“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” - Mark Twain
By Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
“I must be an alien from some far-off land…” sang Portland-based drag king Max Voltage on Saturday, August 4 at Queer Social Club’s Transmission variety show. The performance, which took place at the incredible but under-used Washington Hall, featured artists from trans and genderqueer communities both in the Northwest and beyond.
Max presented two songs from Homomentum, an upcoming sci-fi musical comedy. They were stripped down from their intended forms as choreographed ensemble pieces to just Max on an ukelele, singing about the struggles and triumphs of living with a shifting identity. It was a low-key way to ease into the rest of Transmission, which ended up being mesmerizing, raucous and challenging before the night was over.
Part performance artists, part comedy duo and part cute couple, Neon and Leon Beige served as the night’s twin MCs. Their introductory sketch, a delightfully weird dance routine of upside-down dresses and high heels designed for hands, set a tone of thoughtful craft and humor. Updates about Neon and Leon’s upcoming performances can be found online at their Tumblr and Facebook pages.
The early part of Transmission was intimate and frequently gorgeous. After Max Voltage’s song preview, a pair of poets took the stage. Eli Steffen arrived in an elegant, red dress projecting a disarming mix of vulnerability and quiet confidence. He read two poems, “I Am” and “The Earnest Body,” both fine works of carefully crafted lines and clear images. The former, a meditation on Steffen’s father, begins small and specific before panning out at the conclusion, which reads:
“My father knew that pain
To long under pressure
As his father before him,
Like a god in training,
My father practiced his storms of rage
Like it would save him
From the wet,
That is each person’s birthright.
Yet he also taught me be to do my ablutions
In the wet
And taught me when there was no water
Use the sand.
For sand is made soft by the ocean
That we all once came from.”
Poet Amber Flame presented a more inward-looking piece with a visual aspect for added effect. Reciting and singing about the way she feels disconnected from the public personae she “puts on like costumes,” Amber shifted from fantastical to everyday over the course of her set. She stepped out of the flashy duds that hugged her at the beginning of her performance and stood in her underwear for a time before slipping into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt for her exit. In a show where glitter and drag are the norm, civvies look downright foreign.
The final wordsmith at Transmission’s Saturday show was Katz, who performs as Athens Boys Choir. ABC, originally from Georgia and now based out of New York, visited Seattle to read two spoken word pieces and one non-fiction short about his trip to Laramie, Wyoming when he was in the process of transitioning from female to male. Laramie is infamous for being the town where University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was murdered for being gay in 1998. Despite the potential grimness of the story, Katz relies on levity both in his general outlook and in his unconventional, conversational reading style.
The word was strong at Transmission but dance had dominion. Suspension performer Puss In Boots did an acrobatic rope show in the first half of the evening. The P.N. Boots persona, a femme drag circus act, made her world premier at Friday’s show. Later, professional dancer Paris Original did a beautiful routine of balletic fluidity and physical transformation. Paris is one half of the Seattle-based duo The Original Twins. Paris Original’s next show is at the Pink Door in Post Alley on August 25.
Choreographers and drag royalty The Cherdonna and Lou Show (Jody Kuehner and Ricki Mason) had two performances at Transmission on Saturday. Their first was a slick and funny dance number that made great use of the incredible height disparity between the two. Kuehner easily tops seven feet with the help of platform shoes and Mason is in the low fives, the contrast punctuating each shimmy and bunny hop. In the second half of the night, Cherdonna and Lou came back for an avant garde comedy bit the audience adored.
But for one exception, the burlesque portion of Saturday’s Transmission broke from the rest of the evening’s excellence. An early routine by Portland drag king Shaktease was a lot of fun, but a later dance by cabaret artist Cory Cunnilingus felt like a poor echo of the same, especially since Cory bills herself as one who “likes to create tensions across gender binaries.” Her routine didn’t push any boundaries in a show dedicated to progressive concepts of gender. But the most baffling performance was Violet Deville’s burlesque, which involved very little dancing and the questionable decision to throw cookies into the audience, hitting people on the head and covering the floor with crumbs.
The audience had an equally lukewarm reaction to Clyde Petersen’s trio of animated films, “Terminal Velocity,” “Shady Grove” and “13 Ways to Get Hard.” Many expressed confusion over the tone of the often pornographic shorts. Lauded transgender filmmaker Tobi Hill-Meyer got a much better response for her preview of “Doing It Again,” an in-depth sequel to her pair of documentaries about transgender sexuality. “Doing It Again” is meant to be a suite of three films exploring transgender love and relationships.
Transmission also featured a concession box of small bites created by Sully McGinnis of the Kitchen Sink Project. McGinnis crafted eats in honor of the performers, like the Puss In Boots phyllo nest with spinach, leeks and asparagus, and the Paris Original goat cheese gilded cherry.
Queer Social Club put on a great show on Saturday night. Most of the performers brought their best to the stage at Washington Hall, whether it was some of today’s finest transgender art or some of today’s finest art that happened to be made by transgender people.