- Cabaret Thoughts on Wow and Now
Wow and Now was a night of salacious and serious cabaret. In addition to providing Performance Studies International (PSi 13) conference attendees with a glimpse of queer and feminist artists today, Wow and Now offered a space for the audience to consider and envision the vital intersections of feminism, queer politics, and contemporary performance practices. Watching the show, I was reminded of the now ten-year-old edited volume Feminism Meets Queer Theory, by Naomi Schor and Elizabeth Weed.1 This collection of essays insists that the conversations between feminism and queer theory need to be reengaged since such dialogues remain quite relevant to coalitional politics today. Queer and feminist politics are very much interrelated as queer was itself born out of feminist and sex-based thought experiments. The multiple manifestations of feminism and queer theory build on each other and yet originate from distinct historical moments, circumstances, and desires. Schor and Weed articulate the distinctions between these fields of practice and politics in an effort to complicate feminism and queer theory as uneasy, yet productive, bedfellows. It is their hope that, through this focus on meeting and meeting again, one might be able to more clearly map the paths in which feminist and queer trajectories coalesce and aid each other in maintaining a critical self-awareness of coercive formations and sedimentations.2 So it was that Wow and Now, [End Page 543] this meeting of feminist and queer performance in 2007 Manhattan, not only served up a jovial political, gender-excessive, and erotic tempest, but also provided a refreshing revisitation of Schor and Weed’s 1997 collection of pointed essays on the crucial need to continue a dialogue between feminism and queer theory.3
I begin this review in the clandestine stage that is the public restroom. Cocurator and host Nao Bustamante emerged midway through the night in her pearl kimono cape clutching a sizable toilet-paper holder seemingly ripped right off the wall of the theater bathroom stall. As Bustamante went into her humble apology and explanation about how the toilet-paper holder had fallen off as she was “going number one,” she insisted that it could not have been her brute force that caused its descent. She was only merely pulling “normally” on the toilet paper. Then, after taking a moment to reflect, she announced, “Well, it’s hard to know what normal is because I’m always by myself.” Her comment, in its lyrical and humorous excess, points to the very antinormative drive that has been crucial to queer efforts and the decentering project of feminism, particularly women-of-color feminism. Both political and coalitional markers “queer” and “feminism” fail to know what is fully normal, and although feminist projects have been more (often problematically) attuned to strategic essentialism to gain rights and recognition across gender and race differentials, each continues to embrace the inability to attain normalcy and critique the uninterrogated search for equivalency.4 Bustamante explains that she will give the toilet-paper holder to the staff so her coperformers of the night do not suffer at her paper-hungry hand, saying, “I just don’t want to fuck up anymore.” However, what we seem to hear is both that the fuckup is perfect for tonight and that this antinormative, yet inevitably, binary-bathroom–based stance that Wow and Now’s artists contend with and embrace is predicated on a certain reflexivity and self-care for one another. Although Bustamante’s remark at first comes across as part of her quick-witted glamour aesthetic, what is conveyed is a collegial queerness, a care for the other performers, for the performance space, and a desire to do right by the collective body. On this very stage is the meeting of various self-critical and contending fields and politics.
In Judith Butler’s essay “Against Proper Objects,” from the aforementioned edited collection, she tells us that “[t]here can be...