Interview: La JohnJoseph bring Boy in a Dress to Edinburgh Fringe 2012
'Totally autobiographical' show combines, music, vaudeville and striptease
This article is from 2012.
La JohnJoseph has a distinct memory of his first foray into performance: ‘I wore a cocktail dress and my dear friend Gina wore my suit and we created that infamous scene from Showgirls where they have sex in the swimming pool, and we did that to the soundtrack of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately”. It was pretty diabolical actually. But I really haven’t looked back since.’
It’s a sheepish recollection but its brashness is a good indicator of this artist’s sexual, musical style. La JohnJoseph is a third gender performer – ‘To put it simply,’ he explains, ‘it just means a person who doesn’t feel strictly as though they are a man or strictly as though they are a woman, but equally doesn’t feel the need to switch between those two pre-fabricated genders.’
Over the last five years, he’s created a quiet buzz in the US and Europe with his innovative, autobiographical theatre. Having worked as a stripper and boylesque performer in New York, the Liverpool-born artist now fuses striptease, vaudeville and musical genres to explore gender, faith and identity.
La JohnJoseph’s latest work, Boy in a Dress, is directed by Sarah Chew, who brought us Stella Duffy’s Medea at last year’s Fringe, and arrives in Edinburgh after a lauded run at South London’s Ovalhouse Theatre.
‘It’s totally autobiographical,’ he says. ‘It’s all true, even the bits I made up.’ In fact, Boy in a Dress is a composite of three autobiographical shows by La JohnJoseph: Notorious Beauty, which explores ‘gender, identity, beauty and deviancy’; I Happen to Like New York, a depiction of his time spent in the city; and Unclass Hero, about his life growing up in a Liverpool council estate in the 1980s.
During these early years, La JohnJoseph wanted to be a writer, but was quickly lured to the stage. ‘When I started to perform,’ he explains, ‘I was drawn to its immediacy – that you can make performance and live art with your body. That’s all you need: your own ideas, your own body. You don’t need institutions, and you don’t need any of the kind of tools and levers that bring something like a novel into the world.’
His influences include groundbreaking American performance artist Penny Arcade, with whom he’s worked in the past, and third gender pioneer Justin Vivian Bond. And his eclectic taste on music means Boy in a Dress has a varied soundtrack, from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Clean White Bed’ to Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Sweet Child of Mine’.
The Boy in a Dress team will be undertaking some outreach work whilst they’re in Edinburgh, alongside charities LGBT Youth Scotland and Voice UK, to promote cultural inclusion at the festival. They’ve also enjoyed a successful crowd-funding drive, a tool that’s proving ever more useful for cash-strapped artists looking for money to support a month in Edinburgh.
La JohnJoseph has even seen his early writing ambitions come to fruition this year, after being approached by a literary agent at one of his shows. But he isn’t letting all this success go to his head.
‘You just do your own thing,’ he says, ‘and sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s terrible. And at a certain point people decide that it has some sort of cultural value and start telling other people about it. And that’s marvellous. I can’t say that I’m not flattered but I’m really aware that I mustn’t get caught up in that because really if people love what I do or hate what I do, it’s a little bit like white noise – I’m just going to do what I do.’
Boy in a Dress, The Stand Comedy Club III & IV, 558 7272, 6-26 Aug (not 13), 4.20pm, £10. Previews 2–5 Aug, £5.