Baby Ray on the art of characterization
Personalities are relatively enduring traits that remain fairly consistent through the way we operate in the world. We are fairly consistent in the way we think, feel and act in different situations throughout our lives. However, we are facets of everything we see and hear and taste. If we are fragmented bits and bobs of experience, then we are ever-changing. Even if just in increments. Characters, and art, allow for the outward expression of this perpetual movement.
Burlesque is my art, and Baby Ray is the human form of a lick of paint. Having a character who may differ vastly from your relatively stable personality traits, is like carrying around two heads on one neck. Baby Ray grows and develops and changes as much as Robyn does. As much as any human does. She is as much a fragment of experience as I am. This is important for fans of burlesque and dancers themselves to realise; you are not just watching a dance. You are watching fragments of a whole come together in front of you; every leg-raise or hair-flip may be last week’s pain mediated by today’s happiness. As an artist, I whole-heartedly believe in constructing acts that speak to where your character is in time, and making that an experience an audience member can feel.
Now, Baby Ray doesn’t function entirely independent of me. We hold hands, you know? And sometimes she’s the bravery I don’t have. Sometimes she carries the heartbreak while I need to do other things. Sometimes, she has to be put aside. But mostly, Baby Ray is this amazing part of myself that I never thought to explore before. She is hyper-feminine and enchanting. She’s sexy and confident and a little mysterious, even to me. She has been a life-raft for me multiple times; when I need to walk into a busy room, give a presentation, lose a lover gracefully. She’s there. And together we make art and choose music, and choose poetry, choose which movements most express a feeling. We choose the feeling itself, and we give it life by giving it to an audience to see. A major part of existing is having our experiences witnessed. And Baby Ray gives me that power. Baby Ray gives you that power too… so hold it gently.
We run into a little trouble with new loves who do not know this delicate balancing act. I can tell when people think I’m Baby Ray- entirely and always. And I hope that they aren’t disappointed when I show up at their house in my combat boots and hoodie and read Marx on their couch while shouting angry feminist things at my whiskey. And my sister gives me a sharp look in malls when I pick up something sparkly or pink, and I have to say ‘for Baby Ray’ and her eyes settle and she understands. This duality, this character, is both constructed and intrinsic. Baby Ray is me and she isn’t. I can go from PJ Harvey to Doris Day in one short breath. And that’s exciting. But tricky to get people to understand. And maybe they don’t have to. If all of who we are is a performance, then I’m grateful to have Baby Ray to add a touch of magic to my show.