There’s a sort of “joke” (not-joke) about artists intending to pass through Whitefish, Montana and, well–never leaving. One story of a local theatre company carries the legend that its founders had their car break down, so they decided to stop driving across the country and start a company. I can’t help but think of the ever-wise words of late comedian Mitch Hedberg, “if you find yourself lost in the woods, f*#k it, build a house. You are no longer lost.” But I can also understand the appeal. The place is amazing. Beautiful, quaint, friendly, and incredibly supportive of the arts. It sits on the toes of the Canadian Rockies, less than an hour from the incomparable Glacier National Park, and is inhabited by rugged but friendly sorts who survive a grizzly bear attack by punching it down its throat. Apparently, Whitefish is (or at one time was) a bit of a reclusive get-away for Hollywoodites trying to escape the paparazzi and the ever-driving industry fakeness in exchange for the decidedly very real and humbling Big Sky. This was my second visit to Whitefish, and to Montana at all. My ethereal hippy-gypsie-free-spirit of a dear friend and wonderful theatre director, Rebecca invited me to perform with her sensational group of uber-talented performers, Viscosity Theatre.
It was a series of four cabaret shows mid-October on the stage of Crush Lounge, hovering above the quiet streets of the town’s “shoulder season.” Well, it may have been the quiet in between storms of busy tourist seasons – a scene awaiting Mr. Dark’s carnival in a Bradbury-esque small-town-USA sort of way – but the vibrant, exhuberant insanity that we shared with our audiences was beyond electric. How could it not be, with the title of HorrorPlay Cabaret!? Blood, gore, absurdity, vain witches, the Batman of Whitefish, eye-gouging, sex-toys, face-burning, Stockholm Syndrome, “exorcism,” and a giant wizard-of-awful head of Donald Trump. (Even more horrifying and appropriate a full year later.) There was something grotequely offensive for everyone, and it was wonderful. It was Halloween season, an uncelebration of Columbus Day and other too-oft ignored human atrocities, wrapped up in the darkest of comedy, magic, and song. And, to me, it was a heavy reminder of the significance of performance art. Of the messages we can better carry and convey through the frivolity and innocuousness of “a show.” Lights, make-up, laughter, wonder, delight, and fantasy = the impotus for awareness and the possibility of change.
Even in the short run of four performances, the show evolved and tweaked at a rate proportional to the rapidity and succinctness of its life span. When an entity comes to existence, matures, lives, and dies in five days, (Yes, another Bradbury reference: “Frost and Fire”) every aspect of its life moves at a lightning, frightening speed. Every change is quick and precise, every discussion and direction is distilled to its simplest, most necessary and effective intention. And in the end, it’s about the audience. It’s always about the audience. How are they reacting, for real? What are they taking away, other than mere amusement? Still, when it’s Go-Time, you go. You give 150-200% and expect nothing in return. At least, if you want to keep your sanity.
I look back a year ago and see how little and how much has changed. The world is scary, which is why we like to pretend it’s scarier at Halloween. That becomes increasingly more difficult to do, but it’s all the more reason we need to take the stage and paint smiles on the faces of our viewers with the painted smiles of our own. I look forward to flashing my smiles in Whitefish again, soon.