“Befriending Monsters” with Katie (Magician) Macyshyn

May 1, 2024

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Ahead of Collectors’ Night on Saturday, May 4, WPA’s Director Travis Chamberlain sat down with Katie (Magician) Macyshyn, who will be performing at the event. This is not their first time performing at WPA’s gala, ten years ago, Katie was an intern at WPA and has supported us as a MC, pinata guide, and performer. We’re thrilled to be working with them again. For this month’s newsletter, Katie and Travis talked about all things performance art, alien drag, and Randall Packer’s upcoming virtual event Cabaret Elektronica, a tribute to WPA’s late founder Alice Denney.


Travis Chamberlain: When did your performance practice take root?

Katie Magician: I feel like I’ve been performing since I was in fifth grade, basically doing the same thing that I’m doing now. I’m trying to say I’ve been doing it forever, but I also in a way feel like I’m doing it exactly the same as I was doing it when I was 10. It’s just a part of my life to do this. It’s a natural impulse. I did a lot of community theater when I was young. I was in an opera choir in middle school and high school. Then when I got to the Corcoran, there weren’t very many performance art classes. We had some theory classes that Lisa Lipinski and Bernard Welt had as far as our philosophy curriculum, but there wasn’t a lot of practice of performance. So I really championed it a lot.

I had a performance art club and I pretty much complained to anyone who would listen that we needed more performance art. By the time I graduated, there were five people who did performance art for their senior thesis projects and then there were a lot more classes, but I was already on my way out so I didn’t get to take them.

TC: What’s your process for developing a new performance work?

KM: Typically when developing a performance, I will start from the visual arts side of it, like making props. I like to make a lot of masks, and things that will transform. So you can pull something out, or turn it backwards  and have a reveal. I start there and then I procrastinate on developing the actual performance till the very last second when I see what the object I make can do and then go from there.

TC: Are you familiar with the Alien Comic, Tom Murrin? He was a performance artist, part of the Pyramid Club and downtown performance scene in the East Village during the 80s, made several guest appearances on very early MTV, that sort of thing. He also worked with cardboard masks and toy props, and he had this monthly ritual that went on for nearly three decades, where every full moon he’d put on a new show–on stage, in a nightclub, outside on the street, anywhere–called The Full Moon Show. He would often throw it together, a last minute thing. He was always saying, you get the gig first, then you figure out what you’re gonna make. That was his approach and his advice to young artists. He’s definitely someone to check out within the creative lineage that you’re working in.

KM: That just reminded me that a lot of what’s been driving my creative practice through the years has been Layne Garrett at Rhizome asking me to play. There’ll be some artists coming from out of town that he thinks are similar to my style, he’ll give me random dates and trust me to do whatever I want. That’s been keeping me creatively fulfilled. So please donate to Rhizome if you haven’t yet! They’re trying to purchase a forever home.

TC: What is your relationship with the objects that you make? Do you consider them to be a part of a visual art practice or are they more a part of your performance practice?

KM: I definitely make objects for the sake of making objects, but a lot of them are things I would not want to exhibit. It’s something I’m struggling with a little bit now. I’m in the DC Arts Center’s Sparkplug program, a lot of their programming is based on exhibiting in galleries and I’m trying to shift my mindset to see how I can break up my performance pieces where these items will stand on their own, or create partial installations. I think that’s where I’m going, more immersive, or kinetic, installation art.

In progress elements of Katie’s set design for their performance at Collectors’ Night

TC: Looking ahead to WPA’s Collectors’ Night gala on May 4th, what can people look forward to? What are you thinking about showing us?

KM: I have three characters for sure. Lately I’ve been working hard on the costumes and the installation component. We’ll have a Miami Vice-inspired lounge where people can come in and interact with me in character.I’ve been watching old movies from the 80s, New Wave things where they have a crooner character, and trying to pick up on some of the smarmy style of that type of MC to bring to the show. It’s gonna be a little punk and a little rough around the edges and possibly, uncomfortable. But I think that’s the spirit of the tropical sleaze throwback and Alice Denney’s vision for WPA. I was reading the article you shared in the last newsletter where the invitation was to wear fishnets and fish masks. A DIY costume extravaganza. I’m taking inspiration from that.

TC: You mentioned [WPA’s founder] Alice Denney and I know that you are working with Randall Packer right now on a project that is a tribute to her. What can you tell us about that and how it’s coming along?

KM: Cabaret Elektronica: Alice Travels Beyond Wonderland is a virtual cabaret and a tribute to Alice. It’s going to be a performance featuring myself, Melissa Ichiuji, and Charles Lane. Randall Packer is a digital media artist (I call him a VJ) and he’s gonna be behind the scenes putting us all together in this virtual world inspired by features of Alice’s art life. There’s a scene in Venice and an Andy Warhol inspired scene. Melissa, Charles, and I are gonna be in these spaces, embodying different aspects of Alice’s personality or the things that she loved. Swimming is going to be a pretty important part because she apparently loved swimming in the nude and the idea of scandalizing her neighbors. The final performance is gonna be on Sunday, June 9 at 5:00pm EDT.

Out of all the collaborators, I’m the only one who never actually met Alice, but I think Randall was possibly drawing a parallel to both of our DIY [mindsets]. She didn’t seem to care what people thought about her and I feel that way as well—as far as my art practice goes. I’m going to be an otherworldly alien-Alice character.

There’s gonna be a lot of chatter, drinking, gossip, parties, and rhythm. We’ve just started rehearsing so I’m not exactly sure what’s gonna happen yet, but I’m excited.

Katie rehearsing for Cabaret Elektronica happening virtually on June 9

TC: What else do you have coming up? I see a lot of Drag Story Time on your calendar and some other things like that. What else do you have on the horizon?

KM: Drag Story Time is the best, you should come! If you are young at heart, you will have fun. I do it at Unity Park, just outside the Line Hotel. Most of the families who come have really young children but I also meet young adults, and other people who are just passing by. I also have an upcoming workshop at VisArts. It’s a special effects makeup class called Divas in Space.

TC: Do you consider yourself to be a drag artist? Is drag an inspiration for your practice?

KM: I‘d say it’s definitely a part of my practice. I sometimes like to separate myself a little bit from [drag]. If I’m getting offered gigs that I don’t think I’m the right fit for it, I’ll make a recommendation. I feel like I haven’t paid my dues for some of these things. I guess I’m more of a bedroom queen. I do some events but there are some people I know who will have three events at night and it’s just like bam, bam, bam, you’re performing so hard, you’re dancing, you’re sweating, like how is your makeup still on? Why are your hands so cold and soft? Why do you smell nice? It just blows my mind what some people are able to do. I don’t really have the energy for that. I go to bed at 11:30 every night.

TC: What is your approach to working with drag in your performances? Is your work about gender transformation or other kinds of transformation or…?

KM: Yes, gender transformation, definitely species transformation, and mind transformation. Body tinkering to change your outlook is something I’m inspired by. I also really like the idea that if I look a little bit scary in drag—but I’m still interacting with children and being very friendly—that can teach people that there’s a huge expanse of personal expression. Monsters can be nice, aliens can be nice. All these things that you might be afraid of, you can also befriend. It’s symbolic to me of the monsters that are in my mind (I have depression and anxiety). One of the most empowering tools that I learned was this meditation called “Feed Your Demon” where you take some pain, or something you’re struggling with, and you visualize it as an entity—anthropomorphize it—then make that entity as big or disgusting as the problem is to you. Then you offer it some tea, love, and a hug. I like being friendly to the monsters when I can manage it.

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