I attended this past Friday's Hubba Hubba Revue: Oktoberfest show at the DNA Lounge and saw SF Boylesque's performance. I have to say that I was.... Hmm. Disappointed? Disgusted? Irritated? I can't honestly decide, but I know that neither "impressed" nor "entertained" fit the bill.
I've seen your troupe perform several times, at Hubba and other events, and I've always enjoyed you immensely. So, while upstairs in the dressing room beforehand, I was especially pleased to see three men of color preparing for an act. "Cool! SF Boylesque is getting more diverse!" And I was so excited when you were announced that I grabbed the hand of a friend who'd not seen you before and rushed to a railing on the balcony to watch.
And then came the trainwreck. I mean. Black-face? Really?
I can't speak to your intentions, and you may choose to explain them or not; that's really up to you. But I feel obligated to let you know the impact of your actions.
Your act made nearly the entire audience uncomfortable and specifically embarrassed and triggered several black people in attendance, including other performers.
Now, I'm all for work that is edgy and smart. But this wasn't the latter. No interesting message, no deconstruction of minstrelsy, no statement on being a black performer in front of a majority-white audience. Nope. It was three black men shucking and jiving.... for the sake of shucking and jiving.
I watched agog waiting for the a-ha! moment when your dancers were going to turn the act on its head. That moment never came.
And so I, like everyone I've spoken with since that night, wondered what the point was. Because making people uncomfortable for its own sake is not the mark of artistic genius. At best, it's a cop-out; at worst, it's irresponsible if not down-right malicious.
And, of course, this wasn't your show, it wasn't your stage. That stage belongs to the Hubba Hubba Revue--its producers, its cast and crew, its family. S.F. Boylesque effectively walked into someone else's house, took a big, steaming shit, and walked out--leaving someone else to clean up the mess.
Quite honestly, my first thought when your act was done was "Oh, goody. I'm going to have so many irritating conversations with white people because of this." My second thought was "Great. Jim's now going to have to deal with the fallout over something he had absolutely no control over."
And I need to say that aside from being part of the audience, I also happen to be one of the few black performers in the San Francisco Bay Area burlesque community. It's been an interesting experience over the last few years to find ways to create work that is smart, culturally-relevant and appropriate, and also thought-provoking. It's been an interesting experience to play with stereotypes and, most importantly, fuck them up. When I say I'm down with edgy and smart work, I mean it. It's what I strive for in my own performances and what I appreciate in others'. That means understanding context.
I'm hoping that this message is received in the spirit in which it is sent. Because I'd be lying if I said I weren't still pissed about it, but I'm trying to not just talk shit in public. I feel like I needed to contact you directly and let you know that you've lost fans over this, and I'm one of them.
Lauren Wheeler / Lola Vauntz