Things I learned while sweating and screaming…!

Get ya mind outta the gutter!  Gotta’ say, I’ve been in a real funk when it came to theater performances. Really down about the lack of creativity within these plays.  I think new companies sprouting up in Chicago must find a narrative that’s strong enough to create something that hasn’t already been done.  Why must traveling shows come to Chicago to buck the theater system?  It just seems with such a large theater community we would see 99.9 % of something innovative and new.  I recently had the experience of a lifetime, witnessing art done right!  I became indoctrinated into Janelle Monae and her Wondaland Arts Society as they performed at Shubas Tavern in Chicago last Monday and Tuesday.

I would liken Ms. Monae’s approach to theater as a church service.  She is the pastor of:

“the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore her. They think she’s a righteous dudette.” (Who remembers this reference?)

All of her parishioners are transfixed by her crafty storytelling which speaks directly to each individual making the experience extremely personal.  I try to learn from all angles of theater.  What I enjoyed most about her concert was the sheer spectacularity of it all.  She used down pillows and silly string while images of Lindyhoppers and Kemet projected behind her she channeled James Brown, Elvis and Bowie.  Her homage to these great artist attracts a heterogenous audience.

These audience members waited for hours to see her; forgoing poor circulation, a stiff back and neck just to jump, clap, sweat and scream (see the reference) with all of the energy they can muster from their soul.  They become apart of the performance; investing in the long wait because of their devotion to her ministry.


How was she able to do this?  How was it a sold out event twice in a row?  Well, Ms. Monae and the Wondaland Arts Society have created a fraternity, if you will, of Thrivals who believe in the deeper connection of their responsibility to producing true art.  She has branded everything from the costume choice, to her Sci-fi narrative and mission.  She has kept the art reasonably priced.  Someone asked me once why did I charge $15 for a ticket to see my show.  I told them that it’s not about money.  The money isn’t immediate.  I think it’s necessary to gain a person’s trust and respect oppose to taking their money without giving them something to hold onto.  Janelle knows she’s worth way more than a $14 ticket.  However, she sold out every venue she visited across the country.  All thanks to her strong narrative, and the unique ability to create a diverse sound.


Without having to do much Janelle has been able to get people interested in her music, style, and art simply by word-of-mouth.  Before she teamed up with Bad Boy, she toured the campus’ in Atlanta and built a rather strong university fan base.  These coeds began spreading the word and viola! She is an instant success story.  She could not have gained such buzz without the personal connection she has with her audience.  She is genuine with an approachable personality.  This gives the audience that connection to the artist that’s unfounded.


I learned a lot from this experience; your audience must be invested in your product.  You must give them something to invest in.  Trust that with a strong narrative, simplistic yet innovative staging you’ll find the audience that will support you.  I just hope that my work speaks as strong as Ms. Monae’s.


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  1. I like this article on branding. You make a good point about how she gathered and developed momentum for her art. I think Monae has blended profitability with artistic talent. Can’t wait ’til she comes to Tokyo!

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