Last year, in Gemma Wilcox's one-woman show, The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over, the Boulder-based performance artist emulated a chicken, a saxophone and a fire. For that final imitation a visual highlight of the show she whipped her body about, to flicker like a flame.
Makes you wonder what she'll do as a plant and a lobster, among 20 or so other new characters, when she returns to the Manitou Art Theatre to perform the show's sequel, Shadows in Bloom.
For those who didn't catch Honeymoon, not to worry. That show was also a sequel: parts two and three of a four-part series chronicling the exploits of Wilcox's alter ego, Sandra. The whole story line stems from Wilcox's own marriage and divorce, and each individual chapter operates as a stand-alone play.
In this final chapter, the audience will find Sandra in a post-divorce relationship with the single father of an 8-year-old girl. Wilcox says the show's about Sandra's subconscious. In fact, Wilcox segues into subconscious imagery by slowing the tempo and changing the lighting, then enacting what Sandra really wants to do.
"We see these lurking shadow moments that we try to suppress," says Wilcox. "It's definitely darker, sometimes funny, sometimes a little more grotesque. In a certain way, [the subconscious digressions] try to inform her of what she really wants.
"You may see her start to strangle the 8-year-old girl," she adds. "It's quite a dark moment. Then you realize it's just an unconscious thought."
More difficult than Shadow's staging was its writing. After performing it at the Boulder Fringe Festival in 2007, Wilcox says, she was unhappy: "There were some things I was going through that I was trying to write in the play."
When she began rewriting in March 2008, just shy of her 30th birthday, Wilcox said she allowed Sandra to be a different character, ultimately adding more fiction to what began as an autobiographical piece. But her fingerprints remain all over the characters; she notes that the young girl is based on her experiences as the child of a single father.
All this imparts an authenticity that gives audiences the sense that they're peeking in on something private. And, really, they are: Wilcox says it's during three-hour-long baths, accompanied by a pen and notepad, that she records feelings and images that she builds into her work.
"I'll look at things around me that are particularly triggering to me in my life," says the artist, who's originally from London. "People that I'm having a difficult time with, people that I'm jealous of, or that I'm scared [of], or that I particularly love or am attracted to."
Wilcox then enters her studio space a room in a friend's home, which she rents in exchange for tickets to her shows "with a need to explore things with my body." Story elements get added in the process. Wilcox's aunt and uncle ended up on a farm with chickens in Honeymoon, for example.
"They don't have chickens and they don't live on a farm, but the essence of that aunt and uncle are complete in that setting," says Wilcox.
She says she works her way into identifying such essences the same way she identifies the first feelings and images: with some time and relaxation.
"It takes distance to know what's stuck with me and know what's still there. There's something about time and space and being able to stop from the crazy physical moment and see what's still with me and what still needs to be said."
Lucky for audiences, sometimes it takes 20 amusing characters to say it.