I had planned to write about something else, but I got stopped in my tracks watching a vid of Kristina Wong eating cat food, or at least try to. How could I focus on anything else when an artist is willing to eat cat food to get me interested in her show?
To be honest, Wong got my attention just the week before while trolling my favorite ladysnark site, Jezebel, over her beef with Oscarflop James Franco. "I could have hosted the Oscars in my sleep. Apparently, that's what James Franco tried to do," wrote the sassy Wong on her blog.
The wannabe-artist Francster had dissed Wong's commencement address at the UCLA English Department graduation minutes before snapping a photo with her. Wong is an accomplished multi-disciplinary artist with more grants and honors to her name than fake artist Franco will ever amass. But things have been looking up for Wong since the overrated actor insulted her: "Thanks James! I need more A-list celebs to diss me ASAP," she dishes from her "A brief break from Francogate" post.
But let's get back to cats, specifically Cat Lady, a piece that attempts to bridge the world of lonely, desperate cat ladies and the subculture of pick-up artists. How can that be possible? It's easy, according to Wong, who makes a living bringing people to startling new ideas with her own brand of irreverent mix mastering.
To prepare, Wong immersed herself in the seedy cult of the pick-up artist, reading Neil Strauss’ classic The Game and watching the VH1 reality show The Pickup Artist. I had never heard of the show, but one pathetic YouTube vid later I am dying to own guru Mystery's furry hat, which I suspect has been fashioned from someone's dead cat. Not Wong's cat Oliver, though, who provided some of the inspiration for Cat Lady, and has a featured role in the show.
Wong's new work comes from the isolation of being on tour with her one-woman smash hit, Wong Flew over The Cuckoo's Nest, which she describes as a "swear-to-god-not-autobiographical, serio-comic portrayal of the high incidence of anxiety, depression and mental illness among Asian-American women." It's not exactly fluffy subject matter, and the tour took a toll on the performance artist. The piece has since been made into a film by Michael Closson.
Oliver didn't appreciate Wong's success, and began spraying her apartment. That's fancy cat science talk for when your feline feels abandoned and pees all over your house. "It was really intense to be alone on tour doing this show about suicide and depression," recalls Wong. She began to question her own identity. Could she be turning into a crazy cat lady?
"I wondered, 'what else can I do?' There's always this fear that this is it," Wong says.
Somewhere in the process, she happened on the bonanza of the pick-up artist world and found an immediate resonance in the language. "It's the same material as theater games," says Wong. "They are really teaching theatrical techniques. As a solo performer, we had a lot in common."
Sixto Wagan first watched Wong's work at a National Performance Network conference. It took another five years for their schedules to work out. "How she brings cat pee, pick-up artistry and loneliness together is just brilliant," says Wagan, DiverseWorks' co-director. "I love Kristina's insightful, self-deprecating humor. The audience is part of it, not the target of it."
For Cat Lady, Wong left the solo life behind, enlisting the talents of co-conspirators Miss Barbie Q, Clayton Shane Farris and Jabez Zuniga for her first ensemble piece. All have undergone considerable pick-up artist training, and, quite possibly, so has Oliver the cat. Bootcamp training with master DJ Fuji turned the cast into a clan of skilled practitioners.
The team gave me a crash course, trying such openers on me as, "You have this innocence about you; it's really lovely." But my fave is, "Hey, did you see the fight outside?" That one had me; connection is key.
The goal is to close the deal, or, in pick-up lingo, earn a "kiss close," or the top banana, a "fuck close." According to Miss Barbie Q, it's really just about good social skills. All have reported better luck at bars since undergoing intensive training.
The show is directed by Shawn Sides of Austin-based devised theater legends The Rude Mechs. Ian Garrett is the production designer, his first show since returning to Houston as Fresh Arts' new executive director.
"I tried to create three worlds: The clubhouse or 'dens' of pick-up artist workshops, a club, and elements of Kristina's world," says Garrett. "Photos from the world summit provided ideas as well." Although the Los Angeles native is based in Houston now, he found collaborating with Wong easy and rewarding. "The show is wild," he says. "She doesn't hold back."
Wong naturally sources her own life for her art. She currently lives in Los Angeles without a car, and after her pink biodiesel Mercedes Benz, Harold, died, she chronicled her wheel-free life in her show Going Green the Wong Way. You can crack up while learning something about crowdfunding from her cat food chow down or learn about "catsourcing" in her hilarious post, "I Made over $5,600 with only minor public humiliation: Ask me how." The resulting show, Cat Lady, should prove well worth swallowing a little cat chow.
Plus one other thing — Wong says the show will end racism.
Five pick-up artists explain the meaning of life to Kristina Wong
Get a taste of Wong's world in an excerpt from Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest