Posted by: maxvoltage | May 2, 2013

Intent

photo by Wayne Bund

photo by Wayne Bund

This week, I applied to a summer theatre intensive, which offered me the open-ended task of writing my “letter of intent.”  The last year and a half of my life has been completely insane, full of major  challenges and transitions, and this application process forced me to really articulate who i am, where i’ve been, and where I’m going.  I feel really proud of the piece I wrote, and wanted to share it with you all!


“Letter of Intent”

The exact moment I realized I was an artist I was standing in a urinal drawing sideburns on my face, an invited artist/playwright at the JAW new work festival at Portland Center Stage. Now, most people probably admit to being artists long before landing such an illustrious gig. But denial is a powerful tool, and being an artist is a terribly illogical thing to be, after all.

So how does one accidentally become an artist? Well, it’s a slippery slope that in my case, started with accidentally becoming an activist. I was supposed to become an Electrical Engineer, complete with Deans Scholarship, elite internship and guaranteed job post-graduation; a solid financial future within reach. It was naively mixing Catholics and Drag Queens that turned me into an activist.

The idea to throw a drag show at our Jesuit University was brainstormed at the Gay & Straight Alliance meeting, that I, being one of the few out queers on campus, was leading. What better way to crack open the closet and make the campus more queer friendly? As I was not yet 21, I had never actually seen a drag show before. But as a lifelong musician, I intuited the nuts and bolts of event-production, recruited all my theater friends, put together a boy band, made my drag king premiere, and produced the first ever drag show at a Catholic University in the United States. Our gender-bending shenanigans did not go unnoticed by the Catholic donors, parents and leadership, and the moment I booked the show the following year, it was clear things were not going to be so easy. I received a letter from the Provost informing me that if I called my event a “Drag Show,” the administration would cancel it.

Up until that point, my stubborn refusal not to “give up” on engineering repressed the shiny explorations of self, oppression and activism that were catalyzed by my new-found queerness. But these queer passions were growing exponentially, and my commitment to the engineering path was barely enough to squeak by academically; wreaking havoc on my smart kid self esteem.

So there I am, in advanced circuit design class, with the note from the Provost in my pocket. I look up and the blackboard is filled with foreign symbols and meaningless numbers. There was absolutely no room for circuit equations in a brain filled with the realizations of injustice and unfairness of the world. And in that moment, I suddenly knew I couldn’t spend my life in a cubicle, designing microprocessors.

Fast forward, I take on the administration and win! I graduate with a degree in Gender Studies, a passion for anti-oppression activism, unshakable optimism that art can change the world, and very few actual real world marketable skills. From there it was all downhill; winning the SF Drag King competition, starting a troupe with my Drag Queen brother, performing at the International Drag King Conferences, touring New York City with our drag fairy tale pop-opera, Jack’s Off the Beanstalk. Deep artist territory, yet I still didn’t realize what I was. Just thought I was a run of the mill Drag King Superstar.

I mean, the signs were there from a very early age. I should have seen them. Violin lessons starting at age 5. Youth Orchestra all through middle and high school. Constant performances for our parents and their friends, using any and every holiday as an excuse for a show. “Every show has a beginning, a middle, and an end” became Mom’s catchphrase. The ensemble creative process gets no critical respect!

Customer service work subsidized my post-college drag habit. There weren’t many stages to hold my kind of gender-bending art, so often I would build them from scratch and in doing so, create space for other queer artists-in-hiding. My DIY performance experiments were artistically thrilling, but less than rewarding financially; even thrift-shopped costumes cost money. Our troupe fell apart and I decided to find a better way. So I got my Master’s Degree in Business, and soon after started Pants-Off Productions, an event-production company dedicated to creating space for radical queer art.

I produce campy, innovative grassroots performances. I learn to MC, play violin professionally, choreograph, tap dance, sing and write songs, all while working customer service and searching for that “real job” I’m supposed to have by now. But all that shiny hard work pays off, the local art scene takes notice, and I’m invited to perform at JAW! I take that opportunity to perform a piece about the social construction of gender. In the Men’s restroom.

So you see, I took the unmarked, convoluted side-entrance to the theater world, and it’s taken me a bit longer than others to realize where I’ve landed. Where I was heading this whole time. I am an artist. Not because it’s what I theoretically want to be, but because it’s who I can’t help but be. And believe me, I’ve tried to repress these urges.

After my JAW performance, I officially came out as an artist. No one was surprised. I started writing Homomentum, a gender-bending sci-fi fantasy musical inspired by my cabaret series. I won a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council and was invited back to JAW, where anti-capitalist unicorns showered the audience with camp and glitter, during a sneak-peak medley of Homomentum. I began to fully embrace my eccentric self, no longer fearing people might find me “too artistic.”

Since it is completely impossible to deny that you are an artist while writing a musical, I’ve decided to go ahead and jump in head first. I’ve begun learning all I can about my new-found artist identity. Thanks to my local library, I’ve put together my own “Theatre 101” course including every musical book and soundtrack I can get my hands on. I’ve begun meeting other artists, networking with locally known producers, actors and playwrights. I put together a creative & production team for Homomentum, held auditions, and pulled off an hour-long work-in-progress abridged performance in a 2-week rehearsal process. Crash course indeed.

Now that I’ve embraced my artist self, the world feels like a magical new place. With the overwhelming support from my family, friends and community, I’m looking forward into my future as an artist. I find myself standing with a unique point of view, sporting an elaborate tool belt filled with classical music, dance, business savvy, gender-bending, a passion for social justice and fists full of glitter. Attending Summer Arts would add a whole new set of tools to my belt, enabling my artistic adventures to come and helping me kickstart my life as an out and proud theatre artist. Thank you for your consideration.

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