Monday, 2 March 2015

Women You Should Know - Stacy Makishi by Dean Atta

Stacy Makishi / Photo by Vick Ryder
Women You Should Know:
Stacy Makishi
by Dean Atta

I knew I had to interview performance artist Stacy Makishi after I went to her solo show VesperTime at Chelsea Theatre in November, 2014. The show moved me to tears, laughter and some serious reflection. I am still thinking about it months later. It was a beautifully executed piece about forgiveness, namely forgiving an absent father, a theme that often comes up in my poetry. Stacey uses more than words; she incorporates film clips, sound, set and lighting design, costume and movement into an experience that you share with her, rather than just watch or listen to. 

If you live in Manchester or London you could have a Stacy Makishi experience in March and April at Contact Theatre and Ovalhouse

Here is my interview with Stacy.

Stacy, what are three things we should know about you?

I’m a believer. I believe trust is greater than love. I’m a liar.

Which women alive, dead or fictional would you most like to be friends with and why?

Hmm… At first I fantasized about historical women like Boudica and Amelia Earhart …then shifted to the noble like Ang San Su Ki and then to good advisors like Oprah. Then nose-dived to someone short with a stunning wardrobe, Bjork. Yes, I was hoping for ‘hand me downs’.
I really am this shallow.

But seriously, do you know who I’d pick as a best friend? Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web. Charlotte was a wise and beautiful spider who chose a pig to be her best friend. The pig’s life is spared because of miraculous words that appear in the spider’s web. The web pronounces messages of love, like ‘Some Pig’, ‘Radiant’, ‘Terrific’. The spider has the pig’s back… and he begins to believe and live up to her vision of him. Everyone believes that he’s great, but it’s the spider that’s ‘Terrific’. She’s the invisible one hanging in the background, the one who’s really saved the bacon.

Which women most influenced you to become the artist/person you are today?

When I was young, I got headhunted by a school for ‘the gifted." I knew that at any minute, I would be revealed as a fraud. I was a feral mutt amongst pedigrees. Thankfully, my art/drama teacher, Kati Kuroda helped me to make friends with wildness and when in doubt to move towards curiosity. She taught wabi sabi, a Japanese aesthetic that suggests that ‘Perfection is death.' Andrew Juniper describes ‘if an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said as wabi sabi.’

Later in life, during the early 90’s, I met Split Britches Theater Company who saved me from Hawaiian paradise. I lived and worked with them in NYC and eventually washed up on the shores of Dalston, London. Freud says ‘Love is homesickness.' I carry this maxim in my heart’s suitcase. I also carry the love and wisdom of my teachers.

I would describe your work as very personal and provocative and yet playful.  This must be a difficult balance to strike?  Which of your shows was the most difficult to make and why?

All of my shows have been difficult to make. My last show, the Falsettos, didn’t ‘come to me’ until 10 days before opening night. I suppose it’s because I’m dealing with ‘mystery.' With every work that I’ve made, it always starts as just a flash of curiosity. I pick it up and the next thing you know, I’m drowning in a sea of ‘unknown.' I’m inhaling mystery. Mystery is the mother. It’s where artists come from… we ache to return to mystery and find ourselves unraveling, as we try to unravel it.

It seems I’m always here, deep in muck. Most of the time I sustain long periods of chaos, confusion and uncertainty. It goes against my nature but I try my best to embrace ambiguity and paradox. The weird thing is, no matter how many times I find myself in lost-ness, it feels like I’m here for the very first time.

Stacy Makishi / Photo by Dean Atta

When I came to VesperTime at Chelsea Theatre you seemed so pleased there was such a diverse audience.  What kind of audiences are you usually used to and why is a having diverse audience important to you?

The audience at Chelsea’s VesperTime was like performing at my funeral. My minister, therapist, students, teachers, friends, family – everyone was there! I suppose this audience represented a moment of real integration. As a queer, I wondered if there would ever be a moment when I could appear as myself in front of everybody. My wish for this particular performance was to perform vulnerability. People are lead to think my shows are chaotic, but actually, I plan every moment of chaos. I make sure that I am never vulnerable.

But I heard that the only way to achieve true connection in relationships is through vulnerability. But was I ready to explore this with an audience? Someone also told me that one could not love and be ‘in control’ at the same time. Dang, I knew I had to take a risk with this show. And once I committed to vulnerability, everything went out of control. I caught the flu, had terrible chest infection, stopped breathing in a restaurant and opened my eyes in an ambulance.

On the very last night of the show, I celebrated living through all of this by eating my favorite clam pasta. I realized I ate a bad clam. Unfortunately this realization happened on stage. I had a stomach gripe that sent me off to the loo. It was dramatic! I came back onstage, completely dressed in white, knowing that at any moment, a coughing fit combined with ‘bad clam’ could give new meaning to Live Art. I came to grips with vulnerability onstage as I explained this shit-uation to the audience. I needed them to know how much I needed to share VesperTime with them. VesperTime was an attempt to open the audiences’ hearts. I knew that if I told them what was happening to me, they would not abandon me, even if I messed myself. I knew I would not be alone.

Where/when do you feel the most free?

I feel most free when I get out of my own way… on those rare instances when I love and accept myself exactly as I am. Dang, I wish I could be someone who loved themselves so much, you couldn’t help but like yourself in my presence.

What would you like your legacy to be?

My friend Mathew Goulish worked at a place that made deep fried burritos. He asked the owner/cook to explain why he made this? The cook smiled from deep inside and replied, "Because I love them. I want to put what I love into the world." I heard that story and have adapted that to be my mission statement: I want to put more of what I love into the world. 

If there were a Stacy Makishi Day, what would you like everyone to do on that day?

Stacy Makishi Day: The day you do what makes you come alive. 

Lastly, where can people see you next?

If you’re dying to come alive, check out my lively workshops called Death For Beginners – a residency for Live Art at Ovalhouse. The workshops will run for three consecutive weekends and culminates at YOUR funeral! That’s right, on Easter Sunday, April 5th at 7pm at New Unity Church on Newington Green, atheist minister Andy Pakula and I, invite you to contemplate your own death and celebrate your resurrection! Your funeral will be a killer event and it’s free to the public.

And if it’s sex you’re after, I’m directing a new show called Under The Covers with Contact Young Company. We’re making a performance in response to Wellcome Trust – The Instituteof Sexology commissioned by Manchester Contact as part of Sick Festival. 

Dean Atta is a writer and performance poet. He has been commissioned to write poems for the Damilola Taylor Trust, Keats House Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Atta won the 2012 London Poetry Award and was named as one of the most influential LGBT people by the Independent on Sunday Pink List 2012. His debut poetry collection I Am Nobody's Nigger was published in 2013 by The Westbourne Press. Atta lives in London and performs internationally. Twitter / Facebook

Zesty has been running the Women You Should Know series every March since 2012 - to look at previous posts, use the blog archive on the right of this page.

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