In the very late 1970's, when I was 11 or 12, I saw a performance piece by Rachel Rosenthal. If I saw the same piece today, 27 years later, I'd hope to intellectually understand it more or maybe even think it was shit, but as an eleven year old, I had a purer, emotional response. During the piece, she blathered on about I don't know what and drank an entire bottle of wine. As the monologue progressed, so did her slurring and in the end, she shaved her head bald with large, electronic clippers. To witness this live feels oddly like a robbery; like a disempowering of some sort. It makes you gasp as an adult. It makes you stare in bewilderment as a child.
My mother also saw the Kipper Kids around that time, where the two-man team (one of whom is now married to Bette Midler [random]) would wrestle around naked and then take shits on stage.
And I've spent all morning trying to figure out why I've been thinking about this so much. Why, after almost 30 years, do these clownish performances embarrass me? But it's kind of obvious that I, too, am a performance artist in a polar negative kind of way. I perform a mean, plastic good-girl tap dance most notably at my job. This particular, daily performance is called the WorkerBee Dance. I've done it at every job I've ever had, and I even shuffle my feet and move my arms around and go TADA! with my arms outstretched. However, my natural inclination is to drink wine at my desk and shave my head and shit on my chair and finger paint my cubicle in wild blue hues. I'm really good at reeling myself in though.
I have a good job. The people are very nice. The pay is relatively good. They leave me be because I'm good at what I do; I could sling semiconductors in my sleep. And because it's automatic, I daydream about what I would do if I wasn't doing the workerbee dance, if I didn't buckle to the pressure of practicality. I know I'm responsible to a family of four (or six with pugs) and I do not take that cavalierly. That is not a burden. But between my performing scenes, I scribble writings under my work notebook, and edit stories while I'm on hold waiting to be quoted another semiconductor. I daydream about wearing saris and tshirts and I give interviews in my head. I have a cult following that likes that I'm a little weird. And I paint at midnight and I dance and lipsynch to King Sunny Ade though he sings in Yoruba . . .ACTION! Yes, sir, I've found those chips for you. Yes, Mrs. 5th Grade teacher in the OC, I will gladly behave at the parent/teacher conference.
One question for Rachel and the Kipper Kids though: When do you know the performance piece is over? Or do parts of it go on and on eventually meshing with who you are in your mind, making it all indistinguishable.