FEARLESS: Reflections on Performing at The Garage November 22 and 23, 2013

I cannot stop thinking about the experience I had at The Garage in San Francisco. It was two nights of performing for The Defiance Project, and some crazy things went down in the theater. Some crazy beautiful things.

I found it rewarding to perform Sophie Needelman's vision, Identity Chutzpah. I was able to see how choreography can be revisited to see how exterior motions can express deeper internal experiences. Sophie was inspired by the research she did in Israel with drag queens and religious rituals. Traditionally yamakas are worn by Jewish men and placed on the scalp. For this performance, the yamakas were worn by women on stage and placed in non-traditional body parts. At one point in the dance, a pile of yamakas is placed over my womb, and two piles over another dancers' breasts. Applying the yamakas over my womb gave me a feminine and masculine experience. The performances thereafter continued with the themes of gender, sexuality, duality, and race.

In the second act, Tessa Fleming --also known as Drag Queen Missy Lightweight-- struts on stage lip syncing to "It's Raining Men." She eventually deserts the song to perform an intimate piece about "white girl problems." She takes the audience through a journey of what seems to be a negative encounter with her body. In one progression she demonstrates undressing with kindness and juxtaposes that experience with undressing with violence. The scene is heightened when she raises her hands in front of her as if creating a barrier between her vulnerable body and the invisible force coming towards her. Through small vignettes created with lighting cues, music, props and sparkles she transforms her body from a fabulosa drag queen armored in make-up and heels -- into a naked body reacting to the interjections of the world around her. Tessa invites us into many dimensions: fantasy, sensuality, perceptions of beauty, femininity, violence, force, and self-denial. In one moment she screams, "I was only 16. You fucking asshole!" Tessa Fleming and director Melissa Lewis have created a painful and beautiful piece. To say this performance was brave would be too cliché. It takes more than bravery to express such deep vulnerable parts of a human experience, and for that reason the evening's theme suddenly becomes clear to me - FEARLESS. I will never forget White Girl Problems directed by Melissa Lewis and performed by Tessa Fleming (@tessamaurice).

Speaking of fearless, the final performance of the night is directed by New York Artist Stiven Luka. Stiven walks into the theater wearing a dress, high heels, and a blonde wig. She is Crystal: a force of nature that demands attention. I stay for the full performance on the second evening, with an idea of what to expect, thanks to the internet. Check out Stiven Luka's vimeo page by clicking here. There were only three of us in the audience, and on the sidelines Joe Landini and Crystal's crew. The fourth wall wasn't something to break--it simply wasn't there. The experience interactive and pretty much in your face. Jenn Marks and Crystal (Stiven Luka) shared the space with cameraman David Raboy. The show had loud music, lap dancing, fluids, a large gallon of milk, an attempt to vomit, nudity and so much more. But personally, for me, the beautiful thing about this performance are the conversations that happen afterwards. At face value, you might think/say the show is a shock piece. Yet the more I re-visit the evening in my mind, the more I find myself asking question about what we value as art and as people. For example, a question I was asked: "Why is it necessary for the artist to force himself upon an audience member? I just want to be an observer." This question/discussion was raised because Crystal is a very direct performer, which made a few people in the audience uncomfortable. I began to think about how things are, in fact, forced upon many, and wondered if that was an interpretation of one of those encounters. Whether it's religion, race, and/or gender. It also lead me to think about how that force can make a person abandon who they truly are on the inside -- all for the sake of belonging. Another theme I pulled from the performance was the idea of hierarchy and how some people are allowed to show their art while others have to struggle. Lady Gaga was put on blast for this example. I wondered as I watched the question get posed, why is it that an idea from Lady Gaga is more significant than an artist like Crystal? I wondered how could one explain the value of art, and the value of a human being? For example, what sways the decision for funds and space? What do we value as a community? Crystal was a very inquisitive person, and most of the time she posed questions to the audience members. They were hard questions, and things that took me out of my comfort zone. Why do that? Maybe it was to reflect onto us what people who get questioned and doubted feel like all the time.  It was a tough and valuable show. I don't even think I should call it a "show," it's unnameable. I left the theater with milk stains on my boots and ideas about art, identity, and values. Tame is not a word I would ever use to describe this experience. Leave tame at the door when you see this show and be prepared to be faced with some ugly truths. Sometimes in the midst of chaos, the self emerges. And that's what happened to me when I saw an injured performer. I walked over to Joe and asked for bandaids. In sticky situations, I become a big sister. Oy! Rock on Crystal team.

I aim to be more fearless because of this experience. Thank you Joe, Sophie, Tessa, and Stiven. Thank you Hannah and Elissa who shared the stage with me. I repeat, bravo.

Don't forget to donate to The Defiance Project:
The Defiance Project Donation Request: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-defiance-project-2-year-anniversary-fundraising-campaign