by Nando Messias, Stephen Farrier, Catherine Silverstone, Lois Keidan & Ruth McCarthy
Prologue: Where 4 Roads Meet (the final Sissy)
by Nando Messias
Are the significant moments in our lives crossroads or roundabouts? Is life about choices or going around in circles? Four roads approach a roundabout. At the end of each road, stands a Sissy: one for each character in the trilogy and one for myself as I am now. They are ghost-like, shadowy figures, Bluebeard’s wives, corpses? The quartet is my effeminate body and my performance corpus.The scene where they stand is Where 4 Roads Meet: Death and the Sissy, the culmination of my trilogy of work with the character Sissy.
Hell, we know, comes in circles. And the gyrations of Where 4 Roads Meet ask: have I been repeating myself as an artist? Am I trapped in some existential inferno? Why can’t I get over this? I had realised that I wanted to kill Sissy. It began as a yearning for artistic freedom. I wanted to get rid of the archive—costumes, objects and artefacts that had been sitting in my wardrobe for years. I also wanted to rid myself of the heavy burden associated with this work—the pain, the injuries, the fear. There was a need to make space, more room in my wardrobe, in my mind. I wanted new ideas, new inspirations, new dresses and new heels. But staging a funeral rite comes at a price. I have been pursued by the nagging Furies of certain questions: Why would I want to kill Sissy? Once Sissy is got out of the way, what’s left of me? What will arise in its place? I still have no answers.
It’s like a dream: I travel around the circle and stop at the top of each road. I travel down that road, meeting a Sissy at the end. We face each other. We look forward. We look back: what has been learned? Anything? Like Mother Courage, I despoil each corpse of valuables and abandon the rest. I don’t want baggage: it only weighs me down.
The scars on my body are permanent: I see them every day. But what marks were left on those who witnessed Sissy? Did anything touch their minds and bodies? I called out for eulogies and asked for an obituary, all published below. Eulogy: does that mean good words or true words? Perhaps I wanted to kill Sissy and invite reflections from witnesses in order to make something more real, to attempt to concretise the evanescence of authentic living.
After using the word Sissy in the title of each part of my trilogy, I didn’t want to use it again for this performance. But of course it proved to be unavoidable. The performance is Sissy. So the subtitle Death and the Sissy is probably how I will refer to this performance once it’s done. I simply can’t run away from Sissy.
Eulogy for Sissy (One)
by Stephen Farrier
Expressing the end of something is challenging. As customary at times of loss, we remember the moments, the moments that remain as memory, fragments at a moment of passing. But Sissy cannot pass, that’s the whole point of Sissy, to try is violence.
Sissy standing on a table. Now falling into the arms of a boxer, over and over Sissy falls and yet gets up, over and over. Finally, the falling injures the boxer, he bleeds from just above the eye, as a boxer does, he bleeds from Sissy’s falling. As Sissy falls onto him Sissy slowly exhausts the boxer, who can no longer endure Sissy’s simple repetition. Sissy falls and yet gets up, over and over. The boxer cannot.
That bloodstained face and Sissy’s endurance sticks in the memory. It does not pass.
Sissy, all sinew and insectoid, sitting on a chair. Sissy reaches out a long arm and clutches at the air – a cigarette appears between the fingers. Then another. Magic fags for a magic fag (and a useful skill for a Saturday night).
That smoke-filled sinewy studio sticks too. It does not pass.
A never-ending kiss that rolls about the floor, against the walls and in the air. Sissy and boxer joined at the mouth breathing each other and struggling against what is to be done. As they move they are not in perfect harmony, but struggle to keep lip-locked alongside the journey they must travel. The break of the kiss (is that a strong enough word, ‘kiss’?) renders violence.
That exchange of saliva across a space stays. It does not pass.
Sissy gets a box within which is a pink dress, a dress that is an odd fit, Sissy wears it with dignity and joy while walking as if on a catwalk – though, a bit wobbly, Sissy’s been through a lot. A slow and dignified pace, whilst the smear and trace of makeup remains on Sissy’s face. Sissy carries what has passed with grace, and like a statesman distinguished and slow, walks into the wings. It is as if the blood, the fags, the kiss, have given life as much as challenged it.
In the passing into the wing, Sissy does not pass.
He cannot pass, he must not pass, for he reminds us of courage and vigilance and violence. He reminds us that survival has its price, but also its secrets. He reminds us that for some breathing is resistance and breath in its repetition will go on. Most of all he reminds us that passing is not always possible, desirable or wanted. It is understanding felt in ligament, muscle, bone and flesh, in breath, the inevitable slow movement of resistance. Sissy will not pass.
Eulogy for Sissy (Two): Survival as Legacy
by Catherine Silverstone
The Sissy’s Progress (<—2014—2016—>) – a combination of dance-theatre and walking performance – was performed in seven cities in England and Northern Ireland. The performance is remarkable for how it transmuted a violent homophobic assault on its creator and performer of the titular Sissy – Nando Messias – into performance, what it offered its spectators, and its legacy. The Sissy’s Progress stretches backwards and forwards beyond the time of its performances and also pushes beyond this dazzling, destructive ending of sorts in Where 4 Roads Meet: Death and the Sissy. In the face of violence and death, The Sissy’s Progress offers an object lesson in survival. This is all the more pressing given historical and continued violence against queers. In particular, queer (and other) men self-described or perceived as effeminate or sissies, have been (and still are) targets of abuse both inside and outside of queer cultures.
In eulogising The Sissy’s Progress, which I experienced at Toynbee Studios in 2016, I’m drawn to flashes of the performance that light up its moments of exquisitely crafted images and movements, triumph, and violence, especially as these elements push up against each other. I remember Sissy’s body offered for visual consumption, presented semi-naked with taut dorsal musculature glimmering in the light of a flare, subsequently dressed in a ball-gown by suited men, as if a puppet. I remember the force of external pressures on Sissy in the theatre, felt through voiceovers (‘she’s ridiculous’, ‘she’s horrendous’, ‘she’s horrific’), Sissy’s shuddering, and the controlling actions of the suited on-stage performer-musicians. I remember Sissy claiming the streets: swaying walk, resplendent in ball-gown and heels, and trailing balloons, an upbeat (at this stage) marching band, and an audience, most likely of allies. I remember the triumphal start to the collective march punctured with ‘shut the fuck up’ and other insults from some of those it passed. I remember physical violence transformed into the discordant music of the band, the use of instruments and bodies to intimidate and jostle Sissy, and the conductor popping the balloons and dousing Sissy with water. I remember wanting to do something to challenge or stop the violence, and to support Sissy/Nando in its aftermath, and doing nothing, immobilised by the conventions of performance. I remember Sissy getting up from the assault, moving away from the site of injury, the everyday sounds of sirens and traffic from the city filling the night air. I remember following Sissy back into the theatre before elements of earlier images and movements were replayed with a difference; this time as the flare burnt down, Sissy turned to face the audience, eyes up, a luminous testament to survival that both remembers and challenges homophobic violence.
It is commonplace in eulogies and obituaries to acknowledge those who survive the deceased (X is survived by…). This convention is stretched a little here, concomitant with the knowledge that some who fall into the (sometimes overlapping and inexhaustive) list of groups I name below may not have survived, or have had their survival compromised, due to homophobic (and other) violence.
The Sissy’s Progress is survived by: all who self-identify or are named by others as sissies; all who have been subject to homophobic violence and/or who live under its threat; all who see the particular streets of a given performance (and all streets) differently, as sites of potential violence and solidarity; and all who have been prompted by the performance (either as an audience member, consumer of its documentation, or inadvertent observer) to challenge homophobic violence. It’s survived by Musical Director Jordan Hunt and the performer-musicians (Michael Harding, Guido Spannocchi, Mitsuo Nakamura, and, variously, James Field, Ashley Alan Harper, James Larter, and Huw Evans), who slipped between being Sissy’s supporters and abusers to triumphal and devastating effect. It’s survived by all its supporters – materially and creatively – who enabled the performance to reach as many audiences and locations as possible. It’s survived by its digital and material traces in advertisements, programme notes, listings, interviews, artist website, Nando’s writing, images, videos, (numerous positive) reviews, articles, blogs, and social media posts, and, also, this eulogy, creating a dispersed archive for current and future S/sissy explorers. Importantly, as Nando mourns the passing of Sissy, The Sissy’s Progress is survived by Nando, excavator of homophobic violence and forensic choreographer and performer. This litany of positive legacies is, though, also shadowed by the survival of homophobia, evident locally in the abusive calls and actions in the street-walking portion of the performance in each of its iterations and, globally, in homophobic violence and laws. In the wake of violence, The Sissy’s Progress takes survival as axiomatic; it is a condition of its existence and the sign of its legacy.
Euology for Sissy (Three)
by Lois Keidan
Who will miss them?
They won’t be missed by those who thought of them as a
big girl’s blouse
But they will be missed by those who saw them as
And they will be missed by me.
Obituary for Sissy
by Ruth McCarthy
I don’t know what I’m allowed to say about him.
Are we allowed to talk about this?
“How to Write an Obituary
- Announcement of Death. Begin with the name, age, and place of residence of the deceased, along with the time and place of death.”
The Sissy is dead.
We aren’t supposed to talk about you out loud. You were always just a whisper, a stifled snigger at the bus stop. A discreet corrective dig in the shoulder from the mother of someone who should know better than to laugh at those who “can’t help being that way”.
All the films said you would die alone. And you did, in your own chosen moment, folding away the dress someone else had picked for you to wear a long time ago.
“2. Biographical Sketch. Sketch is the key word here.”
Even as a child he had hands like painted shovels.
By the age of four he was very fond of taffeta, less fond of larger dogs and older boys.
An untidy giveaway sibilant “s”, tucked back in neatly by kindly therapist Dr Harvey, second cousin to your mother. Though little could be done about the legs “skinnier than anything on a bird”.
You slept with the light on, an expert in angling for another story and another story and another story until you were too leaden with tiredness to feel alone and afraid.
Your school uniform never felt ample enough, missing yards and yards to swirl or hide in.
“3. Make sure that you are honouring the person’s life instead of focusing on his death.”
The Sissy was an excellent teacher, if somewhat initially resistant to the profession.
You taught us what we should keep hidden. To conceal ourselves in crowds with a knowing roll of the eyes when you skipped by. You taught us how to silence our own humiliation with barking that deafened you, how to harbour our hatred of women in the blatantly ridiculous and evidently punch-able.
He had a natural flare for the creative arts, first treading the boards in his teens and building a somewhat necessary career as a performer that lasted right up until his death.
You walked on stage in your sister’s tight blouse, with scraped back hair and soft, full, reddened lips. We all wanted you and wanted not to, straightening ourselves and striding emphatically to the bar for something to help us sit with the feeling for just a little longer.
20 years later, HungDaddy4U will call you a “f*cking pansy” on Grindr and remind you that he said “no femmes”.
“4. Remember those three words you thought would best describe the person.”
Disquieting. Vulnerable. Radiant.
“5. Make sure that your thoughts are clearly communicated.”
Are we allowed to talk about this?
Nando Messias’ work straddles performance art, dance and theatre. His performances combine beautiful images with a fierce critique of gender, visibility and violence. Nando’s Sissy trilogy has toured nationally and internationally to great acclaim. His latest performance, Where 4 Roads Meet: Death and the Sissy marks the culmination of his Sissy work.