- Never TellNicole Blackman's The Courtesan Tales
We descend the stairs of P.S. 122 in New York's East Village into a rose-scented den of drugstore-goth iniquity. Draped in black and crimson, the basement room is filled with plush cushions, decorated with gauche fake roses, and dimly lit with red bulbs and candles. "May I offer you strawberries or cake?" a beautiful dark-haired woman asks softly. She's wearing a revealing-though not overly so-black lace dress. Nikki regards her and Steve's ordinary street clothes, wondering if they should have dressed for the occasion.
The strawberries are accepted.
The woman offers a selection of stories, including "The Kiss," "The Forest," "The Dinner," and, for those 21 and older (proof of I.D. required), "The Chateau." Each story is suited for a particular mood-some are sweet, some magical. "The Chateau" is erotic and "a little disturbing."
"Well, which one of us shall have 'The Chateau'?"
The woman decides for us, offering "The Dinner" to Steve and "The Chateau" to Nikki. She explains that though we are not allowed to speak of the stories to each other, or to anyone else, we will understand her suggestion after hearing the stories. We are instructed to relax as we await our turn with "The Courtesan." Nervously, we sink into the red cushions. The music in the background is Gregorian chant over a techno-beat, adding a club feel to the otherwise overdone boudoir setting. This is not your grandfather's bordello-though the two middle-aged men also waiting for their stories might suggest otherwise.
The Courtesan Tales first opened in New York City in Fall 2002. Advertised as "theatre of the senses," Nicole Blackman, creator and Courtesan, describes them as specifically "radio theatre for the senses" (in Singer 2004), emphasizing the aural aspect of the performance: "The Courtesan Tales is a strange hybrid. [...] The stories each use touch, taste, sound, smell, and lots of imagination. They're mostly whispered into the ear, and they evolve around you" (in Singer 2004).
Blackman has performed the tales at "performance art events, absinthe parties, and S&M parties in New York and LA," as well as abroad at the Fierce Festival in Birmingham, England, to the delight of Annie Sprinkle and Candida Royalle (Blackman 2004). This is the second coming of the Tales at NYC's P.S. 122.
Nikki's Story:"The Chateau"
I hesitate before going through the curtain. "Will you tell us why you offered the stories to each of us as you did?" The hostess smiles, "You'll know."
The black-curtained path to the storytelling chamber is confusing, though not long. I come to a darkened room where a wooden rocking chair rests on a small platform. There is a cheap black satin blindfold on its seat and a leather strap attached to each arm. I can still hear the techno-inclined music (though later, when [End Page 107] the tracks change abruptly in the middle of the story, I wish this had been better orchestrated).
I sit in the wooden rocking chair, slip the blindfold over my eyes, as per the hostess's instructions, and experience the first moments of true anxiety. Yet I'm excited about the erotic possibilities of my tale. Unable to relax into the curve of the chair's back, I sit stiffly, holding up the card with the name of the story I've selected and wait for Blackman to enter.
When the card is plucked from my hand I start slightly. Blackman is so silent I don't hear the warning of her step.
I feel Blackman's soft hands strap my arms to the chair. Blackman's femininity, marked by her "softness," is intrinsic to this performance. By playing the role of "Courtesan," she is also participating in a specifically heterosexual interaction with her "client," regardless of their sex. At Blackman's touch, my breathing quickens, and, though the straps are not tight, my anxiety heightens. Still I'm confident that, no matter how "erotic" or "disturbing" "The Chateau" may be, it is still a...