Dallas — Alexandra Tatarsky, who brings her one-person show Beast of Festive Skin to the 2014 Dallas Solo Fest this week, can trace a lot of her influences back to a very active childhood.
Beast of Festive Skin is an absurdist vaudeville about a group of unlikely souls stuck in Hell, forced to participate in an open mic night. The group includes rappers, alchemists and even a mound of dirt.
“As a kid I was really just influenced by these street performers, especially Washington Square Park’s storytelling comic/juggler Master Lee and the acrobatic breakdance/comedy duo Tic and Tac,” says Tatarsky, a native of the East coast.
“I was born and bred in downtown New York City. Spent my earliest years in a basement apartment across the street from Tompkins Square and most of my childhood down the block from Washington Square Park. Most of my interest in performance came from hanging out in the parks,” says Tatarsky. “There were always many people doing sort of unplanned rambling monologues, singing songs, or making their daily bread hustling with jokes or chessboards or acrobatics.”
Though she was inspired from real life, Tatarsky found inspiration in books, television and even religious events.
“I loved Monty Python as well and the drunken festivities of Purim celebrations where the rabbi dressed up in drag,” she says. “Oh, and the beautiful, whimsical, surreal children’s books of illustrator and dancer Remy Charlip! One of them has entirely blank pages and you have to imagine everything.”
At age 17 she discovered the surrealist poet and dramatist, which she describes as “a revelation!”
“Kharms turned me on to the possibilities of things not making any sense in a delightful and itchy sort of way.”
Eventually, Tatarsky left home and began to travel. She went to places such as New Orleans, Central America and Russia. Along the way, more influences drifted into her life.
“I was very taken by the vagrant accordion players and sidewalk storytellers,” she adds. “In particular, I met several clowns who really inspired me. One of them wore a beautiful powder blue suit and would do things like pee on the furniture while exclaiming, ‘I would never do this!’ ”
Tatarsky landed at Reed College in Portland, Ore. While in the Pacific Northwest she began to study Russian Literature, and then Cubist sculpture, Futurist opera and finally began to create her own neo-vaudeville routines.
“I was inspired by the lives of forgotten or invented performers,” says Tatarsky. “I realized that all these characters I’d been doing had something in common: they were all sort of failed performers who desperately wanted to be something other than who they actually were.”
So, Tatarsky had them all meet in the afterlife and create themselves anew through performance. The concept became her multi-character solo show Beast of Festive Skin.
“I am interested in this idea of what happens when you have no other option but to create. What happens if your eternal punishment is that you are forced to take the mic and speak or sing without preparation? What comes out? This is part of ongoing questions I have about how we make work, where our creations come from, how the process helps us escape what feels like Hell but how it can also become a kind of Hell as we are pushed up against our greatest fears and insecurities,” says Tatarsky.
“I hope audiences comes away from Beast feeling the great desire to go out and wrestle their demons and give their fears a voice and dance and tell some bad jokes on a stage somewhere!” says Tatarsky. “I truly want people to feel enlivened and excited, to create and recognize that there may just be some riches to be found in inner torment!”
» Beast of Festive Skin is performed at the Margo Jones Theatre at the following times:
- Friday, May 16, 10:30 p.m.
- Saturday, May 17, 7:30 p.m.
- Sunday, May 18, 5 p.m.
» To see a full festival schedule, go here