Lou Henry Hoover on the notion of gender in queer performance art (Artist Statement)

 

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(Editor’s note: As we resurrect PopSmart NOLA, we do so with more intention of making this a forum for the creative people of New Orleans. The inspiration came from, of all places, a sports-related website. (Read more about that soon.) This means more content generated BY the artists and entertainers of New Orleans who explain their craft, their performances, their intentions, their challenges, you name it, as a way of making PopSmart NOLA a forum and a safe space for dialogue and engagement. Here acclaimed boylesque performer Lou Henry Hoover explains the complications of performance on the eve of “BASKETCASE,” a collaboration with partner Kitten LaRue.)

“BASKETCASE: AN EASTER EGG-STRAVAGANZA OF PASTEL PERVERSION”
WHAT:
 Kitten N’ Lou present “gender-bending, rhinestone-encrusted drag, burlesque, and surreal fabulosity” featuring visiting performers Cherdonna Shinatra (Seattle Drag Dance Genius) The One The Only Inga (Atomic Bombshells) Elektra Cute (Minneapolis’ Tesla of Tease) and others.
WHEN: Sunday (April 1), 8 p.m.
WHERE: One Eye Jacks, 615 Toulouse St.
TICKETS: $35 (VIP table seating), $25 (reserved seating), $15 (general admission)
MORE INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

I’m sitting on my porch watching little green sprouts push their way up through plants that I thought for sure were dead from the freeze. Rebirth! Transformation! Growth! These themes are repeating like a prism in this city in this season, and I can’t think of a more perfect way to celebrate than with “BASKETCASE: An Easter Egg-stravaganza of Pastel Perversion.”

Let me tell you why.

I’m a burlesque-ing drag king who was seduced by queer performance art out of a contemporary dance career and then married into New Orleans. My wife, Kitten LaRue, was born and raised in Louisiana and got her start in showbiz in the legendary Shim- Sham Revue at the venue that is now One Eyed Jacks. We are constant collaborators in life and art, Kitten N’ Lou onstage and off.  We both had performance careers before we fell in love, and Kitten was a bit reluctant to collaborate in the early days, with good reason.  Showbiz is an endless roller coaster.  We had our wedding guests sing the Ella Fitzgerald song “It’s Only A Paper Moon” at our wedding, and the lyrics couldn’t ring more true:

Say, it’s only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me

Being in this business we call show requires an endless well of belief that what you are doing is important, despite whatever personal self doubts might get in the way. I’m still at it over a decade later because live performance has taught me something deep and lasting about generosity. All the costumes, the makeup, the smoke and mirrors, they aren’t there to hide behind. They are tools we get to use to create a little magic, and that magic is special because it is analogue, it is happening in real time and in real space. It’s risky by nature, and to be truly captivating it has to be an act of generosity between performer and audience member. Maybe that performer looks a little bit like you, maybe you feel an affinity with them in that way. Or maybe they don’t at all, but they make you feel something and you feel an affinity with them in that way. And either way you are invited to look at them, listen to them, and drink in a little piece of their story.

We were inspired to create a show to celebrate Easter in New Orleans initially out of a deep love for pastels, Peeps, and the Chris Owens’ Gay Easter parade, but as we write material for our grumpy gay Easter Bunny (played by Seattle’s brillikant Scott Shoemaker, most famous for his touring production of “Ms. PacMan”) and decide what best to wrestle in — Green Jell-O? Lube? (it’s even better; you’ll have to come see) — and choreograph a disco Last Supper, the importance of the actual themes of Easter are resonating with us in a very real way.

Rebirth! Transformation! Growth! Our country, our city and the queer community are all going through all kinds of growing pains right now, too numerous to list here, and drag and burlesque are no exception. The thing I currently get asked about the most in my career is gender in burlesque and performance. It’s a really interesting time to be a woman in the world, and that definitely includes the world of drag and burlesque. As I get older, I see misogyny more and more — not because there’s more, but because I’m learning to recognize something that is so ingrained that it’s hard to even notice all the ways it plays out. Since I was asked, here are a few ways that misogyny has specifically affected my experience as a performer.

It’s the so-called “Golden Age of Drag!” Hooray! I am so happy that more and more people are celebrating and enjoying drag, thanks to the visibility provided by reality TV and the incredible touring opportunities that have resulted. But so far that’s only for drag queens — so the gap between what mostly cis male drag performers (queens) are being paid and the opportunities they have and what mostly woman-identified drag performers (kings) are being paid and the opportunities they have is getting bigger and bigger.

Burlesque has been a primarily women run and dominated art form since it’s revival in the 1990s. Hooray! The burlesque community has been generally very open and accepting of all genders and gender presentations. This has resulted in a subcategory of burlesque called boylesque, which features performers who identify as male or as performing some type of masculinity. Now here’s where things get weird: When we start having these categories, people start defining them, and sometimes that leads to exclusion. Recently a festival put out a call for cis-male-only performers for their boylesque show. As the first drag king and non-cis male to ever win the title of Mr. Exotic World, the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s King of Boylesque, I find that incredibly strange and demeaning. What producer is checking under performer’s cod pieces to make sure their genitals match the application requirements? Winning the crown in this field is still not enough to make up for the fact that my penis is detachable? This kind of policy is not only misogynist, but also homophobic and transphobic.

Kitten N’ Lou: Holier Than Thou is coming to Denver, New Orleans, and Minneapolis this Fall! from Kitten N’ Lou on Vimeo.

I am undeniably a queer artist, I draw that queerness on my face. I use the artifice of drag to reveal this queerness, to express something about gender and my queer identity. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Come for the queerness, stay for the show. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s camp, it’s surprising, it’s got great music and it’s wearing very exciting costumes. I’m an entertainer, I make work that is hopeful in challenging times, and celebrates our humanity. Live performance is very special, a whole room full of humans, sharing an experience that is creative and life affirming — this is an art form to be cherished.

So how do we do that? Make the art you want to see! Go see the art you want to see! Let’s all support artists who bring diversity to the form, and the easiest and most fun way to do that is by going to see them perform. One of my favorite things about New Orleans is that it holds seemingly contradictory truths at the same time. We celebrate while we mourn, beginnings and endings are fluid and seasons are incredibly important. Easter is no exception. “BASKETCASE” not only celebrates rebirth, transformation, and growth, but it also supports some damn good women artists, some damn good queer artists, some damn good POC artists, and some damn good New Orleans artists. Happy Easter, love bunnies!

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