Like any scene, the fetish world has its tropes, most of them centered in dark dungeons where industrial music drowns out the cries of grateful masochists. Here, fully-clothed men paddle the reddening bottoms of woman in black lingerie while icy blondes in shiny catsuits humiliate submissives in gimp masks. Though bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM) may have gasped its way into mainstream entertainment (thanks to a certain book about a naive student's adventures in "red room of pain"), the aesthetic stagnates and, at times, alienates.
Prior to founding Madcap, Mann and Sage found themselves on opposite sides of that same coin: Mann predominantly worked as a dancer, while Sage had been an artist, professional dominatrix and kink educator. Both women were first introduced to the fetish scene as performers in The Toledo Show, Los Angeles' long-running cabaret. Mann said that while not a fetish show, it had a following of "kinksters" and hosted the occasional fetish act. While Mann is intrigued by the fetish elements of the performances, she would have an anxious reaction to anything that too blatantly sexual. When it came to dungeons and the like, Mann has no trouble admitting, "It freaked me out."
“I was interested in [kink], but it’s not something I typically dabbled in in public. I wanted to see fetish in a really beautiful way that people, like myself, who are not necessarily kinksters, could appreciate, enjoy and be open to talking about,” Mann remembers. Sage, however, immediately fell in love, finding both community and a passion for educating others about consent, safety and "the transformative power of being in the scene." Such is often the case with kinks; you don’t always know what turns you on until you see it.
You could feel the energy of the audience shift, going ‘Whoa, what this is and why is this so fascinating to me?’
Drawing those people to a theater is an easier sell than a dungeon. Madcap's inaugural show, HUSH, debuted in June during Hollywood Fringe Festival, one of over 350 shows to choose from during the month-long, anything-goes indie theater fest. HUSH is set in a young girl’s bedroom. The girl, played by Mann, stands surrounded by human furniture: one woman pinned straight with a lampshade over her face, another on all fours acting as an ottoman. Mann is seen thrashing around the room as the audience takes their seats, the way any restless, impetuous girl might. She picks up and positions her plastic dolls, then discards them as she nibbles on a slice of bread.
Without giving too much away, in the show's most stirring scene, Sage artfully ties a woman in a silk robe with rope, then twists her to slowly spin from the ceiling.
“[The tying] was one of the most interesting moments from my perspective on stage,” Mann said. “You could feel the energy of the audience shift, going ‘Whoa, what this is and why is this so fascinating to me?’ You could feel everybody honing in.” Sage refers to Mann’s character as the “the lamb” with whom the audience—especially those unfamiliar with fetish scenes—can identify as they experience all these new, potentially exciting things. Sometimes, the living dolls frighten her; in other moments, she seems enthralled. At one point, she tries to emulate them, putting on the trussed up doll's robe and scarlet lipstick before ditching both items—perhaps rejecting society's idea of femininity, of what a woman should look like, as she herself prepared to become one.
The loose narrative provides a framework for the fetishes, allowing them to slip in and out without lighting up a neon sign proclaiming, “Some people get off to this stuff!” The fetishes the troupe performs are chosen based on the talents or interests of Madcap’s performers—many of whom are also Toledo Show veterans—or simply because they’re not often performed publicly. “A lot of fetish performance is, ‘okay, you are going to watch so-and-so flog so-and-so,” Sage said. “There's a time and a place [for flogging], but we wanted to try something different.”
For those keeping count, HUSH’s intentional fetishes include dollification, human furniture, bondage, feet and legs, looning (that's when you’re aroused by balloons), crushing food and shibari (Japanese rope bondage). If you count the audience, throw in voyeurism, too.
So far, Madcap’s feminine approach to fetish seems to be working. HUSH’s Fringe run drew all types of people, ranging in age and level of kink-familiarity. One man confessed his own doll fetish, and told Madcap it was refreshing to see it play out in such an artistic fashion. Other guests say the show serves as a stepping stone for them—inspiring them to create a Fetlife account (a social networking site for kink) or attend another fetish event.
Or maybe, a few of HUSH’s show goers will attend Madcap’s future fetish-laced learning experiences. The group plans to start offering classes in unconventional spaces—sun-drenched Airbnbs or fitness studios—where they drink coffee and tea and talk about enthusiastic consent, how to safely tie up your partner, or other topics. They also hope to perform in new venues and collaborate with other artists, perhaps finding a chef with whom to whip up a sexy supper club. They’ve got an open mind to their future and, if you consent, they’ll open yours, too.