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Boss served the tea and Phoenix drank up

Upstairs at the Armory the [nueBOX] studio is a soft-lit sunset fuchsia glow. A handful of people are lounging on the floor, against the walls in pairs and trios— Entering, it feels as though the speculation has already commenced and we are the query. Strange Intimacy. It’s the little things that matter. Is this is it for the show, the wondering? There are black stools scattered around the studio’s perimeter, not a single one occupied— a few minutes pass, we’re instructed to move from floor to stools, and then there’s a shuffling of resettlement. Negotiating, potential for taking direction, bodies moving through space, together. We’re warned that there will be participation — take your phones out ... Intriguing.

Photo taken by Chris Young

The narrative arc of Thru is piquant, sweet and sour. It’s a well-crafted sauce uniting 20 years of self-imagining, and what becomes of it. Boss enters, “I brought Tea”—an invitation, to spiral and dream. I’m already caught in the sheer muscled web, waiting. You got me. We’re en-route to the first dance recital, Mom’s driving. The inciting incident is a first red lipstick glimpse in the car mirror, “I SAW MYSELF!” Boss is tossed into a vibrant feat of skillful choreography— All the tones of sensual, violent, swearing, prayerful possibility, and finally, a gorgeous, ‘what I should have said’ soliloquy:

Why try so hard? Because Work is Political Action. Because my work is me. Because We Are Sacred It only gets sweeter I am free.

Thru is one hell of a story woven with sweeping sashay, gorgeous singing, mirror boxing in

Wonder Woman briefs, drag king fantasia, a lip-syncing climax (TRUST YOUR GUT), and face- to-floor piety. Pose. Boss, I am here for this journey— and, simultaneously considering my own

body as it’s put to work in service of the show. Follow me with the light. Each moment of intricate choreography, each command, each vignette feels necessary, wholly integrated into the larger scheme. From a design vantage point, having the audience follow close illuminating the performer with cellphone flashlights is brilliant. The random velocity of ten flash-bulbs at close range renders each expression rawer, more salient, and more naked! We are mirror and we are spotlight, we amplify the moment— witness and accomplice. It makes me want to get naked with my friends: totally vulnerable, empowered.

The question of consent surfaces. Did it feel consensual? Did I wholeheartedly, enthusiastically agree to seeing complete nudity at close range, to Full Frontal Participation in the action when I bought my ticket? Or, when I raised my hand to accept the offer of Tea? In the heat of the moment, during the show, it didn’t even occur to me that I wouldn’t do what Boss asked of me. I’d signed up for the speculation; of course I’d follow through. This is a problematic habit of mind: I did enjoy every aspect of the show, but it also didn’t even occur to me to say no. I especially appreciate the dialogue that this question of consent inspires. My date shared that it did not feel consensual, “in the sense of what I was expected to do as an audience member.” That resonated too, making me wonder: What are the ethical considerations of consent and audience participation? How does a performer/director negotiate this terrain effectively in the midst of a show? Does audience participation serve the performer, or the audience, or both? And, how? What is the ethos of it?

Photo taken by Tiffany Velazquez

Boss, you are an aptly named, masterful performer. It was a pleasure to take orders from you, and bear witness to your speculation on the possibilities of self in relation. I look forward to the evolution of this work.

Ada McCartney is an educator, literary artist, and contemplative movement practitioner. Born in Colon, Michigan, she now resides in Tempe, Arizona. The aim of her work is to find metaphor, extrapolate meaning, to liberate herself from oppressive socialization, and to explore the internal~external landscape with unencumbered attention to detail.

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