A Neo-Benshi StreetcarLIVE FILM VOICE-OVER
Poet Roxi Power is at the forefront of the Neo-Benshi movement, reviving the Japanese art of live over-dubbing of popular films, with a fun twist on American classics.
Roxi PowerSanta Cruz, CA
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Blanche: "I know I fib a good deal. After all, a woman's charm is fifty percent illusion, but when a thing is important I tell the truth…”
Interview with Roxi Power
An interview with PR Consultant Rory Marcus and Neo-Benshi artist Roxi Power:
How did you become intrigued with this concept of Neo Benshi?
RP: A reason I was drawn to the new form was my longstanding work in cross-genre performance and publication forms. Even as a graduate student at Cornell, when working toward my MFA in poetry, I’d always perform my poetry in tandem with music or visual art. When I moved to San Francisco, I started working with a band named Mobius Operandi who designed their own musical sculpture-instruments and I wrote/performed poem-songs with them. We performed at the first-ever Transcontinental Poetry reading (broadcast simultaneously to 8 universities), and at other “trans-genre” events in the Bay area. I organized an event series at UC Santa Cruz called “Trans-Genre: Poetry and the Inter-Arts” that gave rise to a Trans-genre anthology series I have been publishing since 2007 called Viz. Inter-Arts. I’ve done performances and written poetry that incorporates visual art, in particular the paintings of my sister Sky Power. When performing, I obviously prefer to “mix it up.”
- As I understand it you will be lip-synching to 'A Streetcar Named Desire.' Will this be to the entire film, or to a section of it? Will this be a poem you've written? How do you lip synch so perfectly? What sort of training did you have?
RP: When I wrote my script for Rebel Without a Cause, my first draft was a kind of long poem to read that would correspond more emotively to the screen action. That’s how most Neo-Benshi performers that I’ve witnessed engage the form. But once I experienced what I call “the synch”—where a new concept for an alternative narrative came to me in the form of a new word or series of words that corresponded to the actor’s words/lip movements—then I was off and running.
I attempted to lip-synch or ventriloquize the entire excerpt with a new “queer” reading of Rebel. A whole new plot and characters were born, and so too was the challenge of working within the strict structure of the film’s timing. In that sense, it’s more like song writing, or being a lyricist for a melody you inherit, except there’s more visual media to account for. For such a short performance, it requires an excruciating amount of preparation, to get the exact right words that correspond both to the timing of the actors’ mouth and bodily movements and to the alternative plot you’re advancing.
Very technical in some senses—paying lots of attention to the DVD’s time meter and wearing out the remote control as you rewind endlessly to try out different word arrangements every few seconds to see if they “fit.” The other layer is voice work. Over the years, I’ve been focusing more on trying to imitate the voice of James Dean, Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, etc. Challenging, given their singular voices! And I’ve also been including more of my own singing. For some, Neo-Benshi is more of a writerly art: most performers I know of are poets and foreground interesting or nuanced language. A few of us also foreground more theatrical techniques.
What is it about 'Streetcar' that made you choose it?
RP Like many, I’m obsessed with the play and film and have taught it in Literature classes for years. I think that iconic films like Rebel and Streetcar provide perfect vehicles for Neo-Benshi since viewers know the plot well enough that they understand the various ironic allusions to the original and are able to enjoy the purposefully subversive qualities of the revision.
Knowing the original gives the “drag” version its winking campy quality, though it’s a great challenge to create a script that also stands on its own with serious content. Still, the humor is paramount and possible only with familiarity with the original. The iconic qualities of the characters lend themselves to wonderfully transgressive reinterpretations. How can you not see Blanche Dubois as a fading drag queen or Stella as a zombie as she walks in a trance down the stairs back into the arms of Stanley? But then I try to take the concepts of “drag” and “zombie” much further intellectually than you’d predict just in hearing those words and their seemingly unserious qualities. Layering a basic template with references to the lives of Williams, Brando, Leigh et al. plus social, historical, gendered, and musical references makes, I hope, most moments of the script/performance a multilayered experience. As such, it could be a bit exhausting for everyone (including the performer and the audience) to “read” all these messages/medias into each moment of a two hour version.
A relatively short version (30 minutes) helps sustain the intensity of attention required. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Elia Kazan and Nicholas Ray’s cinematography presents a loaded field of symbols to work with and an arresting attention to light (in Kazan’s case) and color (in Ray’s case). Then there are the mouthwatering characters that help the audience to “suture” themselves onto the characters and screen action, thus suspending their disbelief a little more willingly.
Where have you performed this before?
RP: I’ve performed different versions of my Rebel Without a Cause script in quite a few venues. In San Francisco: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; San Francisco State University; California College for the Arts; Artists Access Television; etc.
In NYC: St. Mark’s Poetry Project; the Bowery Poetry Club. In LA: The Roy and Edna Disney/CALArts Theater (REDCAT). In Santa Cruz, CA.: The Santa Cruz Film Festival (for which I won an audience award); UC Santa Cruz Living Writers series (twice); and other places. I’ve performed a very early version of A Streetcar Named Desire at UC Santa Cruz, but the premiere will really be at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival, given the changes to the script.