Visual Arts — March 20, 2014 13:24 — 0 Comments

An Interview With Wes Hurley

The Russian-born Wes Hurley has been making short films in Seattle since his time at the University of Washington. His latest creation, “Capitol Hill”, features the wonderful boylesque dancer, Waxie Moon, as well as a number of characters from the Drag Queen and burlesque scene here in the city. We had a chance to chat with Wes and get a sense of what the new projects aims to achieve in the ever-changing Emerald City culture.

 

Jake Uitti: There seems to be such a great comradery in Seattle with Drag Queens, Burlesque and Boylesque dancers. Would you agree? And, in the same vein, how did you come to meet and work with Waxie Moon so closely?

Wes Hurley: Seattle Comradery: Yes absolutely! What makes Seattle special is the cross-discipline collaboration that we see between these different types of performers.  And it allows for really wonderful shows like Swedish Housewife’s “House of Thee Unholy” and DeLaRou’s “Homo for the Holidays”.  Although, I think we can use even more of that in Seattle and elsewhere.  That’s why I’m so excited to bring so many different types of performers into the world of “Capitol Hill” – why shouldn’t the modern dance luminary Zoe Scofield share the screen with local drag favorite Robbie Turner?  They’re both great at what they do.  Why not make those worlds collide?

Marc Kenison (aka Waxie Moon) and I go way, way back.  I was an undergrad at UW when Marc was getting his MFA.  His were some of the first acting lessons I took.  Over the years we became best friends.  When Marc co-founded the Washington Ensemble Theater, I got my first camera.  My education was in drama and visual arts (because UW didn’t have a film program), but I always wanted to be a filmmaker.  When I bought this first camera, I thought: “What better way to learn to use it than shooting shows for my friends’ new theater company.” So that’s what I did for a while until I felt comfortable doing my own projects.  Then I started experimenting with short films.  Around the same time Marc was getting into burlesque.  I thought of burlesque more as an aesthetic than a performance genre so I was pretty ignorant about the neo-burlesque scene.  When I saw Waxie perform I was instantly in love.  So Marc and I decided that I would make a meta-mockumentary about Waxie Moon as a rising boylesque sensation.  But as I started going to more burlesque shows and interviewing Seattle’s incredible burlesque performers, I realized that I was no longer interested in a mockumentary.  The burlesque community in Seattle is so talented, and so gay.  The performers like Swedish Housewife and Indigo Blue have an incredible amount of insight about gender and sexuality.  So I ended up making a very academic film about this subculture that I fell in love with.  It’s still a funny film, or so I hope, because my way of dealing with life is through humor.

Meanwhile, I really wanted to start making narrative work.  Waxie has had a huge influence on my filmmaking aesthetic.  The way he performs gender, there’s no one really like him.  And it comes not only from his intelligence as an artist and his very queer sensibility but also from his extensive acting and dancing background.  And an even more thrilling thing about Waxie to me is how he makes you look at performance.  The same way that he combines male and female, he also combines high art with “low brow” art.  That has always been my interest.  Something can be sophisticated and ridiculous, beautiful and absurd at the same time.  I feel that life is at once beautiful and absurd so great art should be as well.  So yeah it’s been about six years of us working together and he remains my muse.  Although I have lots of plans for non-Waxie projects in the near future, I would also be perfectly happy just making Waxie films for the rest of my life – (s)he never ceases to amaze me and inspire me.  Also, I have to say I grew up in the armpit of USSR without any art education.  And even when I was studying drama/art at UW, I was too busy trying to learn English to really learn how to be an artist.  Marc (Waxie) has been an amazing mentor for me in this regard.  Everything I know about building an identity for oneself as an artist I learned from him.  It may sound silly, but when you grow up in an environment where becoming an artist is as far fetched as becoming an astronaut, it takes years to really accept oneself and figure out how to live the rest of your life.  I’m really grateful for Marc’s friendship for being with me every step of the way through that process.

JU: What is it about humor that helps you navigate through life? How is this incorporated in “Capitol Hill”?

WH: I’ve always found that life, the universe, really everything, is absurd and you can’t take it too seriously.  My personal reaction to most art that doesn’t have a sense of humor, or at least a sense of wonder, about itself is that it’s quite a bit fraudulent. There are exceptions to that, of course, but I tend to find comedy more cathartic and more representative of human nature and our place in the world.  And of course, comedy saves lives.  A few years of my life were spent living and taking care of a friend with a terrible form of cancer.  And I remember laughing with that friend every day in a way that I haven’t laughed since.  Laughing at everything.  Laughing until your guts hurt.  There’s definitely a therapeutic power in laughter.  And it’s also a powerful tool in subverting people’s expectations (as with everything Waxie does) – comedy disarms you, makes you vulnerable and more open to looking at yourself and the world in new ways.  I know I’m a weirdo but I really think comedy captures humanity better than any drama could.  For example, that scene in “The Man with Two Brains” with Steve Martin on a rowing date with the disembodied brain.  To me that scene is a far more poignant and powerful statement about love and human loneliness than all the Academy Award winning drama garbage combined.

As far as “Capitol Hill”, there’s a very specific reason why I took on this project now.  Currently I’m working on very personal feature film dealing with my growing up gay in Russia.  It’s been challenging to write, to relive certain things and just shamelessly put your life out there.  It’s been a heavy process for me, even though I do embrace comedy in it as well.  “Capitol Hill” is a way for me to stay sane by creating something light and thoroughly enjoyable at the time when I have to look into some dark corners of my past.  In some ways I make fun of myself in “Capitol Hill”.  For example, I have a tendency to bring up my Russian past a lot and talk about how terrible life was there.  Every time I bring it up, I instantly feel embarrassed and regret it – like “who asked you?” and “who cares?” and “are you trying to get people to feel sorry for you or be interesting to them by bringing up your Dickensonian childhood?”  Yet I can’t stop doing it.  So Roses’ relationship with Portland is very much a spoof of my relationship with Russia.  And the extraordinary hopefulness and excitement of her arrival in Seattle is very much how I’ve felt and still feel about the US.  So there’s a lot of me in Roses.

JU: Let’s talk about the format of the show – these short webisodes. How did you land on this format? Do you hope for it to grow in any way?

WH: A long time ago when Marc and I were originally discussing doing our own Waxie-fied version of an evening soap opera, I envisioned much longer episodes.  In fact, I wrote the episodes to be 30-45 minutes long.  But here’s the thing:  I never watch anything online.  I have a very bad Internet connection at home and I’m very old school. Personally I only watch stuff on DVD or VHS or in a theater.  So after consulting with a few people who actually enjoy watching webseries, I was told that 30-45 is not reasonable for online content.   So I divided the episodes into smaller segments.  I’m very, very inspired with this project and will continue making the series for as long as I can.  I would love to make half hour comedy series for “real” TV like LOGO or Comedy Central or HBO, but until then I’ll keep making work and sharing it the only way I can.  One of the ways we plan to grow online is getting sponsors to pay for the show in exchange for product placement.  All the amazing talent involved in the show from designers to actors should be getting paid for the work they’re doing.  So my goal is to make this sustainable in the future.

JU: If you could have audiences have one big take-away from the series, what would it be?

WH: Stay away from Portland, Oregon!!!!

Just kidding, I love Portland.  I don’t know to be honest.  I don’t set out to make a point in my work, especially not this project.  I just do what inspires me, usually creating projects for and around local artists who inspire me.  My biggest hope is that, we grow a large international following.  And that people around the world will fall in love with the performers and designers of the show.  I could go on and on about every single person involved in it and how talented they are.  But I would especially love to give a shout out to Harmony Arnold, who’s my costume designer and in many ways a co-producer of the show.  She’s done many projects with me including my feature “Fallen Jewel”.  I’m always so honored by the amount of thought and detail she puts into everything.  She takes my vision which is really really heightened and would normally be very expensive, and she makes it her own and pulls it off beautifully with the resources we have.  Same goes for my DP, Vincent Pierce, whose day job is directing shows at the Seattle Channel including “Art Zone with Nancy Guppy”.  I just started working with him last year and now I can’t imagine making anything without him.  The composer Catherine Grealish, the makeup/special effects guru Erik Warren, the extraordinary set designer Christopher Balder – these folks made a 0-budget project look better, more aesthetically sophisticated than many cable shows on TV.  I could not be more grateful to them.  My favorite part about filmmaking is how you can package all these incredible artists into one creation and send it around the world.  There are so many phenomenal artists in Seattle and I look forward to bringing more of them to audiences around the world through “Capitol Hill”.

JU: Where can we find “Capitol Hill”? And how many episodes do you envision for this season?

WH: On Facebook: facebook.com/CapitolHillWebSeries or on Twitter: @caphillseries or you can follow me on HuffPost where I post new episode every week:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wes-hurley/

The first season is all shot – it’s going to have 10 episodes.

 

Watch Episode 1 of “Capitol Hill” here:

Bio:

Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney