Towards the end of February, I opened my email to find a message from Visiting Assistant Professor of Performance Studies Katherine Brewer Ball, asking whether I and a few other students would be interested in bringing in Jibz Cameron, a performance artist who usually takes the stage name of her alter ego, Dynasty Handbag, to perform at the University. Ever since I was introduced to Cameron’s work in Professor Brewer Ball’s course “Contemporary Theater: Theories and Aesthetics,” I have been fascinated with her work, so it goes without saying that I was thrilled at the prospect of experiencing a Dynasty Handbag performance live. Last Friday, that anticipation was realized, when Dynasty Handbag performed in Cross Street Dance Studio, in an unconventional yet terrifically stimulating show.
It is perhaps impossible to pinpoint a singular style that corresponds with the cross-genre type of performance that Dynasty Handbag delivered on Friday. As she began the show by singing a cover of The Pointer Sisters’ “Slow Hand,” it wasn’t only her distinct voice that captured my attention, but how it merged with her full-bodied movements as it immediately filled the room. By altering the tempo of the song, Dynasty adapted her dance moves from quick to slow to quick again, making the audience giggle with each switch.
“I peed in the sink in the locker room,” Dynasty Handbag announced before expressing how glad she was to “be here at Yale.” Throughout her many stand-up segments, she delved into explorations of stereotypes and social norms, especially those regarding queer culture. She challenged these conventions by reversing established normative beliefs, imagining a hypothetical world where heteronormativity is not a dominant force.
During one bit in the show, she asked if there were any male heterosexuals in the audience, then proceeded by asking, “Was it hard to come out to your parents, as a straight person?” She then reenacted a parent’s theoretical reaction to a child coming out as straight. These short and intimate stand-up segments established transitions in between each part of her performance, and scored the event in a precise and delicate manner. Dynasty Handbag continued her performance with a medley of comedy, dancing, and musical segments, which ranged from scanning the room as a drone operator and shooting beams out of her fingertips to an unforgettable cover of Janet Jackson’s “Control.” Although the hour-long event did not present a singular narrative, it effectively showcased a mosaic of Dynasty Handbag’s work, which is as varied and eclectic as the nature of the show was.
Following her performance, Cameron opened up the room, giving the audience a chance to ask questions about the history of Dynasty Handbag and her experience working as a performance artist in New York and Los Angeles. She recounted how the Dynasty Handbag persona came to life in 2002.
“I was playing in bands and being in plays and had graduated from art school,” Cameron said. “I went through a very depressing year, broke up with someone, my father died, and I started writing songs. They were really sad, but then I would have inspirations to interrupt myself and make fun of myself, so it was kind of my own therapeutic way of going about what was going on for me. I imagined a widow in Miami trying to keep it together.”
Though she has performed at The New Museum, The Kitchen, MOMA PS1, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and many other venues and festivals both in U.S. and internationally, Cameron didn’t find her success without overcoming obstacles artistic identity crises.
“There was one moment in time, several years ago, that I was going to make a television show for Adult Swim, and they wanted me to make a kids show,” Cameron said. “I tried for two years to write. It never felt good and it just got really strange because it just wasn’t true to what I wanted to do and it took me a really long time to figure that out. I thought if someone offers me a TV show, you just do whatever they say!”
Perhaps the best piece of advice that Cameron offered to the group of enthusiastic listeners was in response to a question asked by Kaitlin Chan ’17, a visual artist who has often been asked to “tone down” her works.
“When does it get better?” she asked.
“You just work through phases,” Cameron said. “Everybody has a long life–you can do all kinds of things. I don’t really feel like genre-wise you should worry about it too much. Don’t get stuck on a way that someone is like, ‘This is what you do, this is your thing.’ Then you’re in trouble!”
She ended with a positive note of advice for artists in general: “Always being curious, going with an impulse–those are the good things!”