Theda, A Performance
Archival injet on paper, hand-sewn, leather-bound & white gold debossed cover, with 73 pages & 39 black & white photo plates.
25cm x 18cm x 1.5cm
Edition of 12 + 2 AP
(A pair of black satin theatre gloves accompany the book)
THEDA, A Performance is a detailed study of Georgina Starr's THEDA. Looking at acting technique, character portrayal and the meaning of gestures, codes and expressions, the text illustrates the structure of the performamce as a series of embedded layers. The process is revealed to be both autobiographical and alchemical.
Alongside Theda Bara the book examines Starr's performance in relation to several important players in films and theatrical shows from the Bara-era whose performances like Bara’s have also been lost or neglected. These include Maud Allan, Alla Nazimova, Isadora Duncan, Musidora, Valeska Suratt, Marguerite Clark and Louise Glaum.
"...a spiritual journey, a never-ending process of successive revelations, which only come to light through the telling of the tale."
Extract from the text :
By placing the ‘The Dandy’ in The Performance, The Performer could be attempting to question the status of the ‘male gaze’ in Bara’s body of work. It is known that Bara’s image was perceived as operating on a superficial level to lure or ensnare the male viewer, however by switching the male with female is The Performer literally rendering this particular male gaze impotent?
The scopophilia aspects of the scene will be developed further in the coming chapters, as they too reveal themselves to be concerned for the most part with looking and watching from the darkness of a theatre or studio at a female performer.
Another possible influence on The Performer as ‘The Dandy’ in this scene is The Amazons (1917) a film starring silent actresses Marguerite Clark, Elsie Lawson and Helen Greene which followed three sisters who were raised as boys. The actresses all wore male attire to great dramatic and comic effect throughout the film. This film is also presumed lost.
As ‘The Dandy’ continues to stroll down the street in this scene she comes across a theatre poster advertising a performance (within The Performance) of Madame du Cleosalosappho.
The poster announces that ‘THEDA’ will play all three roles; Cleopatra, Salome and Sappho in the play, all characters that Bara herself played in her lost films. ‘The Dandy’ is clearly attracted to the image of ‘THEDA’ and stands admiring her face before strolling off with a glint in her eye.
The Performer plays this character for comic effect, and the pipe is used as a classic 'expressive object' to heighten the vaudevillian subtext in the scene. However if we focus on the action more intensely, we could question if The Performer is presenting a man admiring a woman or is it an example of a woman discovering a passion for another woman? Again, if we accept the latter this could then be a direct reference to The Performer’s passion for the real Bara.
Once ‘The Dandy’ exits the scene we are privy to a hidden message within the poster's text as the letters of ‘THEDA’ are jumbled up and rearranged to reveal the word ‘DEATH’. This can be read as both an acknowledgement of the film studio myth concerning ‘THEDA’ and ‘DEATH’ and a further prediction, as with Princess Petrovich’s in the séance and Cleopatra’s in the crystal ball, could this be a warning or promise of future events, as if the characters are beckoning The Performer and luring her deeper into ‘THEDA’s’ lost world.