In April 2012, writer and performer Dan Fishback attended "A Porch Meeting for the Future," a conversation hosted by Split Britches as part of their 33x3 series at LaMama in the East Village. Billed as "a celebration of what the future might be," the discussion inevitably turned to the future of queer performance.
"Everyone was talking about the good old days," Dan explained to me later, "and wondering whether queer kids today were still performing and asking where they were. I stopped and said, 'they're everywhere!'"
But where? And why were they not more visible and performing in venues that in the 80s teemed with young queer performers? Dan argued at the "Porch Meeting" that it was partially because those alternative venues had themselves become part of the establishment.
"LaMama presents a lot of incredible international work, so it's much harder for some young punk to see themselves as belonging there," Dan explained. "It's also because of AIDS; the generation is gone that should have been there to bring people to these venues. And then also gentrification; everyone's so spread out and no one lives in the same neighborhood anymore."
Dan argued that if theatrical institutions would be more proactive in creating intergenerational queer space, then the age gaps created by AIDS and gentrification would be lessened. At which point, Nicky Paraiso, Programming Director for The Club at La Mama said, "Well, why don't you do that for us?"
And so Squirts: New Voices in Queer Performance was born.
For six nights in January, Dan invited a core group of seven young performers (the "squirts") to perform. In addition, each night featured an established queer performance artist as a guest of honor (luminaries that included Peggy Shaw, John Kelly, Deb Margolin, Marga Gomez, Mike Albo, and Justin Vivian Bond).
By including an established artist each night, Dan created an intergenerational queer space that at times directly addressed the lineage of queer performance that appeared on stage. On opening night, the show opened with Man Meat Collective's "I Could Have Danced All Night," which questioned the originality of queer performance today by directly referencing Peggy Shaw's performances as part of Split Britches. Immediately following the opening number? Peggy Shaw.
In talking to the "squirts," who included Khi Armand, Becky Eklund, Man Meat Collective, Buzz Slutzky, Christ Tyler, and Santiago Venegas, I was struck by the sense of community that they felt with each other and the connection they felt to the more established artists that were part of the series.
"You get to know or be friends with the people for whom you see yourself in lineage," explained Hana Malia, a member of Man Meat Collective. "The ability to witness and actually track that connection is extraordinary, and it's something that not everybody gets to do. That makes this something really special. This series is a manifestation of that."
For the performers, Squirts had become a powerful representation of a new generation of queer artists. Santiago Venegas (whose solo performance blew me away) explained, "Our queer lives are not represented very well on stage, so it's good that there are spaces such as this one for all of us to participate. All of us are so diverse, but it's important that our queer lives are being represented and documented through our performances."
Seeing this manifest itself on opening night at La Mama was exciting and at times moving. For queer people, who often feel without a lineage or a place to call home, Squirts stands as a defiant reminder that our stories are important and part of a larger queer history. It also represents for me the best of what theatre and performance can do - provide a necessary confrontation with mortality and help us understand the possibility of something better.
It's a feeling echoed by Dan: "I am so much more excited about queer performance now than I was years ago. It's rare you hear a queer person say that things are better than they used to be. They really are. I really feel that queer performance is on the resurgence, and this is here to celebrate that moment. A hopeful moment."
And thankfully, it's not over. Dan is presenting another installment of La Mama's Squirts during the first hour of Earl Dax's Pussy Faggot party at Public Assembly on February 8, 2013 at 8pm (starring Becky Eklund, Stephen Ira, Shane Shane, Buzz Slutzky, Michael Tikili, Santiago Venegas and Yana Walton). More information and tickets are available at www.pussyfaggot.net.
I urge you to go see Squirts for yourself, either in this installment or in what will hopefully be many more iterations to come. I purposely haven't spent much time describing the performances here, because part of the joy of the show is getting to experience them yourself for the first time. But go and see what has grown from a conversation last year about "what the future might be." Because the future is being created on stage before our eyes. And I am hopeful.
John-Stuart Fauquet is a director, writer, and musician. He holds a PhD in Theatre and Drama from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and currently lives in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at @jsfauquet.