RE/MEMBERING THE MIRROR: Reflections on Cats, Frankenstein, & the Release of 1989 (TV)

ACT 1 Prologue:

I was running late for my first ballet performance at Lyric Opera House, even though I bought a ticket to see The Joffrey Ballet perform Frankenstein‘ a month earlier. Shuffling through plastic storage containers, I managed to piece together various articles of clothing before sitting down before my mirror. The mirror was resting on the floor, also. Its back was straight, yet tilted against the wall. To myself, I wondered, how does the act of getting dressed re/semble the act of constructing a disco ball? Acknowledging my reflection, I noticed that my left leg was bent at the knee, my right leg  fully extended. My tights were black and cinched at the waist, held in place by cobalt underwear.

Time was rotating through space like a film reel. I had to get my act together. I had to speed things up. I leaned forward, painted my eyelids green, and drew on my cat eyes. Sub/sequently, I re/membered the fixations of my seven-year-old self. More specifically, the spell placed on me by the English ballerina Phyllida Crowley Smith (Victoria), in the 1998 film adaptation of Cats. I re/wound and re/watched my VHS copy repetitively as a child, enchanted by her silent, delicate danceI re/call trying to mimic her movements, much like that of a “mirrorball.

To you, I ask: How do we re/member? How do we embody seemingly dis/embodied narratives?

Stills from the performance of ‘Memory,’ in Cats [1998] directed by David Mallet, adapted from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical CATS [1981], adapted from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats [1939]

There is a version of Victoria [The White Kitten] that exists in the blank spaces of my psyche, dis/membered from ‘Memory,’ sung primarily by Elaine Page [Grizabella, The Glamour Cat], in the same adaptation of that 1998 film. The associated feeling, in my mind, is paired with the word “funeral.” And still, the connective tissue that links the themes and archetypes illustrated in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. to the lyrical analysis of Taylor Swift’s “mirrorball,” creates [ ] spaces for the re/membering or re/animation of their dormant lives, within the forgotten spaces, that disrupt my sense of continuity in narrative.

They say that cats always land on their feet – that they have nine lives. While typing this out, I tried to re/member some stories from when I was nine. Instead, I found myself distracted by my kitten, who is black and white, and who nips at my ankles.

I grappled with how to re/member the [ ] space.

To you, I ask:

How is time, perhaps, like a VHS tape? How are we, perhaps, like VHS players?

That was before, this is now:

Stills from “Blank Space,” by Taylor Swift on YouTube

Scene 1: 

On Sunday, October 22, 2023, I am in an Uber. Fully dressed and ready for the ballet. “Blank Space,” by Taylor Swift comes on the radio minutes before I arrive. I step out of the car, feeling more like Shelley’s “monster,” and less like Victoria. I shuffle the sidewalk in clunky doc martens, through the Opera House door, and onto the red carpet. I am excited to meet the “monster” in the flesh, but I am ten minutes late, and have to watch the first act from the upper balcony. Only after the first intermission will I be allowed to claim my seat up close. While my view of the birth of the “monster” is obscured, I still feel its presence. 

Scene 2 [Intermission]:

I rush downstairs with my program in hand. A brass clock that looks like a large organ lets out a deep-bellied chime. I weave my way through swarms of people, taking mental notes of my fellow “monsters” masquerading through the crowd. I wonder if they feel the same way I do. I wonder how well we blend in. I wonder if we go unnoticed. I ask an usher to direct me to my seat. When I arrive near my row, I notice that there are less people dressed in patchwork, black, and green. I point at my seat, declaring it mine. The person beside it removes a leopard print fur. I sit down and wait for the performance to continue. 

Scene 3: 

Gripping my program, still, I watch Victor Frankenstein toss and turn in sleep. I watch the “monster,” perch behind a tree in a near-fetal position. The “monster” watches Victor, then other performers, from a distance. The “monster” then emerges from behind the tree, to dance with a young child, who is blind folded. The blindfold is removed and the child screams. The “monster” reacts and kills the child. Another performer is blamed and executed.

Scene 4 [Intermission]:

I rush to the bathroom on the first floor but the line is far too long. I ask a person at a desk for assistance, who assures me all the lines will be. I look for a shorter one myself, and find it down some forgotten corridor. I rush back downstairs and approach a kiosk selling drinks. I think of Taylor Swift’s “champagne problems,” and decide that I can’t justify the price. I already spent far too much on entry.

Scene 5 

I watch the ballroom dance held at Frankenstein Manor. I notice that I have been gripping my program the entire time. The “monster” weaves through the crowd, engaged in a collaborative dance. I try to keep my eye on the “monster,” but their costumes mesh. My vision is obscured, once again, but I do not lose sight of the “monster’s” presence. Nor does Victor Frankenstein. Other performers die by the hands of the “monster.” The ballet ends when Victor takes his own life, when the “monster” cradles the creator, with open arms. The stage goes up in flames.

Stills from “Behind the Scenes I ‘Frankenstein’ Photoshoot,” by The Joffrey Ballet on YouTube

ACT 2 Prologue:

I grappled with the [ ] space as I prepared to transition out of the Opera House.

To you, I ask: How do we, through re/adaptation, re/script our lives?

That was before, this is now:

Scene 1 [Interlude]:

The voices in the audience begin to raise. They carry like a soft roar, and then fade, as crowds of “monster” viewers exit stage. A voice calls out from behind my seat, almost as if from behind a curtain. “Did you enjoy the show,” I ask. The voice responds, nervously. “It was – very well done, but — weird,” the voice pauses, “I’m looking forward to the Nutcracker. That one’s happy and pretty.”

Scene 2 [Interlude]:

I shuffle out to the main hall and wait in line behind the gender-neutral restroom. A voice beside me speaks. “Did you enjoy the show,” I ask. The voice responds, passionately. “Yyyyes,” the voice echoes, “it really paints a picture of what it’s like to be rejected by one’s creator.” There is a feeling of familiarity floating in the [ ] space. “It felt like a silent film,” I say. “Exactly,” the voice chimes in.

Scene 3 [Interlude]:

I shuffle onto the bus, gripping my program, still. A voice calls out before me. “You were at the ballet too,” the voice asks. “Yes,” I smile. “Did you enjoy the show,” I ask. The voice responds, smiling too. “Oh yes,” the voice continues. I notice how our scarves parallel one another across the [ ] space. I wonder if their scarf kept them warm, as mine had. More serious now, the voice states, “my interpretation was that it’s a shame.” The voice pauses, “I don’t think the ‘monster’ meant to hurt those people. It’s a shame the ‘monster’s’ creator wasn’t able to embrace the ‘monster’ or give the ‘monster’ tools to self-actualize.” “It almost felt like a silent film,” I repeat. The voice agreed.

Stills from “Shake it Off,” by Taylor Swift on YouTube

ACT 3 Prologue:

I grappled with the [ ] space, again. I tried to shake it off.

To you, I ask: How do we, through r/e/motion, find a warm embrace?

That was before, this is now.

Scene 1

I meet up with a friend I met in school and we decide to take a trip to Boystown, for Taylor Swift Night, at Roscoe’s. We wait for drinks at the bar, on arrival, and catch up for a while. Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” music video plays on a nearby screen. Ballerinas, from the 1989 era, dance in the background.

Scene 2

My friend and I approach the dance floor. Our eyes screen the crowd. There is a sea of people dancing beneath pink, purple, and blue strobe lights. A disco ball hangs high above our heads. A feeling of familiarity washes over me. Multi-era music plays in the background. People dance and sing. Guided by Taylor Swift’s voice, people settle into a comfortable rhythm. 

Scene 3 

My friend and I make our way to the dance floor. We dance a bit and continue to catch up for a while. Two people approach us. One of them makes a gesture at a nearby wooden platform. “We love to see queens on stage,” they say. “Well, my name is Taylor” I laugh. “Taylor, Taylor, Taylor,” get up there, they reply. “I’m waiting on my friend,” I state, “when she’s ready, I will join her.” I talk with the other person for a while. We share where we are from and how we ended up here. “It’s good to have good friends,” I say. They nod silently – a gesture that makes me feel seen.  

Scene 4 [Enter Left Stage]

I turn to my friend, dancing. “You have memories on this stage,” I say, “so when you’re ready to get up there, just let me know. Even if I don’t know the song you pick, I will follow your choreography and try my best to sing along.” We laugh together. “Bad Blood,” starts to blare through the speakers. The other two try to pull us up on stage. I turn my head to my friend. They pull her up first. They turn to me and lift me up too. We move together as a string quartet. Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” [Lover era] comes on next. We innately decide it is time to share the stage.

Scene 5 [Exit Right Stage]

We dance the night away to various other songs from Swift’s 1989 era [“Blank Space” and “Shake it Off,” included], and beyond. The “mirrorball” [folklore era] continues to glisten above our heads, well after we leave. We end the night by sharing stories over coffee and breakfast at iHop, well after midnight.

That was before, and this is now…

To you, I ask: How are we, all, embodied texts, linked or embedded, with memory or reference?

Author's Note
October 27, 2023

On May 26, 2023, TIME published an article, titled, “Why You Can’t Remember That Taylor Swift Concert All Too Well.” The article highlights a phenomenon, colloquially referred to as “post-concert amnesia,” that appears to be linked to The Eras Tour. NBC Chicago covered this topic in their own article, in June.

Today’s date is October 27, 2023. It just so happens to be the same date as the release of 1989 (Taylor’s Version).

I worked on this piece in small intervals throughout the week. When I arrived home last night, on the eve of the re/release, a cardboard box was waiting for me by the door. I stood in the hallway as I carefully unboxed a vinyl copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Prior to the arrival of this package, I tried to locate this particular version in Chicago, but, without much luck or success.

I went so far as to call Bucket O’Blood Books & Records a few weeks back. When I asked for this particular album, pressed by Green Line Records in 1989, I was encouraged to look online at Discogs. They had newer versions, they expressed, but not the one I was looking for. Through conversation, I noted the album’s obscurity in regards to current circulation.

After sitting with the album and the memory of phone calls, I watched the re/make of Cats [2019] with a friend. Taylor Swift is in that version. She stars as the character, Bombalurina

Both performances of ‘Memory,’ then and now, move me to tears.

My name is Taylor and I was born in 1993.

Taylor A. Chamberlain

Taylor A. Chamberlain (she/they) is a queer artist, writer, and "mad woman." They graduated from School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) with a Master of Arts in Art Therapy & Counseling (MAATC) degree in 2022. Taylor is a firm believer in the transformative power of narrative storytelling, and how the stories we tell ultimately shape the ways in which we perceive ourselves, and, our world. Looking to connect? Take a step further and follow Taylor over at: instagram.com/taychamb and instagram.com/chamber_lens.

Taylor A. Chamberlain

Taylor A. Chamberlain (she/they) is a queer artist, writer, and "mad woman." They graduated from School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) with a Master of Arts in Art Therapy & Counseling (MAATC) degree in 2022. Taylor is a firm believer in the transformative power of narrative storytelling, and how the stories we tell ultimately shape the ways in which we perceive ourselves, and, our world. Looking to connect? Take a step further and follow Taylor over at: instagram.com/taychamb and instagram.com/chamber_lens.

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