Stacy Makishi is a transplant from Hawaii. Like a bonsai plant, Stacy is small but old. She has been making art for over 30 years. A cross-fertilization of theatre, comedy, film and visual art, her work is as complex as it is accessible; humorous as it is challenging; visual as it is literate.
It ranges across solo performances for stage, large-scale outdoor participatory projects and intimate one-to-ones. Also a teacher, director and mentor in international demand, Makishi believes in art’s transformative power and strives to share her creative process with others in order to put more aloha into the world.
Ahead of her Dublin show at the Project Arts Centre as part of Live Collision Festival, we sat down for a chat with the queer comic.
Hey Stacy! First of all, are you excited to perform in Ireland?
I love Ireland! The last time I took part in Live Collision, I made so many friends, especially on the bus. People were so open and friendly and told me the best stories. I would walk into the theatre each day and say, ‘Hey, I just made a new friend Do you know her? Her name is Mary?
What freedom does being a performance artist bring?
For me, being an independent artist means you can do whatever you like. But in art making, freedom can be overwhelming. Too many choices, sky’s the limit, where do I begin?
But I guess for me, all my projects begin like having a passionate love affair with someone who’s gonna break my heart. It begins with a slight flirtation… then suddenly it falls into obsession…. And before you know it, I’m covered in tears and snot and barefoot and pregnant. I’m not sure if I’m pregnant with the idea or if the idea is pregnant with me. There’s a lot of pushing and breathing, cussing and swearing, but in the end, there’s ALIVENESS… and there’s nothing quite like it, so you turn around and do it again. But once a show is out in the world, hopefully it can live a life as its own ‘person’ and be free from you. Free from your doubt, criticism, angst and judgement. Perhaps this is the real freedom.
Do your performances differ each evening based on audience interactions/atmosphere?
Each performance is different because each audience is different. Their participation is a vital part of the show. By the end, we all feel interconnected, raw and real. One big, beautiful, human mess. At least, that’s what I hope.
This story encapsulates my deep-hearted-trickster desire… The Comforter wishes to comfort and to confound… to make a sacred space for disco, divine, party and paradox.
The Comforter looks at religion from a more modern/pop culture point of view. What do you think the church would make of it?
I’ll summarize my thoughts in a story. I was reading a chapter in a book called Big Magic, on Divinity. There was a great story about sacred, religious dances performed in Bali. These dances are powerful and holy… and by the 1960’s it attracted many tourists and that brought in lots of money. But not everyone was happy. High-minded Westerners were appalled that this could happen to “holy art”… ‘Surely, the sacred and the profane must be kept separate!’ The priests didn’t want to upset their visitors so they got together with the dance masters to create a new kind of dance… something entertaining that was “divinity-free”.
But what happened was that the silly, meaningless dances eventually developed to be even more transcendent than the old, stale, sacred dances… so much so that they decided to borrow from the new fake dances. And very soon it was uncertain what was meaningless and what was holy… until no one could tell the difference anymore. Everything was now blurred between high and low, light and heavy, right and wrong, us and them, sacred and profane, God and earth. And this made everyone very happy, except for the high minded Westerners. Perhaps this is what the trickster priest had in mind the whole time.
This story encapsulates my deep-hearted-trickster desire… The Comforter wishes to comfort and to confound… to make a sacred space for disco, divine, party and paradox. The function of art and religion is to deepen the mystery. Live art is a great agent for blurring boundaries and holding space for mystery.
The pope will be visiting Ireland later this year and there has been controversy around the removal of same-sex families from publications surrounding the event. Do you have any advice for him?
See the story above.
I don’t know any artist who feels like an ‘insider’. Part of my job is to feel homesick… this yearning towards elsewhere is part of the work.
You have previously said you have felt like an outsider in the world of performance art, has this perspective helped fuel your work?
I don’t know any artist who feels like an ‘insider’. Part of my job is to feel homesick… this yearning towards elsewhere is part of the work. At the same time, it’s important to not alienate me from myself. Whenever I begin to work on a new project, the fear of failure is so great. And when I bottom-line the fear… what I fear most is that if the show is not good enough, I’ll abandon myself. As artists, we have to find ways to be faithful to ourselves…. To remember that it’s our vulnerability and human-ness that connects us to each other.
Have you heard of the term Wabi Sabi? It’s basically, Steve Buscemi’s face. Have you seen his teeth?
We live in a world that’s fairly obsessed with superficial perfection. Performance art can be a subversion counter-narrative to this…
Have you heard of the term Wabi Sabi? It’s an aesthetic that is centred on the acceptance of transience, impermanence, decay and imperfection. It’s basically, Steve Buscemi’s face. Have you seen his teeth?
I’ve been told that Performance Art is now called “Live Art”…. As opposed to what, dead art? I suppose that’s what makes live art alive… it’s the risk…the chance that it can die… that the work can fail. It’s like with surfing. Anyone can catch a wave… but what makes people want to watch the pros is the risk. They want to see someone willing to catch the big, killer wave, the one that might make you eat shit and die. It’s the same with art. We want to see our human-ness played all out. We want to see art that exposes the raw, beautiful, shitty, shameful experience of being alive and human.
Do you think this ‘Steve Buscemi aesthetic’ will be experienced by people who come to see The Comforter?
It’s my hope that people will see my human-ness exposed. I know I did my job when I leave the stage suffering with a shame-hangover.
My motto was: ‘I can’t’. Was it to do with my class, gender, race or queerness? Who knows?
Pop music plays a big role in The Comforter, who is your ultimate pop idol?
At the moment, I’m obsessed with Tina Turner.
I grew up poor, weird and working class. I ‘walked funny’ and my baloney sandwiches smelled like feet. My motto was: ‘I can’t’. Was it to do with my class, gender, race or queerness? Who knows? But one day, I saw a miracle. A black lion-woman roared and thrust her shoulders forward, and her wild mane back. The TV announcer said, ‘Ike and Tina Turner’, but I heard ‘I can Tina Turner’. I jumped to my feet and shouted, ‘I CAN Tina Turner too!’
I’ve been working on a Faith Trilogy in response to the Holy Trinity: The Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But guess who’s just showed up? Mary! Proud Mary! I’m talking Tina Turner’s, Proud Mary! So now I’m pregnant with a new show. I’m talking ‘immaculate conception’ by Mary. It’s early days, but the next show is inspired by Tina Turner and Mary. She’s the ultimate Bad Ass and I can’t wait to see what happens with this baby.
It’s a love song that beckons us to Choose Life… the whole spectrum of life: the joy and sorrow, the disappointment and excitement, the love and loss.
If George Michael was still alive, what do you think he would make of The Comforter?
You know, I wasn’t a big George Michael fan before this show, but now I’m so in love with him. In many ways, I feel like he co-wrote this show. It’s a love song that beckons us to Choose Life… the whole spectrum of life: the joy and sorrow, the disappointment and excitement, the love and loss. I see how I’m like George… whenever I’m overwhelmed with ‘big feelings’, I take the edge off by drinking or eating or shopping. We want to numb life by shutting down. But if we shut down on one part, we shut down our hearts to all aliveness. Choosing Life means making ourselves available to all of life. The show is constantly trying to teach me some tough lessons.
Are there any other acts at Live Collision you’re excited about?
Hell, yes! Dang, it’s a live art smorgasbord – All-you-can-eat-Live-Art! There’s so much I’m excited about: Split Britches’ brand new show, Unexploded Ordinances, I cannot wait! Oh, and there’s Selena Thompson’s RACE CARDS, Xavier de Sousa’s REGNANT, Dick Walsh’s Another March, not to mention All Trans On Decks party! And much, much more! And if you’re curious to learn more about live art, you gotta check out the Bibliotheque/Live Art Development Agency! Listen, this festival is the bomb! I cannot wait to be blown away!
The Comforter will be at the Project Arts Centre on Weds 25 April and Thurs 26 April, book tickets here.
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