When an illicit video featuring nudity hits the internet these days, anyone recognisable in the grainy footage normally disappears from the public view until they are ready to face the press and get it all over with already.
Artist and producer Ursula Martinez took a very different path when in 2006 someone in the audience decided to record and then upload Hanky Panky, an act in which she unveils both a series of handkerchiefs and her birthday suit. The public reactions were varied and went from artistic appreciation to creepy comments, graphic images and downright rudeness. And these weren’t just comments online – hundreds then thousands took the time and effort to email Martinez direct with their thoughts. Here’s what got them all excited. The finale of this video is decidedly NSFW.
While no-one would have blamed the globe-trotting artist if she had disconnected from society and joined some lost tribe out in the Amazon forest, she instead wrote a show about the experience. My Stories, Your Emails has been seen at The Barbican, Soho Theatre and, more recently the Southbank Centre and describes in withering detail the responses she received.
We spoke to Martinez about how the routine behind this brouhaha came into being. “Hanky Panky is one of those rare acts that arrived into the world fully formed,” she said. “As soon as I had the idea, I found a piece of music within ten minutes and made the act in about two hours. I guess I have relaxed more and more into it over the years, but, I’ve never consciously changed anything.”
To lesser and greater degrees, many of those who contacted the artist made a point of commenting on her absence of clothing; thankfully, this hasn’t put her off appearing in the buff again. Far from it. “I grew up in a nudist family so being naked has never been a problem for me.” As well as her body, Martinez is happy to put her own relatives on display. “I guess one of my proudest accomplishments was the success of my first ever show A Family Outing which I made with my parents. We took it to Edinburgh and had one of those magical Edinburgh Festival experiences that most performers and producers hope for. We then ended up touring the world for two years.”
She’s also not shy of sharing a stage with her hula-hooping wife Jess Love and both were seen together at this year’s Circusfest in London. One of their joint routines is Quick Change, Sex Change, an all-action spin on the art of cross-dressing. A video of the act was temporarily banned by Facebook for being “inappropriate” which, considering the social media giant’s recent shenanigans, is the pot calling the kettle a very dark hue indeed. Screw Facebook and make up your own mind. Please note that, as above, the finale of the video is very much NSFW.
Martinez, is above all, a performer still in love with creating her own work. She likes nothing better than to get out there in front of an appreciative crowd and seeing the reactions to material old and new. “I have a lot of experience working in cabaret where you always engage with the audience in a direct and immediate way, which I love. I have always taken this with me when I make a theatre show. The point about doing something on stage for the first time, is that whatever that is, you are always shitting yourself. Whether that be singing a new song you have just written or remembering a new piece of choreography, it is always extremely nerve-racking. So in that sense, getting naked for the first time is no different.”
If you recognise Hanky Panky but not Martinez, there’s a chance you may have seen one of her recruits. By franchising it out to other performers, she has found a way to broadcast the act across the world yet still keep it intimate. “I now have 4 performers who have been taught the act. One has just finished a six month run in a show in Vegas. The decision to franchise the act was a purely pragmatic response to the problem of supply and demand. I get many work offers specifically for Hanky Panky and I can’t be in two places at the same time, but the act can! I never audition, I just choose people who I meet along the course of life. So far it’s worked out really well.”
More information on Ursula Martinez can be found on her official website.
Further reading: What we thought of My Stories, Your Emails.
Image: Hugo Glendenning