What’s Gonna Happen?
The following was written as a speech, originally for the APAP Conference in Jan, 2017. It was subsequently performed at the Humana Festival, 2017, and again in Los Angeles at the Ace Theater under the auspice of the Center for the Art of Performance. A video from the Humana Festival performance is below but it might be fun to read, so I’ve included the text below the video.
What’s gonna happen? There is a calamity in the air. Every person I pass on the street has that look on their face. The look of, “What’s gonna happen?” No matter who you voted for. Everyone has an expression of, “Everybody hates me.” It’s palpable. Like you could scrap its coagulation off the faces and make a stir-fry with it. “What’s gonna happen?”
That’s what my friend, actor Steven Skybell, says in the dressing room before each performance; to calm himself. “What’s gonna happen?” No matter how many times you’ve gone on stage, the nerves. So you say, to steel the nerves, and lighten the mood, “What’s gonna happen?” It’s an acknowledgment of anxiety; of the elephant in the room. Everything could go wrong. Just voicing the possibility of that would sooth Steven. And me. I’ve made it part of my ritual now. It takes what’s building up on the inside and makes it tangible because when voiced, it vibrates. It makes the world responsible for it. You get to share the fear. Celebrate it even. It’s a little witchy spell. If I acknowledge everything might go wrong, perhaps nothing will. If I acknowledge everything could be a delightful surprise, it might all be. What’s gonna happen? It makes you feel better. I promise.
I recently had the most intense “What’s gonna happen?” moment of my art life while the country was having a rather intense, “What’s gonna happen” political moment. For the last five years I’ve been creating a show called, “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music”. It is a performance art concert that consists of the performance, deconstruction, and reframing of the United States history through popular songs. 246 of them to be exact. All of which were popular in one community or another in the US within 240 years (1776 to 2016). Researched, arranged, orchestrated, and reimagined. Each decade in the U.S. history is given an hours worth of material, so when added up you get 24 hours worth of performance. Usually the work is performed in three-hour chapters over the course of many nights but this last October we performed the entire thing from beginning to end, non-stop. Starting on Saturday at noon and ending on Sunday at noon. One time only. We started, in 1776, with an orchestra of twenty-four musicians and after every hour we lost a musician until, having performed for 23 hours, pretty much non-stop, I was onstage alone; left to somehow make my way through the final decade; using exhaustion to dream the culture forward; bedazzled and bedraggled.
To create the work we performed it. Over and over in shorter sections. Repetition was key because we wanted the audience members to get to know each other over a course of many years. We wanted to build their connection alongside the building of the work. As a theater artist I’m a community organizer. I bring people together and give them some kind of shared experience, not a homogenous one, but a shared one they can use to help as a foundation for further communing. So on the road we set up a system where we’d perform a section of the work in a city and then our extraordinary producing team, Pomegranate Arts, would begin the organization to keep returning to that city until we ultimately present every decade there. We haven’t finished that version so we’ll be touring it for many years to come but we have finished in New York and this is what happened. Each time we would perform a section of it there, audience members from the previous performances would return. They began to make a ritual out of it. At the shows I’m always asking the audience to do things: help row a boat across an imagined Atlantic ocean, slow dance with someone of their same gender, play beer-pong with each other. As a result they get to know the people around them. They see them again at the next show. They go out after the show for drinks. They start planning the next trip to the show together. The goal was to make something tangible out of an ephemeral art. And it worked. Friendships were made and/or strengthened. Trysts were had. Collaborators found each other. Businesses were started. More artistic projects were created. I got two wedding invitations from people who met at the shows. Multiple babies were conceived as a result of audience members making love, presumably after shows.
Working like this also meant we rehearsed very little but performed a lot. In hindsight we used the Noh theater process where everyone, primarily, learns their parts separately and then gets together and makes it for the first time in front of an audience. This meant every single performance had the precision of a polished work but also a major element that had never been incorporated into the work before; never even been rehearsed. Stuff like blindfolding an entire audience, using the audience to remove eight hundred chairs from the space in the length of a short song, and of course, in the 24-hour work, sleep deprivation. How do you rehearse blindfolding an audience for an hour of the performance if you don’t have an audience? You strategize and then make your rehearsal the performance, while hoping for the best. What’s gonna happen?
Part of the fun is not knowing. But when it came time to put the whole show together—24 hours of performance—that element of the unknown could be described as… stressful. So much money, so many years, so much anticipation, press, work. So many hurdles. Hurdles of assumptions, and logistics and doubt. The fear was that a microcosm of what just happened to Hillary Clinton would happen to us. Would the audience members who had been with us from the beginning shrug and say, “Well I guess all that time we put into watching this show didn’t ultimately amount to anything.” Would the people who hadn’t been with us the whole way—and each performance was primarily made of people new to the project—would they get it. Would they recognize how much work had gone into this piece or, because of its uniqueness, would it get equated with anything else odd? Would we get equated to the queen down the street who lip-synchs badly to the latest pop craze or the cabaret performer who sang ten songs and told stories about their famous friends? Like our political climate, would it all get normalized through our need to dismiss anything that is extraordinary, like progressive action, and replace it with that which is accessible, like nostalgia. Would our diligence, experience and vision be overshadowed by our inability to pull it all off. Worst of all, would our failure become the topic of conversation rather than the ideas in the work.
And there were ideas: ideas that involve the excavation of alternative history; ideas that involve using identity politics as the reference for contextualization without making them the point; ideas about minorities becoming the metaphor for America instead of its niche; ideas about how drag is what you look like on the inside worn on the outside; ideas that involve humility existing in authority through questions but not a relentless cynical questioning—not through cynicism’s reign but through its incorporation and play—ideas that are free of the puritan dominance over expression; ideas about turning that which is harmful into catharsis. 240 years worth of ideas.
But would I even be able to sing past hour fifteen? I thought it was possible but not likely. We’d been marathon training the work. We started with 90-minute shows. Went to two-hour, three-hour ones. Five. Six. All the way making mistakes and discoveries. Triumphs and flops. Carrying the acclaim and damage with us like a female politician vying for a symbolic win: if we get there, others might be able to get there as well. If we don’t, it’s back to the drawing board. Last July we performed a 12-hour workshop, just half the show and the most we would ever perform of it until the full 24-hour work. When the 12-hour workshop was over I thought I might have another three hours in me but, truly, more than that seemed unlikely. What was I thinking? If I couldn’t keep going past hour fifteen, what was I going to do with the remaining nine hours of performance? My voice teacher had warned me that I might have a vocal hemorrhage. In which case it was strongly advised, I stop. Would the final nine hours suddenly become one big audience karaoke night? I knew I wouldn’t want to sit through that. That would be an actor of reducing the work to a durational art party. That would be making the extraordinary act of progression an act of accessibility. Of nostalgia. It was not the vision.
Falling apart was the vision. It was in some way the whole point. The work, when put together in its entirety, is about communities building themselves as a result of being torn apart. We, the audience, technicians, and performers, were going to put ourselves through 24-hours of staying up, with little to no sleep, while watching and listening to an immersive narrative and an onslaught of music. We would be relentlessly moving forward with all that American history on our backs. But as a result of going through it together, of our exhaustion, we would be building bonds.
Dramaturgically each decade we focused on, was about a different community in America, which was built as a result of falling apart. Those of us who were experiencing this 24-hour period together would be lunging towards those communities. Our experience would be a way to see them and their struggles in a different light. Perhaps then we would be able take that experience and use it to help dream our culture forward; to give aid to other communities going through similar trials. It’s important to note that the work is intended to help people. It was not about communities going extinct as a result of being torn apart. It was about them building themselves. So somehow, I did have to make my way, and help the audience make their way, to hour 24. We could not go extinct. We would need to keep the wonder of possibility alive in our bodies for 24 hours. What’s gonna happen?
The afternoon of the performance, the audience started screaming and applauding the second the houselights began to dim. This was our crowd. Most of them had been with us for multiple years and they weren’t there to decide whether they would like it. They were there to celebrate that it was happening. They were thankful and open. Most everyone knew we weren’t making something accessible but extraordinary. They’d been making it with us and they were going to continue doing so.
The first hour was all about a colony trying to build itself into something new while it was being torn apart by colonization… and it was great. My voice felt strong—despite a cold I’d gotten the day before—the orchestra was on point, the Dandy Minions (supporting characters who perform random acts of fabulousness and generosity) were a total joy, the jokes were landing, and the ideas were clear. Everything we’d been working towards was happening in the room except one element: the element of calamity, of what’s going to happen. We did such a good job at polishing our show that we’d taken the danger out of the room. It’s not that the circumstance of us performing for 24 hours had suddenly been resolved; everybody knew everything could fall apart but we had created an environment where nobody expected it to happen for at least another twelve hours. So we were resting in a way. We all collectively agreed to hit the designated marks until the exhaustion brought the element of surprise. But, that’s when the dry ice spilled.
It happened in hour two. 1786-1796. 23 hours still to go. The decade is dedicated to the start of the women’s lib movement in the United States and focuses on a housewife who wants to be more than a housewife. The outfit for the decade consists of two giant smokestacks. Steam engines were invented in the 1780s. So our divine-madness costume designer, whose name is Machine, he wanted smokestacks and he wanted them to smoke. Dry Ice was the solution and it was wonderful. But when it came time to take the smokestacks off, in the second song of the second decade, water spilled all over the stage. Not such a big deal, just a puddle of water on a stage. Easily cleaned. But it was the first hint at the possibility of calamity. How would we build ourselves because of the spill? In the moment, I did it through humor. Through making the character of the decade, the housewife I was portraying, add to the injustice of her circumstance by having to clean up the mess. It was a funny improve and more so because of its dramaturgical appropriateness but more importantly it was the moment we’d all been waiting for: calamity and our ability to incorporate calamity to overcome an oppression. We weren’t going to ignore the flaw and let it sit there while we continue to hit our marks. We were going to be makers instead of markers; people who transform obstacles. We would make the world we want based on a learning and openness to the world that is. It’s so much fun creating work like that. So much better than simply accepting, denying, or commenting on the world that is.
To clarify, the world that I want is not utopian. It has obstacles. Water spills. A glued on eyebrow falls off. Revolutions are halted by the musical director’s brief lapse in memory. A train of thought derails. Overuse brings change. Vocal chords swell leaving you sounding like Hermione Gingold. It’s fun opening your mouth and sounding like a different person. It’s fun letting the world change you and then change you again. One thing I noticed, in terms of the audience at the 24-hour performance, was fatigue began to build a little defensiveness in them but more fatigue dismantled the defense the original fatigue had built. The audience became derange in their emotional availability. You don’t get to experience that heightened degree of openness, to see what you’re capable of, if you design your life around comfort and polish.
It was good. And as a result-
People keep asking me that obnoxious question. What’s next?
What was next is that two weeks after the 24-hour performance we went back on the road: to Northern Ireland to perform the decades of 1906 to 1926, in the Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival. I wanted to be in Belfast but I’d never performed in Northern Ireland before and I couldn’t figure out the way into our first audience there. They seemed so hardened by the Troubles. They were almost the polar opposite of the 24-hour show audience we’d just had in NY. Their arms were crossed before we’d even begun. Eyebrows were raised. They were guarded instead of game. I would have to do what I usually do when I’m on the road in a new place and spontaneously change things in the show to win them over, to open them up to a different kind of theater from what they are used to. Usually that’s the fun, incorporating the calamity. But two weeks before I’d performed our 24-hour show, which had made all those progressive intentions tangible, and performing in Belfast was like starting at the beginning. It was like going on a first date even though you’d met the love of your life two weeks before. You don’t want to cancel the date because it was set up before you met your love but your heart is somewhere else.
Plus they named their festival after a bank. Plus they seemed to be making fun of me. Laughing in the wrong places. When I asked all the women in the audience to sing along at a certain point, all together, a male voice rang out louder than all the women’s, in what seemed like a mocking tone. Off-key. Obnoxious. I thought, “I should take him on. This is sexism and homophobia”. I’ve experienced this before: straight men who act out because they’re uncomfortable with not being the lead in the story. They heckle or throw things. My philosophy is: If something is threatening to take the story away from the storyteller then, at all costs, you have to incorporate that threatening thing into the story. Usually that manifests itself in the form of a quick response. Something like, if an audience member is verbally offended by my liberal politics, which happens, I’ll gesture to my drag and say, “What about this says false advertising.” Pointing out the ridiculousness of the obvious usually works. Sometimes the audience needs to see the heckler. The hecklers anonymity needs to be taken away from them. So the spot gets put on them. As my drag mother, Mother Flawless Sabrina, once said to me about some homophobes who saw her walking down the street in drag and proceeded to take out a gun and shoot her—when I called them horrible, she said, “No Taylor, not horrible, they just wanted to be part of the show.” So you make them part of the show. Not the lead but part of it. The homophobe gets brought up on stage and I work that homophobe until he is making out with me or singing a duet with me or wearing my costume or if need be I get them to leave. Once I even made the audience carry one of them out of the theater. Everyone laughing. Including the homophobe.
I try to make it fun. Every night you go out on stage hoping it will be a comedy but sometimes it turns into a tragedy. Sometimes the calamity wins. That is the art in the room. Then the challenge is, how to make everyone see that the tragedy is the art. How to direct the purpose by making the obstacle the thing that brings us all together?
So in Belfast, I thought, I should take on that straight guy in the audience who is making fun of this show because it makes him uncomfortable. But two weeks before I’d finished a 24-hour performance and, I was tired. So, against my philosophy, I ignored it and kept the show going. But there’s moment in the decade we were performing that I’m particularly fond of. It’s a reading of the last page of James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s certainly one of the more beautiful passages of any piece of literature and I love using it as catharsis: as an example of something reaching beauty because it goes on longer than it should. Usually the audience is with me. Sometimes, while reading it, I hear people sobbing. But in Belfast a woman could not stop laughing… all the way through the reading. It was one of those laughs that become the story of the room and leave no room for any others to have their story. The sound was coming from the same direction as the guy who was mocking me earlier. They all seemed to be part of a group who were angry that a queen would be taking space. People had warned me about Belfast. I’d been told over and over again how homophobic it was.
It was like the Polish presenter who wanted to take me on an Eastern European tour. To entice me he said, “You will sleep on floors, you won’t get paid anything, people will try to kill you; it will be fabulous.” I said, “Listen, I am totally game, for a good cause, to do two out of those three but not all three. That is where I draw the line”. And here in Belfast, in the final moments of a two-hour performance, this is where I was going to draw the line. I couldn’t let that woman ruin Molly Bloom; ruin the yes’s with her no.
So I asked for the houselights. And slowly, with laser precision, I made my way up the steps to the laughing woman. The audience held their collective breaths. Her laughter became hysterical. Almost demented like. I climbed to her, over her community of homophobes, one after another. Sitting on the lap of the man who sat next to her, as a way of getting to her but diminishing him, I settled myself in. There was only one song left in the show. A medley. It starts with “When the Red red robin goes bee-bob-a-bobbin along.” She is laughing like this.
I put my arm around her. She laughs. I hold her. I sing. Slow. “When the Red Red Robin Goes… she laughs. I repeat. She laughs. I repeat. She laughs. I stay with her and repeat the opening line of the song, over and over again, all the while she laughs. I ask her to take her hair down. She does, while laughing. I ask her to uncross her arms. She does, while laughing. I hold her and repeat the opening line of the song. She laughs. And again and again and again until her laughter calms. Laughter has a limit. It will tire itself out eventually. You just have to be willing to exhaust it. So that’s what I did. Eventually she was still. Matt Ray, our musical director and arranger and partner in all of this, instinctually knew when to continue the song into the next verse… and I just sang it to her, sitting there. Calm. Some other things happened but the evening ended with her feeding me cake on stage from her fingers and a great triumphant bow, her just off-center, bowing with us. I felt vindicated. It wasn’t until after the show that I found out she was a Special Needs person. In fact the entire back section of the audience were all Special Needs. Nobody from the festival new. The bus-load of Special Needs people were last-second ticket buyers. So nobody told me before I went on. That guy who was mocking me, singing in a weird off-key voice… he wasn’t mocking me. He was singing. I had, in my mind, created the entire conflict. The audience loved the show but my assumptions and past hurts had framed the current circumstance away from truth.
My mom passed away two days after the Presidential Election. When I got home from Belfast, I immediately had to fly to her home in Orange County, California because it had become clear that she wasn’t going to be able to take care of herself anymore. She’d been sick with breast cancer for some time. She’d been hiding it. Nobody knew. Not her friends. Her sister. Her kids. Nobody. She’d isolated herself as a form of denial. If nobody was allowed into her life to tell her she was dying, she wouldn’t die. We knew something was wrong. Before she’d isolated herself we saw that she had lost a lot of weight. Her hands shook. I thought it was Parkinson’s but I didn’t know because we couldn’t get a doctor’s prognosis. She was a Christian Scientist, which meant she didn’t go to doctors. She believed everything spiritual is the truth and everything material is a lie. I would joke with her, “Everything.” She never got the joke. To her there was nothing funny about her religion, which to me is kind of funny.
Because matter was a lie to her, her illness was a lie. She couldn’t have cancer. To her calamity simply didn’t exist. Could God get cancer? No. “But are you god Mom?” “No but the bible says I am God’s perfect image and likeness and God is perfect so that must mean I’m perfect as well. Can God get cancer? No. Than I can’t get it either.” That was the philosophy I grew up with. It’s not what I believe now. I left the religion when I was fourteen.
I want to be clear, my mother’s interpretation of Christian Science is not the only way to practice the religion. All philosophies have practitioners who take things to extremes; who leave no room for relativism and my mom was one of those people. She was in it. She believed and preached like an authoritarian but not like an author. An author, who has authority, questions. They get their specialized knowledge through an admission of doubt and the practice of incorporating doubt into considerations. But my mom’s version of her religion didn’t work if you welcomed in doubt. To doubt or question would be tantamount to destroying her medication. If you acknowledge the cancer, the calamity, you’d feed it. If I brought doubt with me, from her perspective, I would essentially be responsible for her death. So we played a game. She wouldn’t acknowledge what was happening to her and I wouldn’t take her power away from her by forcing that acknowledgment on her, so as not to be responsible for what was happening to her.
As heartbreaking as it was to see her suffer—she did the whole thing without painkillers—it was remarkable to watch someone commit to their belief system regardless of pain, regardless that all the facts were dismantling those beliefs left and right; especially during the election. I began to see my mother’s obstinacy as, again, a metaphor for the political landscape: for climate-change deniers, Hillary demoniz-ers, Trump apologists and left-wing arrogance and naiveté. She believed the only way to heal was to reframe facts as falsehoods. Everything material is a lie and everything spiritual is the truth. Everything? No laugh.
No medicine meant there weren’t any professionals to help. So hospice work was left to my sister and I. We fumbled our way through and did okay but there were times when having a professional to share their authority with us, even a little, would have solved a lot of problems and brought more grace.
There were moments of actual wonder in my mom’s process. There was even beauty in the fierceness a body has when preparing itself for death. Her constant and intense, rhythmic breathing would sometimes transform into something trance-like as if her body were forcing a meditative state. I started singing her to sleep. To ease the panic that was building, from both of us. There was a wonder at having 246 songs to pull from. Despite her conservative politics she never missed seeing a new work of mine. She budgeted her yearly expenses around being able to fly across the country to see them. But because of the illness she wasn’t able to come to the 24-hour performance and I knew it upset her. So, at one point I decided to start working my way through the show. Describing what we did, decade by decade, and singing the songs in each one. Normally I would incorporate her illness into the work. It was the elephant in the room and incorporating the elephant is how I do things but here I couldn’t do that without becoming responsible for the illness. Unlike in the 24-hour performance, here, with my mom, we weren’t able to build bonds with each other by acknowledging and using the calamity. We got through about half the show, a little bit at a time—cutting the more lascivious, political or ruckus songs and emphasizing the lullabies, love songs, and hymns; sentimentalizing and editing for mom. Like all sentimental things that go on too long, it started to become an exercise in nostalgia instead of progression. Listening began to hurt more than help. Working to ignore the pain in the room hurt us too much.
The day she died she had a visit from a Christian Science nurse. This isn’t a nurse who has medical training but someone who will sit and pray with you, give you a bed bath, and at the most change a bandage. The woman was dear if a little much. She gave my mom some advice: “Joy”, my mom’s name was Joy. “Joy, if everyone says there’s an elephant in this room and they want you to acknowledge the elephant, do you acknowledge the elephant or do you get smart and realize, there isn’t an elephant in this room?” She was essentially saying my mom’s philosophy was right. If she acknowledged the cancer she would feed it. But the tactic she used to prove her point, was to interpret the metaphor of the elephant literally. She was invalidating the artistic expression of a metaphor in order to disprove a fact. She was saying my mom wasn’t going to die. She was going to have a healing because there wasn’t an actual elephant in the room. It was kinda funny. It made me laugh. It made my mom happy for a few seconds on the day she died and because at that point, there wasn’t any use in doing anything other than what little we could to make her happy, I didn’t debate the literal use of the metaphor. Then. I saved it for what’s next. For what’s gonna happen. Because my mom did die. Because, true, there wasn’t an actual elephant in the room but there was a large tumor.
We are living in a time when people are making metaphor literal to disprove facts. No there’s not an actual elephant in the room but the Arctic is melting. Hates crimes are up. The electoral college did elect a cheerleader of hate to the presidency.
I’m thinking about hyperbole a lot lately. Maybe you’d assume that, from the pictures of my work, I work in hyperbole. I don’t. Sometimes I joke that I do but really I work in expression. A bit different from hyperbole. I’m trying to use less extreme adverbs and adjectives. To call out the ridiculousness of a thing without making it apocalyptic.
It’s not too late for us. We, in this room, are not on our deathbeds. Sure we will be one day. But not today. That means we don’t get to pretend. We believe art is going to change the world, that we can simply imagine our vision and it will happen. But so did my mom. So do climate change deniers and those committed to nostalgia. The facts show us, living in a chimera doesn’t work; no matter how many metaphors we dismantle to convince us otherwise. We do have to grapple with calamity.
But how? How will we summon the energy after all this. What’s gonna happen. What’s next? I’ll tell you.
Theater audiences, we’ll say you, will burst into spontaneous applause before the work has even begun. That’s how. And that’s what’s next. You’ll do this because you’ll be part of the process of making the work. As a result you’ll know that each performance is a special day unlike any other. You will greet the new work the way you would a newborn baby. No matter how tired you are, when you see a newborn you put your stretched fingers out to hold it. So do the same at the start of a show. Make it your ritual. That’s what’s next. You will delight in the possibility. You will commit to its natural wonder. You will praise its inert beauty and intelligence. You will cradle it. Become teary eyed while holding it, simply because it exists and is sharing space. Because it is vulnerable. Because it is a little bit of you and so much of itself. Because it needs you. You will be committed. In it. Game. There to consider rather than decide. Communing with all others in the room and the all outside. You will start the ritual with an embrace. You will love it before it even begins.
What’s next is theater will be a place for communion rather than competition. This will happen because our creations will no longer conclude or peak with epiphany. There will be no closure. No implication that things finish. That a character or idea or show is frozen. Ready to be repeated exactly. Night after night. Like an assembly line, which dehumanizes the communal experience.
What’s next is theater won’t perpetuate capitalism by forgiving the oppressor and vilifying the outsider. It will, instead, hold the oppressor accountable and lift those at the bottom of the culture up first. What’s next is theater will defy gravity by replacing trickle down humanitarianism with the trickle up. What’s next is theater won’t ask permission to participate in the creativity of its own survival. It will not gate-keep itself. It will simply make.
What’s next is theater will see naming rights for what they are: those with power pissing on the culture instead of participating with it. Nobody will get an above the title credit. Not the producers, not the quote unquote not-for-profit institution that first produced the work, and not the artist. This will give you energy to grapple with what’s gonna happen because you won’t spend your energy on legal paperwork. Furthermore all theaters and festivals will change their names from patrons and banks to verbs and adverbs. The David Koch theater will be rechristened: The Trickle Up. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted just walking into a theater called the David Koch Theater. Imagine how much fun it would be to walk into a space called the Trickle Up. Oh yes, don’t mind if I do.
What’s next is theater will stop trying to be a plutocracy or democracy and instead be made by people with authority. Remember authority? Not the kind where one person has power over another but the kind where one person has knowledge and experience in a field or subject because they’ve made a continuous commitment to learning about it. And you actually listen to what that person has to say and trust their authority; trust with an open mind towards option but trust. It seems to me our political problems lie somewhere in the confusion between the two definitions of authority. While trying to stop someone from having power over you, you decided nobody knows more than you. But I progress.
So many opinions I have. What’s next is a ritual sacrifice of opinion. Theater will be a vaccination to the plague of opinions. Audiences, critics, and artists will make a commitment to perpetual consideration because we’ll convince them it is a place that is a respite from decision-making. They will flock to plays and live performance in order to be free of opinion. As a result, audiences will get specific with description. They will learn to discuss art through consideration rather than likes and dislikes. They’ll do this because artists, administrators, and producers we’ll set the example and do it themselves.
What’s next is theater will be America’s weapon of choice. It will be this way because we will make theater a place where young men and women without means can get a free education and degree simply by going to and participating in the theater. Plus they’ll be able to use their bodies at the theater. They’ll run and jump and hurtle while experiencing the ideas in theater. They won’t sign up for the military to do those things because they’ll get it all out while being audience members.
What’s next is all work will last at least as long as your forty-hour work-week. Not less, more. Not shorter, longer. Not reduction but expansion. Does that mean no minimalism. No. Minimalism is a part of the full expression of who we are so, I love minimalism. Let me see a man in a thong walking in a straight line across a stage, ever so often. But when living in a culture that allows a brander to become president, you must protest the tools of reduction.
What’s next is all the work of minorities will be on your MainStage. Fuck your blackbox. I mean, I love them. They’re sweet. Thanks for having me in them. But fuck your blackbox. Every time you put a minorities voice in the blackbox, you aren’t giving them a voice but making sure the majority is in charge of them. Able to frame them as less than or challenging. You aren’t creating intimacy but hierarchy. Look, for the most part, minorities are way more expressive than majorities. That’s how we function in a world that isn’t interested in seeing us. “You’re not interested in seeing me, well I’m going to get louder.” So, if this is true, and it is, it is on our largest stages that the work of minorities makes sense. We know how to fill the big theater. It is there our work won’t suffocate and become squashed into the intimacy of the privilege of subtlety. Some high-end artistic director, who has never booked me at his high-end New York theater, even though I’ve been making objectively thrilling work in New York for twenty-hmmm-hmmm-years, said “A 24-Decade” worked because it was the right timing for it. That people weren’t cynical now, so they could embrace it. No queen. The show worked because the theater booked it. On the MainStage. If you had booked it twenty years ago, on the MainStage, it would have worked then as well.
What’s next is theater will be brave enough to talk about the subject rather than around the subject. Subtlety will be seen as cowardice. It will stop being confused with authenticity. It will be seen as a casualty of anti-intellectualism. Extravagance will be seen, not as indulgence or a lie but as an expression of that which is normally hidden, dismissed, or buried. As a path towards our collective authority.
What’s next is there will be no auditions. No submissions. No pitches. Zero networking. We will find each other when we see each other’s work. We will find each other because we are making, working, and participating.
What’s next is we will live by example. We’ll stop telling people their party isn’t fun and instead create a kick-ass party that everyone will want to go to and more importantly that everyone is invited to. Not one where everyone is in charge but one where they’re invited. The radical queer community and history we showed and created in “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” wasn’t a wish for how the world could be. It wasn’t chimera. It was a reveal. My drag isn’t a costume I use to hide in. It’s exposing what I look like on the inside. Likewise, our art, what’s next for it, is not a wish but a discovery.
What’s next is, we’ll know when the emails and are being used as a distraction. We’ll check ourselves when we start to allow past hurts to frame our current circumstance away from truth. We’ll hone our observation skills so we’re aware that the back section of the audience is filled with patrons who are Special Needs. We’ll keep showing up, again and again, no matter how tired, because we are tired. We’ll use our exhaustion to keep the wonderment of possibilities in our bodies. We’ll use forms where our art can be more than an imagining but an actual manifestation. We’ll build an authority from considering the world as it changes. We’ll acknowledge the calamity without feeding it. We will, instead, transform calamity into communion. We will make a ritual out of the wonderment of “What’s gonna happen?”