Thursday, January 16, 2014

Artist Interview: Shane Shane


January 17-19, 2014 | The Club at La MaMa 

Photo by Jeremy Sailing

Sam Alper interviews Shane Shane about queer performance, driving a giant teapot and using poppers as a metaphor.

You’ve had this transition from informal, or social, performance spaces to more formal theatrical venues, like La MaMa. What has that been like?

The background that I normally come from is do-it-yourself live music: basement shows and DIY touring and stuff. So this was new territory for me to have it formalized, people sitting down, and to have a theatre space for it. So with that I’ve developed a more reigned in script - and just scripting it in the first place is new to me, because usually I’ve written the songs, but I just talk off the top of my head between them. So this is the 2nd run of it. The first one I did, for the Queer New York International Festival, I sort of slapped together quickly, I had about four weeks to get it ready. For this performance I’ve had a little bit more time, not a whole lot, but a little bit more, so the speaking part is more structured. I’ve also called in Heather Litteer and Nicole Gruter, who are two amazing performers, as a supporting cast - so it’s not just me this time around.

Does planning what you’re going to say change the nature of what you’re doing?

I think it does. It’s been an interesting challenge trying to formalize what I want to say and the tone that I want. Interestingly, the first time around, I was adopting a kind of an honest, or earnest, persona on stage, where I was basically speaking as myself, and this time around it’s a lot more tongue in cheek and a lot more stylized. It’s been interesting finding what persona works best to tell the story I’m trying to tell.

Do you have consistent collaborators over time? When you rehearse is there someone there to watch and give feedback? What’s that side of it like for you?

Really, I’m just bouncing ideas off of my boyfriend and myself.

But - so you do have someone else to bounce things off.

Absolutely. And Dan Fishback, who was the person who got me in touch with La MaMa in the first place, has been super helpful - hashing out logistical things and things about the way these shows work that I didn’t know, and also he’s been really helpful with artistic decisions and choices about what to include or get rid of.

I was wondering about - since I didn’t get to see the last run -

You son of a bitch.

I know, frankly, you shouldn’t even be doing this interview right now. But how would you describe Liquid Nonsense to a newbie, like me?

The whole structure of it is kind of like a demented variety show. It loosely takes place over the course of a day, from sunrise to sundown, but it’s pretty non-linear. The themes that we’re touching on are the anxieties of what my role is as a queer performer in New York in 2014 and the performance art community in general. But that sort of makes it sound drier than it is. It’s mostly just a series of jokes and sketches and videos that I’ve created. So there’s a lot of stuff about what it means to be a gay man, and particularly what it means to be a weird gay man and a fat gay man. And there are underlying themes, like body positivity and queer inclusion and identity politics and all those other things that we’re sort of preoccupied with in our community.

Recently, with the launch of the Helix Queer Performance Network and the Queer New York International Festival, there’s been a lot of attention on, and forums for, queer performance, or however we’re categorizing it. Do you ever feel a push back against being categorized that way?

For right now, I don’t feel any push-back or any boxing in. Part of the reason that I came to New York in the first place was because I was explicitly wanting to be around people who were making queer art for queer people in a queer community. I spent most of my twenties being a queer musician working in a DIY punk community, which was awesome, and there’s a lot to be said for not boxing yourself in and really working with the world as a queer person. You learn a lot about yourself and the way the world works that way. At this point in my life, I wanted to get to a point where I wasn’t the only person, doing what I was doing in a room. And being in Wisconsin was part of it, but also working within the context of DIY music, more often than not I would be the queerest performer on a bill. And at least for the time being I’m really interested in and excited about being around queer people who are specifically speaking to each other and engaging in that conversation. That said, it’s an insular community, and wherever something is insular there are always problems to go along with it. So, you know, ask me in two years how I feel about it… But right now It’s stimulating and… nutritious for me to mesh into a chiefly queer artistic world. 

To me it seems like one of the least insular times for queer work - with Helix and the Queer Festival and so many people taking on the label of ‘queer performer’ and then really presenting themselves to everyone and trying to share what they do. 

I think it’s insular insofar as there’s a shared vocabulary that you get - if you go to Hot Fruit there are certain in-jokes and ideas that you don’t really have to explain. That’s all I mean by insular. What I don’t mean - I think the work I’m seeing is constantly diverse and challenging and interesting. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we’re moving towards a place right now where ‘queer performer’ isn’t so much about being gay or what your sex life is like anymore. I think it’s a lot more about how you see yourself in relationship to society at large, and what your gender representation is, and what your style of experimentation is. And considering that that’s such a huge topic, there’s still a lot of really interesting work that can come out of it. We’re luckily beyond the point where it’s just a question of getting onstage and being like, ‘I’m gay.’ It’s more about seeing yourself in a larger context and opening yourself up to a more experimental view of identity in general.

In general, I think opening up your sense of identity is step one to becoming a really good performer.

Hey hey.

Hey hey. Where does the title of your show, Liquid Nonsense: Amiable Nitrate,  come from? 

Liquid Incense is the euphemism that they wrote on poppers, because you can’t legally sell inhalants in a store. If you sell it as liquid incense you’re just supposed to open the bottle and it makes the room smell terrible because poppers smell terrible. So that’s where liquid nonsense came from. It’s also a silly but pertinent metaphor for what I’m talking about, what I want a queer identity to be which is sort of - poppers are a handy metaphor for it. You have to look to find them, you won’t just find them at WalMart, you have to go to a sex store, you have to off the beaten path and they’re certainly not for everyone. I like the metaphor of poppers that if you expose them to sunlight they sort of lose their power. There’s power in keeping things hidden and secret, keeping things word of mouth. Which is ironic considering how much I’ve been trying to promote this show. So that’s where the poppers metaphor came from. As far as Amiable Nitrate goes, I think I’m unshakably midwestern. If you come to one of my shows you’re not going to have someone screaming at you or confronting you. I’m sort of compulsively friendly. 

So the show is like this off the beaten path intoxicant that’s actually very nice-

Yeah. It’s a pretty friendly environment.

What’s up for you next, after the show?

I’m going to be putting out my first proper album as Shane Shane in the next few months. I’m recording that with Lucas Carey, who is appearing as a special guest on Friday night. This also opened up a door in my mind to doing more writing, so I think 2014 is a time to get more narrative things committed to film and on paper.

I’ve been prompting a lot. Anything else you want to get out there?

I’m very excited for people in New York to see my friend Nicole, who’s coming up from New Orleans to do this. She’s a really phenomenal performance artist and we have a long history of performing together. In 2009 we toured the country in my van, which she had retrofitted to look like a giant tea pot. We toured for two months, having tea parties at tourist venues like the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore and the Space Needle. We would set up tea parties and have people sit with us just to get people to slow down and spend time with each other rather than buy things. So that was fun… I’ve been really happy with how helpful I’ve found people to be. The show is technically written by me, but there’s just so much help that I’ve gotten from everyone. La MaMa specifically has been really a dream to work with. A really nice blend of freedom and resources. 

I love the way Nicky Paraiso, the Director of The Club at La MaMa, creates relationships with younger people and how he keeps bridging the divide and meeting people, because that’s one of the hardest things to do in an institution.

Nicky is one of those guys who, when I first met him, I was sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because he’s so easy to work with and so nice that I kept waiting for when the demands or difficulty or blowback would be. It’s rare to work with someone who’s that laid-back and supportive and interested in finding new work. 

Ooh! Inspirations? Any cultural things you’re consuming that are helpful for the show?

There’s a lot of parody, a lot of commercial parodies, so watching TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a whole segment that’s like a morning news show. Other than that, a lot of the show is a digestion of trends and things that I’ve seen among queer performers in New York over the past two years. So if you’re looking for inspirations, it’s really the awesome performers in the community I’ve been a part of.

What’s the most recent thing you’ve seen that you were inspired by?

The first thing that comes to mind is My Endless Love, the Miguel Gutierrez piece. He just closed it at the American Realness Festival but I saw it at Abrons previously. My favorite is when things are sort of funny and sad. My Endless Love was sort of a perfect example of that. It’s a meditation on desire and ego and promiscuity, and the joys and pitfalls of trying to find love through anonymous sex - or not even anonymous - but through promiscuity. Another piece that I saw that was one of the best things I’ve seen in a long, long time was Drella at The Invisible Dog Arts Center. Coincidentally, it was done by my neighbor, Raja Feather Kelly. It’s a dance piece inspired by Andy Warhol. It’s kind of indescribable. One of the best things I’ve seen in a really long time.

To close it out - in the spirt of largesse and community - if you had to recommend an upcoming show to people that’s not your show, what would you recommend?

Let me look at my calendar, see what I’m going to go to… I’m really excited about the The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black on February 13th - Kembra Pfahler is, like, a legend and I’ve loved her since i was a teenager.