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Staying on that topic of openness and change in the context of this show and your own experience as a young, interracial, queer kid in the 70s and 80s, and then becoming an adult through the whole era of political correctness, I can't help but think about how we're in a moment where we need to take some big next steps in terms of how we, as a culture, acknowledge differences. What's your perspective on that; how is this show exploring some of those ideas?
In my work in general, I feel that, absolutely, it is my job, it is my community of artist's job, to make new language. I hesitate when I use the word queer or black or white or whatever. I feel it's like when a plane gets struck by lightening. I was in a plane once that got struck by lightening and they were like, oh we're fine, and they landed the plane and everybody got off the plane.
Can you tell, when a plane gets struck by lightening?
Oh yeah, everything blinks and you're like, whoa. But they're all saying, it's fine, it's fine. As soon as we get off the plane you hear them saying, we're taking it out of service and they all realize that the plane doesn't work right anymore, it's not fine. And I feel like this language that we're using has been struck by lightening so many times that it has meaning and implications far beyond any individual's intentions when using it. And we have the opportunity to find new ways to express that. I think about all those extraordinary writers—I've been rereading Audre Lorde recently—who carved language out to save lives, to save their own lives, to build bridges. And it worked, in large measure. But there's also, for me, politically, a desire that the differences that we understand, that we honor and that we need to acknowledge, do not become bulwarks against intimacy.
I want more than anything, and I think, again, it's growing up as a child of people who were in the social movement of the 1960s, that I don't want to be separate from other people, that's not my desire, and it's not my desire to in a hierarchy with other people. My desire is to break those things down because we have large crises that we need to attend to and we can't do that if we're one-upping one another or we're intractably separated from one another. So, I feel like part of what Jomama is doing, and I don't know how to phrase this other than to say, I think that when people see her on the postcard or they hear about the show, there are a set of assumptions that they will bring with them into the theater. It is my hope that all of those assumptions are overturned by the time they leave the theater and that there's a different kind of awareness that comes, and to understand that even the assumptions may be a false reading of the people that they're built on. A lot of those artists that I mentioned had this same agenda—how do we make the fullest, most resonant, freest human beings possible through our art. That desire met an industry, a business, and, as you're saying, a very repressive atmosphere. They fought a valiant fight, and in many sense succeeded. But if I can push the stone along a little bit, I'm going to push it along.
I think it's so interesting that you're talking about using the icon of the "soul diva," which is a very attractive icon to a lot of people, to flip some people's assumptions and address some of the divisions created by identity. How does Jomama manage to flip those assumptions? What is her method?
I think it's really a play—we get to play, she gets to play—literally play music, play the play of the thing, and invite people into an atmosphere that, for tonight, for this hour and a half when you come, lets you leave that over there, just for a little while. We'll give you a coat check for it, or whatever, but for right now, what happens if we talk about these things, if we experience these emotions? And it's not to obliterate that history, of course, but it is to make you aware that there's already a big transformation at work. That's what I kind of love about it, from Jump Street
it's a giant mask, the whole thing is. In the time we've played, some very interesting things have happened.
Give me a couple examples.
There is one song that we do called "Show Pony," which is a very audience-interactive thing, about the kinds of people that you might date. The idea is, don't put a show pony on a workhorse job. We do a thing in the audience where we ask people to be part of that. And it's like the Price is Right
or something. People get so excited, yelling things, talking to perfect strangers. Again, having that permission to maybe do the things in a theater space that you might do in your own house or with your friends.
The other thing that's been so interesting, because people don't know who Jomama is, is that they react to her like they're seeing a superstar. It's insane. I couldn't have imagined it. People start screaming, asking for autographs, all kinds of stuff. Something about her is very real, which is what I was saying before. She doesn't feel like a character to me, she feels like an entity, and I'm not gonna get in the way of it. I'm also working with just extraordinary collaborators.
Right, your back-up singers, the Sweet Peaches.
Yeah. Two of them are going to be with us for this run, Helga Davids and Sonja Perryman. And then Bobby Halvorson, my main collaborator. These are just people I love, who are also, in their own work, so committed to making art in really generous communities and sharing work that has aesthetic rigor but is also accessible.
Bobby, when we met, was like 21 years old, a California boy, straight guy, very laid back kid. And here I am, this hyper, gesticulating, avant-garde, multi-identity guy from the East Coast. We are the last two people that you would ever expect to be in a room together, let alone working together in the way that we've worked together. But I feel like Jomama brought us together. And not only did we work together, but we worked in the most delicious collaboration of my life. It's also been, to me, as an artist and a person, a reminder to always look beyond all of the surfaces. Even though I think I'm so forward-thinking, I had to say wait a minute, this 20-something California boy has the other half of this puzzle and you have to recognize that and trust it. And it's been a lesson to remind me that if we can risk that moment, that single moment of vulnerability with another person, and in this case it's artist-to-artist, there's a world there. And I have just loved working with him.
The other thing you feel in this show is how much love and respect everybody has for each other, and the fact that we respect that people came to see it. We want to give them something that feels good. They came out of a cold winter's night, we're going to hopefully make them feel warm.
(photo credit: Craig Bailey)