Two Shots of Whiskey, or Dealing with the After Effects of a Performance

By Amber Lee

Being an organizer and a performer, my position at shows and festivals is almost always behind the scenes. It’s a position I like because there’s an element of performance that transcends the time spent in front of the audience. I’m not saying that the preparation, or more notably here, the after effects are more important than the performance themselves. What I mean is that these moments have a quality to them that I enjoy more than the show. In the after effects of a performance, especially a physical or body-based performance, there is a quality of truth that comes from a revelation of yourself. This revelation comes in two parts, or should I say two shots.

1. Bartender, what the hell am I doing?

Inevitably, the first revelation a performer has after the adrenaline of the audience wears off will be something to the effect of “Ouch. Ow. Ow. Dear God, get this fish hook out of my thigh”. During performances I personally have been cut with barbed wire, burned by candle wax, sloughed my skin with sandpaper until it bled, and been branded. Twice. All of these, during the performance seemed hardly painful at all, but when my time was up, and the audiences focus somewhere else, I was left bleeding, bruised or burned. That’s something you have to think about—and not only on a physical level, although, let me tell you, there’s no magical performance salve that makes the scars go away. Your performance doesn’t end when you leave the space. In addition to the scarring or pain, there’s a mental mind fuck that comes from purposely harming yourself. While you were planning the performance, and during it, this was an art piece, a message, a statement you wanted to make. But, when you’re on the train and you see people’s eyes avoiding the cuts on your arms and legs and you feel the urge to cover yourself or lower your eyes, you start to question yourself. And rightly so. You start to ask yourself why you chose this as the best way to convey your message. What distinguishes you from the teenager cutting her arms for attention? The big question is, if it’s done in the name of art, does that cancel out the self-destruction? And bartender, make mine a double.

Don’t be fooled, though. Those whiskey shots you see us knocking back after the show aren’t just numbing agents. Oh, no. We’re not just drowning dark thoughts, we’re celebrating. Because, after we realize our questionable morals, we realize something else.


Amber Lee performing precariously with barbed wire. Photo by Jill McDermid

2. Tonight we drink among the GODS!

Oh yes. We are invincible. The thing about doing a physically tasking performance is that when you’re finished, you are still alive. Not only that, you’re more alive. Most people avoid pain or discomfort of any sort, and that’s a big reason that most people are happy in static lives. They would rather stay safely in place than venture out where they could be hurt. But, during our performances where we test the limits of our bodies, or simply play on the edges of physical distress, we are taking our lives into our own hands. We’re proving ourselves. To make this less metaphorical, there’s an adrenaline rush that comes when we survive a traumatic event. This happens on a smaller scale after a hard performance. And mentally, you feel as if you’ve accomplished something.