Imagine being at the end of the world with absolutely nothing to wear.
Imagine being an intergalactic exotic dancer whose cyber-dreams crackle simultaneously with the enormity of the universe and also its devastating isolation.
Imagine being faced with the horrifying and fantastic and maybe awful task of creating your own mythos because what you are defies all conceptions of normal and conventional.
Imagine realizing all the legends, all the sagas, all the tall tales we inherit do not do justice to our truest grandeur, our spectacular natures, our absolute marvelousness.
But most of all, imagine being at the end of the world, WITH ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO WEAR.
These are the conditions, so to speak, of the immersive, collaborative, performance art experience that is folkLab’s most recent endeavor QUEER: new american tall tales. Crafted as a workshopped group effort to discuss, re-interpret, and reimagine the tall tales that most of us were raised on and had passed down to us. Creative director Abigal Lis-Perlis noted that in the face of the general dissatisfaction with what the husks of most tall tales offered—painfully binaristic tropes; women diminished to supporting roles or basic caricatures; no room for queer or trans* identification or interpretation; etc.—the creative group assembled made a move towards having the piece be a collective effort aimed at restructuring what tall tales could mean in terms of being a queer-identifying individual or artist.
The result, keeping with folkLab’s phenomenal standard of challenging and deconstructing what the performative experience should look and feel like, is a multi-narrative, semi-immersive journey through six queer artists’ articulations of what tall tales should be in a prismatic lens. Princess Jafar, Olivia Wahlberg, Michael Young, Harry J. Hawkins IV, Gia Fagnelli, and Matthew Russak (Matt w/ 2 ts) (with the accompaniment of Lis-Perlis and Gwen Vickinovac as the gender-bending, spirit-guides through the tales) designed an assortment spectacularly unique stories, each generating their own fabulous, heartbreaking, provocative, quirky, and utterly statuesque tall tales. While each individual had their own vision and their own personality (or established characters, in the case of Princess Jafar) to integrate into their conception of tall tales, a fabric of harmoniousness was paramount to the show’s astonishing and delightfully weird and absolutely poignant aesthetic.
As audience members are divided into two groups, they weave literally and figuratively through stories equal parts outrageous and devastating. Folklab head Lis-Perlis embellishes on this balance of outrageous and devastating, stating that much of the power and success of “tall tales” comes from exploring the nuances of a dichotomy of “bizarre and relatable.” Indeed, Gia Fagnelli’s tall-tale interpretation perhaps most vividly and ruefully epitomizes this dichotomy, with a piece centering around a cyber-dancer’s Philip K. Dick-esque, synthetic multimedia dreamscape allows the audience member to tune into the cosmic vibrance and splendor of queerness, while also brutally being exposed to the astronomical loneliness and disconnection. Hawkins’ divinely choreographed vignette is equally evocative and raw in terms of channeling these juxtaposed themes that are innate to coming of age as a queer identifying individual and ascertaining one’s own story and legacy. The audiences’ journey through the stories and performance pieces range from the deconstructive historical (Wahlberg); to the multifarious perspectives that contribute to the fantastical fluidity of identity (Young); to the flamboyant tragicomedy of isolation (Princess Jafar). But the gorgeous unity, both visually and thematically, of all the pieces keeps an audience riveted and electrified regardless of background and experiences.
To see “tall tales” is a sort of ecstasy in the purest sense of the word. From a design and visual takeaway, it is dazzling to observe the individual artists’ personal vision manifested, and the extraordinary way in which all the narratives intertwine and support one another. On a conceptual level, “tall tales” is a majestic reconciliation with the inadequacy of the hyperboles our heteronormative mythic inheritance allows us, and boldly blazes ahead by proving that being queer, and articulating one’s queerness in and of itself is a mythic, groundbreaking experience. The doleful yet whimsical song performed by Matt w/2 ts at the beginning of show is a wonderful demonstration of the world enlivened through “tall tales”: it is seductively and effectively folky in such a way that engages and even challenges audiences outside of the queer community; it is unfathomably vulnerable and intimate to the queer members of the audience who know achingly well the message of self-creation that it attests to. “tall tales” is brilliant in bringing together provocative, diverse queer visions while connecting audiences through a new understanding of folklore and myth.
QUEER: new american tall tales runs at 3577 Studios through Sunday August 26. For tickets and more information click here.
Categories: Archived Reviews