If Friday means Some Thing — the popular late night drag performance showcase at the Stud — then tonight means something More: opening night of "Work MORE! #5," the hybrid performance installation headed up by Some Thing's charismatic and catalytic hostess, Vivvyanne Forevermore, alt-persona of artist-curator Mica Sigourney.
Tonight has even a little more More than that: it's also four years to the month since Vivvyanne Forevermore first stepped onto the San Francisco stage. It's an auspicious moment, in other words, for one of Sigourney's more ambitious Work MORE! undertakings to date (with the possible exception of next year's planed tour of Work MORE! #4, but more on that below). Number five brings together (at CounterPULSE this weekend) a group of drag queens, visual artists, dancers and performance artists in an overlapping series of collaborative performance installations that do away with the usual proscenium setting in favor of a loosely compartmentalized stage that's more like a haunted gallery.
"Logistically, I've never done anything like this at all," says Sigourney, speaking at a SOMA café last week. "It's going to be too hot, it's going to be too loud, and it's not going to be easy." But then, he immediately adds, "that's not any different from a drag bar."
The Work MORE! series has been chipping away at the wall between nightlife and theatrical performance through five iterations and counting, so maybe people will understand that without much prompting. "Hopefully people will realize how much agency they have."
As Work MORE! continues to grow in scope, it's also grown in popularity, enough that Sigourney is able to float a little money in the direction of the artists. Not a lot yet, he admits, "but you don't have to worry about buying your wig — and you can keep it afterwards." Beyond the ambitious tour next year, Sigourney hopes to make Work MORE! a sustaining enterprise.
"I'd like it to be, not an institution, but a program that happens yearly or twice yearly that can support itself and can support the artists," he says, explaining that that means supporting unique collaborations unlikely to take place anywhere else. "I mean Dean [Disaster] and Philip [Huang] as a collaborative team? I would never have thought of that," marvels Sigourney.
"Or like Jonathan Solo, who is a beautiful illustrator and artist, a favorite of mine, and the fact that he's working with Diamanda Kallas, that's a valuable creative collaboration. I want to be able to facilitate that kind of work," says Sigourney. "That's what I want to do."
More of last week's conversation with Mica Sigourney follows.
San Francisco Bay Guardian When did you start doing drag? You started in theater; those were separate things entirely?
Mica Sigourney Yeah, I did theater for a long time. I started doing theater when I was five, like outside of school, continued in college for two years and then stopped. I moved to San Francisco in 2004. I had a residency at Jon Simms Center. Then I stopped again doing any performance from 2004 to 2008. I was drawing at that point, doing screen-printing and fine art, soft sculpture.
Then I started doing parties and nightlife. I started doing this party, which was called Tiara Sensation and is now called Some Thing. We moved to the Stud two months after it started. And when we moved to the Stud, I knew they had a stage there, and if we had a stage I had to host, because I was the host of the party. I mean that was my job. So it happened organically. I really didn't want to. Like the first two numbers I did were terrible. I had no idea how to make a thing. But part of it too.
By the time I met Fauxnique I was already doing drag, but meeting Fauxnique — she came from a technical background in dance — just seeing the way different people had navigated it and gone through it was really helpful. So I started doing it four years ago this month.
SFBG You never had any drag inclinations before?
MS No, that's not true. When I was younger I used to dress up a lot. You could say I was a club kid. I collected women's clothes and high heels but I never bothered to do drag with them. As a teenager going out in New York I idolized drag queens, but I just never thought that I'd be able to do it right. There was like one time in 2001, when I was in San Francisco, where I stepped out in drag, but never did it again. It wasn't until I met the right people that I felt supported, that I felt like I could try it.
SFBG These people gave you the knowledge you needed?
MS Completely. One of the ideas behind Work MORE! is that drag is a folk art. There's not really a technique, drag is more like the modality that you participate in, so your knowledge comes from either directly witnessing it from somebody else, and studying them, or by watching someone else and having them teach you like a parent or a mentor. So my mentors would be Glamamore, who's my drag mother; Kevin, the DJ at my party who's a drag queen and has had an influence on me; Hoku Mama Swamp; and Fauxnique are all probably my immediate inspirations and people who significantly helped me in different ways.
SFBG How did Work MORE! start?
MS It started the first year of Too Much!, the Keith Hennessy thing when it was at the Off Center. Julie [Phelps] just reached out and asked me if I wanted to do something. And my club had just moved to Friday nights from Monday nights, so I'd been curating a show for that for a while, and I wanted to try to curate something outside of my nightclub scene. I was just getting into the dance world more, the art world more, and so I wanted to try writing a real curatorial statement, and so I just did and they let me do it. And every time I've been super moved by the amount of effort and what people make for it.
I just kept doing it as a side project for myself so I could stay fresh. And we're going to tour next spring so last year we made this really big piece—so it's different every year, which also keeps me interested.
SFBG What's the show you're touring with?
MS It's going to be the show we did last year. The premise for that was that we took 11 solo artists and allowed them to sub-organize and create pieces together. It was hugely collaborative. We made a master list of 20 numbers. Then I cut it down. So each person was set up as a director of each number, and then cast different performers for each number, so it was just this network of people working together on these different pieces. It was very like segmented but overlapping. I'm hoping to take a modified version of that show on tour, starting with colleges, in April of next year. My goal is to do West Coast, Midwest, and South, and see if it has legs and try to take it to the East Coast and abroad if we can.
I mean, I never booked a tour so I didn't realize how expensive it is. Also how expensive it is to travel with drag queens, because they need two hours to get ready, so you can't, like, roll into a venue. You need to get there three hours ahead. Somebody has to be doing tech. It's not like a literary tour or a band where you roll up and unload. It's not that.
SFBG It's a complex show too, as you were just describing.
MS Yeah, though now that we have the framework I can look at the video and say this [part] was directed this way by someone who may or may not be in the cast but that's how we're going to do it. The way it was generated was more in line with the mission of Work MORE! than the output. The output is a beautiful drag show that has a lot of people in it, more than you usually see because drag queens are usually solo artists. And you get to see them changing, there' s exposure of the artifice and all that.
SFBG Have you toured before?
MS I went to London with Fauxnique [in her show, Faux Real]. We did it at the Hot August Fringe Festival.
SFBG How was that?
MS It was really cool. I didn't know people were going to get all the references, because it's so American — well, not completely American, but being a teenager in America and listening to Morrissey is really specific. People loved it. I think they were really confused by a woman doing drag, though.
SFBG It's more unusual there?
MS I guess so. Also, in London all the drag queens sing their songs, whether or not they should. It's live singing. So Fauxnique lip-syncing was a little different.
It makes sense when you call drag a folk art, especially considering the way things are learned and traded, but you also bring up the way it can be really regionally specific.
MS Absolutely. In San Francisco you have the new strong tradition of gross out, like lots of blood, taking off your clothes, what Trannyshack was really good at [fostering], which is beautiful and genius but really specific to here. I think with RuPaul's Drag Race and the advent of Facebook and all that, things are probably becoming less specific, which is kind of sad to me.
But actually in the first Work MORE!, the assignment wasn't collaborative. It was after the second Work MORE! that it became focused specifically on collaboration. The first one was about just tradition. Let's go back to the traditions of lip sync, glamor and femininity. That was the assignment. You had to use those three things in extreme ways. It was about finding roots. Where does drag come from for us now? What are the things being ignored or that can be enhanced more? But a dream for me is to do a Work MORE! where it's a collaboration between artists not from the U.S. and some from here. Because the social aspect [of Work MORE!] is about the sharing of traditions, and the strengthening of queer community, crossing lineages or genealogies. So I think that would be really interesting.
Work MORE! #5
Thu/24-Sat/26, 8pm, $15-$20
1310 Mission, SF