BWW Interviews: Donald C. Shorter Talks GENDEROSITY
Have you ever wondered what it takes to transform? Are you curious what it is like when one becomes a drag queen? Are you curious about gender, gender expression, and gender performance? If you answered yes or no to any of these questions, Donald C. Shorter's original one-man show GENDEROSITY is sure to entertain and enlighten you. Recently, I chatted with Donald C. Shorter about his invigorating and fresh project and what audiences can expect from it.
BWW: GENDEROSITY is labeled as "a multimedia theatrical experience that takes you through the process of drag transformation." Elaborate on that. What exactly is GENDEROSITY?
Donald C. Shorter: GENDEROSITY is a show that came to me when I was in Paris teaching workshops on transformation at the Pompidou Museum. I was working with a video artist on an exhibit there for a month. When I was teaching these workshops, I did one where I was just transforming myself from Donald to Francesca, my drag persona, with the movies playing in the background. I could see that people were kind of coming in the exhibit, just watching, taking the material from the film, and seeing how that related to my experience.
Then, I did another workshop where I started to play with other elements of gender, the idea of transforming yourself, the different stages, and after I completed the transformation, people were asking questions or they started asking questions during. So, I started to take on different ideas of what it means to transform yourself, and then kind of illustrate the various different stages of the transformation through the media. I used the inspirations of Mommie Dearest, Grace Jones, or David Bowie to kind of illustrate where I was in this in-between phase of masculine and feminine.
I also really started to look at the writings of Judith Butler. You know, she raises questions of what is gender and discusses how gender is performed. I kind of took the idea of taking drag performance as a way to talk about gender performance. So, I put together all of these different ideas and concepts, and I really started to breakdown a way to talk about not conforming to societal gender norms and how that's affected my life.
BWW: Where did the inspiration for GENDEROSITY come from?
Donald C. Shorter: The inspiration for GENDEROSITY came from my own idea of the things I would put into my drag persona. So, it's kind of like the DNA of my drag. Hollywood glamour is definitely a huge one. I'm really obsessed with Faye Dunaway preparing herself to play Joan Crawford. That is so amazing to me. So, a lot of old Hollywood glamour, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Shangri-Las, the American woman of the 50s and the 60s, and musical theatre inspire me. Broadway is obviously a huge influence for my drag, especially with the dresses and the silhouettes.
Other inspirations are artists such as Leigh Bowery. He was a performance artist and really lived his life in a constant state of transformation. When I was going out into clubs in New York City and I was seeing all these avant-garde performers and entertainers, I was really inspired by that. I didn't necessarily think that I could be that. So, then I came up with Francesca as a way to contribute to that world I was inspired by.
BWW: What role does the artistry of drag play in GENDEROSITY?
Donald C. Shorter: I guess it's the idea of you can transform yourself into anything. It's an evolution that evolves over time. For me, it's not about it being perfect, but it's about self-discovery, self-acceptance, and this journey. The more I do it, I am continually finding out things about myself. That's what I love about it. I am literally painting, you know, on a canvas, which is my face, but it informs different aspects of myself that I didn't even know were there, or I'm able to bring out by putting on this garb. It's kind of an undoing in a sense.
BWW: The world is progressing to be more accepting of both sexual fluidity and gender fluidity. How does GENDEROSITY fit into these changing societal conceptions?
Donald C. Shorter: When I'm in drag, it's not really sexual. I talk about that in the show. It has been interesting that, when I am in drag, I am sexualized, you know. It is interesting to see that there are certain types of men who specifically will talk to me for that purpose. But, when I'm in drag, it was really interesting to see how open it made myself and other people. It was so interesting because before I was going out to certain nightclubs and certain places in drag, I wasn't able to talk to people. I wanted to talk to certain people, but I couldn't. Once I was in drag, I didn't have to wait in line, I was getting drink tickets, people were taking my picture, and I was just meting all of these other drag queens. But, drag, for me, is not sexual at all. It's more about gender expression, and I guess that goes in with the gender fluid.
I think, for me, the whole self-acceptance thing has played into that. There was a time that if I was going to put on make-up or if I was going to act a certain way, I had to be in full garb. I had to be Francesca. But, over time, I've been able to be comfortable with wearing a chiffon blouse, wearing smokey eyes, or wearing make-up as a boy and not in full drag or expressing ideas of femininity through wearing nail polish or just how I talk. That's kind of where this show is going now. We're really finding a way to illustrate how gender is fluid for me. That's the main thing; this is only my experience with drag, gender expression, and gender performance. I'm not really trying to make a statement on what it is for anyone else.
Now, I'm at a place where I can kind of mix the two, and that's been really good. I've been doing drag now for eight years. At first, I just wasn't comfortable walking down the street in a certain outfit and being able to be Francesca for a few years all the time. Now, I'm able to just kind of mix the two, and, with the show, I'm doing a monologue in drag, and then the wig comes off, and I'm in and out drag and in certain states of transformation while telling certain stories or performing certain things. That's kind of how we're playing with the idea of gender fluid.
BWW: I know this a goal of yours, so how do you plan to create a dialogue about the social construction of gender identity and gender norms through this specific piece of art?
Donald C. Shorter: Yeah! I mean I start the show off in underwear. I really wanted to do that to state to the audience that my gender identity is male. That's kind of where it starts, and then I'm putting on these different things of what drag is considered and it kind of questions what is drag. I don't know. I really just kind of want to take... [Pauses] I don't know. I really wanted to use drag as the base to talk about how non-conforming to societal gender norms has affected my life in and out of drag, and jut kind of expose the real aspects of what that presents.
I think that there are a lot of drag shows that are very much like, "I'm performing a drag queen. I am very witty. I am very performantive." Sometimes, I feel like they do and have touched on certain issues, but it's really glazed over. So, I want to really talk about what does it mean to be a drag queen and how does that role play into my life with my family, with a boyfriend, or the discomfort of people saying things to me about wearing a chiffon blouse on a Tuesday. You know, what is that really like? So the drag, for me, is kind of the bait to kind of get people in there so we can start to have a discussion.
After the last show, on August 17th, I am doing a panel discussion with people that don't conform to societal gender norms. They are drag queens, and they are different kinds of drag queens. Maybe one's a camp queen; maybe one's a bearded queen. There's going to be all different types of people who don't conform to gender norms. I really want to use this show as a way to start that dialogue, so we can really have a conversation about it. Is it easier or harder? Are things changing or are they not? That's what I want to use this show to start talking about.
BWW: Ultimately, what do you hope audiences take away from GENDEROSITY?
Donald C. Shorter: That you can become anything; whatever you want. It's really about self-acceptance. I didn't think that drag would allow me to have this journey of self-acceptance, but it did. I was really inspired by Jackie Curtis, who was constantly changing his persona. He wrote musicals, did things Off-Off-Broadway, played all these different characters, and inspired so many people. He has this song called "Who Are You?" There's a part in the show where we reference that. To me, that's what it's all about. Who are you? What do you want to become? It's up to you, and it's about finding yourself.
BWW: After GENDEROSITY's run at Wild Project, are there future plans for GENDEROSITY?
Donald C. Shorter: Yeah! [Laughs] I'll put it out there to the universe now that is what I would like to happen. One of the special things I love about GENDEROSITY is that it can take on several different forms. It was born out of a museum exhibit kind of gallery piece, and I think we can still go back to that and maybe even abstract even more ideas of gender and how that's played out. But, I would love to be able to do, let's say, a run at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Maybe we'll get picked up by a producer to do that for some time. I would also like to travel the show to different cities and different communities, whether it is a gay theatre festival or fringe festival. There are several different forms that this could take on.
BWW: What advice do you offer to others hoping to launch their own shows?
Donald C. Shorter: [Laughs] Oh my gosh! This has been going on for a year. It has been very fulfilling, but I've just been more on the performance side of the shows that I have done. I started off dancing in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company as a postmodern professional principal dancer. I did that for five years. I trained for that in college. Then, I switched into musical theatre. I did the tours of A CHORUS LINE, HAIRSPRAY, and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. I've also worked a little bit regionally. So, I've really kind of been able to get all these different elements of the idea of being a performer.
When it came time to making this, there was just a lot of things I had to be really passionate about in creating my own story. I think everybody has a story. It's about preserving to tell it. The social media grind is real. [Laughs] I did IndieGogo, which was good because it allowed me to build an audience and to create a platform to get the show out there. Now, when it comes to selling tickets, people already have an idea of what the show is. It was definitely a lot of work to reach our fundraising goal, and we actually went over. That was amazing, and I am so grateful to everyone who donated. You know, it's just about preserving to tell the story and finding the right production team. It's a lot, but it's really fulfilling. Just preserve. Have perseverance!
GENDEROSITY plays at the Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, New York, 10009 from August 13 to 17, 2014. Performances are August 13 - 16 at 8:00 p.m. and August 17 at 6:30 p.m. with a post show panel discussion. Tickets are available at Ovationtix or by calling (866) 811-4111. For more information please visit http://thewildproject.com or follow GENDEROSITY on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photos courtesy of GENDEROSITY.
GENDEROSITY Promotional Image.
GENDEROSITY Promotional Poster.