Friday, November 1, 2013

Michael Jackson and Me

Most of October has been "Defacing Michael Jackson" rehearsals. It's a personal play while still being fictional for a variety of reasons (the timeline, the plot points, most of the characters are archetypes). In rehearsal we've spent a lot of time talking about Michael Jackson and I've taken that spirit home with me. A reporter recently asked me some questions and I thought about what makes MJ so special. Answers below and show opens tonight!!

When did you first listen to MJ? 

MJ was like air growing up. He was around. It would be like asking someone when was the first time they tasted water. I guess I became aware that something was extremely special about him when he first moonwalked across the stage during the Motown Special and a sudden spasm of awe erupted from the audience. It was an electric recognitions of God. For a split second it was like God jumped out, people began convulsing, and then God disappeared back underneath Michael. I don't think I've ever seen that reaction from a performance where an audience is in shock at their own reaction.

A lot of your work deals with being African American and/or black in America – Why is Michael such a flashpoint for race and what makes him the catalyst for Defacing…?

Growing up there was this weird dark skin/light skin battle going on among my black friends and family. I knew that having a lighter complexion was 'better' somehow and yet felt guilty for feeling this way. It's a mind corkscrew to feel a certain way, but know you're not supposed to feel that way, but then know that this feeling is in part because of what society is going to do to you (so it's justified). One day I went out in the sun way too long and I came back with very dark brown skin. I began to cry. I was a kid. I just knew that having this skin was going to be bad for me. When my skin returned to a lighter shade, I was relieved. I buried the guilty feeling I had and just blamed it on society. I imagine Michael Jackson had many days crying over skin complexion, his nose, all the things he negated. 

The term 'defacing' has multiple meanings in the title and in the play. It's a process we do to ourselves, society does to us, we do to our friends, and our heroes like MJ. And it's this graffiti of pain and confusion that we spray on to ourselves and everyone around us. This graffiti can be beautiful but it can also destroy us. It all depends on how you look at it because one man's Banksy masterpiece is another man's defaced property. 

How do you view Michael’s role in America’s cultural landscape? What about the role/function of stereotypes?

MJ was the first male superstar in my childhood that made us hyper-aware of beauty standards, skin complexion, plastic surgery, self-immolating hatred for one's own identity, and how fame can make you go crazy. Michael was a genius and he did so many good things. But I do also think there was a certain moment when he went crazy and never came back. It was probably after the BAD album. He was losing it and Quincy Jones was falling away from his sphere of influence, his family didn't hold sway over him. MJ was surrounded which such an un-Godly amount of money, power, and time that he shattered all his anchors to everyday life. Artistically, this made for some amazing experiences and creations even at the very end of his life. But personally, I imagine it must have been hell. Apparently he died because he just wanted to go to sleep. He wanted to sleep so bad that he took anesthesia. Imagine that: a man who has everything in the world but not enough peace of mind to go to sleep. That is hell. 

From a journalistic perspective – what fascinates you about the way Michael was portrayed OR how his story was told?

The media devoured him. Recluse, genius, gentle prince. Boy wonder. This was the narrative for the first part of his career. Then he started to look funny, do unusual things and then the narrative because 'eccentric recluse.' Weird superstar. As his looks became more unsettling and the rumors started, it was like blood in the water for sharks. Every horrible thing you could call someone, we did to MJ. We joked about it, screamed it, wrote headlines for it. He became our monster. It was like fairy tale about Prince Charming and then finding out he becomes this Frankenstein demon. And like Frankenstein, the real monsters are the people around him. The ugliness inside of us comes out to attack what we see as a threat. The mob with pitchforks and torches out to destroy the gentle, unusual, recluse who makes them uneasy.

Is there an artist today that captures some similar cultural fault line as Michael did/does?

No. No. No. 

If you put R. Kelly in a blender with...Usher and then mixed it with....Rihanna...I'm going to stop right there. 


I don't think our culture would allow for something like MJ at this particular point in time. We're really living in the 1950s as far as music is concerned: very controlled, manufactured, dumpster fires. Hold your nose and enjoy the warmth. It will be over soon enough. An apocalyptic fire is in the sky and heading our way to burn away this compost. 

Tickets can be purchased at
The dates are:
Nov. 1st 7pm
Nov. 2nd 6pm
Nov. 3rd 6pm
Nov. 4th 7pm
Nov. 7th 7pm
Nov. 9th 1pm
Nov. 10th 6pm
Nov 14th 7pm
Nov 16th 2pm
Nov 17th 6pm
Nov 21st 7pm
Nov. 24th 2 pm and 7pm

1 comment:

Mildred said...

Wishing you great mid run success!