THEATER A savage and seductive performer with a potent skill set, Erin Markey has been busy these last several years conquering New York's downtown performance scene. But she's no stranger to San Francisco. The rising 30-year-old performance artist, actor, and playwright credits visits to the Bay Area with some formative experiences, including her introduction to pole dancing — subject of her acclaimed one-woman play, Puppy Love: A Stripper's Tail — and the invention of her drag persona, Hardy Dardy, the Michigan patriarch of her new multimedia, multi-character musical solo show, The Dardy Family Home Movies by Stephen Sondheim by Erin Markey. So it's fitting as well as plain badass that the new piece receives its world premiere here, this week, under the auspices of the San Francisco Film Society's KinoTek program.
Why SFFS? Markey was last out in San Francisco in 2009, on a bill with Beth Lisick and Tara Jepsen, when Film Society programmer Sean Uyehara saw her and was floored. "I thought, 'This woman is going to be famous,'" remembers Uyehara, who describes Markey's ferocious ability to woo and alarm and audience at almost the same moment. He stayed in touch. Later, Markey's proposed Dardy Family piece, which avails itself of several screens for live camera feeds and pre-recorded video projections, made it a candidate for KinoTek, Uyehara's bailiwick — though he admits it's the most theater-like piece SFFS has taken onboard since initiating the cross-platform programming stream in the mid-aughts.
"We're presenting a play, essentially," says Uyehara, adding, "It's based around this idea of home movies and how these home movies interact with a 'normal' Midwestern family. So I could see the potential for a hybrid program developed out of that."
Markey, reared in the South and Midwest, studied theater and gender studies at the University of Michigan, where renowned NEA Four performance artist and faculty member Holly Hughes became a critical influence. Today she enjoys a growing reputation as an intensely charismatic shape-shifter in the queer performance and cabaret scenes, and a sharp and daring actor at large (her turn in an intimate, site-specific production of Green Eyes, a violent and erotic Tennessee Williams one-act, won her raves at last January's Under the Radar Festival, in a production now headed to Boston.) I spoke with Markey by phone from New York about the background to The Dardy Family Home Movies.
San Francisco Bay Guardian You've said you became a stripper to save money to move to New York, but were inspired by the pole dancers you'd first seen in SF. It almost sounds like a post-graduate program for you in performance. Was it a big adjustment?
Erin Markey It was a big adjustment. The dynamics between the girls that work there are really complicated. I knew I was leaving, so I had a different relationship to it than most. But it was hugely influential. It's such an isolated, specific, weird context, with arbitrary sets of rules that you can only figure out by doing it wrong. It was almost the perfect thing to do for somebody who was studying queer studies and theater practice as well. It was constantly surprising me, and defying everything that I was reading about, in terms of feminism. Because there are camps — people being pro-porn or anti-porn, for example.