Under the Radar Artists Detonate at The Public

James Carter interviews Under the Radar artistic director Mark Russell and featured artists, The Bengsons and Erin Markey.

A scene from The Bengsons "Hundred Days." Photo Credit: Dan R. Winters

Under the Radar is many things to many artists: Launchpad. Incubator. Amplifier. Playground. Artistic Director Mark Russell cultivates this annual celebration of contemporary and experimental artists from around the world and ushers them to the Public Theater’s stages.

Extended Play’s James Carter, who formerly was the lead curator for terraNOVA Collective’s soloNOVA Arts Festival, previously presented the wife and husband musical duo, Abigail Nessen Bengson and Shaun McClain Bengson, otherwise known as The Bengsons. He also curated Erin Markey‘s musical “Puppy Love.”

Years later, James reunites with these artists who have new shows opening in Under the Radar. The Bengson’s offer “Hundred Days” an “uncensored, exhilarating, and heartrending true story of how Abigail and Shaun Bengson met and fell in love, and how that love unleashed their terror of mortality.” Erin Markey shares a brand new show “Erin Markey: Boner Killer,” in which she shares her intimate, personal history in story and song.

To kick things off, James spoke with Mark Russell about his offerings for the 2017 Under the Radar Festival, interactive and immersive theater, and the volatile political climate.

Under the Radar 2017 runs January 4-15, 2017 at The Public Theater in New York City. 

MARK RUSSELL—FOCUSING A LENS ON GLOBAL EXPERIMENTS 

Mark Russell, Artistic Director Under the Radar

Mark Russell, Artistic Director Under the Radar

JAMES CARTER: You’re heading into the thick of this thing, Under the Radar.

MARK RUSSELL: Yeah it’s going kind of hot and heavy right now, yes. It’s good. Things are coming together. I’m excited about it.

JAMES: Does it feel different this year than it has in the past? Or the same? It’s like eleven years, right?

MARK: Yeah, I mean each one has its own sort of tenor. This one, we are trying to do so many new things with it, as far as producing things. So we have so many shows that I don’t know what they’re going to be when they finally arrive. You know, we have a general idea, but that’s new for us. We’re working on producing and presenting more things than normal. Normally we just have works that sort of dropped in. We’ve seen them, we know what they do, what they need. And in this one, there’s only a couple like that.

JAMES: Oh wow, so are you presenting more works-in-progress this year than you have in the past?

MARK: No. We have that same Incoming Series, which is our work-in-progress series. But things like Marga Gomez’s “Latin Standards,” this will be actually its premiere. And things like Nikki Appino and Saori Tsukada’s “Club Diamond,” that’ll be a completely new piece that hasn’t been seen. It was seen in a workshop last year, but that’s new. And then “The Bitter Game,” which was done as a promenade piece on basketball courts in San Diego, they’re retuning it to a 200-seat sit-down house, so it’s a big deal.

JAMES: How does that feel, when you’re retuning something that was not made for a theater space.

MARK: In this case, I think it’s going to work out fine. [Keith A. Wallace] is such a strong performer, and the message is so great and so important to hear right now. This is one of the best Black Lives Matter pieces that I’ve ever seen so far. And he is an amazing talent. So I think it’s going to actually help the piece. It’s going to expand the number of people who can see the piece, and that’s important. And Keith will play it. He’ll do it. Oh, and the other one, the main one is “The Fever,” 600 Highwaymen, which is a piece that we have been with since the beginning. And we took it on a little tour to some universities to fix it and let it have its out-of-town tryout if you will. And then this will be its world premiere when it comes to us.

JAMES: I wanted to ask you about 600 Highwaymen’s show. Can you tell me a little bit about it and what we can expect from it?

MARK: Well, it’s hard to talk about it without giving away a lot about it. All I can say is that the audience will make the piece. It requires some participation and some involvement from the audience. It’s very gentle. You can say, “No, I don’t want to do something.” But basically, you are creating a piece based on the rite of spring with your colleagues that are in the audience.

JAMES: That’s really exciting.

MARK: It’s really exciting. And I never think these things work. I’m the last person to do interactive theater. But this is really a powerful piece. It’s really beautiful… A whole new level for 600 Highwaymen—a natural progression of their work, working with real people on stage and young kids on stage. And this now, all the barriers are down. It’s the audience on stage.

JAMES: You said that interactive isn’t necessarily your thing. Why do you dig on this? What’s different about it?

MARK: I must say, I do get seduced. But I have the same trepidations everyone has when you go to a piece and they say, “This one’s going to be audience interaction.” And you say, “Oh no, are they going to call me up on stage and make me wear a skirt or something like that?” You know, like, I do not go to the magician show that often, or mind reader shows because I just don’t want to do that. But all of these shows that we have have a different kind of engagement. The rules of engagement with theater are changed. And we may be going through Rimini Protokoll’s “Top Secret International,” with headphones on and making your own choices in the story, almost like a game. And/or deciding or not deciding to participate with the group that’s in 600 Highwaymen. There’s also a piece called “Gardens Speak,” which was one of the most powerful pieces I saw last year. I saw it in a basement in Cairo. It’s only for 10 people. The thing is, it really implicates the audience, and that helps. It’s taking theater now and looking at that event and the parameters of that which we think of theater and stretching it. And at the same time, coming through with narrative stories, good stories, all of that, to touch your heart.

A scene from "Gardens Speak," running January 6-9 at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Abe Burrows Theatre as part of The Public’s 13th Annual Under the Radar Festival. Photo Credit: Jennifer Hunniford.

A scene from “Gardens Speak,” running January 6-9 at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Abe Burrows Theatre as part of The Public’s 13th Annual Under the Radar Festival. Photo Credit: Jennifer Hunniford.

JAMES: “Gardens Speak” seems as though it’s pretty timely with everything that’s happening in Syria. Can you explain a little bit more about it?

MARK: It’s made about what was happening early on in the Syrian struggle, right after the Arab Spring, when many young people were going to Syria or in Syria protesting and fighting back on the Assad forces. But the Assad forces didn’t want anyone to become a martyr, so they would hide the bodies from the families. When the families would get bodies on occasion, they would hide them in their gardens. And that’s the premise of this. And we have 10 different stories of people that were murdered in the struggle, speaking to us from the grave.

JAMES: And it’s an audio piece primarily, right?

MARK: It’s sort of an installation piece, yes.

JAMES: Being someone that doesn’t necessarily dig on being involved with the show like magic or mentalists or what not, but then having immersive pieces—and when I say immersive, I don’t mean like immersive “Sleep No More,” but immersive that’s audio, or an interactive piece like 600 Highwaymen has—have you started seeing, because clearly over the last five years there’s been a move toward that, at least commercially—how has that been affecting the work that you’re curating, at least commercially? Are you interested in that?

MARK: Yes, I’m interested. Actually, Under the Radar acts as sort of a lens for the scene, and I’m only as good as what is going on. And since I’m seeing all these people taking these different strategies to make theater, I’m reflecting it back on our stage. And this is a global phenomenon—people crossing from performance and installation into theater, or from theater into an installation. And it is a very interesting time. I think of course “Sleep No More” opened up everyone’s eyes about what that experience could be and made it a commercial success, which is great. I love that piece. But I think that a lot of other people think, well wait, maybe I could do this thing in my apartment. You know, maybe I’ll do “The Dead” in an apartment and go room to room. And it makes the experience special. And I think that’s what we’re looking for as audience members. We want to see something that’s special, that’s a little out of the ordinary, that really touches and has different ways of touching us.

JAMES: I feel like the trend that’s happening with smaller artists or artists that aren’t necessarily looking to go commercial and doing more experimental work is trying to create pieces that are very intimate or very personal and allow us to have unique experiences that we might not necessarily be able to have in front of our screens or in other environments.

MARK: Yes exactly, and also people are more comfortable with interactive things. They’re interacting with their screens. They go home and play video games and all that. So they’re looking at experiences in a different way. I love a good theater show, where I come in, I sit in my seat, and Daniel Craig is across the way. And he does this amazing story, and I follow it and fall in love. These pieces are asking a little bit more and pushing that a little bit more to find different ways of telling the stories.

JAMES: It’s interesting to think about how the form is shifting a little bit. We’re having a shift in the political landscape.

MARK: A small hiccup in the political scene, yes.

JAMES: (laughs) To me, when there’s a break in form and a change in form, that’s exciting. And then at the same time, there’s this political change, and it’s kind of terrifying, especially to certain people, most people I think that I know.

MARK: Well most people that I know, living in Manhattan and in New York. It’s a scary—a very scary time—of course. And it’s interesting, because I was trying to program this festival not knowing what the outcome would be. Would people be joyous and celebratory? Or would they be despondent? Or maybe they would just be bored? What was going to be the tenor of the country in January? And I was not expecting this outcome, as many of us weren’t. But at the same time, because I’m dealing with people who are telling really human stories, there’s a lot of resonance in the shows that we’re going to be presenting. They have now an increased level of engagement with this audience, a coming together in Under the Radar. This will sometimes the first time people from around the country are going to come together as an audience here at Under the Radar. So it’s going to be a very emotional time. And I think that these works are–none of them are directly addressing it, of course—but definitely their vibrations, their concerns are the concerns we’re going to be dealing with in the future. I mean one of them is—and maybe the most radical—is Belarus Free Theatre, which we’re bringing to a room most people have not been to, it’s on the NYU campus. I’m doing this piece, “Time of Women,” as if you were seeing it in Minsk. And when you see a piece in Minsk, they take you to a secret location, and you watch a very stripped down show, sometimes in someone’s house or a garage. So this is as close as I can get to that experience without arresting the audience, which is what happens often when they get caught doing theater in Belarus.

JAMES: That’s wonderful. Going into next year and Under the Radar 2018, do you think you’re going to be approaching curation differently than you did this year since you know what’s happening with the landscape?

MARK: I might. I’m only as good as the artists that are working in this field. And I’ll be trying to find and listen as closely as I can to this community around the world to see what should come here. I’ve already got a couple ideas of some things to bring. We don’t do that well with a heavy didactic stand. I feel like one of the best pieces about World War II was “Waiting for Godot,” which came out in 1954. But “Waiting for Godot” encapsulated the post-war and nuclear-war future that that audience was looking at. And so in that way, the best 9/11 piece or the best 11/9 piece is in our future. It may take a form that we don’t know.

JAMES: It will be interesting to see what these rapid responses from artists are, and how we all react to it. I think it’s an exciting time in which to live, but it’s also scary. I feel like in 10 years we’ll look back on this with an interesting perspective.

MARK: It’s very interesting to me. I feel that now Under the Radar—and I think a lot of theaters are saying this, but I really feel this about our festival—is that it’s more important to go forward than ever, that it exists. For some time I was beginning to wonder, “Is this doing the job that we want it to? Is it still necessary?” When people like Elevator Repair Service or Young Jean Lee are already getting into the major theaters. And I think, yes, there’s going to be a whole new generation, and a whole lot of things that we’re going to have to deal with. And it’s going to be very important to have a place, a theater, to share and have a dialogue about those things.


THE BENGSONS: “HUNDRED DAYS” OF LOVE AND BABY

JAMES CARTER: How’s are you?

ABIGAIL NESSEN BENGSON: I’m great! You have two kids now. How are you?

JAMES: I know! And you have one.

ABIGAIL: I do. I feel like I didn’t understand anything, and now the veil is being lifted.

JAMES: It’s a whole new world.

ABIGAIL: No shit, man. No shit.

JAMES: He’s, like, three months old now, right?

ABIGAIL: Yeah. He’s 14 weeks now.

JAMES: You’re still in the weeks. I like that.

ABIGAIL: Yeah. Totally. I feel like I say three months to folks who aren’t parents, and I say 14 weeks to those who are.

JAMES: (laughing) Just wait until you’re into, like, 21 months.

ABIGAIL: (laughing) Yes. Yes! Exactly. I’m like 400 months. How old am I? Oh, my God.

JAMES: You should be counting it out in days, anyway, right? One “Hundred Days.”

ABIGAIL: (laughing) Exactly!

JAMES: That’s the question, right? When will he be one hundred days?

ABIGAIL: Oh, my! When will he be one hundred days? Maybe he is today? (to Shaun) When will Louie be one hundred days?

SHAUN McCLAIN BENGSON: I have no idea.

ABIGAIL: The day we open?

JAMES: What was his birthday?

ABIGAIL: September 7th, so it might literally be today.

JAMES: (James does a quick internet search.) Hang on for a second. There’s got to be a thing here.

ABIGAIL: Shaun’s counting.

JAMES: Oh, my God! This is crazy. I went to a calculator online that tells you if you drop in the day, and today is 99 days. So tomorrow will be a hundred days.

ABIGAIL: Are you serious?

JAMES: 3.3 total months, and then 99 total days. So tomorrow will be 100 days with your child.

ABIGAIL: Shaun, tomorrow will be a hundred days.

SHAUN: (laughing) My god.

ABIGAIL: That makes me cry. That’s just so weird to think about. We spending all this time, you know, hundred days, hundred days, hundred days. And then to think about actually what can happen in one hundred days is hitting me right now.

(Everyone joyfully laughs.)

JAMES: That’s what it’s all about, right? Tying the art to life and life to the art?

ABIGAIL: I guess so.

JAMES: This is a good transition. How is “Hundred Days” going?

ABIGAIL: “Hundred Days” is going really well. It’s always really emotional to work on because it’s, basically, Shaun and I’s shared worst nightmare. And we delve into it as part of the process and exercise it by doing it, which is liberating and wonderful, and also we’re kind of a wreck when we’re working on this show for that reason. It’s a confrontation and then, sort of, a ritual to work through the fear of love. What’s crazy about this is we’ve worked on the show in Seattle, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and now here, and we have people from each team…all coming to New York to work on it. So it just feels like this huge, traveling family circus of people who know this work really, really deeply and are keeping Shaun and I honest and pushing us to make it better.

JAMES: I was going to ask you a little bit about the history of it, but tell us a little bit about “Hundred Days” for those who don’t know.

ABIGAIL: It’s a theatrical concert. Shaun and I started writing the music for it when we first got together. So we were living out of our car, on the road, writing folk songs about our experience, which was mainly about falling in love but also getting to know each other and the unbearable existential terror of death that came with falling in love for both of us. The sensation that we were running out of time. This overwhelming fear I have based on my own traumatic history that anyone I loved would surely disappear quickly. So I was very convinced that Shaun wouldn’t live very long because I was in love with him. And it’s only been working on this piece and living life day after day after day that’s proven to me that he’s not about to disappear. (she laughs) But now I have this little insurance policy that is my son. It’s like “back up Shaun.”

JAMES: (laughing) Shaun 2.0?

ABIGAIL: (laughing) Yeah. So the show existed as song and story, but really it’s the band telling the story. It’s the six of us.

JAMES: Shaun, how are you, papa?

SHAUN: I’m good. How are you?

JAMES: I’m good. We’re both new papas.

SHAUN: Oh, my God. It’s crazy. Congratulations. Wow.

JAMES: I know. You, too. I’m really happy for you guys. When you do it, it’s such a— Okay, we’re gonna do this, and we know it’s going to change our lives. And then, when it happens, you’re like—

SHAUN: Oh, my God.

JAMES: Oh, this really does change your life.

(Both laugh.)

SHAUN: That’s so true. I can understand something intellectually, but it’s hard to understand the truth of it. It really is a whole new world out there.

JAMES: And the love you can have for a human being that you didn’t realize you had before.

SHAUN: It’s crazy. It’s so wild. It’s nice, now, that he’s been around for a little bit and I’m actually getting to know him personally. It was so wild, that first month of loving him so deeply, but seeing him for the first time, a face I only partially recognized, too. You know what I mean? Here’s this being that I love so completely immediately but also was still coming from this other world. I don’t know. It was really wild. What’s it like having two, man? That’s so incredible.

JAMES: It’s grand. It’s wonderful. And the funny thing was, we didn’t know for sure because we didn’t find out. But we were thinking we were going to have a boy the second time around, and now we’ve got two girls.

SHAUN: Oh! That’s so wonderful. Congratulations. What’s her name?

JAMES: Serena Shae.

SHAUN: Oh, that is beautiful.

JAMES: Thanks, man.

SHAUN: Yeah, it’s pretty great.

JAMES: Yeah, and I think back to the loving someone more than you knew that you could, it’s like, “I’m not going to have the love that I have for my daughter that I’ve been with for three years.” And then it happens all over again. It’s like, “Wow! I really love this person. This is great.”

SHAUN: So crazy.

JAMES: How has becoming a parent shifted your approach to this show?

SHAUN: It’s really wild. I’m so in the center of it I feel like I’ll have a way more intelligent answer in six months time.

JAMES: Sure.

SHAUN: When I have a little perspective. It’s very much the ocean I am swimming in right now. I do have to say I feel like the thing that’s been really good about this show, in particular, is I feel like it was all written from this place of romantic soul-mate love, and I feel like now I have access to this whole new realm of incredibly deep love of another type. And it’s related in that it’s like loving this person is loving Abigail as well. He’s literally made of the both of us. But it is its own unique thing. My dream with this show is that it will hopefully be relatable from a romantic love place, but I would hope that it wouldn’t be limited to that. That there would be room within it to experience the love that someone would have in their own life or their love for a child, love for a friend, love for family. I feel like Louie coming into the world has deepened my feelings of love for all other others’ existence. The other thing that’s really wild about it, you know, the show is so much about time. And my conception of time has really been altered. By his presence.

JAMES: Yeah.

SHAUN: Also, on a very practical level, my time’s no longer entirely my own?

JAMES: Yeah.

SHAUN: That means I’m way more careful and concerned about how I spend it. I’ve got a finite number of hours in the day, and I have to make those hours count on the art. ‘Cause any other hours I have to give to him. It’s also just the crazy time warp of—I can’t believe his hundredth day will be tomorrow. It’s so insane. It’s so crazy. It feels like anything can happen in that amount of time. We were just looking back at photos of when he was born, and he’s only 14 weeks. But so much has happened. It is nice, too, that it’s getting easier and funner every day. He’s smiling and laughing. He’s, yeah. I don’t know. It’s really amazing. To live within that unit of time. It’s such a profound, incredibly hard, but also in a beautiful way, an amazing thing to do exactly while we’re going through this writing process. It’s really bonkers.

(They laugh.)

JAMES: One last question…Z Space commissioned the show, and you did it in Seattle, San Francisco, and Cincinnati. How is it different bringing it to Under the Radar, and what does it mean to you bringing it back home to New York City?

ABIGAIL: Oh, my God. Okay. Dude. Ten years ago, right before I met Shaun, I saw the first preview of “Passing Strange” at the Anspacher, which is at The Public, and that night I was like, “This is what I want to do. I want to make memoir shows. I don’t want to just be in other people’s plays. I want to write my own work. This is the theater I want to do my work in.” Then, I met Shaun very quickly after that, and we started working together. And then Mark Russell gave me my first gig in New York City ever. He has always just been a hero to me and incredibly inspiring. And a warm heart. And he’s been really supportive of me trying to make better and better work. I just love him very deeply. So the combination of making this piece with Shaun, doing it in the Anspacher, doing it with Mark, it just feels like all these different tendrils of my life that I cared about coming together at this one fuckin’ insane moment.

“Hundred Days” runs January 4-15 at The Public Theater as part of The Public’s 13th Annual Under the Radar Festival.

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ERIN MARKEY: FEMININE POP FEMINIST DIGS DEEP

Erin Markey of "Erin Markey: Boner Killer." Photo Credit: Ian Douglas.

Erin Markey in “Erin Markey: Boner Killer.” Photo Credit: Ian Douglas

JAMES: So how are you? What’s new? What’s going on?

ERIN: I’m good. Doing a lot of show stuff right now. Making “Boner Killer,” of course.

JAMES: Prepping, rehearsing? Where you at?

ERIN: This summer I had—Duplex didn’t know it—but I made myself a residency there.

JAMES: (laughing) Unbeknownst to The Duplex.

ERIN: (laughing) Yeah. Yeah. After it already started. I just did a monthly summer series because I was interested in exploring content that I could make work for film and video. So I decided to just go with my normal process, which is just following my gut and impulse and then decide that I would sculpt whatever was happening for a video frame after we started. So this summer was just devoted to putting content up very fast and making it as timely as possible. It sort of transformed into this weird thing, like, “Oh, I can see myself making weekly or monthly content in a regular way that would either be live or for video or whatever.” And then we decided it would be crazy to not use the content that we had slaved over all summer for something that was more permanent. Like a regular show. So we culled some of the literal script and some of the more process-related strategies and decided to make “Boner Killer” and do it at Under the Radar.

JAMES: Was the video content that you were doing over the summer a sort of rapid response to things that were happening in current events and politics, or was it stuff that was culled from your life or both? I know you, so I’m guessing the answer was, “Yes.”

ERIN: Yes, it was both. “Boner Killer” is less literal about what is happening right now and more just like three layers underneath emotionally. You know what I mean?

JAMES: (laughing) No! What do you mean?

ERIN: (laughing) Well, let’s see. I guess, truth be told, when I was in undergrad, that was when was Bush was president. I think the feelings throughout this election just conjured the emotional environment of that election. And I end up just going back. All the memories from that time kind of started coming forward for me. So this shows more about the emotional space of political fear and urgency and its relationship to sexuality and femininity, specifically. But it’s just basically storytelling and kind of stand-upy. Sometimes, it’s super jokey and then, sometimes, it goes into a very surprisingly vulnerable, emotional place. And there’s music.

JAMES: So you are performing songs?

ERIN: I would say it’s half storytelling, half song. I move between characters in a way that’s more organic. When the emotional tenor of the stories changed is when a character you’ve already been introduced to starts taking over.

JAMES: Are they original songs or covers?

ERIN: They’re original.

JAMES: Sweet.

ERIN: Song is maybe a weird word for them. They are songs. They are music. But they’re much more in conversation with the stories. Like, if I put out these songs by themselves, you’d be like, “What is happening right now?” In a bad way.

(James laughs.)

ERIN: It would be kind of like—not to be so generous with myself—but kind of like a poetically inscrutable Tori Amos at her weirdest way. But it’s not piano-y and soprano-y in that way.

JAMES: The description of “Boner Killer” reads “Driven by Whitney Houston’s lesbian mythologies, Europe™, and a ‘Pretty Woman’ accident, Markey sacrifices her own life to transform personal humiliations into naked feminist hope.” I love it! So let’s break it down. You’ve got Whitney Houston, Europe™, and “Pretty Woman.” Let’s talk about that a little bit.

ERIN: You know about Whitney Houston’s lesbian lover Robyn Crawford?

JAMES: Yeah.

ERIN: When I found out about her, I got pretty fixated on her. And I found out about her right after Whitney died. And I had never heard a rumor that Whitney Houston was a lesbian. Or not a lesbian, but queer. And I was really obsessed with her as a child. I guess I was just curious about Whitney Houston as a lesbian identification instead of just a pop heroine. Or what it means for her to be a queer woman and have to hide it on the level that she couldn’t fully embody it or realize it in her life to maintain her position. My question was, “What does this have to do with me at all?” And then it was fun to just play around with making Whitney Houston be whatever I needed her to be to feel like I had some kind of role model as a child. If you watch the show, none of this will be literalized, though. Do you know what I mean? You’ll be, like, “What about Whitney?” Because one of the songs is based off Robyn Crawford’s eulogy.

JAMES: Oh, wow.

ERIN: She had published in Esquire and mixing it with some memories that I have of going to Brownie Girl Scout camp.

JAMES: I always feel like your work lives at this intersection of pop culture and feminism. I don’t want to be reductive.

ERIN: Yeah, I don’t think that’s reductive.

JAMES: Oh, good.

ERIN: It’s broad. It’s broad enough to be, like, “Totally.”

JAMES: But what I always find fascinating about your work then is how we—or I, I’m speaking for myself as the audience—see the world a little differently. Right? I mean, we see you differently as well, but people who are not necessarily your fans are going to come to the show and just see this performer and whatever you’re offering. But people who know you and your work end up seeing a different side of you each time, but then also see a different side of pop culture and feminism. That, to me, is what’s most interesting about your work.

ERIN: I wasn’t one of those people who grew up in a commune in Northern California. I grew up having the TV-Guide memorized and was flipping very strategically between television shows during commercial breaks. My family was not a family that looked outside of pop culture for influence or inspiration at all. And so that’s what are just the basic bones of my development. And then later, obviously, studying, adopting more of a feminist lens because of school and my own experiences of weirdness of people treating me differently when I talked about being queer, or treating me in a weird way because I didn’t talk about being queer because I passed pretty well. Studying all that stuff, I got into a whole new world of underground, DIY, punk, more obscure things that help me recontextualize pop culture. And doing something like Our Hit Parade for four years—because I wasn’t really listening to pop music anymore, but that whole assignment…you’re covering a pop song—it helped me bring the two worlds together a little bit. To take pop really seriously and decide that it’s exciting to treat it as though it has a ton of depth, which I believe that it does. It just has crazy implications across the board and I like to explore what those are in relationship to me and what I’m thinking and my story and where my body’s at in a very intuitive way.

JAMES: When you think about pop culture or pop music, where do you find the depth in it?

ERIN: It’s the thing that’s all around us all the time, and to dismiss that is just being stupid and write-offable and act like it doesn’t actually affect you on a cellular level seems foolish to me. Because you have no control. Like if you’re on the internet ever. Or, especially if you’re in New York. New York is an awesome city. It’s also a deeply capitalist city and you’re surrounded by images if you’re just walking down the street in a place like Times Square or Penn Station area. It’s all around you, and it’s affecting your sensory organs. It’s interacting with your memories. So I guess, that’s what it means. It’s just that you, as a consumer of pop culture, are the one who is offering pop culture as much depth as you want. And by “you,” I mean me. I think it’s like this fun little puzzle to find myself in it. It makes me feel better than so outsider-y at every moment.

JAMES: That’s interesting. I think there are truths in every piece of art, whether it’s pop or high art. The “personal humiliations into naked feminist hope.”

ERIN: I mean, I’m not really talking about pop culture in the show at all. I just feel like it there.

JAMES: It’s like this off-stage character that’s influencing the action?

ERIN: Yeah. I’m just a girl that accidentally has been taking this really seriously my entire life, even though I’m pretty off the radar. Off the grid.

JAMES: (laughs) Off the grid. So what hope do you find in this?

ERIN: Hope?

JAMES: Yeah, back to “Boner Killer.”

ERIN: This may be the most personal I’ve gotten on stage. I’m taking the most risk that I ever have saying things on stage that I wouldn’t have said, like couple years ago about my own history. It may not read as risky to somebody else, but it feels really risky to me. And I’m interested in what that energy is on stage, and what it means to give that to the audience and be open-hearted about it when I’m up there. But also it’s a lot about sexual fantasy and taking myself seriously as someone that’s feminine, and the world of the sexual feminine is something that’s not very articulated. That voice, there’s just not a lot of people who are feminine people speaking very frankly about their desires. And their fears and pasts and their history, sexually speaking. And I know that every time someone is speaking frankly about that who is, like, a feminine human being, I get really excited. So I’m trying to be the things that I’m excited by.

“Erin Markey: Boner Killer,” runs January 4, 6, and 10 at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater as part of The Public’s 13th Annual Under the Radar Festival.

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