THE BLACK AND WHITE MASQUERADE BALL
Look around in DC. It's not the capital of style and creativity. It is not a visually radical space. There are too many suits, too much black, white, navy, grey. This is a serious city and it takes itself very seriously. I'm the same way. I'm a bit color challenged and not very stylish, so shades are easier to handle than colors. Sometimes I hate DC for this. If you read a city's coolness by the way folks dress, DC is like an elderly aunt at an endless funeral. But there is a secret to this place. DC is the city of hidden treasures. DC has everything, but you have to dig. And when you finally find what you want, it is so incredibly special. DC has weirdos. DC has the gayest, flyest, strangest folks-but you have to look for them.
I didn't want to plan a party. But I was planning a short film for one of my songs that involved a room full of folks. So. The black and white masquerade ball. Black and white, because these are the colors of this serious city. masquerade, because the DC queer community is full of closeted creatives and maybe a mask and some glitter could usher us out of that heteronormativity and boredom.
I spent the weeks before the event gathering a film crew and volunteers for the project. Actors (two gorgeous masculine leaning women: shon and tiffany), artistic director (janelle, a super talented colleague from Howard), assistant director (brenda, my second mother, grassroots filmmaker), and assistant camera (mark, my creative brother and ashley my ex from highschool and a also kickass photographer).
we spent every weekend shooting various scenes in the film. I'm not sure my actors knew what they signed up for. Two "doms" making out in the dark under a home made rain machine in 40 degree weather for example...I probably failed to mentioned that in my initial proposal. But everyone involved was a pro.
The week before the event. I spent most of my days covering the walls of my sister's house with newspaper. I needed an inexpensive way to completely transform the space for the event. Newspaper for a black and white party made the most sense to me. After a few hours of standing on chairs, painter's tape, and inky hands, I wondered if I'd made a very silly mistake. It was the most tedious work I've done for an installation. But it was the look I wanted. Storyboarding, renting lights, editing footage, tedious film planning and planning, and then more planning.
Meanwhile, I'm relaying with my party planners (alisa, denyse, angel nora), running around on eventbrite, attempting to keep the event low key, mysterious, and totally different from the sameold club scene thing.
4.13.13. By the morning of the event, i was exhausted. And nervous. Would too many people come? Would too few people come? Will somebody get too drunk? will somebody start a fight? will the shoot completely suck? will someone fall down the stairs? will i have a panic attack? Yea. i imagine all the worst possible scenarios like the pessimist i am.
I got all my equipment together and headed to my sister kate's house around 430pm. Janelle and jeff are hanging the rest of the newspaper, mirror shards, and abstract trees to the wall. Not the kind of decor you'll find at party city. kate is setting up the bar, being charming. I'm looking at my story boards. Ashley, my second camera man arrives with talyn: late, as usual, but everyone is doing me a favor by being here, so no time to talk shit. We set up lights, and work through the plans together.
Come 730, I have a huge team of volunteers running around and getting things done. emily and michele bring tiny quiches. Angel brings sushi. Brenda brings little sandwiches. talyn brings homemade springrolls that are SO greasy and delicious. I am confused because things are running smoothly. Now it's 8. The sun is down. Time to start shooting.
I meet Brenda, Ashley, and shon and tiffany (my two lovely actors) out back to shoot the film's opening scene. Ashley and I fiddle with lights. brenda gives notes to the actors. by now, shon and tiffany's energy and performance is so on point-they don't need tons of direction. The row-house backyard in the light of a fresnel and a soft box looks gorgeous. There is texture, space, depth. Ashley, my second camera/ex/professional photographer, taught me much of what i know about photography, composition, exposure when we were in highschool. So working with her, looking at her footage is really a treat. Our styles and techniques overlap beautifully.
Finish the scene. Time to shoot inside. the party has begun and i just I walked into the manifestation of my most beautiful, wild dreams. There is music! DJ Mothershiester playing songs i don't hear on the radio every three minutes! Thee satesfaction, prince, tlc, le1f, oh my! Asha santee, arguably the greatest female drummer in three states is on a full drum set making every single beat, kick and boom sexier than it already was. it is impossible to NOT dance right now. There is a room full of WILDLY strange and beautiful women of color, queer folks, peppered with a few brave white folks, all dressed in the finest blacks and whites, all wearing masks and glitter. There are feathers, smokey eyes, papermache, white blazers, cleavage, heels, hamburglers everywhere. People bought masks, drew them on with eyelilner, printed them and taped them to grilling skewers. It was bananas.
at this point, i want nothing more than to grab a cold beer, take off my pants and dance with everyone. but the shoot isn't over. So we shoot. Shon and Tiffany in the party. Tiffany's character watches Shon. Shon dances and flirts and watches tiffany. think closeted frat borthers. think pariah's alikÉ and laura. the story of star crossed stud for stud love. B.roll of folks at the party, the DJ, the drummer, the space. Ashley and I switch off so we each get good coverage, accounting for our differences in style, lenses, lighting.
it's midnight. the strippers are here.
*side note. i'm not crazy about strippers. objectifying women in general isn't super fun for me. BUT. i do enjoy a "dom" stripper now and again, and i knew i wanted one for the party. as it happens, a few thursdays back I went to the hangar's club for the women's night to see fiya, a local gorgeous "dom" entertainer i checked out online. when i got there, i met her. she informed me that she wasn't performing that night, but her wife Nieko was. by the end of the night, regardless of the fact that i really couldn't really afford it, i NEEDED to have both of these women at the party. we shook on it.
ok. so the strippers are here. ashley and i set up the lights and crouch with our cameras as the music rises from the speakers. Nieko hits the floor in a black and white onsie, studded, fringed heels and body for so many days. oh so many days. she is incredible. and the crowd loves her. i can't really describe what happened and why it was so wonderful. but i can say that by the end of her performance, shon was suspended upside-down in her arms and everyone in the room was shouting joyously.
next, fiya comes to the floor. long locks. tattoos everywhere. leather jacket. hard body. eye contact. at this point, the room feels 15 degrees hotter than it did before and watching fiya dance is just overwhelming. fiya snatches a couple helpless bystanders from the crowd, and again, it's difficult to explain, but everything that fiya touched turned to quivers and sweat and tears of joy. i'm struggling with my camera work. struggling.
fiya and nieko finish their performance with a duet to wale's "bad." Yea. At that point we were all too hypnotized to really register what was going on. "did they rehearse this beforehand?" someone asks. they're married. so they probably "rehearse" every day, I tell them.
When the dancers leave the stage, my memory card is full and I am almost too tried to stand up. But i put my camera away, grab a beer, take off my pants to reveal my all-white wrestling singlet (which is probably not really designed for wrestling, but rather for gay male strippers, and as it had a sizable pouch in the crotch area, i decided to put a sock in there), and i danced and danced and laughed and talked for the rest of the night.
longlong story short. the night was insane. dc is not the creative wasteland it feels like some days. I know. a party is a party. but this was more to me. this is about having a great time in spite of debt, unemployment, brokeness and worry scribbling around in my head everyday. this is nodding to histories of community ritual, rent parties and cake walks. posturing. peackocking. fantasy. queering shit. women who fall in love with women. a sock in my underwear. a white boy in heels. free food. my girlfriend in tight pants. a femme stripper carrying a muscle bound boi upside-down like a prada purse. celebrating sex. making films. sidewalk chalking a line between people and art and blowing at the dust until it's too blurry to tell. dreams. beats. romance. all of these things. i didn't make money. actually, i didn't break even. but. i'm much more of an artist than a business man and everything was so ridiculously beautiful that night, that i can't complain a bit.
so now. i edit. and edit and edit. maybe another party is in the works. maybe a premier for the film. something. this could have been a fluke, or the beginning of something more. we'll see. anyway. this week i'm just going to thank the ancestors, swim in smiles, gratitude, and allll this lovely footage.