Q&A with James Jay
What inspired you to create "The Animated Blake"?
About five years ago [in 1994], I was thinking about everyday props that could be used in a juggling show. I conceived of book juggling, and made a prop book from an old textbook, but it sat on my shelf for several years.
For some reason, I finally started working with it. I made some more, experimenting with the cover texture, etc. And while I had anticipated using primarily plate flourishing tricks and a few cigar box moves, I discovered that the books presented some unique tricks of their own.
In coming up with a character to perform the book tricks, my natural inclination was that the book represented The Word, and that a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher was most interesting. It went completely contrary to the mimed character I had used previously, and to my own personality so it was perfect! This humble mime would be saved by the Word!
The hellfire aesthetic led me to look back at the William Blake poetry I had read in college, which seemed a natural connection. I performed "Then fell the fires of eternity..." as an introduction to a fire-juggling finale in a street show. The idea of an entire Blake show occurred to me, but I dismissed it until...
Why are you performing this show in the Fringe Festival?
It all started in Edinburgh. I was attending the European Juggling Convention last August, and took in some shows in the (original) Fringe Festival. I performed my short "Night the Ninth" book manipulation routine at the Convention; an Italian who'd studied Blake in London talked with me afterward, pointing me to the Blake music by Jah Wobble. This conversation, Ennio Marchetto's paper-costume "drag" show at the Fringe, and a convergence of several other factors led me to envision that enough variety of presentation was possible to create a whole show of Blake poetry that didn't put people to sleep.
Since I was in the midst of the Fringe Festival when these ideas coalesced, it naturally became part of the equation.
Where does the Fringe-religion angle come from?
I grew up as a Mennonite; Blake grew up as a Dissenter. Marginal religious groups are on the fringes of society by choice: "Be ye not of this world." Blake's art incorporates this ideal of otherwordliness fantastically.
Although I still distance myself from mainstream society to a degree, my engagement with fringe elements is a little more vicarious: I collect religious tracts and marvel at how strong convictions can carry artwork beyond the realm of the aesthetic, or even beyond the realm of art.
Is the show religious or sacrilegious?
Though William Blake despised most facets of established, organized religion, he was extremely spiritual. Many of his texts came directly from conversations with spirits. Though he claimed "All Natural Religions Are One," his world revolved around the Christian Bible.
I may emphasize some of the more radical elements of Blake's thinking (because I find them more dramatic), but I want to be true to Blake's vision which is both blasphemous and utterly religious.
Is there a message?
There is no one message. I hope that everyone can take away something of their own from the show, if only a smile or smirk. A couple of the guiding mantras in my mind while making the piece were:
- Religion is too important to be taken seriously.
- Good and evil are not so black and white.
Do you hear a lot of bad jokes about juggling the books?
Yes. Don't go there. It's not relevant: my angle is "manipulating The Word."
James Jay, creator/performer, firstname.lastname@example.org