A Guide To Creating A Bunny

Photo: Bernie Ng

Photo: Bernie Ng

As I walk into the Experimental Theater at Abrons, Luke George is busy completing an intricate system of knotted rope that would, only moments later, suspend Daniel Kok in mid air.

The stage is the kind of mix of neon and pastel that kids shows in the 90’s loved. A smattering of household items are spread across the perimeter of the stage: a few pillows, a fan, a candy-colored CD player, and, right in front of my feet, two felt green bunny figures. And everything is tied up. Completely contained in intricately woven neon cages.

Kok is wrapped around his rib cage, around his pelvis, his feet are tied, his hands are bound behind his back. George redistributes the ratio of rope connecting his hands and feet through a pulley system linked to the truss and Kok lifts off the ground, suspended parallel to the floor. George gives the rope near his shoulders a push and Kok begins to spin. He closes his eyes. There he is, spinning. The audience watches him like a specimen in a science experiment. We can see the ropes tied here and here, but how is the weight distributed? Which parts of his body are taking the brunt of the pressure? For how long will he spin?

As the spinning continues I begin to notice my fellow audience members. The demographic skews largely male (I’m talking like a 5 to 1 ratio, if that) and many seem to know each other. Three men sit affectionately toboggan style, arms wrapping each other from behind; some wave across the theater space at one another. And, of course, the aesthetic of the audience skews alt: lots of tattoos, platform shoes, tattered shirts, undercut haircuts.

I find myself assuming that the audience is largely comprised of people who are at least tangentially familiar with BDSM culture. Maybe they, like me, spend every Tuesday morning listening to The Savage Lovecast, follow some sex-positive kinksters on Instagram (see @cam_damage for some rope play beauty), have dipped toes but never fully immersed, and totally hate 50 Shades of Grey (really, I promise I do). I also assume there are some veterans present. At least a few who frequent BDSM sex parties. Who have tied and been tied in private as we are now seeing in public. But you know what they say about assumptions! Side bar: thinking about that saying in this context gives it a whole new sexual context. That’s fun.

The one thing I in my knowledge-by-Dan-Savage-proxy feel 100% sure about is the prioritization of consent and mutual pleasure in any BDSM-style environment. You tell each other what you want, openly and without shame, and then you work to be GGG and give it to each other.

Given that the premise of the show is to turn the audience into a bunny (the sub, the one being tied up) we, the audience, have at least a general level of participation buy-in. We want to be the bunny but we don’t know how that will happen. What power structures will George and Kok deconstruct to turn the objectified performers into the doms?

And with that buy-in I trade a pretty high level of trust. If this performance is true to BDSM culture, consent will be a part of it.

I assume.

Photo: Chris Frape

Photo: Chris Frape

A Guide To Creating A Bunny

Step 1: Get the audience involved.

George: We should keep him spinning.

Audience: Okay!

Audience members diligently stand up and give Kok a push to keep him spinning whenever he slows.

George: Untie him.

Audience: Okay!

An audience member stands up, and, at George’s instruction, redistributes Kok’s rope so that he is on his feet. As he begins the arduous work of untying George’s system of knots, he seems to get flustered. Things don’t go great. Another man from the audience takes over. Kok is untied.

Step 2: Tie the audience up.

In gradually increasing levels of boundness, George gives a few audience members their own harnesses. Most are limited to connecting wrists to chests: binds the audience members can’t undo alone, but can be done without asking them to move much.

Next, he binds a man from head to foot and covers his eyes, then asks an audience member to walk him around the space. The man parades/is paraded around the stage while only barely in control of the tiny steps he takes, legs only able to move a few inches at a time.

Step 3: Spank the audience.

Kok approaches a young woman in the audience (full disclosure: the woman is my friend and attended the performance with me) and begins to cradle her. He ties her wrists and ankles so that she stays in a kind of fetal position. They remain in that position – cradler/cradle-ee – for a few minutes. His face is close to hers and it looks like he is whispering in her ear (I learn later that he is saying, “if you want me to stop just shake your head.”). And then he spanks her. First relatively lightly, then twice more with increasing force.

After the three spanks, he places her head on a pillow, takes her wallet out of her purse, places each item in a consecutive row across the stage, and hands two $20 bills to audience members.

Step 4: Watch us dance.

While I am a firm believer that dance pieces don’t need a requisite “dance section,” this one did have one. George and Kok dance in unison to electronic club music. Their choreography often references vogueing, though I am not well enough versed in the form to comment on the accuracy or execution of this reference (is it vogueing? An impersonation of vogueing? A riff?).

It doesn’t last very long. It’s kind of a catharsis but also kind of confusing. The flipped power dynamics of sub:audience dom:performers don’t feel particularly clear in this moment. While I think an obvious conclusion could be that George and Kok are RECLAIMING THEIR POWER IN PERFORMANCE as we sit tied up, forced to watch them, I don’t feel reclamation happening.

The whole performance left me confused. I’ve been confused about it for the few interminable weeks. The spanking was huge. It really took me to a different place. I had been very trusting of George and Kok; I hadn’t imagined a scenario in which I would feel worried about being violated. But I was after the spanking. I was worried about my friend as she lay, post-spanking, gently bound and resting on a pillow in the middle of the stage for 20 minutes. I was angry at George and Kok for violating the trust I had given them. Without realizing it, I had drawn a hard line regarding what is and is not acceptable in performance. I’m not sure if that was a boundary I needed to have broken in order to become a more open minded and accepting witness to the form of performance and to those who perform, or it it is a line I still observe.

I asked my friend after the show if Kok had asked if he could spank her before doing so. She said, “No but he told me that if I wanted him to stop he would.” She said that she had enjoyed it. That she felt very safe with him. But verbally giving someone permission to tell you to stop doing something they may not want done to them is not consent, especially when you take into consideration the complex power dynamics: An audience member seated and viewing/consuming a performance may have power, but when pulled on stage by a performer and watched by that same audience, that audience member is under the influence of a huge matrix of social, cultural, and situational pressures to comply or partake in scenarios outside of their control.

But she enjoyed it! She liked what was happening. She didn’t want it to stop. So is it okay? Would it only have been problematic if my friend had had a problem with it? I love that a performance is forcing me to ask myself these questions. I love that it is not giving me an answer. I’m not sure if that validates what happened.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: