Student Research Blogs

 

 

 

 

Published: May 3rd, 2016

Writing is Hard

By Seth Campbell

Writing is hard. Putting together the pieces of a story that may or may not actually exist is difficult. Research is grueling, criticism is tough to swallow, and the whole process can be unrewarding. But sometimes, a story writes itself. When you stop informing the story, and the story starts informing you, that’s when you know you’ve found something truly great. And that’s what researching Patrick’s Cabaret has been for me.

There is a tradition in writing of the neutral author. However, keeping the author in the shadows subjects the reader to the inherent biases of the author. So let me tell you about my biases. I am a 19-year-old white, cisgender, (mostly) straight man. Because of this, I tend to do a lot of writing about people with those same characteristics. I have a preconceived view of the world, and my writing tries to fit nicely inside of it.

I had expectations of what I would find in the Cabaret boxes before I ever touched them. I had an idea of what I wanted to write about, and how I wanted to say it. But the archives shattered that for me. Inside Box Number 4 are hundreds of photos from the Cabaret’s history, showcasing the people who have given their time to build Patrick’s into what it is today. From the moment I saw these photos, I knew I had to share what I was seeing.

The first thing that struck me about the pictures was how candid they were. The majority of them are just images of the people in the Patrick’s office, doing their daily work, some not even knowing a picture was being taken. This, to me, is so much better than staged group photos or yearbook style headshots. The pictures are immortalizing their subjects doing what they loved to do: create. Everyone in these images is working hard to build a space for performers on the margins of society. And they are happy! Every picture includes a smile, laugh, high-five or fist pump. This is a representation of what it means to be fulfilled in what you do everyday, and that is something truly special.

The next major group of photos in the archives is the performance photos. These are certainly more artistically framed, attempting to capture the beauty created by the artists in single photographs. Some are long-exposure shots, with more flowing colors and light than recognizable features. Others look as though they were intended for magazine covers and newspaper articles, edited and color corrected. When stitched together, you can almost feel the performances coming back to life. There are even some blurry and out of focus shots that have been preserved, but this makes sense in the context of the Cabaret. It’s all about redefining what beauty and art are, and perhaps the blurry shots tell you just as much about a performance as the artsy ones do.

In line with this thinking, the camera sometimes does something unexpected: it turns towards the audience. There are over a dozen pictures of audience members watching Cabaret performances, all candid as well. To me, these were the most telling of all. By seeing how other people are responding to a work of art, we can really begin to understand what that performance was like. Not only can we understand what the performance looked like, we can understand what it must have felt like to watch it. These photos turn two dimensions into three, fully immersing you in the world of Patrick’s Cabaret.

Through all of the photos, one theme remains true. Whether candid or framed, people are the focus of every single picture. And not just people, but people who are interacting with the space. The office staff creates the space, the performers transform the space, and the audience experiences the space. This is what was so revolutionary to me, the thing that I had to share with the world. So often, art is talked about as a singular pursuit, a creation of one person or group. So often, art is talked about as a competition, placing other artists in the way of your success. But this has never been true at Patrick’s. The Cabaret is so radical, so liberating in its idea that we should support other artists, that art can be collaborative. It would be wrong to give credit to any singular member of the Cabaret, to call anyone the most influential. Because despite the name, Patrick’s Cabaret does not belong to Patrick. It belongs to everyone who has ever volunteered time there, everyone who has ever presented art there, everyone who has ever seen a show there. And I feel truly honored to be a part of it.

 


Published: April 30th, 2016

Yas, King!

By Miguel Octavio

It was the summer after I graduated from high school that I sat down with some pals at the Gay 90’s for an exciting night of drag performances. After two rounds of performances from drag queens, a handsome man came to the stage, serenading us to “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars. After the performance, the term, “drag king” popped up and then it dawned on me: neither my friends nor I that night had ever heard of drag kings throughout the entirety of our existence. I mean, I watched RuPaul’s Drag Race ritually, therefore it should only make sense that drag kings would cross my mind at some point, right?

Initially I viewed the display of female impersonation as favorable over male impersonation. As a gay man, I found there was much more to do with exhibiting femininity in regards to mannerisms, gestures, and appearance. In addition, watching drag queens allowed me to explore more of myself through the lens of iconic female representations such as Beyoncé or Whitney Houston.

Looking at the mainstream scene in normative society, the lack of representation parallel within the LGBT community. For instance, when looking at the general makeup in sports, how much coverage do female athletes receive in the media? Not to mention, looking at the popularity of male comedians over female comedians as well. Women cannot even attempt to make people laugh without a comment about the comedian’s chest size, or lack thereof, as well as an article being published declaring that women are simply not funny. Looking at the bigger picture, how far can the representation of femininity go without being sexualized or without being criticized for deviating away from social norms.

The lack of representation in the mainstream society is the same within the LGBT community despite being regarded as an inclusiveness space for all of its members. To date, not even one drag king has ever competed in RuPaul’s Drag Race. What about the term Gay Best Friend or GBF, do they apply to butch, femme, or stem lesbians as well? It seems that coming out for gay men appears to be more celebrated by peppy girls, whereas the one lesbian that is out becomes nothing but the dyke of the school. In a world where well renowned films such as Paris is Burning, The Birdcage, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert dominate queer representations in entertainment and culture, it seems that the door for women just keeps shutting them out over and over again.

Jack Halberstam’s Female Masculinity elaborate on the notions of female masculinity. It reveals history dating back from up to two centuries ago and precise examinations of masculinity portrayed by women. Halberstam exhibits the capacity of male impersonation in entertainment and ability to put light on issues of male privilege through parody. In the section titled “Denaturalized Masculinity”, Halberstam acknowledges the use of these mockeries to evoke a successful performance:

“The drag king demonstrates through her own masculinity and through the theatricalization of masculinity that there are no essential links between misogyny and masculinity: rather, masculinity seems bound to misogyny structurally in the context of patriarchy and male privilege. For masculine women who cannot access male privilege, the rewards of misogyny are few and far between, and so she is very likely to perform her masculinity without misogyny. But sexism makes for good theater, and the exposure of sexism by the drag king as the basis of masculine realness serves to unmask the ideological stakes of male nonperformativity” (Halberstam, Jack. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. 255. Print).

Denaturalized masculinity is only one of the many tools that drag kings utilize to construct a spectacle. Once in awhile, the world will get a glimpse of male impersonation and masculine expression. For example, Mariah Carey was dressed as Eminem in her music video, “Obsessed.” I suppose there’s also the hit series on Netflix, “Orange is the New Black” which provides further representation of queers. It just goes to show if the world can place so much attention and recognition on female impersonation, the world should be able to appreciate male impersonation just the same.  A number of terminologies, categories, and styles exist within drag king culture just as much as drag queens. If Lady Gaga’s impersonation of Jo Calderone at the 2011 VMA was enough to impress and cause a scene, imagine the realm of possibilities drag kings have to entertain and inform the world.

It’s safe to say the next time I see a drag king perform, I won’t be as surprised. Acknowledging the importance of drag kings and the need for further representation is essential to learning more about gender discrimination outside of normative society. Not to mention, being exposed to drag kings has allows for seeming some of the most original and marvelous performances than ever before.

            

Published: April 27th, 2016

The Importance of Queer Performance Spaces 

By Miguel Octavio

As of March of 2016, Patrick’s Cabaret announced its departure from the firehouse after 16 years of occupancy. It came as a surprise to more than just staff members of the cabaret. It’s as if it was yesterday when an article by Rachel Gold in 1998 titled “Anonymous donor gives Patrick’s Cabaret a new home” was published. After all these years, Patrick’s Cabaret has been phenomenal when it comes to inviting all artists of diverse backgrounds including experience and aesthetic level. It has granted a chance for people of all races, sexual orientations, with disabilities to showcase their artistic skills in hopes of creating a community of talents that flourish by bringing light to silenced issues, exploring oneself, and gaining experience with the opportunities of exhibiting and developing one’s artistic abilities.

Having queer performance spaces such as Patrick’s Cabaret allows artists the freedom of performing their gender, racial, and along with other identities. This authorizes the oppressed to raise awareness on muted concerns that are neither recognized nor understood by society. In other cases, having these sort of safe havens are the only way for those to truly be themselves without the fear of facing the threat of physical violence or negative review. Despite the expansion of creativity and liberty they offer, the organization and management of these spaces sometimes pose different kinds of challenges. Performances are sometimes so elaborate that damages are made within the building itself. In addition, disapproval from those in positions of power and a lack of funding have weakened the stability of these spaces to remain in its location.

The City Pages published an article in 1990 titled “Don’t Quit Your Day Job” featuring Cabaret Founder, Patrick Scully. He offers an interpretation on the importance of performance. The column mentions Scully’s emphasis on performance by means of conveying strong emotions. The height of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s continue to castigate those with any relation to the disease. In Scully’s case, his performance piece became a way to convey the emotions that coincide from the death of friends and acquaintances due to AIDS. “The piece is about grief. Performing it is an opportunity to express that grief.” Nearly three decades ago, one could only imagine the need for Scully to bring into light such a prominent period of time when the AIDS epidemic was widely ignored. In addition, a camera assistant, Moe Flaherty, highlights the determination of performers to exhibit their works away from the direction of those that administer institutional support or under a director’s guidance. Flaherty adds “It’s interesting why all these people perform. It’s so personal. Everyone’s coming from their own individual area, and we’re all self-directed.”

Like Patrick’s Cabaret, the WOW Café theatre thrived on enabling those to offer their talents and allude to problematic topics within society. “The WOW Café” by Alisa Solomon advocates the value of these queer performance spaces. Women’s One World, (WOW), started off as a year-round festival in New York during 1980 by Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw showcasing performers from different parts of the world, as well as national and local talents in the area. It later expanded into a safe performance space for women and transgender theatre. The encouragement within these all-embracing spaces also offers a chance to develop one’s performance abilities. “That encouragement creates a freedom to express oneself. Once a performer feels safe, you can train her.” Those who are not accepted within the narrow-minded views of the world do not always have the privileges to exercise their talents to their fullest potential. In addition, Solomon’s work mentions the area as a “feminine esthetic because its details are often forgotten or stepped over in male-dominated works.” Queer spaces in general are a way of eradicating obstacles women and non-cisgender males are forced to endure from the patriarchy.

This does not pertain to all, but for some of those in the LGBT community, I often have fantasies of becoming something that seems only attainable for cisgender individuals. For instance, Venus Xtravaganza, a vivacious drag queen notable for her appearance in Paris is Burning -- a documentary which presented Harlem ball culture in the 80s where members compete by walking for trophies and awards. Xtravaganza once said, “I would like to be a spoiled rich white girl. They get what they want, whenever they want it. They don't have to really struggle with finances, nice things, nice clothes, and they don't have to have that as a problem.” Like Venus, I aspire to pursue for an open lifestyle outside of the sex I was born in. In my situation, having been designated male at birth, it’s to be a beauty queen. Sometimes I sashay around my room with my ears plugged into the beat of some mainstream song such as “Worth It” by Fifth Harmony, pretending to be competing for the swimsuit or evening gown portion of the Miss Universe pageant -- to which my roommate has awkwardly walked in on from the past. Fortunately, having a roommate who also identifies as gay that understands my needs is not bad in situations like this. He is aware of my right to express and celebrate my gender identity. Unfortunately, the reality is that not everyone is like my roommate. A number of non-inclusive folks would find me looking absolutely ridiculous strutting in my non-existent Zuhair Murad gown even if my walk was enough to get claps and praises from Tyra Banks. The ability to express my identity may not be accepted outside of secure spaces for queer individuals like me. However, for those who have talent to share with the rest of the world, one can see how crucial spaces like Patrick’s Cabaret are, not only for their development as an artist, but by means of expressing their whole-being. The rest of the world may not always be inviting to acts and performers that deviate from hetero-normative standards. Enabling spaces that do not conscribe to prejudiced views are essential for freedom of expression and the development of one’s being through the exploration of identity.

 

Published: April 27th, 2016

A Lesson in Freedom 

By Seth Campbell

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Credit: 

Seth Campbell

Producing art is a terrible idea. If you enjoy stability, consistency, recognition, wealth, or appreciation, you can count “artist” out of your possible careers. The whole field is based on the work being purely subjective; if the wrong person dislikes the thing you have spent months, years, or lifetimes creating, you can find yourself out of a job in a hurry. The critic almost has more power than the artist, because they shape the way the public views the piece. So what happens when a work gets panned? How does an artist respond and come back stronger? The way an artist responds to criticism can shape the rest of their career.

Patrick’s Cabaret is no stranger to criticism. The art produced each month follows two general trends: experimental and radical. This is certainly an acquired taste, and can be jarring, upsetting, and even offensive to some patrons. Longtime followers of the Cabaret and the Minneapolis art scene will remember well the Ron Athey performance that garnered national attention after a critic (who didn’t see the show) accused the performers of exposing the audience to HIV-positive blood. That wasn’t true, but that also wasn’t important. Athey, the Cabaret, the Walker Art Center, and experimental artists in general were suddenly taking criticism from all over the country; a national assault on the arts was just beginning.

Records from this time are difficult to obtain. As Lauren DeLand writes in “Culture Wars and Culture Gaps”, the controversy surrounding Athey’s performance has caused nearly his entire body of work to be heavily censored. What is there, however, is something comparable. In the spring of 2007, in response to an email about opportunities to volunteer at the Cabaret, the front office received a rather intriguing email. A local woman was interested in volunteering for the Cabaret, but complained that the last time she attended the performances were too dark for her tastes. She wondered if something could be done to lighten the atmosphere and make it more enjoyable. This message ended up being forwarded to Patrick himself, who penned a beautiful defense of not only the artists and the Cabaret, but of experimental art spaces in general.

The ideas expressed in this letter go far beyond their specific context; they are really the guiding principles of the Cabaret. “Art plays many roles, and we embrace that multiplicity,” writes Patrick. And the Cabaret certainly has. It is rare to find a more diverse set of performers than those who have graced the Cabaret stage over the years. Patrick’s is committed to art above all else, and honors that commitment no matter what the circumstances. The history of the Cabaret has been an adventure, but so, too, is life.

 

Published: April 20th, 2016

Patrick’s Cabaret: A Location Through Time

By Seth Campbell

From the study of physics, we know that time and space are inexorably intertwined. The passage of time can be seen to affect physical space, and vice versa. The scientist knows this well, but so, too, does the performer. A performance space is more than just a physical location. It is a home, a collaborator, a source of inspiration. The location of a piece possesses the power to alter meaning, as a Macbeth performed on a Broadway mainstage tells a radically different story from one performed in the streets of Harlem. Performance groups often become associated with a particular space, but this has not been the case for Patrick’s Cabaret. More recently the Cabaret has accepted the Firehouse as its home, but for the majority of its life the Cabaret was elsewhere. The locational history of Patrick’s is deeply intriguing, and each location has not failed to leave an impact on the art created by Cabaret performers.

The story begins with a person and a dream, as so many do. Patrick Scully set out in 1986 to present his work as an artist, knowing that he would have to do nearly everything himself. He took a job teaching dance at St. Stephen’s Church, and produced the Cabaret in their performance space for nearly three years. Even then, Patrick knew he was beginning his life work, stating that his eventual goal was to make his living full-time running the Cabaret. But this was never just about Patrick. It was about providing a space for other artists like him, people who work 9-5 and create their works during evenings and weekends. “The idea is to make it easier for the artist, low stress,” said Patrick in a 1989 interview with the alley, the official newspaper of the Phillips Community in Minneapolis. And while St. Stephen’s was a wonderful first venue, hosting the Cabaret for over three years, there came a time to move on to better and brighter things. Patrick felt a certain amount of guilt about using the Church’s space, because the Cabaret had held a monopoly on the Church’s performance space for so long. So in the summer of 1989, the Cabaret moved for the first time.

The Cabaret found its second home in what can be glamorously described as a warehouse. This space was owned in full by Patrick, and in turn became the first space to be totally devoted to the Cabaret. The works performed here continued the mission of experimental performance that had begun three years ago, with new boundaries being pushed in every show. This would also be the location that the nation would associate with Patrick’s, following the controversial performance by Ron Athey.  A performance that featured the use of human blood while the country was reeling from the shock of the AIDS crisis was sure to draw attention, and not all of it positive. But the media coverage surrounding the infamous performance turned out to be a blessing, as the Cabaret only grew more successful.

Once the controversy blew over, however, a second incident began, involving Patrick’s bicycle and the Minneapolis Police Department. Patrick Scully is an avid biker, and in 1996 he was particularly upset with Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, who had zoned a portion of the bike lane on 10th Street as valet parking. So he contacted the proper authorities, and was passed along to one Grant Wilson, the man in charge of zoning ordinances for the cities. He left his name and phone number, and awaited a call. The call came while Patrick was out one afternoon, and before leaving a message Mr. Wilson heard the answering machine at the Cabaret announcing the upcoming events. Mr. Wilson then discovered that Patrick’s was located in a residential neighborhood, and therefore the performance space was technically illegal. Police were sent to the building, and the Cabaret closed in June 1996. This could have spelled the end for the performances, but after some quick thinking and legal finagling, the Cabaret reopened in January 1997- as a lodge. The Cabaret now had the same legal status as the Elks or the Masons, and performances continued unhindered until 1999.

The history of the Cabaret is full of irony. The warehouse location was ultimately closed by the fire marshal; in May of 1999, the Cabaret moved into its current location in an old Firehouse. Finally unable to perform the necessary maintenance on the warehouse to continue existing as a lodge, it was time for a move once more, to the Firehouse on Minnehaha Avenue. The previous residents of the Firehouse were the Minnehaha Furniture Company, who had kicked out a theater in order to make room for their store. Now, the Furniture Company was closing to make room for a theater. And in a final twist, the building where the Firehouse paperwork was signed is the same building which houses Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, the restaurant whose incompetent patrons began the whole fiasco.

Patrick’s Cabaret, like the spaces it has occupied, is ever-changing. Though the time at the Firehouse is at an end, the artistic spirit of Patrick’s lives on. Some performances live on borrowed time; others look as though they may collapse any second. Some performances are filled with irony; others are merely a result of happy circumstance. But all of them, together, regardless of location in space or time, make up the legacy of a brilliant, unique theatrical space, which will remain a cultural icon of the Twin Cities for years to come.

            

Published: April 13, 2016

Black Queer Lives Matter

by Miguel Octavio

For the past three decades, one of Patrick’s Cabaret’s biggest contributions has been its willingness to unite all artists of any race, gender, or background. The organization has truly given an opportunity for all performers to exhibit their talents and share them with the rest of the world. However, what makes the open arms of Patrick’s Cabaret so special is its ability to put light on issues that are never broadly recognized nor addressed by society. Specifically, the conflicts regarding those of various sexual orientations and race relations in our country. Day after day, we witness many accounts of sexual discrimination and cultural appropriation especially among black queer individuals. Fortunately, Patrick’s Cabaret has been blessed to have such talents grace their home and use their voice to eradicate the discrimination among these problems.

The Q Monthly published an article in April of 1998 titled, “Gettin’ Her Groove On” featuring performance poet April Andrews. Handpicked by Patrick Scully to be part of the Artist Development Series, Andrews is known for being one of the most spectacular performers to ever grace the cabaret. She narrates compelling topics that explore her struggles with race, gender, and coming out. Despite the hard hitting subjects of her pieces, she integrates cadence, movement, song, and sensuality into her presentations.

One of the fundamental parts of her performance practice involved the use of the genre she called “dykerotica” -- erotica for, by, and about lesbians. Dykerotica helped to expand Andrews’ series of work which explored the theme of finding one’s self. She coined it as a process in which the characters “go through a struggle and end up thriving by getting one step closer to themselves.” Gender identity was a primary focus of dykerotica, particularly, the lack of acceptance related to the process of coming to terms with the artists’ authentic self. Not to mention, the bullying and harassment from those around the person ranging from companions, coworkers, and even family members. In one of Andrews’ pieces, “How Virgin Mary Got Her Groove One”, a story about the departure of the Virgin Mary from Joseph and Jesus for an allegedly sensuous and seductive Eve, Andrews says:

“Eve’s breath / is apple cider / want no water / Joseph go and fetch / your own pail of water / while I drip between Eve’s breasts / in search of cider / Jesus, Joseph you’ve got one another / Me? I gotta get my groove on / I’ll see you at the cross.”

In a more personal note, Andrews recounted her own story by showcasing characteristics of sexism and racism through “Velvet Chitlin”. She surrounded this piece with a collaboration of poetry, song, and performance. The motive being to overthrow the cultural appropriation of black females by white culture. Using all these collaborations, her character undergoes a journey that leads them to the essence of their identity for the sake of pleasure and salvation. The snapshots of art are a way of backtracking the images and depictions of women of color. It becomes another opportunity to make these issues known. “Every black woman has her story. Those stories need to be heard, as well as mine,” Andrew states. The piece allows the culturally appropriated characters to restore control by knowing who they truly are. They may simply focus on focusing on themselves instead of conforming to the fabrications and distortions that preceded them.

Performance as Intravention by Marlon M. Bailey features the importance of ball culture, a community of LGBT people that compete in different genres of stereotypes ranging from drag to heterosexuality. It thrives on creating a safe haven for underprivileged LGBT of color much like in the film, Paris is Burning. Aside from the extravagant competitions that take place during the ball, the documentary aims attention to the life of drag queens in the streets of Harlem by touching base on the house system which provides a space for the neglected and homeless to explore gender and sexuality within a family household. At the same time, the film explores racism and poverty at its core and how it specifically affects LGBT members. Much like Andrews’ work, the ball culture also serves a purpose to aid the black queer community. Bailey exposes how ball members and practices often seek to combat the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS victims from being hypersexual criminals. Keeping in mind, the 80s was a decade where a constant cycle of dehumanization occurred upon queer folks. Though both Andrews and Bailey possessed different agendas in mind, they had one thing in common: They aimed to dismantle the stereotypes of black queer individuals.

With such prominent events such as the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, an abundant number of Americans are quick to assume that racism and discrimination among sexual orientation are over. However, this is simply not the case. We are continuing to see patterns of fictitious representations dating back from the early 1900s to present day ranging from thuggish stereotypes such as illiterate, uneducated, and criminals. Not to mention, a number of malicious acts involving violence and brutality continue to occur. Fortunately, we also have strong individuals outside of Patrick’s Cabaret that help pioneer the journey to overthrow the marginalization of black queer folks -- Laverne Cox, RuPaul, Wanda Sykes to name a few. It’s the works like those of April Andrews that make us realize how important it is to recognize black issues. As it may come to a surprise for some people, black lives (and queer) do matter. Our country has definitely taken large steps to promote equality among all people regardless of race or gender, but the fight is not anywhere near over.