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French connection (9/15/2010)
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Blair's unpleasant truth is that he's 37, unemployed and avoiding therapy one poem at a time. However, this self-described queer-dread-Mohawk-commie fuck and potential porn addict still knows that he needs to be authentic, because that's when he makes his strongest artistic statements.
And he's feeling particularly authentic about now.
After spending the last five years making his mark in Detroit's folk scene (he plays guitar like Corey Harris) and poetry scene (he was Poetry Slam, Inc.'s 2002 national champion), Blair is finally putting the finishing touches on what he considers to be his peak performance Burying the Evidence, a one-man show combining music, theater and spoken word.
"This show is extremely important to me, not to mention the scariest thing I've ever done," Blair says. "I'm doing things musically that I've never done before, and I don't really know how the audience is going to take all of it."
This isn't just Blair strumming his guitar as he did with his old band, Urban Folk Collective. Nor is he simply standing still and reciting spoken word poetry. Instead, Burying the Evidence is raw poetics transferred to the stage, with a host of emotions coming forward and nothing but a sea of eyes staring back at him through the darkness. In other words, there's nowhere to hide. While there will be some offstage musical accompaniment from viola and guitar, Blair will be essentially commanding the theater house for almost an hour and a half. He's the writer, director, choreographer and sole actor in his own literary musical. He's also releasing an accompanying CD of selected songs from the play and a chapbook of poetry on the night the performance debuts. This Blair, with whom even his closest friends have had to get reacquainted, says he's no longer afraid of the power within him, and his new flurry of work is meant to show that.
After spending the bulk of a weekend with the queer-dread-Mohawk-commie fuck, it's unavoidably clear that he's in the process of revealing things about himself that most of us would prefer to keep inside. His sexuality, vices and former substance abuse issues are right out there.
"I make my biggest moves spiritually and artistically as I confront myself and really deal with it," he says in his apartment, an immaculate one-bedroom in Detroit. "Everyone has deep dark secrets that we cover up. The authentic self is a way more subversive creature than we care to put out there most of the time, and that's fine. But you really got to face yourself and not be afraid to tell your story, 'cause somebody may need to hear it."
He admits he's done a lot of his own soul-searching over the past 12 months. In July 2005, he traveled to South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province to perform in the experimental theatrical piece The Walking Project, which also ran in Detroit at the Furniture Factory earlier that year. And after spending close to two months in South Africa, faced directly with its beauty, pain, racism and the haunting reality of AIDS, Blair returned to Detroit for only a few weeks, barely absorbing the experience before hitting the road for his own U.S. tour.
"All in all, I was away from home for eight months, and I was pretty much in a different city every few days," Blair says. "I think part of how the idea for a one-man show got started is that I was just restless with all of that travel."
That restlessness, and Africa in general, had a lasting effect on Blair's current approach to performing.
"Actually, I have noticed a luminous shift in his perspective since his sojourn to South Africa," says Detroit author Vievee Francis-Olzmann, who has mentored Blair for the past two years. "He takes the world in differently. Things that may have escaped his eye before, he notices."
In Burying the Evidence, music, poetry, acting and comedy all combine to reveal Blair's growth as a human being. It's both provocative and sometimes heartbreaking. He deals with his own experiences as a closeted queer youth growing up in rural New Jersey, and depicts his misery as an employee in Detroit's Chrysler assembly plants.
"I was trying to figure out how I wasted three years of my life working a job that was destroying me," he says. "Why did I stop writing poetry? Why did I stop performing? Why did I stop playing guitar? I was actively burying the evidence of who I was by working that job."
Motion is important to the live show. Using his hands and voice to relate completely different emotions, he's able to give multiple performances at once. He relates in "Crysler" how working on the factory line eventually made him "cry and slur," conveying not only his experience but the clanging, blustery sounds of an auto plant through a simultaneous mix of scatting, beat-boxing, chanting, singing and acting.
None of the nuances in Evidence came without hard work.
"I've been testing out a lot of this material in small doses in other cities, and working out the kinks that way," Blair says of his method of receiving feedback. "I don't want to reveal any of it in Detroit before the gig, so that it all stays completely fresh."
Although much of Burying the Evidence is scripted, Blair promises to reserve certain segments of the performance for improvisational material. He's also hoping that Aug. 26 is a long night. If the initial show sells out, he plans to do a second performance immediately after the first show ends.
"I'm not really worried about my voice holding out," Blair says. "I'm already drinking plenty of tea in preparation for it." Maybe that's the only thing he has left to do, since Blair's been preparing for Burying the Evidence his whole life.
Saturday, Aug. 26, at 1515 Broadway, Detroit; 313-965-1515. With Vievee Francis-Olzmann and Tone and Niche.
Jonathan Cunningham is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.