I’ve long wondered how edgy performance artist Cynthia Hopkins survives.
The answer, it turns out, is: just barely.
Her extremely personal theater work, often presented as slightly bizarre, dreamy (sometimes verging on nightmarish) faux autobiography, has won increasingly wide acceptance. Aside from being the darling of St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, she’s put on her shows at other leading venues such as the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
She’s had a Guggenheim fellowship and has won Bessie, Obie and other awards.
(Click through to the jump for videos and more about Cynthia Hopkins.)
She also has toured with a band, Gloria Deluxe, that has made some albums under their name and as, more or less, the backing band for her stage productions.
Her operation got so big, and appeared so successful, that she created a nonprofit organization to manage it.
But even as her fame grew, I had a feel she was trying to shed something, escape something. Many of her major productions suggested a troubled background, but it was never clear how much was fiction and how much was fact. And she took to giving away CDs to every ticketholder — a nice gesture, but one that cut into her merchandising possibilities.
As a fan of her work, I had all her albums before she started giving them away at shows, so my home has a small stack of unopened CDs that I keep meaning to give to friends.
What the audience learns from her new show, “A Living Documentary,” is that, basically, she barely survived. The piece, done on a spare stage with props and costumes that appear to have been pulled from thrift shops and salvaged from junk heaps, is an exploration of the difficulty of earning a living as a slightly edgy performance artist in the 21st century.
The show, which had a short run early in March at New York Live Arts, has the potential to be a real downer.
It’s a story of Hopkins’ burnout. As her creative output grew, her responsibilities for the productions engulfed her life and forced her creative impulses to take a back seat and put her deeply into personal debt.
In her new work — which she said he produced without spending a penny of her own money, aside from the cost of some yellow stage makeup — Hopkins offers a raw, slightly sentimental, comedic look at her difficulties through the eyes of intriguing characters, results in a celebration of perseverance and a triumph over despair.
Here’s Cynthia talking about it.
Hopkins used her showcase at New York Live Arts in hope of taking it on the road. Stay tuned for an opportunity to see it soon.