A performance written and directed by Dane Terry
There’s that saying, “You can take the Queen out of Appalachia but you can’t take Appalachia out of the Queen.” Ok it’s not really a saying, but the experience of running as far away as possible from our village/suburb/coal-mining-holler is common to many of us who end up here, and thus it’s intriguing when a queer New York artist creates work by returning to the milieu they left behind. Dane Terry‘s show “Bird In The House” at La Mama attempts this, and the results are dazzling.
“Bird” is a musical-narrative performance featuring the songs of Terry’s new album “Color Movies.” It’s a childhood epic told in shades of Southern magic-realism, with and the white working-poor experience, complete with homo awakenings at the pool and mystical encounters in the midnight woods. Yet any description of this coming-of-age tale belies what’s most wondrous about it: “Bird In The House” is an evening spent under the spell of a natural-born storyteller, a wizard whose power to delight, crack up, and terrify an audience comes from the traditions of the uniquely American world he brings so vividly to life.
The story unfolds in the land of Bluegrass and Folk, but Terry’s music is dynamically genre-bending. Elton John is in the room — so are Andrew Bird and David Bowie and Sufjan Stevens and Tammy Wynette. Still, the songs are each stamped with Terry’s compositional personality, full rich imagery and haunting dissonance. Dane plays beautifully, and the songs are theatrical, calling down a spiritual experience: queer church offering queer healing. Terry’s voice is like how your favorite ex used to fuck you: effortlessly controlled, teasing you with sudden depth and masterful technique. It’s jarring at first, this tattooed, hipster-looking twig who sings like a HillBilly Holiday, but you get over it because oh my god that VOICE. Much of the music is sung not by Terry, but by the female duo of Tova Shoshana and Rose Emily Quinn, who seem at first to be a two-woman Greek chorus, but quickly reveal themselves to be as much the high priests of this service as Dane is.
At the center of “Bird” is Terry’s power of narration. He creates our immersive, cinematic experience with the frame-by-frame confidence of an auteur, guiding us through a moment of crisis in his small-town childhood with terror and humor. The weirdness of being tossed between the frightening and the funny recalls the best campfire storytelling, and Terry’s brilliant descriptions (“her smiling face unfurled beneath wave after wave of blonde, and she placed on my head a hand with more knuckles than normal“) and gift for the aphoristic turn of phrase (“everybody’s just about as special as death on a farm”) are part of his inheritance as a true-blue Southern American orator. Terry satirizes his working class evangelical microcosm like Garrison Keillor does the Lutheran Midwest — with a warmth and compassion that’s as sincere as his wit is sharp.
“Bird”‘s music and narrative unfold against a pared-down Southern Gothic set (a rabbit ears TV actually sits atop the grand piano Terry plays), under a flamboyant lighting design full of pulsing rhythms and take-your-breath-away moments ripped from eighties rock concerts and the best televangelist shows, completing the sensual and chilling tour-de-force. With its haunting music and masterful storytelling, “Bird In The House” will take you home in the best sense, no matter where you ran away from to get here.
“Bird In The House” playing at The Club at La Mama, 74a E 4th St. April 24th, 25th at 10:00PM, April 26th at 6:00PM. Get Tickets here.
In celebration of Earth Day, join one of our favorites, the uber cunt and always amazing performer Mx Justin Vivian Bond and some more of her musician friends at Rockwood Stage 2. Justin will be performing ‘My Natural Rhythms’ with some special guests including Jake Shears, Dane Terry and Thomas Bartlett. Also, unrelated, I saw on Instagram that Justin got a new haircut so I will guarantee you V’s performance is gonna be extra juicy, those things are related, you know like when you get a new look and are feeling yourself a bit more than usual, everything just...flows. Here’s what JVB has to say about the event “Get down with brown, polish you nuts and berries, put on your earth shoes, hemp clothes and recycled underwear and head over to Allen St. for a cornucopia of rare earthly delights!” Praise mother earth, praise mother JVB!
The adorable Paul Iacono is starring in an awesome show directed by Aaron Mark, with music direction & arrangements by John McDaniel. Everyone (including us) is talking about WTFK, so that means you must go and see it. In case you don’t know who Paul is, he lives downtown in NYC, he starred in the film “G.B.F.,” he was the lead in the MTV show “The Hard Times of RJ Berger” and he’s always busy hustling to plan a new project. “Where’s the Fucking Kid” is a “musical-comedy” show that’s based on his childhood. He gave me the best explanation possible for his show saying it’s about “growing up a showbiz brat, undergoing chemo for leukemia and performing alongside the likes of Elaine Stritch, Mickey Rooney and Stephanie Mills, as well as being discovered on the Rosie O'Donnell show (age eight) for impersonating Ethel Merman. Though my favorite story in the show comes from my first time smoking marijuana (age 11, as a means to combat my nausea) at a gay bar in Philadelphia while performing in 1st national tour of 'The Wizard of Oz'. In my show, I recreate that fateful first drag performance, full-out. Vape included.”” The show is happening for two performances, March 11th and the 18th at 54 Below. Reserve a ticket A.S.A.P. homo!
Two of the funniest and craziest performers in NYC will be together this Sunday, March 8th at Joe’s Pub. OK, so first to the funny lady of the hour: Amber Martin (pictured). This is her show. It’s actually the “second installment of her The Days of My Lives residency. This new show is Martin’s blending of music, raunch, stories, movement, and acid-clapped comedy with a pristine, multi-octave singing voice. Amber shares hilarious recollections of her life growing up around the swamps and dirt-road backwoods of Southeast Texas through the 70’s...her church camp, hair-metal, pageant queen 80’s and her college, LA Riot, flight attendant, acid-dosed 90’s.” Joining her on stage as a special guest is one of our other favorite people: Bridget Everett. This bitch is absolutely hilarious, and she keeps getting better. The two of them together...well we just don’t have words. Except for these: GO FUCKING SEE THEM NOW!!!!!!
A new Cuban troupe that will heat you to a boil
On the heels of our warming relations with Cuba I decided to check out this exceptional dance troupe from Cuba called Malpaso Dance Company now performing at the Joyce Theater through March 8th. Apparently the Joyce has a 13 year history of involvement with Cuba and it’s dance community. “Through a people-to-people license Joyce staff members and supporters have traveled to Cuba since 2001 helping to bridge the gap through cultural exchange.” This is amazing, no?
Weathering the wintry mix of snow, sleet and rain I trudged up 8th Ave. to the Joyce to check out the premiere of two pieces Malpaso performed. The second dance called Despedida inspired by Jorge Luis Borge’s poem of the same name blew my mind. First of all, I can’t begin to explain to you how phenomenally gorgeous the male dancers are, one more stunning then the next. And oh my, the muted clingy dance pants they wore thinly veiled the ample packages beneath-when the light hit just right it took my breath away. Even the New York Times said it was “impossible to choose a favorite among the dancers.” The piece is choreographed by the company’s artistic director Osnel Delgado set to an original score by award winning Cuban-American composer Arturo Farrill and played live by the Afro Cuban Jazz Ensemble. The piece was everything I was hoping for from my first experience with Cuban dance.
The first piece, which my dance partner-in-crime Beth called “very Prada,” (I imagine because of the subtle palette and silhouette of the clothes and elegant lighting) is called Under Fire (pictured). It was created by the brilliant American choreographer Trey McIntyre. The music was unexpected, by a woman called Grandma Kelsey an Idaho based singer/songwriter. I know it’s sort of a last minute heads up but this night of dance, lasting a perfect hour and fifteen minutes with one intermission, is the perfect antidote for the crazy weather we are having, it will warm you to the core!
Ticket prices range from $10-$69, Various times, Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave. NY, NY.
My cute str8 friend from work agreed to be my date for this show, and while waiting for the performance to start, we had a discussion about how we make shitty money and spend it on shitty things. Ironically, we discovered this show is not a shitty thing to spend money on.
Prepare to test your own financial insecurities as Ben Rimalower recounts his life story, skillfully intertwining personal anecdotes detailing a lifetime of utter fiscal incompetence in just over an hour. Ben delivers a brutally personal, creative performance courageously detailing all the shitty things he’s done to friends, family, workmates and ultimately, himself. If you’ve ever struggled with addiction, drugs, alcohol, sex or money (or all of the above), best believe Ben knows what’s up. It’s a truly therapeutic experience for both the audience and performer.
Ben and his director Aaron Mark share an impressive list of professional credits. Between the two, they have produced and directed Off Broadway shows seemingly since forever, performed on Watch What Happens Live, written films & documentaries, won awards, write for Playbill and Huffington Post… honestly, the production biography takes up the whole page. It’s very intimidating. You know when you go to a dive bar after a spectacularly shitty day to drink alone? (Yes you do, liar.) Ben is the kinda guy you hope to have sitting next to you, a casual confidante, relatable and charismatic with whom the conversation flows as effortlessly as the whiskey. Except Ben doesn’t drink anymore. He has better things to spend money on.
The show is running until February 26th, 2015 at The Duplex, 61 Christopher St. NY, NY. Click here for tickets and showtimes.
Now playing at The Harvey theater at BAM through Jan 25th
It is on rare occasion that all the elements for true artistic perfection come together at the same time elevating a performance into the ether of the gods. I remember the first time I experienced this moment — it was when Peggy Fleming did her long program in figure skating to win the gold medal in the 1968 Olympics. I was five. The next standout performance in my memory came at age 19 when I saw Dreamgirls on Broadway in it’s original production, spending all my bar mitzvah money to see it another six times more before it closed. Now let me preface what I’m about to say by confessing A: I’m certifiably obsessed with rodeo B: greatly enamored by the works of composer/performer Sufjan Stevens C: Smoked some fine ass weed before the show, so here it is: Round-Up an hour and fifteen minutes of super slowmotion rodeo footage accompanied by a live original score by Sufjan Stevens with Yarn/Wine is by far the most sublime, seamless artistic experience I’ve had in years, going down in my memory as one of those “ether of the Gods” moments.
The subtle score by Stevens is performed live with two percussionists and two pianists beautifully enhancing imagery of bronco and bull riding, calf roping, cheerleading and related rodeo imagery shot by Aaron and Alex Craig so that 1 live second of action takes 12 seconds to transpire on screen. The effect is at once poetic and dazzling. You have to grab tickets fast because Round-Up now playing at BAM in the Harvey Theatre only has performances through Jan 25th. As Sufjan points out “There’s so much dance in rodeo horse tails and stirrups, cowboy hats, tassels and chaps flying all over the place, the film is quite visceral” Not to mention all that male atmosphere and Levis clad crotches EVERYWHERE!
American Realness is a wonderful festival that takes place at the Abrons Art Center. It’s pretty much what it sounds like, it’s a series of “new performance, dance, and art events that repurposes “realness” for a newly growing subset of American and international art.” Curated by Ben Pryor it’s well worth attending. Miguel Giuterrez’s is a choreographer who’s created work for the festival. It’s actually part 2 of the performance he did from last year. It’s all about beauty and decay, and what it’s like to age as a dancer. I’m not a dancer, but I’ve dated a couple, and I know how tough a life it is. You are literally beholden to your body. A big injury can derail your career. I know that is true of lots of jobs, but how many of them are you forced to tempt fate constantly by putting so much strain on the instrument so vital to your success? Yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s an interesting topic to tackle and Miguel does it well. The show runs till the 18th. Don’t miss it. Click here for tickets.
The eclectic festival is back for another year. Check out the interview we did with its curator from last year.
To many LGBT-identifying people, the word “realness” evokes a very specific image in queer history. It’s the sequence in Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, in which several late 80’s NYC queens display what “realness” truly means: to blend seamlessly into heterosexual culture despite your queerness. It’s about being a walking contradiction, gender-bending your way into what culture has deemed the norm. It’s about being able to pass for something you’re not and subverting the entire image you’re conveying in the process. At American Realness, the arts festival currently happening downtown at Abrons Art Center, creator Ben Pryor (pictured) has adopted this word to perfectly represent a series of new performance, dance, and art events that repurposes “realness” for a newly growing subset of American and international art.
We asked a few questions to Ben about the future of American Realness, doing homework in the BAM Opera House as a kid, and what “realness” means in the context of the artwork and performances on display at this year’s festival. Check out the full interview below.
What is your background in the arts? Are you an artist yourself? My mom was a publicist for contemporary classical composers. David Lang, Michael Gordon, Julie Wolfe, the Bang on a Can scene, Michael Nyman, John Corigliano… I grew up going to atonal music concerts, being seated between critics, forced to behave myself backstage at theKnitting Factory at age 12, or doing homework during sound check in the Opera Houseat BAM. There was a predisposition to artists pushing the boundaries, and I was stuffing press kits to earn allowance at age 7. I got more serious about dance when I was a little older, studying tap, jazz, ballet and still doing musicals in school. My BA is in theater performance. Later on I started seeing concert dance and was studying a lot of queer theory and looking at the performance of race, gender and the self. I got really interested in qualities of performance and of personhood. How does the performance of self constitute an identity on or inside a body?
I think these two worlds can be seen in the performance work that excites me today. There is text, there is song, there is dancing/movement/ideas within the framework of dance. It is really a queering of musical theater, of modern dance, of performance art and other contemporary art making practices — a mashing up of contexts, theatrical or otherwise.
What stands out most to you when looking for performers for American Realness? I get excited about work when I am surprised, confused in that tantalizing or challenging way, and when I see or experience transformation — when I am pushed into new ways of thinking, into and through my own discomfort, or into a state of joy. American Realness presents work in which artists are exploring performative practices to show us that the world is larger than ourselves; that we are all connected. Their work is reflexive of who they are and how they make it, and subversive in how they approach the frames of dance and performance. The works are crafted as experiences more than shows, where the action is not just seen, but felt. It is about palpable energetic exchange between the performers and the audience. I want to FEEL something. I want someone to make sense of it all and tell me it is OK, however fucked up it seems to be. This is what I hope to offer audiences in a lot of different ways over the course of the program.
Over the past 5 years, what has been the most rewarding aspect of putting together American Realness? The program has been insanely rewarding in a number of ways. The resonance was palpable from the beginning. Everyone said yes. And keeps on saying it. The artists. The industry. The public. The program has had a remarkable trajectory and I am insanely grateful to Jay Wegman, Director of the Abrons Arts Center, for thinking it was a decent idea and making the path to today possible.
How do you define “realness” in relation to the arts? The term “Realness” comes from the Drag Ball context and has to do with passing. With the festival, I consider Realness in relationship to the performativity of personhood and identity and how these ideas are played with in the performance of life, highlighted here for us on stage. How are performers representing themselves? What are they presenting of “themselves”? I am really interested in that slippery space where we are not really sure what we know. It creates a heightened state of attention for the audience. They are forced to work through their own sense of confusion about what is happening.
There is also a level of “realness” that relates to the underfunded nature of American work (dance/theater/performance) in relationship to international work. It is about acknowledging that there is more frequently a DIY, raw aesthetic employed in this American work versus its international counterparts. But we are totally cognizant of that reality and making the decision to work with and call attention to it. We may not have everything that we wanted to do this, but we are making it work with what we have and not apologizing for it. Artists keeping it real.
There is also the level of marketplace that is somewhat transparent, perhaps less so for the public, but very much so for the programmers coming to the festival. The festival takes place during this huge performing arts conference. There are curators and programmers from all over the country and the world in town. Many of them are literally shopping for work to bring to their venues and festivals at home. So American Realness is also about selling your goods. In the traditional American entrepreneurial spirit, we have set up shop and we are for sale.
This year is the first time American Realness is featuring works authored solely by international artists. Can you describe your process for recruiting internationally? My day job is producing and touring the performance works of a few choreographers,Miguel Gutierrez and Ishmael Houston-Jones, for example. With that I end up traveling to different festivals and venues around the world where clients’ work is being presented. This affords me the opportunity to see a lot of work from other artists that often times isn’t otherwise coming to NYC. Every now and then I see works that I know will really resonate back home. I have resisted making invitations because my festival was supposed to be about “American” work. Now that the program is five years old, I feel like I can finally break out of that frame and not worry about what colleagues or the press might say. Now it is about sowing that the central aesthetic ideology of the program still holds clear across national and geographic boundaries.
Several of the works at this year’s festival challenge typical ideas of identity and how we see ourselves. What about the concept of identity, and the many ways it changes in our lifetime, appeals to you most? Like most homos, I had my own struggle with figuring out who and what I am and wanted to be. It wasn’t really until I started readingFoucault and Butler that I really felt comfortable understanding my identity as the confluence of my mental and physical reality. I think the combination of the more body-based practice of dance and the more intellectually-based practice of theater (not to imply that a dance or body based practices are not also intellectually grounded or rigorous) lend themselves to an investigation of personal identity. It is true that identity shifts as life goes on, so it is a ripe and universal territory for exploration, one that audiences can find themselves in.
In the future of American Realness, are there any directions you haven’t gone yet that you’d like to go in regard to artistic disciplines? I keep feeling interested in curating some sort of music program. I dabbled with some more musically based projects in 2013. This year I was trying to get Mykki Blanco involved in some aspect of the program. I was like “Hey Mykki, I am this crazy guy you don’t know who has access to a theater and this festival that gets some good press, wanna come make some crazy stage piece pop-opera?!!?” I like to have crazy fantasies I don’t have the resources for. I think that could really be amazing though, broadening the program a bit, but also asking the artists to bring themselves to the forms of the program. I think there is a lot of potential there.
Can you give insight into any particular events/artists/art in history that have influenced American Realness? Mark Russell’s Under the Radar Festival was the blueprint for American Realness. Mark ran Performance Space 122 for 20 years and then started Under the Radar as a way to bring new experimental theater to his national and international colleagues. For Realness, I shifted the focus from theater to dance and performance, but the format and function of the programs in the context of the APAP conference that is happening is quite similar.
American Realness spans many different venues, but is housed largely in Abrons Art Center. What about that space in particular appeals to your vision for American Realness? I love that Abrons is a campus. There are three theaters in the two connected buildings, and we have turned this multi-purpose room into another performance space. You can make a lot happen there. We take over the three gallery spaces too so the program really takes over all the public spaces and becomes something new. It allows the festival to become a fully social experience, not just going to the theater, sitting, watching and leaving. You can hang out, talk about the work, check out some exhibitions. Make some new friends and then go see something else. That was always really essential to the vision for the program.
Can you give us an insider’s opinion on some of the must-see additions to this year’s festival? This is always a hard one for me. I curated the program, so of course I have a reason for you to see everything! I would love for people to especially check out the international work as they are probably less familiar with these guys. Dana Michel is from Montreal. Her piece ‘Yellow Towel‘ is playing with racial stereotypes in this really interesting way. When I saw the piece last summer I kept thinking “WHAT THE FUCK IS SHE DOING?” There is all this action going on, she is speaking all this quasi-comprehendible gibberish, and while she is totally captivating on stage, she isn’t really letting you in 100%. It’s the kinda confusing/exciting I go for. And people should check out The Lounge. It is a free after-party each night at The Public Theater with a cash bar, performances and DJs. Chris Tyler’s TRL >>> Total Reject’s Live is happening next weekend, that should be wild. Hope to see ya there.
To make a contribution to help keep American Realness going, click here.
We had quite a night on Saturday at the Paramount Hotel near Times Square. We’d been to the basement many times (PrettyUgly is held in it’s underground ballroom) but wanted to check out the Queen of The Night show that’s held there beforehand. It’s an “immersive theatre” experience. It’s kind of a cross between Sleep No More and Cirque De Soleil, with a Game of Thrones like feast of roasted pig, lobster and beef ribs served during it. There’s even an open bar where you can order whatever you like...which we did! After a couple of Negroni’s we kind of lost track of the story line, not that that mattered, it’s full of impressive acrobatics, magic and dance which don’t really rely on a plot. At the end of it they ask everyone to head to the floor for a romantic slow dance. They then spoon feed the whole audience this incredible chocolate cake. The ticket for Queen is not that much more than your average Broadway show ($140) but not only do you get a brilliant show, you also get the aforementioned open bar and a pretty wonderful dinner. You can also hang out afterwards and dance the night away at PrettyUgly. Just go easy on the drinks, Abi and I hit the bottle hard and things got pretty...I’ll save that story for another day. ;) Use the promo code 'GAYLETTER' for a special offer.