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Crossing the Fog with Sacha Yanow

Crossing the Fog with Sacha Yanow


Patricia: Why did you develop a dialogue between the Little Vamp and the theater organ?

Sacha: Historically, the theater organ was what created all the sound, music and effects, for silent cinemas where there was not a full orchestra. So it made sense to me to make the organ the mouthpiece—the Theater Organ in the piece gives voice to the Ghost Club, a real thing at the turn of the century. It was a club that explored paranormal activities. And there were a lot of famous folks involved including Sir Arthur Canon Doyle―(I thought that was so interesting, since Sherlock Holmes was all about the power of deductive reasoning and logic). The Ghost Club in my piece references this historic Ghost Club, including some of its members, as well as: queer and feminist people in film and theater from that time period; and contemporary peers, spiritual seekers, queers, feminists, other living artists. My Club is kind of like my higher self. This is also the first time I haven’t spoken live at all in a piece, relying completely on my physicality.

Patricia: What influences sustained the development of Silent Film?

Sacha: I am using cinema as a point of departure, silent film as a metaphor for things unspoken, unseen, unheard in my personal history and family mythology, and broader queer history. What can be recovered from the "cutting room floor". A kind of historical fantasy. This piece was also inspired by photographs of silent film stars―black and white monochromatic foggy images―especially some of the male actors who looked very androgynous by today's gender norms. Heavy makeup, tights, etc. I watched many Chaplin films, Alla Nazimova's Salome (all gay cast), Queen Christina with Greta Garbo, films directed by Dorothy Arzner (first out Hollywood lesbian director and inventor of the boom mic), Dreyer's Joan of Arc, Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon.

I also wanted to investigate acting. I grew up as a child actor, mostly in theater. It was a way for me to escape the loneliness and isolation I felt in my small town and my family. It brought joy to people around me. But ultimately, it didn't "save" me from my isolation or my family from whatever melancholy I thought they needed saving from.

Patricia: The reference to the Garden of Alla in your piece, is that about Alla Nazimova?

Sacha: Yes. Looking at pictures of silent film stars, they seemed to look like me, and like my family. So many Russian Jews were involved in early Hollywood, and I became obsessed with following some of that history, reading about the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and immigration at the turn of the century. Alla Nazimova was one of these Russian Jews, who came over, stayed with Emma Goldman in NY, apparently had an affair with Goldman and then moved on to Hollywood. She had this huge house/compound with bungalows. Apparently, there were lots of parties with lots of gays, especially women. Famous Hollywood lesbians. Yet I didn’t know about the Garden of Alla as part of Hollywood/film/cultural histories. I didn’t know about any connection between anti-fascism/anarchist intellectuals and Hollywood starlets. I had to really forage around for this type of information.

Patricia: I certainly didn't know about any of that! Silent Film also featured quite a switchy floor romp, in which the vampire repeatedly performs the gender of the female being kissed/devoured and the male kissing/devouring. What were you exploring with these forms?
Sacha: It is the famous Mrs. Robinson scene from the movie The Graduate, a classic "cougar" scene. For me this is a scene about the roles I took on in my sexuality when I came out, roles I am still unraveling in romantic relationships in terms of gender, power, performance. I feel multiple roles inside me, a struggle. It also references the lesbian vampire trope, and my romantic history with older women. I am working on healthy relationships, healthy sexuality and stepping out of these roles of vampire or clown in which I have felt safe and excited, but also silenced by.

Patricia: There was something about that switchy floor romp that made me think about how much do we become voyeurs of our own sexualities, living in a society saturated with sexual imagery.
Sacha: I was trying to pull the threads out of the roles (predator, victim, entertainer, etc) which I play in my life - when I perform them in the piece, it brings information about them to the surface, truths about them and how they make me feel. I was thinking about the word ‘complicit’, as in being complicit with these roles, and complicit with the “fog”. If the “fog” is my disconnection from myself, how am I complicit in that? The “fog” as protection.

In the fog, things that are known become unknown…

Patricia: How do you see the fog as a “guest” in your own work/lifepsyche, beyond Silent Film? Was it an experiment or an extension of ideas that weave in and out of your process?
Sacha: I made this piece in order to investigate “the fog”, the fog as an embodiment of all the layered ways I have been disconnected from my self. The trajectory of the piece—the Vamp trying to figure the fog out, trying to fight it, asking for help and council, coming out of isolation and investigating the roles she is hiding in, developing a relationship with true herself, and finding community/history/family—all of this mirrors my own life experience.

The Ghost Club explains that the “fog” is something one cannot pin-point or logic out—the more one tries to figure it out, the more illusive it becomes. They share some realities they have discovered thus far, about the fog. Realities about myself I am disconnected from. Things I can't see. But they are present on me and my body/mind/spirit. Such as race: I have certain privileges that accrue to me as a white person, and my cultural references are not universal. Such as sad family “ghosts”: I act as a body of evidence for them, proof that they exist and are admired and loved. Such as “a celluloid closet”: my sexuality is made into either a joke or a terror (clown or vampire).

Little Vamp's relationship with the Ghost Club has just begun. She needs to regularly visit the Ghost Club to know and release the fog. There is not a magic pill to release it. She needs an ongoing relationship with herself, and with others.