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Make Some Noise
Here's the outline for a haptic dance party. My stage adaptation of the 2004 film "It's All Gone Pete Tong" - the legend of a DJ who loses his hearing and forges a new type of sound.
When a famous DJ loses his hearing, he has to shut down his pity party, break free of his old life, and learn to experience the world in a whole new way as a deaf person. In doing so, he changes dance music forever by pioneering a radically original sound: music you can see and feel.
This is immersive theatre designed to be staged in nightclubs or festival tents. The audience is there for a multi-sensory experience. The show makes it possible and delightful to dance from start to finish. The story is told in a way that helps the audience feel what it’s like to become deaf alongside the main character - and discover new ways of hearing.
Make Some Noise
The Legend of DJ Frankie Wilde.
Outside the nightclub, light boxes feature posters of the notorious genius DJ Frankie Wilde. Inside, Frankie Wilde merchandise is for sale. It’s all very tacky. The audience is presented with commercial dance party props - like glow-sticks - by staff. An overly friendly woman wanders about offering samples of ‘DJ Hummus’ with baby carrots on the side. She turns out to be Frankie’s wife, Sonya.
The DJ as God: the opening of Frankie’s residency
Limited Awareness of Problem
Music. DJ Frankie Wilde presents himself as the saviour of dancekind - descending from on high in Jesus wear – complete with the loincloth and crown of thorns. Frankie brings his own special twist to the outfit: his trademark flip-flops. He grinds to a halt in mid-air. He wrestles with his harness, unclips himself and tumbles to earth in a heap. Is he injured? No. Frankie leaps up behind the decks, bottle of scotch in one hand and a disc in the other. He drops a fresh beat. The man is a megastar. He urges the crowd to make some noise. We do. He goads us:
I can’t hear you! I said, make some noise.
Extremely prominent throughout is Penelope - an ASL interpreter who describes the show from the side of the stage. Her sign interpretation is sensual, dynamic and compelling - it’s like a dance in itself - but she doesn’t seem like an official member of the cast. We assume she’s a professional interpreter who has been included by the show’s producers to make the event accessible to audience members who can’t hear.
During Frankie’s set, Penelope stands beside a throbbing speaker stack. She puts her hands to it, and presses her body against it, so she can feel the vibrations and describe them.
The Best Ears in the Business
The party keeps going backstage, where Frankie DJs as reporters and VIPs converge around him. Manager Max tries to get a clear answer about the progress of Frankie’s eagerly anticipated new album. The ink’s just dried on the recording deal of century, and expectations are sky-high for the first original music from the chart-topping remixer. Max wants to know the egg-laying schedule of his golden goose. Frankie promises that he’s ‘working on it’. Sonya turns up to report on the success of her DJ Hummus market testing. She asks for cash for a full scale production run, and proposes an attractive woman from the crowd as a mutual bedfellow. We realise that something’s wrong with Frankie. Behind his charming mask of scotch and coked-up banter, the man with the best ears in the business struggles to hear.
Facing the Music
Increased Awareness and Need for Change
Frankie realizes something may be wrong with his hearing during a recording session in his home studio with a heavy-metal Krautrock band. He administers a DIY hearing test and gets a dull ringing from one ear, and bugger-all from the other.
Forced to confront the truth or go on a bender, Frankie makes the obvious choice. Or rather, Badger makes the choice for him. Badger is Frankie’s impulsive ID, a life-sized raging party-animal who’s seen only by Frankie and lives only to force-feed his drug habit.
360° of terrible gigs
Fear; Resistance to Change
High, hard-of-hearing and refusing to face the facts, Frankie’s all over the place. His DJing becomes an embarrassing farce, and we boo him offstage.
Loud and clear
Max delivers the news Frankie’s literally incapable of hearing: he needs to get his ears checked.
I heard the news today, oh boy…
Frankie undergoes a series of medical tests, which confirm the heartbreaking diagnosis: total hearing loss is inevitable, and irreversible. Frankie’s given a hearing aid for emergencies only, and advised to retire from DJing and prepare for life as a deaf man.
Frankie’s cries for help fall on deaf ears
Committing to Change
Frankie knows he needs to make a change. But how? A break? Retirement? He loves to DJ and he loves to hear. It seems an impossible choice, so he consults with his wife and manager who try to make it easy for him: He can’t stop DJing. There’s too much money at stake.
Experimenting with New Conditions
Frankie tries to keep working, and complete his album without letting on that he’s deaf. This frustrates the Krautrockers to the point where they flip out, smash a speaker and create a sonic boom that renders Frankie stone deaf.
The silent scream
Preparing for Major Change.
Max and Sonya think their golden goose has stopped laying. They desert him. Frankie’s bereft. He tried not to change. Now change has been thrust on him. He’s left alone with Badger and sinks into a period of self-destructive soul-searching. Badger uses Frankie to test the limits of the human body’s tolerance for cocaine.
Big Change with Feeling of Life and Death.
Frankie spends months alone in his house getting high. In a final act of unlicensed medical research, Badger places a crown of fireworks on Frankie’s head to try and restore his hearing by blowing his deaf ears open. The flickering fuse snaps Frankie out of his funk. He chooses life over death in the form of a desperate dive into his swimming pool. Frankie is forced to end the friendship of a lifetime. He kills Badger.
Frankie experiences a new world of sound through different ears
Accepting Consequences of New Life
Frankie arrives at the door of a school for the deaf, where he meets Penelope – the sign-language interpreter who has been faithfully translating the entire show from the side of the stage. Penelope has the patience and the skill to help Frankie learn to connect with the world through lip reading and ASL. Frankie begins to experience the world in an entirely new (and surprisingly enjoyable) way.
Field trip to the Flamenco Bar
New Challenge and Rededication
Penelope takes Frankie out into the world - to a bar designed to be accessible for deaf people. Frankie is delighted to find that he can use his newfound skills to perform the most important functions of his day-to-day life: ordering drinks and talking shit.
Frankie experiences a sonic epiphany when a Flamenco’s dancer’s rhythmic stomping creates waves of sound in his scotch. Frankie realises that he can SEE sound. Inspired, he goes out into the world and sees music all around him.
Then Penelope takes him to a club, where she encourages Frankie to stand by the speakers and FEEL sound in his body. Wow.
Open Mind, Fresh Ears
Inspired by Penelope, and helped by clever modifications to his sound equipment courtesy of his beloved flip-flops, Frankie’s back in the studio creating audio-visual-haptic music - designed to be experienced primarily through sight and touch.
Deaf DJ Meets World
Final Attempt(s) Last minute Danger
No one’s more surprised than Max to receive a fully-mastered album from DJ Frankie Wilde. He can’t crawl back to Frankie fast enough - it’s the most incredible thing Max has ever heard. This is a pleasant surprise for Frankie, who hasn’t heard it at all. Max’s eyes light up with dollar signs as he realises the commercial potential of a deaf megastar DJ. Sonya’s back too - and she and Max get carried away with plans to launch the Beethoven of dance music into the stratosphere, fuelled on Oprah-juice.
Sucking Deaf Cock
Max believes they’ve got a short window of time to make as much money as possible before the novelty wears off. But Frankie didn’t create the album for novelty reasons. He created the album as a precursor to playing it LIVE. Frankie has plans to reconnect with his faithful fans and introduce them to a totally unique experience: music you can SEE and FEEL. Max thinks playing live is the stupidest idea he’s ever heard. If Frankie wants to do gimmicks, he should at least do profitable ones that can be recorded and distributed worldwide. Max signs endorsement deals, forcing Frankie to promote an energy drink that tastes like ‘bad speed in a can’. By the time Max asks Frankie to don a pair of branded earmuffs and use a sledgehammer to smash a giant ear, Frankie’s had enough. He’s playing his album live, now, or walking away. Max reluctantly calls a press conference.
The Pressure Conference
Frankie launches the audio-only version of his new album to a skeptical press gang who accuse him of faking his condition for commercial gain. He realises that his association with the gimmicky side of the business has torn his credibility to shreds. He doesn’t want his old life anymore. He takes everyone by surprise by announcing that he’ll be playing his new album live. He invites the world to come and experience a whole new approach to sound.
Music You Can See and Feel
The dance music world is thrilled, curious and a bit suspicious as it converges on the club to witness the impossible. They bear witness the moment that changes dance music forever. Frankie’s set is stunning immersive experience the likes of which has never been seen. It combines the best of DJ-driven sound with explosive audio visuals and a whole new dimension: Music you can FEEL. Touchable speakers descend from above, allowing revellers to throw their hands in the air and have the air pulse back, the dance floor vibrates from below. We are presented with lightweight vests that deliver thumping beats directly into our chests. The entire space comes to pulsing, shimmering rhythmic life, as we experience a world-first haptic dance party: music we can SEE and FEEL. Frankie is the king of the dance world.
His earthly task complete, DJ Frankie Wilde takes Penelope by the hand, and the two lovers descend to the dance floor and exit through the middle of the crowd - leaving behind them a club scene forever changed by the Legend of Frankie Wilde.
White Noise in the Green Room: the disappearance of Frankie Wilde
Max and Sonya get it now: this is bigger than they could ever have imagined. Now’s the time to cash in! But Frankie has left their world forever.
Good Vibrations: where are they now
Zigfried and Lars followed through on their promise to go acoustic. They’re now a gypsy fiddle band.
Sonya has started a business selling unlicensed Frankie Wilde themed merchandise - specifically FLIP-FLOPS and BAD SPEED IN A CAN.
Max uses his Frankie Wilde’s credibility to try cold call big time DJs to manage them. Steve Aoki’s certainly taking him seriously…
Penelope and Frankie are teaching kids in a rocking ASL class/ dance party. Everyone’s having a great time. Frankie swigs from a bottle of water and sprays it high into the air. It makes a watery halo. Just like the old Frankie. But sober. Penelope ASL-interprets the beat - just like the old Penelope did for us when we came in.
The show may be over, but The Legend of DJ Frankie Wilde lives on.
THE END? Never. A Guest DJ takes over. The party keeps pumping.
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The Background of the show
I was asked to develop this with and for Gen Cleary at Bellucious Productions. She stages live events around the US and Canada - most notably in Las Vegas, LA and at Burning Man. She also choreographs live productions for Disney. She assembled a great production team from the worlds of music, production and events.
This project ran into two speed bumps: Covid, and the lack of core creative input from anyone with lived experience of deafness.
It inspired me to work directly with Jillian Mercado and Aminder Virdee from the inception of the rom com I’m collaborating on about the relationship between a disabled woman of color and an able bodied dude. No matter what happens with my rom com, my writing, my self and the film will all be richer for having opened myself up to collaborators with life experiences that correspond to what I’m writing about.
Makes sense, right?
Beyond the film, my inspirations for how it feels to watch/participate in this include my time at Shakespeare’s Globe; The Wall - Live in Berlin; the immersive dance theatre show De La Guarda; a version of Euripides The Bacchae that I created with Steven Anthony Whiting just out of drama school; and (most recently) Julius Caesar directed by Nicholas Hytner - which I saw at The Bridge Theatre in London while working on this.
The Hero’s Journey
In italics below some of the scene names you’ll find the relevant step in the archetypical ‘hero’s journey’ so you can follow Frankie’s emotional progress as you read. It helped me map his actions. Many are from the film, but not all, and not necessarily in order. The film was pretty wild!
DJ Frankie Wilde has propelled himself to the top of the dance music world as a freakish wunderkind - in celebrated possession of the best ears in the business. As a DJ, he drops the perfect track on time, every time, and has total command of the crowd. As a chart-topping remixer, Frankie discovers things in a song that the artists who created the song didn’t know was there. But when it comes to self-knowledge, Frankie’s all at sea. He’s oblivious to the severe hearing loss that’s been creeping up on him for years, and his drug habit has metastasised into a round-the-clock high. Becoming deaf will be the best thing that’s ever happened to Frankie, but it certainly won’t feel like it at the time. He’ll meet the love of his life, and change dance music forever by forging a completely original sound: music you can feel.
We first encounter Penelope during the show as the fun American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter on the side of the stage. It’s extraordinary to see her translating the show we’re seeing and hearing into sign – it’s like a dance in itself. We assume she’s a member of the crew, and part of an inclusive production strategy to cater to deaf audience members. When she enters the show as a character, she’s patient and passionate. Like Frankie, Penelope has experienced the world as a hearing person and subsequently become deaf. There’s no doubt in her mind which state she prefers: she loves experiencing the world in this uncommon way, and she helps Frankie learn to love it too.
Other characters are played by a small supporting cast.
If what it takes to be a good manager is a single-minded focus on money, and a singular disregard for the welfare of other human beings, then Frankie’s manager Max is the best in the business. Whether it’s charting the course of Frankie’s career or ordering costumed call-girls, Max’s interpersonal relationships are based on one metric: “am getting more out of this than it’s costing me?” Max is a fair-weather friend. He’s loud, passionate, obnoxious and he never stops talking. On the bright side, he’s completely predictable.
Sonya wants to be so much more than the woman behind the man. In fact, Frankie’s wife believes her rightful place is in front of him. She’s a wantrapreneur who wants to cash in on Frankie’s personal brand. When the going gets tough, Sonya gets going.
Badger is Frankie’s impulsive ID. He’s a life-sized raging party-animal who’s seen only by Frankie and lives only to dust him in drugs. They’ve had a long and happy relationship together, but only one of them is going to make it out of this show alive.
Zigfried & Lars are Germany’s heaviest Krautrockers, Dr. Lim is an Audiologist.
You’ll also see Dancers in the crowd, Live Camera Operators, Reporters, Security Guards, ASL Waiter, Flamenco Dancers, Live camera operation, Ad Director and Crew, Hype Girls, others as needed.