Interview! Cabaret Performer, Monologist, and Storyteller Katherine Rose Turbes!

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“I strive to be ‘excruciatingly authentic’ as some have put it. I speak openly about topics that hurt me, in the hope that voicing my experiences might make life easier in some way for others in similar circumstances.”
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Monologue ideas: Who needs paper when you can use your thigh? (photos courtesy of @katharsis_ravyn_turbes)

If you live in New York City and have not yet heard the name Katherine Rose Turbes, you will. I first met Katherine (preferred pronoun “they”) at a Wesley Stace’s Cabinet of Wonders show. Katherine wore pink hair, a black lace dress, and radiated joy. I just had to get to know them. We chatted about how important it is for artists to support one another and their love of cabaret performer Justin Vivian Bond. As I suspected they would be, Katherine’s answers to my super-specific interview questions were utterly entertaining and inspired. So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to… Katherine Rose Turbes!

I personally see you as a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional artist, but how do you see yourself? Do you identify as a singer, writer, performance artist, or all three? What came first? Are there any other facets of your artist personality that remain hidden or the general public has yet to see?

I see myself as a performer first and foremost, specifically a cabaret performer. I’ve always been a writer and I’ve always been a performer, but the choice to combine the two happened relatively recently, and I believe I’m far better at both skills when I put them together. As for singing, I’m not a conventionally good singer, but I like my voice and use it more as an acting tool than as something intended to sound pretty. Cabarets are often defined by the inclusion of music and I haven’t gotten to a point where there’s as much music incorporated into pieces I’ve premiered as there will be in future pieces, but that’s coming. I’m working on learning to play ukulele, though learning an instrument is a long and arduous process for me, but I aspire towards including ukulele in my future performances.

For someone reading who has never seen one of your performances, how would you describe them?

There’s this lyric by the band AJJ that goes “I hate whiny fucking songs like this but I can’t afford a therapist- sorry guys, here’s a solo!” and I feel like that really describes my work! Although, unlike the speaker of that song, I love when artists use their work to speak openly about their struggles. There’s this notion of “eloquence” described by the Dalai Lama, but taught to me by Kate Bornstein, that the essence of eloquence is “speaking a truth in a way that eases suffering” and that’s always my intention with my work. As such, I strive to be “excruciatingly authentic” as some have put it. I speak openly about topics that hurt me, in the hope that voicing my experiences might make life easier in some way for others in similar circumstances, especially since I know that kind of art helps me!

In one of your Instagram posts right after your Bluestockings performance, you proudly called yourself “one of the hottest hot messes [you’ve] ever been.” I loved that so much. It was a great reminder that perfectionism is NOT the goal here. When you’re writing, or memorizing a monologue, or doing the hundreds of other things necessary to prepare from an upcoming show, what are the different ways you try to stay out of your own head, avoid that self-sabotage impulse many artists have? How do you not only create physical and mental space for yourself but get to a place of (what I’m now calling) full-on, prideful bad-assery?

Oh goodness, okay, well the reason I made that post was because that level of, as you say, “full-on, prideful bad-assery” was a first for me and a long time in the making! One of my many less-than-stellar attributes is that my default is holding myself to nearly impossibly high standards, but luckily I know what helped me in that moment so hopefully I (and perhaps others) can replicate it. Firstly, I vehemently believe in and adhere to the theatre truth of “The Show Must Go On”! I was far from at the top of my game that night and debated not performing since I felt so unprepared, yet I decided that I’d rather risk sucking than not do it. Secondly, although, “comparison is violence” as Taylor Mac says, it helps me to remember how phenomenally imperfect my idols are. They take risks and give themselves permission to make mistakes on stage, and often work their mistakes into their pieces resulting in something far more captivating than if everything had gone precisely as planned. It has specifically helped me to remember a speech Mx.Justin Vivian Bond gave called “How To Take A Flying Leap,” in which they talk about how you mustn’t judge yourself too harshly or think about what you’re doing in the moment. You do what you know you have to do, commit to the moment, and focus on conveying your story to the audience. Remembering that people I admire are capable of that, and that their mistakes endear me even more to them, helps me to be more okay with my own inevitable imperfection.

When I saw you perform your piece back at the “Am I Write Ladies?” event in March, you were a beautiful, fearless lion. You were a force. When you were on that stage at The Footlight were you feeling that sense of fearlessness? If so, how do you tap into it before a performance? If not, how do you push through the fear? People are always telling artists that in order to grow, we need to do things that seem scary, and say yes before we’re ready. Do you believe that’s true?

Oh my goodness, I was shaking like a leaf! I wasn’t afraid in a stage-fright sort of way, but I was incredibly emotional and the stakes were extremely high! I knew that I’d devoutly rehearsed the piece and held myself accountable in making sure I was prepared, so I knew I had it in me to make myself proud and I knew what I was saying was important. For me, that’s enough! I absolutely believe one must take risks in their work, and, although it’s far easier said than done, I think one must be forgiving of one’s self if/when things don’t go as planned.

Whom or what currently influences or inspires you and how have you, directly or indirectly, incorporated those influences into your work?

Of all the questions you’ve asked, this is honestly the most intimidating, since there are so many people who inspire me! Here are my Top 5 influences at the moment (in no particular order):

  • Justin Vivian Bond! I admire Mx.Viv profoundly and have seen them perform more than anyone else, so it’s difficult to succinctly quantify their influence. They’re a force of nature and, as some have put it, “a cabaret messiah” so seeing them perform inevitably made me fall head-over-heels in love with the artform of cabaret. Being perpetually astonished by their shows made me realize the breadth of possibilities of what can be done with the cabaret format, and that this is something available to me to work with!
  • Kenny Mellman! Kenny is such an inspiration to me and, thus far, I think his influence is the easiest to spot within the work I’ve premiered. I reference it in the text of the piece itself, but “XO Tour Llif3 (à la “KRT”),” a piece I wrote and premiered last September, was directly inspired by his long-running show called Our Hit Parade. Like Our Hit Parade, my piece completely reinterprets / recontextualizes a pop song, and like Kenny’s version of “Dog Days Are Over” it pays tribute to the dead, by speaking their names so any audience who hears it can know and remember!
  • (It’s also worth noting that one of my biggest influences is the cabaret act/duo Kiki and Herb made up of Mx.Viv and Kenny, thus not only am I inspired by them as artists individually, but their collaboration is equally a source of inspiration!
  • Kate Bornstein! Auntie Kate’s book Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens Freaks and Other Outlaws is my absolute favorite book. As someone who struggles with their own mental illness and has had multiple friends kill themselves, Kate’s work is vital. Her mental health advocacy (and work in general) rejects respectability politics and instead provides authentic accounts of her experiences, thus making her advice empathetic, accessible and genuinely helpful. It probably sounds idealistic to say that I hope my work saves lives, but I know Kate Bornstein’s work does, so if I could somehow make something even a smidgeon as helpful as Hello Cruel World, I’d be extremely grateful!
  • Nath Ann Carrera! I’ve always admired Nath Ann’s encyclopedic knowledge of the people they admire and how they work their interests into their performances. Their most recent show that especially inspires me is their cabaret “The Early Southern Gothicism Of Dolly Parton” in which they explore Dolly’s darker songs. What really resonates with me is the exploration of humor and morbidity, and how certain songs that seem over the top and campy were based on true tragedies in Dolly’s life. Although presenting these songs with deadpan humor, Nath Ann respects Dolly’s absurd sincerity and empathetically explains the contexts and real life parallels. Being able to embrace dark humor while respectfully portraying the stories of real people is something I truly admire and aspire to do in my work!
  • Taylor Mac! Taylor Mac creates in a grandiose scale, yet judy’s work is always
    personal. Mac is ostensibly guided by making sure that history (and by extension, the lives of people they lost) is remembered. Judy has spent multiple shows eulogizing their mentor Mother Flawless Sabrina, as well as other queer historical figures. Two pieces of judy’s that impact me the most are the riff on “What’s the Use of Wond’rin” from The Young Ladies Of in which Mac tells the story of judy’s family and dead father. After reflecting on what seemed like an inherited curse of toxic masculinity, Mac leads the audience in singing the chorus of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song. As Mac quietly looks out on the audience singing “What’s the use of wondering?” Mac says to judy’s father: “Dear Robert, this is my last letter to you. A singing telegram.” The video of it was removed from Vimeo a year ago but even thinking about it gives me chills. The other most impactful piece Taylor Mac performs is a ukulele song entitled “You can lie down or get up and play”. Both pieces feel cosmic in their ability to call to those who have gone. I had a dream once that described Taylor Mac as a “death witch”- I think that suits judy. I want to be a death witch too!

As for what inspires me, that’s simple: my lived experiences. My pieces are based on real events, albeit oftentimes stylized, and every story I tell about my life and my loved ones actually happened.

What is one thing that someone would be surprised to learn about you?

To me it’s surprising that there are environments in which I’m seen as mysterious, for instance at my day job. I’m a compulsive oversharer—I can’t lie, and I aspire towards openness, particularly in my work as a performer. Yet, at my day job, people are often shocked to hear that I’m a performer, since they think me subdued, quiet, and reserved, which anyone who truly knows me knows I’m the antithesis of!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’ll be performing at Dixon Place on May 23rd at 7:30 PM as part of Dust Tea Shoulders’ CAMPFIRE! Queer Storytime! I’d love it if y’all could make it!


Katherine is a cabaret performer, monologist, and storyteller. Their work focuses primarily on personal narratives surrounding mental health, queerness, mourning, and healing from trauma. KRT often performs at Joan Dark’s long-running open mic Get On The Stage at Bluestockings Bookstore. They made their Am I Write, Ladies debut last March performing their piece Spring Cleaning. They’re currently working on an upcoming solo cabaret entitled #Trauma, along with many additional future projects!

Interview! Pop-Culture Based Artist and Illustrator Margarita Garza

Guess who graciously accepted my request to interview her via email for this site? Margarita Garza specializes in watercolor art, abstract visual art, and hand-drawn typography. Due to her wide range of pop-culture interests (from cartoons to televisions sitcoms to horror films) her work ranges from lighthearted and humorous to dark and disruptive. She’s also just an all-around nice person. She knows how much I love books and reading and recently surprised me with a collection of my very own custom watercolor bookmarks! You can see more of Margarita’s work on her Insta and Etsy pages. She also has two shows coming up: Plano Artfest (April 27-28) and East Main Arts Festival (May 4).

Have you always identified as an artist? If so, in what ways were you creative when you were younger? If not, how old were you and what sparked it?

I’ve always felt uncomfortable calling myself an artist until recently. For some reason when I was younger (14-15 years old), I felt calling myself an artist sounded like I was faking it because the doodles and cartoons I was doing wasn’t considered “high art.” It’s definitely gotten easier as of late, but the uneasiness is still somewhat present. I’m not quite sure what sparked my creativity, but I do know that I have many memories of drawing alongside my older sister Lorena, who is also an artist.

How would you describe your current work? Describe the journey that led you to your current medium.

I currently work mainly in watercolors. I also use inks, colored pencil, and acrylic. The journey that led me to work with watercolors was being exposed to watercolor artists on Skillshare. I had this pull that I wanted to try it after seeing these amazing artists work with it as a result. Right now, I would describe my work pop-culture based. I also have a lot of more personal pieces I want to do. At one point during the past few years, I found myself doodling about shows or podcasts I love.

After starting college, I put art and drawing off for a long time. I was enrolled in art classes but, by that time, I had already attached art to graphic design, thus making it feel very work-/career-related. Art didn’t feel personal anymore and it wasn’t something I truly enjoyed like I had before so I stopped doing it for a really long time.

I would try to pick it up here and there but I would inevitably get frustrated with the result because it wasn’t “perfect” and “accurate.” It wasn’t until my late thirties that I rediscovered my love for art. Most of my coworkers were artists and they were just inspiring to be around. I began watching Skillshare videos, a recommendation from one coworker and began exposing myself to all of these artists who were teaching on the platform. I started feeling like I wanted to try watercolor. Watercolor led to trying other mediums and being excited about them as well. The feelings I had when I was younger, expressing myself and not caring if it was perfect or not, returned. I have a distinct memory of being in my car, talking on the phone at the 7-Eleven with my sister Lorena. I told her that I wanted to try all of these things but was hesitant because it would be a waste of money if I bought all the materials and did nothing with them. She told me flat out, “well, just do it.” I did and I’m glad I did because it’s helped me personally and emotionally in so many ways.

I just finished re-reading David Lynch’s Catching The Big Fish. In it, Lynch discusses where ideas come from and what we as artists need to do to create space for ourselves so the ideas come (for example, he meditates). Can you share any of the different ways you try to create space for yourself (both physically and mentally)?

I have a cozy studio that I slowly put together over time. I love the smell of it, too—I think all of the accumulated art products have created the distinct smell. My studio smells like paper to me. When I am in my studio, I take a deep breath, and I’m instantly relaxed. I also give myself breaks if I feel I’ve been working on something too hard.

What are 3 things you would tell/share with your younger artist self?

Don’t quit, keep working at it. Above all don’t diminish the thing that gives you peace and joy just because you think it’s not perfect or accurate or fine art.

Some of your illustrations incorporate words/quotes that are beautifully rendered via hand-drawn typography. Do you believe there is a connection between visual art and the written word? Why or why not? If you do believe there is a connection, are there any books, poems, essays, articles, song lyrics, interviews, etc. that have influenced or inspired you?

I do feel there is a connection between visual art and the written word. Personally, when I see a beautifully hand-lettered phrase I feel more impact depending on what fonts were used. It can elicit laughter, somberness, empathy.

There are a lot of artists that inspire me but the two I’m obsessed with right now are Lisa Cogden and Lauren Hom.

Lisa Cogden is a bad-ass artist who didn’t start her art career until she was 40. She’s written a lot of art books including A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives, which is very inspiring.

Lauren Hom has some of the best hand lettering skills I’ve ever seen. She is also really active with those who follow her on Instagram as well.

Is there anything else that inspires you?

There so many women that inspire me. Currently, I’m listening to a lot of Lizzo and also following a lot of body positive women on Instagram. The body positivity movement has been a big inspiration for me and has also helped me focus on art and self-realization rather than spending time feeding into diet culture. It’s something that I’m currently trying to incorporate into my more personal work.

What is one thing that someone would be surprised to learn about you?

The big one is that I was arrested on a warrant on the same day as my college visual communications senior portfolio review and had to miss it. I still graduated and never went to jail again!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Remember: Your life isn’t over at a certain age.

 

Carol Guess on Literary Minimalism

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Untitled by Nasreen Mohamedi

I see much of my work as blocks of text that are made up of sentences, which are made up of words, and each of those words and sentences and blocks of text are modular—I can move them around as I see fit. I can subtract and subtract and subtract. I hate to add. I feel strongly that what I am trying to say is already on the page waiting to be uncovered. I print out pieces, cut out paragraphs, tape them together in a new order. I hate that such clunkiness is part of my revision process, but reading Carol Guess’ essay today on Lit Hub made it feel a little more okay:

“…looking at the papers strewn on the floor, I saw lines lift as if illuminated. I understood clearly that the poems were there, hidden, as sculpture hides in a block of stone. It wasn’t four books, but one; the obstacle was excess. I didn’t need to write more, but less.”  -Carol Guess

Klint and Quaytman

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After two different people strongly recommended I go see it, I spent an afternoon at the Guggenheim with Swedish artist abstract, spiritual collection, one she began creating in 1906.

I took exactly one photo before my phone died.

Klint is an artist who did not show her work publicly in her lifetime. Her wish was to have it remain out of the public eye until at least twenty years after her death. It didn’t receive real attention until 1986 – over forty years after she passed away in 1944.

“She imagined installing these works in a spiral temple, though this plan never came to fruition”.

It was my aim to view Klint’s work, which I knew would resonate, so I was pleasantly surprised to feel something from R. H. Quaytman’s work (Chapter 34). Since I’m researching examples of imagery in storytelling for my craft paper, I spent time in the reading room jotting down some notes about the way she likes to talk about her entire body of work. From the introduction of the Morning: Chapter 30 exhibition catalogue:

“RHQ has used the word ‘book’ to describe her ongoing production, and the word ‘chapter’ to denote each group of her paintings. She sometimes says that each painting is like a word in a sentence, and that we should replace the word ‘noun’ by the word ‘painting’, and that each painting is like a page. In a battle between words and image, language wins all the time over image”.

Both artists will be shown until 4/23/19. J. really wants to see it too, so I’ll definitely be back at least once more before the exhibitions come to a close.

Shells

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Kaigara danmen zuan (Album of Cross-sections of Shells)
貝殻断面図案
Japanese, Taisho era, 1913

On Wednesday, I visited the NY Society Library, bought a day pass, and began assembling my thesis. My thesis is something I have been calling the shell of my book, but when I say the word shell I don’t mean an eggshell, where everything is neat, suspended, and contained within a thin, fragile layer, I mean the other kind of shell. A conch or maybe a broken piece of coral, where the elements can flow in one way and flow out another.

As I sit at a table on the fifth floor of this library, assembling the parts and pieces of this shell—my shell-that’s due to my advisor in less than a month, I realize how fully addicted I am to the float-feeling: the feeling that some writers call being in “the zone”, where after I finish tweaking a word, or restructuring a sentence, or writing a memory, I have forgotten where I am for a moment, where everything around me has fallen away and it’s just me and the edges and curves in front of me. And then, as soon as I realize I feel disoriented, my surroundings rush back. I am again inside the room among other writers on the fifth floor with the sun casting a glow on the wood table and the white noise of the shuffling of papers and the tap-tap-tapping of keys.