On the development history of, and plans for the current show Longing Lasts Longer:
We started work in June of 2014. It’s a work in progress. I’ve always developed my pieces in front of audience. I’m one of the only people who actually does that. We have the four performances at Joe’s Pub. Then we’ll be getting ready for the Edinburgh Festival August 25-30, and then the Soho Theatre in London. Then hopefully we’ll come back here to remount a full production in 2016.
On working with long-time collaborator Steve Zehentner:
I’ve been working with Steve for 23 years. I first met him at PS 122 when he came to shoot the video for Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! He said he had never seen a show where it changed every night because of the improv. He became a kind of dramaturg for my work. We work on everything together. I do most of the writing. He does a small percentage of the writing and devises the sound score. But I pick the songs I want to use. And we both co-direct the piece. He is probably the overall structure guy; I’m the detail person.
On drag, burlesque, showmanship, and connecting with the audience:
Drag is any costume that you put on — including people who dress up to go to their office job. In the ’80s and into the ’90s, my work was very costumed, with wigs and costumes, make up and glitter. In the 90s, I stopped doing that and started dressing in black. When some of the dancers I work with saw video from the ’80s, they were shocked. It never occurred to them that I used to have costumes and characters and had rock bands and I sang. Performers evolve – look at someone who’s been a performer for a long time like Jackie Gleason or Bob Hope, you look at their work from the ’50s or ’60s, and then you find out they did music hall, vaudeville. As a performer you go through many different incarnations . I identify most with 1950s comedy writers. I try to make jokes, something will make people laugh in a way that means something, not just crass below the belt humor. I like that [my work] is quotable. I like work that has more life to it than just me on stage…
…Bitch! had a lot of erotic dancing in it. Stripping is an art form. I stripped to Lenny Bruce’s speech on obscenity. Other people developed their own thing through the ’90s and ran with it. But burlesque has become annoying. Ubiquitous. Every 22 year old does it now. But instead of political and anarchic neo-burlesque like Dirty Martini and Julie Atlas Muz do, it’s become like a cheerful burlesque lite. It’s very Victoria Secrety. There is no influence of [that kind of] burlesque on my work. I was always interested in down and dirty erotic female dancing. Real erotic dancing, which one usually sees at the lower end of the class spectrum. It’s a feminist art form. It’s the only thing devised by women that controls men, unlike practically everything else. I love erotic dancing with a tribal hypnotic trance background.
I love vaudeville. I love real entertainment. I’m an aficionado of that sort of thing. I hate reality style entertainment, like reality tv where they investigate reality with a microscope instead of making stuff up and being whimsical and fantastical. I never forget that I’m an entertainer, I’m not a journalist or an essayist. I try to give the audience some bang for their buck. It’s cultural analysis you can dance to. [At Longing Lasts Longer] the audience will be rocking in their seats.
The general public are the producers of my shows. People support the work by buying tickets. The audience is really interested in original art and I love them being the producers. I love that feeling when you look out in audience and you know everyone in that audience. It’s a way to come together. People say, “I laughed, I cried, you talked about what I think about.” We all have same thoughts. My job to dig a little deeper. Lee Breuer of Mabou Mines came to see my show. He said he had never been to see a show where people “called out” so much. People identify with what I’m talking about. It’s like a revival meeting.
Longing Lasts Longer opens at Joe’s Pub tonight: tickets and info here.