gross, but perhaps some of it reads differently to a straight audience.
If our workshop production is anything to go by, then everyone finds it entertaining regardless of where the joke is coming from. To be honest, the biggest butt joke is in the title – it’s not really a show about bums! But, don’t worry, you’ll get to see plenty.
What was the casting process? Did it involve an appraisal of the performers’ butts to make sure they were up to the challenge?
Yes, we didn’t actually ask for head-shots. I think we are the first show in town to primarily be looking at the buttocks when it comes to casting. It was a rigorous process that we thoroughly enjoyed, and we were left very satisfied with the results.
The production notes describe this show as camp – does that it make it something that will primarily appeal to queer audiences?
I think the queer community will take more interest in it – so we’ll probably sell them more tickets – but I don’t think any of the comedy is exclusive to a particular group.
The style of the show is more in line with and inspired by the greats of silent comedy – like Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, who were universally popular. The themes are obviously more modern-day, and there’s a fair bit of homoeroticism, but it’s not a fundamentally queer show.
These days everyone seems to be enjoying camp stuff more and more. I’ve got a few friends who are your typical ‘lads’ – very sporty, very ‘manly’ – and they love RuPaul.
As I’ve grown up, it’s been wonderful to see the queer community become more and more a part of the London community.
I mean, I am rather camp and our company is a bit queer, so that’s going to bleed through into the performance. But, I’m proud to say that this show is for anyone who enjoys comedy, and I think queer and straight people enjoy it just as much as each other.
How do you hope that people feel when watching Derrière on a G String?
Entertained! So much theatre I see nowadays is preachy plays, dull dance, or mediocre musicals. This is for the people who want to go to the theatre and enjoy themselves.