Johnny Blazes describes hirself as a bricoleur, an artist who uses materials on hand to create new works. And ze has done it again. Blazes has collaborated with local artist/performer Madge of Honor to put together a new monthly show in Boston, the likes of which you will have never seen, and won't be able to see twice.
The show, which is aptly named Hypothesis, is a showcase of all kinds of performers (poets, songwriters, jugglers, burlesque dancers, etc). Here's the catch, each performer is challenged by Blazes and Madge to create a brand new performance piece that is both entertaining and intellectually engaging. The challenge to the artists changes each month.
Last Tuesday, 9/21, the theme was "Reinvention." Performers were asked to perform a classic piece in the first half of the show, a piece they had performed before and that they knew was successful. In the second half, the performers presented a re-invented version of the same work, changing mood, perspective or media in order to bring new meaning to the art.
The night featured performances from Kirby Bits (drag/burlesque), Ben Reynolds (object manipulation), Alicia Greene (poetry and dance), and Simon Rios (singer/songwriter/guitarplayer), and of course from Johnny Blazes and Madge of Honor. After the show the Audio Chemists rocked a dance party until wee hours while guests sipped on fluorescent elixirs.
The show was amazing and I am so glad I went. Each artist's attempt at subverting themselves in their re-invention of their "classic" piece, was met with laughter, gasps, tears, murmured affirmations, and sometimes even outright shouts of delight from the crowd.
Others acts, such as Reynold's unbelievably fluid object manipulation and Johnny's character piece were filtered through a change in mood.
Johnny performed hir classic piece in which ze enthusiastically puts clothes ON to the song "I'm Bringing Sexy Back." In the second act Johnny re-entered in a fit of emotional agony, having been rejected by an unseen partner. Ze followed all of hir original choreography, only this time hir movements were set to "Cry Me a River," and included clown-sized displays of sorrow and despair, which brought both loud "awws," and laughter from the audience.
Other artists took the idea of self subversion to a very personal level. Simon Rios presented a song in the first act that was an open letter to a friend of his who is suffering from alcoholism. And in the second act, Simon sang a song from his friend's point of view. In this imaginary response, Rios took on his friend's voice and accused himself of a laundry list of faults. As he sang the audience listened thoughtfully, and I believe, listened without judging him. I looked around and saw people nodding their heads, wiping tears from their eyes. And when he was finished the cheering shook the Midway.
One of the highlights of the night for me was watching Madge of Honor's re-invented version of a piece I'll call "Bounce." In the original burlesque piece Madge's* tassel-twirling skills are comically rendered in a dance that never gets to progress past the first few measures of the song as the soundtrack continues to reset itself. In the second half Madge performed the same piece, but with an easel holding up a giant pad of paper. On the sheets Madge carefully had prepared an "Inner Monologue" in thick black marker. As the dance progressed, Madge removed sheet by sheet to reveal Madge's thought process. Some of the thoughts were comical, and others were self -disparaging. The crowd got into it, yelling responses to the revelations, and the piece quickly became interactive in a way that challenged the audience to look at their own perspectives on the art of burlesque.
I think this project is a wonderful idea, and I'm not just saying it because Blazes is an old and dear friend of mine. Asking creators to think about what message they are sending in their art produces bold and inspiring new works, that might otherwise not have come into being.
There's no other show in Boston where you will cry as a songwriter bemoans himself for his hypocrisy, and moments later laugh out loud as a drag queen grandiosely gestures towards her tiny, sparkled, limp member.
I can't wait to see what's cooked up in the lab next month.
The next Hypothesis will be tested in October with the theme of "Matter/AntiMatter."
* Because I do not know which pronouns Madge prefers I am going to refer to Madge as Madge throughout this section so please bear with me.