Both of us here at minorprogression went to see Erin Markey’s one woman extravaganza “Puppy Love: A Stripper’s Tail” last night at PS122 and we’re still gushing about it. Erin has been on our radar since catching the early stages of “Puppy Love” when it was part of “The Sex Workers Art Show” in San Francisco a few years ago. Even in its early stages we knew that Erin’s work was something special and we’ve been looking forward to viewing her work in its entirety since then. As a performer Erin is a dizzying spectacle. She is at once ferocious and friendly, sexually appealing and frightening, old and young, the list goes on and on. Through all of these transformations and multiple personalities that Markey takes on, the thing that makes her work so endlessly engaging is her unbelievable talent, intelligence and range as a performer.
In hearing about the her show’s newest incarnation at PS122 we shot Erin an email asking her if she would do an interview, to which she responded positively. We saw the show last night, emailed her the interview that we put together after her performance and got a beautiful response back from her today. We’re both amazed and grateful for her amazingly quick response and we are seriously honored here at minorprogression to bring this exclusive interview to our readers.
How long have you been developing your show “Puppy Love: A Stripper’s Tail”? Has it had any former incarnations?
::blushes:: The show is in a constant state of development because it relies a lot on my relationship to the audience that happens to be watching me on any given night. Depending on context (college campus/ gallery/ bar/ theatre/ cabaret space), the audience’s reactions are different, and so some of the improvisational stuff sticks and some of it gets lost, etc. I started writing the show in 2005. It wasn’t a musical then. It was very dark. Too dark. In that iteration, I juxtaposed stories about the strip club with stories about my now dead family dog, Dempsey. Thus, “Puppy Love.” But I cut the dog stuff. It actually was just too weird. if you can believe it. Then I started working with my collaborator, Rich Campbell, in 2007 on music, and we made it a musical for Dixon Place‘s HOT! Festival. They were so supportive. They gave me extra nights because it sold really well. Elizabeth Dahmen produced a run of it at The Green Room (45 Bleeker) in the winter of ’07, and then I took it to 40 cities with the Sex Workers Art Show Tour in both 2008 and 2009. I pretty much left it alone until a few months ago. Then we added the storks, the designers, and the band for the soloNOVA production. It made everything so much more wonderful. We added new music, and we framed the show entirely differently.
It’s impressive how breathlessly you move from persona to persona during your show. Somehow during the course of the performance you manage to embody an old woman recounting your younger self, your younger self, an infantile self, a dominate self, a metaphorically male version of yourself, and the object of your own affection. It seems like your characters and personas cross into many categories, labels, and audience genres. The same can be said for the types of audiences and spaces I’ve seen you perform to/in. You’ve performed in queer, academic, art show, theatrical and smut related settings. When did you realize your ability to leap across these various planes? You do this all while simultaneously managing to take on such a wide range of characters. Do you find some prove more popular or relatable in different settings? Which proves the most universal? How does one become such a chameleon? Do you ever feel like a schizophrenic?
The good thing about this piece is that it’s just a real simple story. I just happen to be telling it in a complicated, absurdist and musical way. So I rely a lot on the simplicity of the narrative and the fun of the music to translate across different audiences and venues. Different parts of the show are surprising to different audiences. The classic musical theatre nod is always a surprise in a gallery and smut context. The casual toplessness and pole dancing is a surprise to theatre crowds. The “shape shifting” is a surprise across the board, I sense. Having siblings helped me figure out how to be a bunch of different people quickly. I was a middle child. I was the bully sometimes and the victim other times. Plus, we’re a very goofy family. We’ve been collectively imitating my mother since we realized she had a Michigan accent. (When we moved to South Carolina and lost our own Michigan accents.) There was a lot of theatrical one-upping going on. There still is. Christmas is very loud. And, no, I don’t feel like a schizophrenic.
According to your show, you have a bachelors degree. Is your degree in musical theater? What exactly is your musical theater background?
I started out as a theater major at St. Louis University. Which is a Jesuit university. They gave me a lot of money. I was seduced. Which is not unrelated to the plot of Puppy Love. SLU was a little conservative for me, so i transferred to the University of Michigan. I wanted to study feminist theater, but the theater department chair told me I should just be a theater major. So I became a gender studies major. I, predictably, shaved my head at that point. Which rendered me pretty uncastable. I did it on purpose. It was that time. That thirteen year old trapped in a nineteen year old’s body time. So then I started writing my own shows under the tutelage of Holly Hughes. If I wanted to perform, I kind of had to write my own shows. And, like all performers, I can’t not perform. Thus, I started writing my own stuff. Most of my work has music in it, and I’ve been in a lot of musicals.
At what point in time did you realize you wanted to make work for yourself? What helped you make the decision to perform your own work rather than perform in someone else’s?
For the record, I love performing in other people’s work. And I do it often. I especially love working with Tina Satter’s company, Half Straddle. (www.halfstraddle.com) I also ADORE working with Jeffery Self and Cole Escola on their tv show. They like to cast me as little girls and old divas. my favorite. Joseph Keckler and I worked very intimately together for years in college and afterwards. We’re just starting to work together again. I’m excited about it.
You cite Holly Hughes as a mentor and influence. How did you come into contact with Holly Hughes? What were you producing before your student/mentorship began? And how did she help you grow as an artist?
Holly Hughes started teaching at UM about the same time that I starting attending there. I saw a flier for her class “gender and performance art” on a bulletin board. On the flier, she was naked and wrapped in an American flag. So that looked kind of fun. That’s when I started making my own work. Holly took me and Bryan Heyboer (who designed the props for Puppy Love), Joseph Keckler, and another brilliant Michigan-based artist, James Leija, under her wing. We shared a very cinematically idyllic 1960′s professor-student set of boundaries. We hung out all the time. Holly was/is really into helping young artists discover that whatever bizarre thing they already do is interesting enough to perform, showcase and investigate artistically. She helped me understand how to use specificity and fantasy to make work that feels surprising and transformational.
You’ve also cited Marina Abramovic as an influential to your work. Did you hear about the woman who wore the same blue robe as Marina, along with a prosthetic nose to her 2010 show at MOMA? Supposedly the woman stood silently staring at Marina for most of the day until security demanded the woman leave because she had on a false nose that mimicked Marina’s. Did you see the show? What has your reaction been to all the security choses at MOMA surrounding the show?
I saw the show. I didn’t hear about the blue robe woman. I think it’s cool that her work inspires people to creatively comment. The MOMA can be a pretty sterile space, and I think she’s making it very live, relatively speaking. Compared to the work that she’s trying to recreate/archive, I don’t think the MOMA show is that visceral, but this is a lot of people’s first exposure to performance art. They probably wouldn’t see anything otherwise. Tim Burton’s audience gets to meet Marina Ambromavic’s work. That’s a good thing. Security Schmecurity. It’s all part of the museum culture. Do people expect the museum to all the sudden let people handle the work? those boundaries already exist in that space. You know that going into it. It’s like going to a Marina Abromavic library. Not a show. I’m ok with that. I accept museums the way they are. And that’s why we love each other.
Maybe I’ve geeked out on Kathy Acker recordings a few too many times, but there were a few points during the dialogue of your show that reminded me distinctively of her. Has her work influenced yours at all?
I haven’t read tons of Kathy Acker, but my director, Travis Chamberlain, seems to think her work is where his and my tastes meet. I believe him.
As somewhat of an exhibitionist, I’ve had my share of risque video’s online and I’ve never really managed to have any showing nudity stay on youtube for very long. How have you managed to show your naked self on youtube? And why have you chosen youtube over sites like vimeo that are more liberal with the content they allow?
The only videos of mine that have been banned are the ones where I lip sync to copyrighted music while i’m drunk in my apartment. Lorelei Lee and I made a, if I do say so myself, STUNNING lip sync video to “Just Like Jesse James,” fully made-up and clothed. Not allowed on youtube.
I guess I’m ok with being called an exhibitionist, but i use my body in my work because it feels like an important part of live theatre (as opposed to video). Our bodies are all we have. I like to recognize that. I guess youtube likes for me to recognize that too.
Last time I was in San Francisco Amos Mac showed me your “I wanna be the next American Idol” persona that you’ve been running on youtube. What prompted you to create the character? How many poor saps did you view before so convincingly creating the character that mimics A HUGE CULTURAL PHENOMENON?!?!?!
Becky O’ Connor is her name. I’ve got a soft spot for people with big dreams. I aspire to be like them. I think my dreams are kind of little, and i’m always trying to make them bigger. Being Becky helps me channel unadulterated hope and confidence in that hope that I wish I consistently felt. I don’t feel like I’m making fun of her, but I do think she’s absolutely ridiculous. And I do think she’s a part of me. But the people that comment are the amazing part. equal parts cruel and supportive. My jaw dropped when I first started reading Becky’s comments. I had to check mine and Becky’s egos at the door.
Have you ever been recognized off the street as Becky?? If the answer is no can you please just lie to me and make up a story, thanks…
Totally. a big group of 12 year old boys and a couple of german shepards started screaming “it’s becky o’ connor!” while i was carrying my groceries home from C Town on Graham Ave. in Williamsburg. It was a little freaky, but I read justin bieber’s tweets so i was prepared for something like that to happen. I signed the dogs.
Have you written any theatrical works for casts larger than yourself? What are your feelings about collaborative work? Do you see yourself always being a performer in what you write or have you ever considered working on things in a creative roll that doesn’t involve performing?
Yes, I’m writing a 6 person musical right now called The Dardy Family Home Movies by Stephen Sondheim by Erin Markey. One of the characters in Puppy Love is in it. It’s about his family. I also wrote a musical with Joseph Keckler called Looking for Limbo that we produced at the HERE Arts Center in 2006 together. We took it to the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab. I’ve done a lot of directing work, and I’m starting to write for other people. I like to perform what I write. I anticipate being in most of the things that I write. I’m gunning on writing and performing for a musical television series of my design that’s not called Glee.
So you mention online that you’re working on a movie-musical adaption of “Puppy Love: A Stripper’s Tail”. Is that really going on? Are you incorporating a cast? How will it differ from what we saw at PS122?
There are some magic collaborative strip club video pieces in the works. That’s all i’ll say.
PUPPY LOVE: A STRIPPER’S TAIL
musical multi-character comedy
MAY 13, 17, 19, 22 at 9
MAY 16 at 4
Written and Performed by Erin Markey
Performance Space 122
150 First Ave. at E. 9th St.