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BWW Interview: MONSTAH BLACK, The Interview. Part II

Johnnie "Cruise" Mercer in air & Joey Cuellar on bed
"HYPERBOLIC (The Last Spectacle)" by Monstah Black
Photo Credit: Peter Yesley

Continuing the second part of the Monstah Black Interview. Monstah premiered "HYPERBOLIC (The Last Spectacle)" last week at Dixon Place as the centerpiece of HOT! Festival. This week we discuss his influences and how he came to be the fabulous creature that he is.

JM: I don't want to ask too much about the piece so... what's the one thing you would focus on in terms of promoting "HYPERBOLIC"?

Monstah Black: I would focus on... Hmm, that's a really good question.

JM: What do kids say now? What's the hook?

Monstah Black: What's the hook? Hmmm... The thing that I'm discovering that seems to be a sparkling gem that shines throughout is the fusion of elements of vogue with text and absurd drag delivery. Because when it happens right, that is the element that starts to feel like, "Huh. That felt really good and that was really fun." It's definitely different from anything else I've ever done. I've never done drag but when someone leaves this show, they're probably going to say that was drag.

Monstah's phone goes off playing a hot tune.

JM: What song was that?

Monstah Black: I just made a "Pick up my phone" song for my ringtone.

JM: I want to throw my shoe at you. Hahaha! Because you also compose. What DON'T you do? Do you consider yourself a self-made man?

Monstah Black: Do I consider myself a self-made man?

JM: Becase I do, but this is your interview so tell me what you think.

Monstah Black: In terms of who I am?

JM: I would say- what I know about you and where you come from is that you are literally your own creation. There are so many directions you could have gone into. What if you had gone to Minnesota, or San Francisco, or New Orleans? But you came here.

Monstah Black: Well, yeah. I guess I am self-made. Because - thinking in terms of what my goals have been all my life - I've had very specific ideas around what I've wanted to do since I was about three. I can remember back to the day, the time of day, what I was doing, when the light bulb went off and I said to myself, "That's what I want to do." I pretty much focused on that. I said it on that day and I've gotten to the point where I'm in the middle of it happening. It's hinting towards what I see, what my goals have been. But it's not out of reach. It could happen. It's just a matter of putting the time into that and making it happen. It has happened already and now it's about allowing it to happen again and maybe getting more exposure to let it expand. My earliest inspiration is pretty much what helped shape myself into what I am. I can pinpoint who those people are and at some point I allowed it to... I let those landmarks inspire, I held onto them, and continued to step forward as The Man. But it pretty much started with the Sonny and Cher show.

Benedict Nguyen, Monstah Black, & Johnnie Cruise Mercer
"HYPERBOLIC (The Last Spectacle)" by Monstah Black
Photo Credit: Peter Yesley

JM: Wow. Any particular episode?

Monstah Black: Mmmmm.

JM: The TV show?

Monstah Black: The TV show. Now I'm dating myself.

JM: Oh please. There could be reruns.

Monstah Black: The TV Show. I don't remember what she was singing but there was a point when she was on the piano like she always used to do and I was like, "I want do that."

JM: Have you?

Monstah Black: Sitting on the piano? I feel like I have. I've definitely stood by the piano.

JM: But have you been draped on that piano? Like climbed up on it?

Monstah Black: That's a really good thing. No, I haven't. Maybe I'll do that in my next piece.

JM: Monstah: Feast. Piano. Drape! Hahaha!

Monstah Black: Right. In that order. I love that. Feast, piano drape. I like that. So, Cher -- not so much Sonny.

JM: Love him but . . .

Monstah Black: Yeah, Cher. And then I can remember the specific Michael Jackson moment. And I also know the specific Prince moment. Those are probably the top three in terms of performance (inspiration). And vocals actually. Vocally. And performance. Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin. They all are in there too because that's what I couldn't stop listening to as a kid. So it's all in there. And George Clinton. Larry Graham. The top tier, like I can't- Being honest, I have to admit to myself that it's: Cher, Michael Jackson, and Prince. With the focus mostly being on Prince. Because that was a significant shift in terms of allowing myself the freedom to be unapologetically me rather than hiding behind someone else in Williamsburg, Virginia. Which could have been super challenging but it gave me a kind of attitude once I got into Prince. It was Prince and punk rock that pretty much allowed me to be like, "You know what? I don't care." I'm going to do what I want and watch. You just wait and see.

JM: It's happening.

Monstah Black: Yeah.

We took a break to reflect on recent world events. Of course Orlando came back into the conversation.

Monstah Black: With Orlando... It made me stop and think about what I was about to put onstage because there are elements that... Death is used as a metaphor in the piece for "awakening consciousness". And so, visually we're kind of like reenacting a death onstage in a kind of slow and sustained and over the top... glittery and glamorous- and after that news I had a moment of feeling like, "Oh my God. Can I do this?" What does this mean for the piece now that this has happened? What does this mean for the moments of having one of the characters with a bubble gun? There's all this underlying...

JM: Extra meaning.

Monstah Black: Extra meaning because of that. So. I don't know.

JM: It really makes you think- like, "Someone was just strangled. Am I really going to have this noose scene onstage?"

Monstah Black: Mmm hmm.

JM: I find that the answer is frequently... yes.

Monstah Black
Photo Credit: Charles Meacham

Monstah Black: Yes.

JM: Because you've tapped into something and you are reframing the conversation. If you own it- If you go there and you own it, then it's okay. I know that you know that. You're just being respectful of what happened.

Monstah Black: Yeah. Right.

We take a moment to reflect on the occasion. That someone stepped into a place of love and celebration to bring death.

JM: If there was one audience you would like for your work to be seen by- And I mean anyone! Who would you say that is?

This question gave Monstah pause

Monstah Black: Well the thing that keeps sticking out in my head is the 13 to 18-year-old little brown boys that feel like they don't know quite what to do with themselves because they are so different. I think that's probably, in a sense, everything that I create is for them. Oh my God!

We both laugh. It is such a monumental statement. Something people take an entire lifetime to surmise: "Why I did what I did" and Monstah has crystallized it in one simple sentence.

Monstah Black: Wow. I never said that before but that's true. Huh.

JM: That's amazing.

Monstah Black: I've always wanted to ... in particular, thinking about being inspired by Prince, part of that inspiration was also wanting to be able to affect people in the same way that he infected- Haha- affected me.

JM: I mean, in a sense there is an infection.

Monstah Black: Yes.

JM: I was repelled by him when I was younger. He went against everything in my German upbringing

Monstah Black: It's interesting. The first time I saw - American Bandstand - The very first time, I remember having a conversation with my other friends - at that point we were much younger; this was before I was a teenager - and I remember all of us being like, "Oh my God! Did you see that man on TV? He had an earring in his ear! What was that?" You know, we didn't get it. The same thing happened with me with David Bowie. Iggy Stardust kind of freaked me out when I was a little kid. And then when I was a teenager, that's when I was just like, "Oh. Actually." That's when I started to get it.

The Cast of "HYPERBOLIC (The Last Spectacle)"
Created by Monstah Black
Photo Credit: Peter Yesley

JM: I like what you said about it being for the 13 to 18-year-old brown boys. For you, were Prince and Michael Jackson that? Like saying, "Ok. Here's a way."

Monstah Black: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely Prince. Michael Jackson too.

JM: He was a little vanilla but we forget that he was also the King of Pop.

Monstah Black: Right. He was the King of Pop... who made the transition from chocolate to vanilla.

We both chuckle.

JM: I like to say, "from chocolate to strange cat person."

Monstah Black: Ha!

JM: I want him to be with Eartha Kitt and for her to be like, "Michael... what are you doing?"

Monstah Black: Exactly.

JM: I have this fantasy of you making a Sonny and Cher show, maybe with no Sonny but with Eartha Kitt and Michael Jackson as guest stars.

Monstah Black: Can you imagine?

JM: Yes Monstah! I can! I didn't come here to pitch something to you, but now I kind of need to see it. Can you do it? Hahaha

Monstah Black: Michael Jackson... Eartha Kitt.... CHER!

JM: Cher! Ha!

Monstah makes a face as if to say, "You've lost your mind".

JM: And that's the name of it: "The Shade".

Monstah Black: "The Shade". Welcome to the The Shade.

We laugh.

Monstah Black: That would be hilarious actually.

JM: It's funny- since Cher is on this never ending tour, there are people who know her at certain phases of her life but they don't know her for dancing with Goldie Hawn.

Monstah Black: Right. Right. There are people who only see her as the circuit- circuit whatever.

JM: Techno Electronica Queen.

Monstah Black: Guys dancing with their shirts off.

JM: And where's Bob Mackie in all of that?

Monstah Black: Yeah, that's true.

Monstah Black
Photo Credit: Sienna Sheilds

JM: You also make your own costumes.

Monstah Black: I do. Costumes and styling. Because I feel like- right now, the costumes are- here are things that are starting to crystallize and I'm like, "Oh that's what the costume should be". And there are also things like, "Oh, that needs to be bought from there and that's what the costume should be. So there's a mixture. What's going to end up happening is that I'm not creating all of the costumes for the show but there will be things throughout the show that are pieces I've created.

JM: Do you ever sell or make pieces for other people?

Monstah Black: I have made for other people. I'm still a little torn - I have not had the time to figure out what the infrastructure needs to be for me to be able to produce them in a way that I can say, "Oh, you want to buy one of these in a small? A medium? A large?" I've had a few things- a few times I've had friends who've said, "Oh my God. I want those pants. Can you make me some of those pants?" And we'll figure out what that means and I'll make them. Last summer my big thing was to make these onsies that I was wearing- that my partner and I were wearing. I would have a onsie and he would have a top to match it. And people were asking for those and I thought, "Next summer I'll have them available" but I haven't had the time to do that.

JM: You've been creating.

Monstah Black: But just recently I've thought that maybe that look from last summer is what ends up being in the show. Easy but still effective.

JM: And great marketing.

Monstah Black: Yeah.

JM: "By the way these are for sale".

Monstah Black: By the way these costumes are for sale!

JM: Hahaha! You can finance the "Cher, Michael, and Eartha Show". I'm not letting that go. Ok, my final question: You work a lot with your partner (Manchild Black; Together they are The Illustrious Blacks).

Monstah and Manchild Black; The Illustrious Blacks
Photo Credit: Charles Meacham

Monstah Black: Mmm hmmm.

JM: Are you working with him on this show?

Monstah Black: There are a few tracks that we've worked together on. So yes, we are working together on this show. And discovering what that means to work together in terms of what his role is - to work together on these shows that I'm dreaming up. Because we have our own stuff that we do together and we have another show that we're building together.

JM: Right.

Monstah Black: So, with this particular one, in the beginning phases it was like, "Oh, are you the musical director? Are you the consultant? Are you producer?" The way that it's turned out so far is that he's basically helped me produce and write three songs and we're going to go with that. But in the future I see him as being someone who also comes in and helps me direct what's happening vocally which I feel like we're only touching on this time around. There are still some elements that I'm tiptoeing around, but I know what they could be - they're going to expand into something more if the show continues past the date here.

Monstah and Manchild Black
Photo Credit: Charles Meacham

JM: You have a radio show right?

Monstah Black: Mmm hmmm. With Manchild.

JM: You do it all.

Monstah Black: It's a little crazy. I'm figuring out how- I'm managing it. But there are elements within it that are starting to feel like, "I don't need to be managing that part." This year is all about figuring it out. Exploring where it's going to go and understanding what it is so we can set it up in a way that doesn't feel so maddening - or running from one place to the next. You know. Because I definitely have those moments where I'm like . . . (He takes in a deep inhale.) No one sees that but Manchild.

JM: Hahaha!

Monstah Black: "Leave me alone! I have too many things to do!!!"

JM: Hahaha! Did you pay the electricity bill? Power shuts off.

Monstah Black: Exactly.

Monstah Black's "HYPERBOLIC (The Last Spectacle)" continues its premiere run at Dixon Place through July 23rd, 2016. Monstah and Manchild Black are constantly putting on new events. For more information, follow them on social media.

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