Named “one of Boston’s rising stars” by Stuff Magazine, Johnny Blazes is known for hir genre-bending, gender-blending, tongue-in-cheek performances. Ze draws from hir training in theater, dance and voice to create a category-defying brand of vaudevillian performance that incorporates drag, burlesque, comedy and clowning.
After graduating from Oberlin College in 2007, where ze founded and directed OCircus!, a 95-person student group with whom ze created five original shows, Johnny returned to hir hometown of Boston and immediately dove into the nascent local circus community. In 2008, Johnny co-wrote and directed Mischief in the Machine, an evening-length circus theater production, in collaboration with Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band. This show served as one of the seminal moments for the founding of The Boston Circus Guild. Johnny now serves on the board of The Boston Circus Guild and directed and starred in the BCG’s June 2011 show Reign of Revelry.
Since 2007 Johnny has been a corps cast member of TraniWreck, Boston’s all-gender, all-genre drag cabaret mess. Ze frequently performs at drag, burlesque and variety shows in Boston and New York City. Johnny has emceed for Rogue Burlesque, The Boston Circus Guild, Vadalna Tribal Dance Company, as well as for professional and student drag shows at colleges across the United States. Johnny has toured with The Tranny Roadshow, The Femme Show and Gender Queeries and has collaborated with Big Moves Boston, The Theater Offensive, The Extra Terrestrial Circus Experiment., and many other performance groups. Ze created an experimental cabaret show with collaborator Madge of Honor called Hypothesis, which ran from September 2010 through September 2011.
In April of 2010 Johnny forayed into the Boston theater scene to collaborate with The Performance Lab (now Liars & Believers) to curate and host the opening act to Le Cabaret Grimm, a punk rock fairy tale. In July of 2011, Johnny joined the cast of Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera in the double role of Tonya’s and Nancy’s mothers.
Johnny is currently on the editorial board of Salacious Magazine, a radical, anti-racist, feminist, queer sex magazine with a focus on art and comics. Johnny has co-authored several comics with fabulous queer artist Katie Diamond, as well as with long time friend and collaborator David Brown. Johnny’s work has been published in Gender Outlaws 2: The Next Generation (Seal Press, 2010) and Encounters in Contact (Oberlin College Press 2010).
Johnny’s wo(n)man show, a one-person, evening-length vaudevillian performance that incorporates theater, drag, dance, opera and circus arts to explore gender stereotypes and the performance of one’s daily gender, has been touring intermittently since 2009. wo(n)man show has played in small theaters, universities and colleges in Boston, New York City, Hudson Valley, NY, Baltimore, Portland, ME, Philadelphia, Richmond, Washington DC, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Johnny’s newest project is a soul/funk band called Johnny Blazes and the Pretty Boys. Featuring members of Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band, Walter Sickert and the ARmy of BRoken TOys, Jeff Michaels Band and Rotary Club, the band’s repertoire includes soul, motown, big band and jazz tunes, performed with genderqueer flamboyance and comedic exuberance.
Perhaps somewhere along the line you got the message that you are ordinary. Or if you are not, that you should strive to be. Fit in. Follow the trend. Be normal. Yet in a world of 7 billion people—each with their own way of expressing, being, living—how can any one thing be considered “normal”? This seemingly simple question is one that we often forget to ask. We allow ourselves to be persuaded by media and power structures in place that there is a correct way to be. Their labels—“white,” “woman,” “middle class,” have strict definitions. When we allow ourselves to believe these definitions, to assimilate them into our consciousness, then we become limited by their immovable boundaries and stop being truly ourselves.
We receive these messages every day, nearly every minute; we have become blind to them. My purpose as an artist is to open your eyes, using the most powerful of tools: humor. I aim to make you laugh—laugh at the idiocy of the images of masculinity and femininity that are profligate in our media, laugh at your own reactions to these images. If I can expose the absurdity of the notion that there is such a thing as “normalcy,” then perhaps I can encourage you in some small way to resist assimilation.
I am a bricoleur: one who uses materials at hand to create new works. My pastiches are crafted from snatches of pop culture, mythology, literature and shared histories. I use music, movement and characters to sew a patchwork of cultural references. I reference our culture because to truly look at it we must all take a step back. In a country whose trajectory has been horribly forged by racism and sexism, we must locate ourselves in the collage of values and histories we call American culture. And as a collage artist, a collector of trash, I both despise and adore the junk I have collected. I both celebrate the beautiful flamboyance of femininity and eschew the notion that it should be expressed in only one way by only one set of people.
My work is often called drag, burlesque, variety, cabaret, clown, circus or performance art. These labels are insufficient to describe what I make; I am interested in the cracks between, the intersections. Yet I use these labels myself from time to time in hopes of expanding existing categories, broadening their definitions. My performance could be better described by my interests: I am interested in the multifarious spectrum of genders available in drag performance, in human sexuality and the exposed body as both symbol and object in burlesque, in the awe-inspiring feats of which the human body is capable as realized in circus arts, and, above all, in the power of laughter to enlighten.
Laughter will en-lighten you, relieve you of the heavy baggage of this culture of normalcy. It will strip the veil from your eyes so that you may better see the absurdity of that which you thought was holding you back. You are not ordinary at all, you are brilliant, and if you pursue “normal,” you rob the world of something glorious.