Aug. 11, 2022

Queer Clowning with Jody Kuehner

Jody Kuehner joins Jonathan and Britt for an illuminating conversation about what art, comedy, gender, sexuality, clowning, and improvisation can teach us about life in a pandemic and in 2022. But most importantly they discuss all sorts of ways we can practice loving kindness in the face of cognitive dissonance, bigotry, and bias.

Join us on this wild ride, as we delve into the tough stuff and plumb the depths of our souls. You won’t want to miss it!

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Jody Kuehner






Jonathan Beal

Britt East


Jonathan[00:00:02] Welcome to Not Going Quietly the podcast where we inspire growth, beaten biases and get into all sorts of good trouble with co-hosts Jonathan Beale and Britt East.


Britt[00:00:11] No topic is off limits as we explore ways to help everyone leap into life with a greater sense of clarity, passion and purpose. Enjoy.


Jonathan[00:00:19] So get ready to join us. Just and courageous conversation, because Not Going Quietly starts right now.


Britt[00:00:30] Hi everyone, welcome to Not Going Quietly a podcast for outraged optimists and heartbroken healers all over the world where we have courageous conversations and surface searing truths in the name of radical togetherness. I'm your host, Britt East and I am here with my fantabulous co-host, Jonathan Beale. Jonathan, how are you today?


Jonathan[00:00:52] Yeah, I'm good. We're experiencing summer in the UK, you know, the three days of summer that we have. So it's all going to be over soon. Good it's good. And opens Friday London Pride at the weekend. Always fun to see everybody enjoying themselves and, you know, standing up for us.


Britt[00:01:11] And so important right now too, with all of the heartache and, you know, all we're going through in the world to have some time to replenish and feel joy, especially queer joy, and really bask in that togetherness. I think it's just wonderful. You know, the Heat actually came on the other day here, like two days ago. The Heat was on it's July when we're recording this and I live in Seattle. Jonathan lives in the UK and it's like arctic tundra wasteland. So, you know, I'm, I'm a little jealous of the sunshine, but hopefully one day here somewhere will strike. We never know. But we have our own ray of sunshine. Today we have a very special guest, the delightful Jody Kuehner, my dear friend from Seattle. So she feels my pain with that doom and gloom weather that we've been experiencing recently. And she's just a brilliant performer who's who's been a local luminary here for quite a while at this point. And and a dear friend of mine and somebody I'm so excited to chat with and and to introduce to our audience is Jodie Kushner a.k.a Cherdonna Shinatra uses dance, drag theater, comedy, camp, pop culture, feminist traditions, absurdity and subversive commentary to make art. 18 years ago, Jody landed in Seattle, where she fell in love with its rowdy, postmodern dance culture. Me too. She devoured everything experimental and improvizational, and fell in love with her own queerness. Me too. In doing so, Jody created shared, honest in nature as a persona and character to question herself and explore the world from a uniquely queer perspective, shared on his innocent and childlike personality spreads the love we need to become a better society, but at the same time exposes all the fucked up ways we treat each other by examining the polarity and proximity of joy and sadness, excitement and fear and the idea you can love something so much, you can hurt it. Together with her cartoon drag meets David Lynch esthetic, her work as Cherdonna acts as a vehicle for social change, political action and radical commentary. Jody, we are so excited to have you on the podcast today. How are you?


Jody[00:03:44] Pretty good. I'm excited to be here and do this.


Britt[00:03:47] Awesome. You know what I want? Because I've known Cherdonna for years and years, so she's really clear in my mind, our audience in many cases won't have met her. And so I want to kind of continue to introduce her. Now, obviously, we're going to put your website in the show notes, and I encourage everybody to go to Jody's website so they can see exactly who Cherdonna is in the gallery and by watching the videos that are posted on that website. And then I'll help it make help, make it all come together, I think. But let's continue to kind of introduce her alter ego Cherdonna Shinatra. So I'm going to what I've done is I've plagiarized some of the description and the copy on your website because it was so brilliantly written and I think it describes Cherdonna so well. So I'm just going to kind of read some more as we talk about who Cherdonna is so our audience can kind of start to visualize her. So your work as Cherdonna has been described by various people as a perversely vulnerable and childlike clownsplosion, which is a great word, bizarre and occasionally discomforting. Luxuriates in the trappings of high femme expressions. Cherdonna takes what you recognize about dance, what you believe about drag, what intrigues you about improvization, and what delights you about entertainment and effortlessly tosses it in a mason jar, shakes it up and opens the lid. Cherdonna exists between dimensions and quantum shifts and time through everyday objects and emotions. While she provides a brightly decorated avenue to explore and question what is normal, she remains a child, innocent of rancor. Cherdonna is aggressively sweet. The subtext is this made up surface belying what exists beneath and the commentary of truth beyond what's advertised. She is always seeking what is beautiful and shiny. She lives for the light. Now, Jody, tell us more about who Cherdonna is how she came to be, what it's like performing as an alter ego. What you can do as Cherdonna that you can't do as Jody, just kind of paint a fuller picture for us.


Jody[00:06:01] Yeah, well, it's been a very organic process. I'm a dance based person. I mean, I came up in dance, so I was like, I'm going to be a dancer. I'm going to move to New York. I'm going to dance for one of the big companies like Le Monde. That was really my track. And I moved to Seattle and started to do stuff here. And just like that description said, Seattle became just such an amazing place to grow as an artist. And it was really though the queerness here was very exciting. I mean, I came from Florida, so, you know, it was really different. Yes. I really dire situation. And I feel it's really funny to move from a place like that to Seattle because I feel like Seattle gets very down on itself where everyone's like, Seattle sucks. Could be so much better. Like, there's this energy here. Everyone's pushing for more, which I love. And also I sometimes get like, Has anybody been anywhere else? Like. We're doing pretty good. We're doing pretty good. You know, going to school in Florida. I was like, this was a dream land to be here. So anyways, I never was like, I want to be a drag character. It really started from just wanting to explore different aspects about myself and through dance and this idea of at the time modern dance was modern. Contemporary dance was very stripped down. It was like you just wear cotton pants with a cotton loose tank top. And it was kind of like, What do you do if you put the esthetic on that? Like, how much does it change the work? If you actually put some high asthetics, some like drastic costuming or drastic set design or installation just adds another layer. And I'm totally down for that. You know, that that type of like great. There is something about like the idea is just stripped down and we're just a body in space. Cool. And also for me, I was just I got more excited about upping the esthetics to create more context and layering in the work. And then within that, there was a moment for me where. I mean, way back a million years ago, I was much more like, I'm androgynous, queer, human, because I need to I mean, mainly because of feminine visibility. Like I need to be seen as a queer person. Like, how am I ever going to date or find my community if I look like a straight woman? And so my my personal esthetic, you know, is influenced by that, even though I love high femme esthetics. And so Cherdonna was a way for me to get to express that part of me and still be seen and part of my queer community. And and through that, you know, I've been able to sort of I mean, as we all grow in our esthetics through our lives. But, you know, it's been I feel like the the line between shared on and myself is not is it's it's it's so it's you know, like Deena Martina and Grady, the human, they are like, we are different. And you don't you don't mix the two at all. And for me, I'm like, I don't know. I'm just more shared on some days and more Jodi other days and vice versa. Like, the lines are a little bit muddier for me. And so, yeah, I just started making work. And dabbling in this character and honestly in the beginning times. People are like, you're a drag queen. And I was like, No, I'm not. I'm just a dancer using like I was. I was pretty resistant to it. I don't really know why. I just I think it was because I had such a big identity and being a dancer. And that felt very important to me, that I was I was very wanting to be very clear, like, no, I am a dance artist. And yes, I'm pulling from these different forms, but like, don't put me in that category. So that's loosened. You know, that's loosened, but that's kind of where I started. And so a lot of the being part of the drag community was like a little bit of a push for me. I was pretty much. Like in the beginning, I hated doing club gigs. I was like, just not into it for so many reasons and I figured out my way into it now and figuring out how to make. Be able to make work or have my art on in different in different containers, the container of a club or the container of a theater or a museum. And that's really now where my interest has has gone towards full force, where I'm like, what are all the venues that this work can be contained in? And then how does that change the work and all the different layers of the actual space? Did that answer the question?


Britt[00:11:48] Yeah. Jonathan and I have talked a lot personally and shared on this podcast about our our individual journeys in the performance and expression of gender and sexuality. I identify as a gay man. I'll let Jonathan identify himself. But we've all had our own journeys as probably all queer people have and continue to wrestle with as we over our lifetime experience the ongoing pressure of straight supremacy. Just constantly. Or like you alluded to, male supremacy as well, constantly trying to erode your identity, erode the avenues of your personal expression. And then so you sometimes find, it sounds like you're saying and I've experienced where it's like, well, is this really who I am? Or is this expression actually an act of resistance? Am I so pushing back on social norms regarding masculinity or femininity that I'm actually distorting may not be the right word, but maybe inadvertently emphasizing various facets of my personality to bring a forward in Who am I really? And who would I be really without being swimming without swimming in the soup of bigotry? So that's what I want to ask you, Jody. It's like, do you feel like that's who you've become or are becoming? Do you feel like you're you are really kind of attaining more authentic expression of yourself?


Jody[00:13:22] 100%. Yeah, 100%. I definitely. It feels like it takes a really long time to figure out. Or maybe it's like you don't ever figure it out. You're like, continue. Like we change and morph and we find different things to figure out. And I really feel that and I do feel like this character work has been a great tool to experiment with different, different ways in and out of that. I mean, even like the, the I did this dish where I was like, I just want to be like a clown and went really sort of a, I want to say traditional, but it was still a little bit abstracted. But it's traditional as I can get into clown and an outfit and I, you know, I do this run of shows and and it was funny because I've been doing show Donna for a long time. You know, this was just in the recent the last five years. And it was kind of the first moment where an audience member I heard again that like, is it a boy or a girl? And I was like, oh, interesting. Like, I was just like, I want to be a clown. I wasn't thinking, I want to be unrecognizable in my gender. I was just like, I want to be a and and it really surprised me. I was like, wow, that was not even on my mind. And it's kind of the interesting thing too about I feel like that happens a lot in my work where I'm just going towards an idea and then there's a reaction to it that is about gender or expression that then has coined me. Like Jody and Cherdonna are really working on gender and I'm like, Well, yes, but also I just wanted to be a clown. And and then the gender thing just came after the fact. And so cool. Like like, yes, I guess that's in there. But it wasn't my initial. It was amazing. My initial hit, it wasn't like, let me put on a costume that is genderless or gender full, whichever way you want to look at it. And so I feel like those things keep happening and in the work for me. Which I'm not exactly know what that means or what that says, but maybe just the things that are layered. And maybe that's why actually earlier on when people were like, You're a drag queen, I was really resisted because I was like, I'm just doing this thing. I'm just trying to do this task. I'm just trying to make this atmosphere and and the way it was read. And, I mean, I think then. You know, to be a conscientious artist, it means okay. My way in was this. And the audience is perceiving this. So like, now what's the next step? Like, do I want to go towards that or do I want to go away? Like, the audience reaction can be a way to figure out what the next direction is. I figure so much out when you put something in front of people, it's a yeah, it's really an amazing experiment.


Jonathan[00:16:48] I really, really love so many parts of this. There's there's there's as you're talking earlier, I was thinking about how how much alter egos are baked into us in the queer community, how from a really young age, we're kind of forced into developing alter egos to exist within the structures that are, you know, as they are. And, and then as you were talking, just intimate. And there's this really wonderful thing that happens when we step certainly into exploring how we can express ourselves in the world that leads people to have a deeper understanding of themselves. If this is thought society in a wider context and how how we can all live a more deeply expressed life, I suppose. And so I suppose I don't know if there's a question here, as per I kind of go on these little tangents, we'll see where we end up. But I sort of feel like there's is. There's a question in there about intention. It's like if if if we step out of trying to label everything and just lean into the act of expressing what comes naturally through us, then I think the first question I kind of want to say, but yeah, I'd like to know a bit more about your experience of that, of, of choosing not to label almost as just being present to you and to your deepest expression.


Jody[00:18:35] Yeah. I mean, that just brought up the I think the funny thing about, you know, being this clown character and then having somebody at the show. You know, it was very intimate. So, like, I heard it like I was right next to the audience and like, I heard this person ask the person next to them. And I think the thing is, is you get a little bit like. Why do you even care? Why is that the question? I'm doing like this hour long dance theater piece is this clown? And that's the question. There's no other so much other content in this piece, and you're still obsessed. If I'm a boy or a girl, who cares at this point, like I like I think that's the funny thing to me is like the the reminder because I don't even think about it anymore. I'm just doing this character and I know it is wrapped up in gender expression, but like, that's not my focus. And so to still, after 20 years of doing this, have people. Ask the question, is a boy or a girl? It's like, just makes me want to roll my eyes harder that I'm just like, Yeah, really, that is the question. So I think I get there. I'm like, Do we move on? I'm talking about a lot of other stuff in here. Like that is not the question I'm proposing in this work.


Britt[00:20:04] You know, it's it's so funny that as artists, part of what we do, like you mentioned, is we have conversations with our audiences. And sometimes those conversations are literal. Like you were literally on stage having this kind of defacto conversation with this person, questioning your gender identity in that moment. And then you were having an emotional response to that that maybe got expressed some way, even subconsciously, to the art that you were creating in that moment. That's the beauty part of the beauty of life, theater and stuff. And, you know, I think that we're having as a nation, Jodi and I live in the US, Jonathan lives in the UK as a nation. Those a lot of us in the US are having conversations around race and gender. And I think what we have found is that we are mired in or married to our conventional social norms, our preconceived notions, prejudices and biases around race and gender. I know for myself and the art that I create, that is where I experience the greatest level of confusion and resistance is around race and gender. So it doesn't surprise me that the people in your audience are grappling with those as well. And then sometimes it just erupts out of them that it's so present with them. They're so filled with these questions. It just comes out of them. They can't even sit quietly. And then they, you know, it just leaps out of them and they have to give voice to it. And, you know. A So I'd like you to talk a little bit more around the conversations you have with your audience and what it feels like to get that, to get that feedback. Like you said, you start as an artist, you create a thing, then the audiences respond, and then it's like jazz. Then you respond to the audience's response. And it's that kind of dance, that kind of, that, that, that, that, that jazz. So talk a little bit more about that conversation you're having and how it's been for you personally and what it's like for you as an artist.


Jody[00:22:22] Yeah, I. I feel like I'm in an interesting moment because I've hit a. I've had a place in my career where I've been in Seattle for 20 years and I've built an audience base and. And it's it's it's sort of a double edged sword where I'm like, it's really great. Like, I, I know that. I have access to a lot of different programing opportunities here because of the momentum that I've built over the 20 years. And that's really beautiful and exciting. And also the the hard part about it is that the audience, they know me, they're like. Either. They're like, Oh, Carradine's doing a show. I know what that's going to be. I don't need to go. I think I hit a point where people are like, Oh, your show, it's going to be sold out. You're nope, nope. And I'm like, Actually, that's not really what's going on anymore. Because some people are I mean, I have some diehard fans, but there's also people who are like, Oh yeah, I've seen that. I know what that is. There's no priority in getting there. That's a very strange place to be in my career because you work so hard to build this momentum and build audience, and then you get to the point and then it's like, Oh boy, you're like, now, now it's a different kind of work. And then. And then also I feel like there's more room for me to disappoint people because people have seen more of my work and they have expectations and they have things that they love out of me. And if I don't do the thing that they love, then they're like, Oh, well, you know, we don't love Sheridan or that work anymore and. That is very difficult as an artist because I'm like, I'm just experimenting, I'm just experimenting. I'm just trying stuff out. And I'm not necessarily an artist that. Signs a thing. You know, there's these artists that keep bringing up DNA. I don't know why. Because she's just. She's such as Seattle. You know what?


Britt[00:24:42] I'm sorry. Let me interrupt. Let me interrupt really quickly, Dana. Martina's a local Seattle drag legend who's revered. And we'll link to her in the show notes as well. Sorry, Jody, go ahead.


Jody[00:24:55] Yeah. And, you know, she is amazing and hysterical and I'm a mega fan and would go see anything she does and you know, she has a formula like. You know what to expect when you go to the show. And I'm not really doing that formula. And so I can't quite maintain an audience. Like that, I think. Because I'm like, you never know what you're getting. You're like, you might get an hour of me doing one that like, I love duration. You might get me in a theater you so like, you know, I have some audience that are like theatergoers and they have expectations around theater and dance. And then I have drag world, you know, night nightlife audience that has other expectations about what they want to see and what's fun to see. And, and I'm I'm down for it, but it makes it makes for a hard. Administratively and it makes it feel like there's a lot of there can be a lot of audience disappointment in me and in whatever way it goes. And then I had this experience of. You know, the pandemic, like everything, stopped for a long time. And I kind of got back to some things this year, and it feels like everything that got canceled was rescheduled like in four months. So I was just I was just out doing like residencies and things, which was really great. But I was like, we spread it out a little bit because I don't know what's coming next. Anyway, so I was doing a making work outside of Seattle and it was, it was such a magical experience because I haven't I haven't really been. Doing that where people don't know me at all and don't know this character at all. And it was so delightful for me. It was like, I haven't had that experience in Seattle in a while where people are like. What the fuck is this? Like, I have no idea. I don't have any context. I've never seen anything like this. I don't know what is going on is a stance, is a drag, is the thing. And I was like, oh, I love I love that. And I miss that. And it's hard for me to get that in Seattle. I mean, I will have like, you know, like new people, but. It was interesting to sort of. Put that on the table of my relationship as an artist to the city that you live in and the importance of touring and getting to know other artists outside. Outside of where you live for your life? For my own personal growth and the growth of the work. And because it gets into a place where. I was like, oh, if I'm if I'm just making work in Seattle like I have in my mind. What Seattle has seen me do. And so it changes the work. You start to make work for the city because you're like, Oh, they've see me do this, they see me. And then to do work at other places like, Oh, the freedom of it, they see me do shit I can do. I can do some of the things that I love and and have built myself on. And, you know, I think there's some pressure than artists to and I think there's this. Puts the pressure on the pressure to be like I have to make something really doing really different every time. Like, it has to be completely different than my last work. And that's just a lot of pressure to take on slow, you know, and then to really tangent this, it's like this is all mixed up and sustainability and like I'm not in my twenties anymore. I'm just like, I don't know, I'm just going to be an artist and I'm sleeping on couches and who cares? I'm making art, whatever. And now I'm 42 and I'm like, Well. I need to have insurance and maybe start a retirement fund. Like, I have different needs and I have majorly different needs around sustainability and. That is this is like the most difficult career choice for that and living in Seattle and. So you know, this this feeling before in my twenties and some of my thirties where I was like. I don't. I mean, and I still feel this or I'm like, I don't care who comes. I will do a show for five people. And I'm so happy with that. And I'm, I'm like happy to connect with whoever is there. And I'm, I'm not doing the work too. Like, fame is not really in my. I don't I don't really care about that. I just. I just want to do work. But then that's getting all fucked up because I'm like, But I need to make money. Like, I will do a show for five people, but also like, I can't live off of ticket sales for five people. And it's really such a conflict. And I, I'm really struggling with it right now, in particular from like, what am I going to do like? I don't really know what to do about it. And I've been I've been very lucky to. I mean, I haven't had any other work in ten years at least. Like I've only been doing. I've been making it happen. And I have very weird living situations and that's, you know, like, again, the needs are starting to change. And even in these these ways that have. Made it available for me to be a working artist. Like they're not working anymore. And the idea that I would have to give up artistic opportunity to be able to live in an apartment makes me want to die. I'm like. Really? I have to say no to artistic pursuits just so I can go get a restaurant job. So I have enough money to live in Seattle, like. Oh, God. Oh, I'm so. It's hard to feel and creatively free when when it's it's so tied in to. Basic needs. And then it gets into the to like really go there. Then it gets into the whole thing like, oh, poor me. I don't get to be a working artist when there's other people like working in coal mines and, you know, these terrible jobs where I'm like, Shut the hell up, Jody, and just get another job. Like, how can I be complaining about that? And then I'm like, Yes, but I do really believe art is important and it's really what I'm best at. It's like I've cultivated my entire life to develop this really specific skill of that relates to live performance and abstraction. And I'm really good at this one thing, and I've spent 40 years cultivating that. And it feels very sad to me that I that that, you know. It's not enough. It's not enough in the sense that like. Capitalism in America doesn't care about art as my.


Jonathan[00:32:52] Go.


Jody[00:32:54] To.


Jonathan[00:32:55] There we go. I was let go. Yeah, we. Yeah, we landed on it. Yeah.


Jody[00:33:03] Well, see, that's the thing. We're like, I'm. I don't want to. Yeah. I'm like, I don't want to complain about not being able to be an artist because it feels like a privilege, but it feels like a privilege to be an artist because of capitalism. Because capitalism doesn't value all the different ways in which people should be able to choose their careers, so to speak.


Jonathan[00:33:24] And then we have a global pandemic. And it gets around.


Britt[00:33:29] And global recession and potential looming global recession. We have corporate greed, which we like to call inflation. We have potential stagflation. You alluded to the commodification of drag as an art form, much less the commodification of many of the arts writ large. You alluded to the unintended consequences of building a brand and the privileges that we have when seen through the lens of existing social norms. These are complex questions that it's like there just are there are no answers. But I think the elephant in the room and I'm judging that Jonathan agrees based on his reaction, is capitalism. That's what we've come down to, is that we have been we've found ourselves born into this society that requires us to set aside certain facets of our personality, certain drives, certain inclinations, certain inspirations, certain modes of expression in the name of being a cog in a machine. And it's heartbreaking. It's just absolutely heartbreaking. I used to be a classical musician as a full time job. I used to play in symphonies and teach at the university, at various universities. And I realized early on that I was not going to set the world on fire with my flute playing. I was a classical flutist, and I made the heartbreaking choice that also because of, you know, the way careers and that mode of expression worked is you would have to travel kind of from small town to small town, working your way up the regional orchestra system and the regional university system. And I was so physically afraid. Of living in those communities as a queer person that I was just like, Nope, I'm not good enough to just leap into a nationally known symphony in a major metropolitan area. But I would rather be alive. And so I'm I just made that decision to go there. Lots of other queer people have made different decisions. And I just made the decision to jump into the corporate career game and to set that aside. And so it's so heartrending to hear from a working artist's perspective the tough choices that you face and to think about my tough choices as a non-working artist, someone who does it for as an avocation or for personal enjoyment, and to kind of reflect back on the roads of where life has taken us. And, you know, and but I think it's so important we put blame where it should reside, which is straight, white, cis male supremacy, which goes hand in hand with capitalism.


Jody[00:36:36] Yeah. Oh, yeah, seriously. It's really.


Jonathan[00:36:43] What.


Jody[00:36:44] I'm just like, holding on to, you know, I'm, like, really just holding on and and seeing so many artists my age have to pivot to different careers. And it is heartbreaking, and it feels like you're just beat down to making a new decision and. I'm just. Not interested in anything else. And that might sound bratty or I don't know. I mean, I'm interested in some other things, but. Maybe it's more just like. Feeling resistant in that way of like. No. What? No, I don't. I just. I don't want to give in to it. Well, you know you know what?


Britt[00:37:32] You know what the world craves. The universe craves the fullest expression of your gifts. Now we just have to figure out how to get there. And speaking about Jodi, all the Jodi's in the world, you know, all the artists out there who are listening to this who are struggling with these same issues. Seattle is a bit of a wreck at the moment. One of the most expensive cities in the world. Many venues have closed down. Many artists have moved away. Many other artists have gone back to school or changed careers, maybe never going back again. And so we're losing the mentorship, the apprenticeship from one artist to the next about how to even be an artist and practice the business of art, to live the life of an artist that's just going away. And so it's never been more challenging, I suspect, to be an artist as the relentless pressure of capitalism continues to condense all modes of expression into commoditized, perfectly labeled formulas that are easy to sell and market to further the aims of calculable capitalism.


Jody[00:38:41] Exactly. Exactly. And I don't I'm like even in in this is also just to bring it back around. Why then when I'm in a show and somebody is like, is that a boy or a girl? I'm like, Who cares? I'm trying to survive. Who cares on that question? I just want to make art like hug. You know, I feel like they're a little bit even though I know that's still valid, it's still work. And and then, you know, like I'll be at the point where I'm like, fuck it, I quit. Like, This is the last show I'm going to do. This is it, you know? And then I'll get like somebody will send me an email that is like, your work has changed my life in some way. And I'm like, God dammit. That's exactly why I'm doing this. And, like, you know, enough to just. To feel like, oh, yeah, it really is important. And also, that's how I feel. It's not even just about me and my work. I my life has been changed by seeing it. Like, I love it. I love it so much. And. So it's a it's important to me to have it for my own consumption and witnessing of people. Yeah. So. Yeah. Yeah. Let's go find out. Audience.


Britt[00:40:11] I can't help but wonder if what the universe is craving right now from artists is direct relevancy to social justice struggles. And that's one of the things I love so much about your art, Jodi, is that you are unafraid to take that on either implicitly or explicitly. I feel like many local arts organizations that I've been working with are struggling to make that connection. A lot of it is due to the mode of artistic expression doesn't necessarily lend itself to making socio political statements. It makes a little more challenging. In other cases, it's the the organizations have been, frankly, elitist, racist classes, clubs for decades. And they're reckoning with with ideas of equity and sharing power. But, you know, one of the things I love about you and in your alter ego. Sure, Don, is that you are unafraid to to take us there. I mean, you know, I know you're talking about how challenging it is, but, you know, the way that I see your art is that you often listen to a false sense of security. You put us at ease with the approachability of. Sure, Donna's charming, childlike demeanor and dress costumes, expression. You build tension with their expectations and you release it with comedy. And then as we're laughing, you go in with the shiv, and you you show us something about who we really are and who you really are and all that we could be and might become. And that is, to me, that is the magic of Jodi and Sheridan in that final step. There are lots of comics out there who master tension and release. But that moment when we think as an audience where it is and so we're fully open to receive your message and you go in there with that with that sucker punch. That's my favorite my favorite part. And so I can't help but wonder if this moment was made for you in some way, even with all the challenges that are that are frankly never going to go away. But even with all those challenges, I can't help but wonder if what the universe is craving from you is exactly what you have to offer.


Jody[00:42:33] Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate that. And I do you know, there is a little like a little you know, my work has been very much about sort of pushing against the celebration of the patriarchy. And like the last show that I just did, Good Night, Cowboy was definitely about toxic masculinity and and getting to push against that in so many different ways, which I feel like is, is, is something. I work with a lot in my shows just because it is so pervasive and so relentless to deal with on a day to day. So I'm like, Well, I guess this shows just about that again. How much of it is not done with this topic and that and the other way? We work with two Philly artists and it kind of started it started in one. You know how process goes. You start somewhere. And the place we were starting from is the world is made for TOS and. And I wonder, like, there must be a tie to the patriarchy for that. I mean, I guess it ties in to, like, straightness and heteronormative normativity and marriage. The goal to get married and, you know, and so everything's easier. Like, I've been single for a very long time and I'm like, wow, it's really difficult. Like, things are really expensive as a single person. Or like, we were kind of joking because I went, I went to Disney World with two friends and they're a couple. We went all together and it felt like the entire trip was negotiating who sat alone because all the rights are for two people. So like we were always in this constant relevé, okay, who wants to write with you? Or Who's going to sit with the stranger? And so it's just it feels like the world is built that way. And a lot of times as a single person navigating it, it feels that way a lot. But anyways, we started there and kind of moved into throughout the process, which I think hearkens back to this larger conversation we were talking about of we've moved into the question, is it worth it? And just as a general question, like the small things in our lives that you do just daily, like, is it worth it to make my bed in the morning? Is it worth it to shower today or. To the bigger things of like, is it worth it to take this job or to leave this or I mean, honestly, even into like, is it worth it to be alive? Like. Which goes in that bigger question of or is it worth it to be an artist? Is it worth it to have art? Is it worth it to have a particular relationship? It's a question that I feel like we do daily and don't realize. And I think everybody's negotiating these. Is it worth it all the time and don't really realize that that's the question. And so I do think that, like, that is my interest as an art maker. And what you were saying that like, is it worth it can be comical and funny and small and like no big deal, but it can really be like the heaviest question you've ever asked yourself. And that is such gold to mine for me. And. And what I love to bring. Bring to those audiences. So I think maybe the next piece is about the struggle.


Jonathan[00:46:27] It's kind of nihilist vibes, right? And and that kind of constant grapple for meaning and and and yet I know what I see in the world is that there are so many people trying to make us take on their meaning of life and the world and the way it is to be seen. And we can take white supremacy and mass privacy as prime examples of that. And what I often see in the queer community and the more liberal community at large is there's a lack of willingness to project meaning or to stand for meaning in a in a way that shouts louder than those who are projecting their meaning upon the world. Right. And so and what I see in what you do is this way of doing that in a way that's almost palatable, that's super expressive. And so I'd be really interested to see what you do with, you know, is it worth it? I don't know if there's a question in there, but do you have anything to add?


Jody[00:47:35] I mean, I think that's it's like I, I feel all the the negatives, for lack of a better word, of that question. And also, ultimately, I do believe it's worth it. I believe it's worth the struggle, it's worth the risk. Whatever in whatever, whatever way in the relationship is worth it and art is worth it that people are worth it. And like, you know, our existence is is worth it. And and also, like, it's hard to not struggle with existential feelings. And so. I think my own struggle with that or share Donna's struggle with that lets other people take that in. And it's like. You know, I think I think maybe it is a sure like I think people of course we like numb out you know we numb out so much. And because of capitalism and the patriarchy, like, you know, we've turned into these machines that just numb out. You go, you do this thing and you're in the and I do feel like Sheridan is used to be like, hey, hey, hey. Like. Let me shake you out of this. And remember that we're humans and we're. We're we're just. And also, like, what are we? Who are we? Like? There's also a question. I don't know. I'm trying to figure it out, too, but I think. You know myself as Jodie. Like, I've definitely had existential questions for my whole life. It's just kind of who I've been and. And so I'm like, How is it that people aren't questioning their existence every day? I'm literally questioning my existence every day. And I know there are some people out there and there's some people that don't even think about it. They're like, I haven't thought about that and I, I don't understand that. But I think, I think it's good to question it and and to look at it and. Yeah, well, you know, I think it brings us back to those.


Britt[00:49:54] Yeah. One of the one of the insidious aspects of capitalism is the relentless pressure you referenced. And so many of us lack the capacity to ask ourselves those questions because we're working multiple jobs or living in intergenerational family households and we're just exhausted. We have COVID, we have this or that dealing with all the bigotry and the bias out there, and it's just absolutely exhausting. So in a way, it's a privilege, but I think it's also for those of us who have that privilege, a requirement. So we were recording this episode in early July of 2022 where we had several horrible things happen in the news yet again, another mass shooting in the US over the July 4th holiday. We've had another black person killed by a white police officer shot at 90 times, his body riddled with 60 bullets for a traffic violation. More information is still coming out on that, but the initial information is pretty shattering. And then, of course, with the setting aside of Roe v Wade, which sends abortion rights back to our fragmented state legislatures, which is absolutely terrifying. So that's what I meant earlier when I was talking about what the universe is craving. I wonder, for those of us who have this inclination of existential philosophizing and wondering and and and who have these artistic talents, I wonder if part of the requirement of the gift is aligning them, connecting them with meaningful social justice outlets so that we can, you know, reach people. I think Jonathan was alluding to this earlier, where we can reach people in multiple ways. We can reach them through the news, we can reach them through dinnertime conversations. And then we have this framework of art and humor, especially where we can maybe bypass some of their defenses and take them to a really sacred place where they're forced to reckon with their beliefs and all that is true in this world and sit with it for a certain amount of time, and then maybe inevitably that changes them.


Jody[00:52:08] Well now. Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think one of the things that came out of that show, which was which, which was trying to sort of make a major ethical utopia as an idea and there's failure. But one of the emails I got was a a woman who came with her husband and her two sons, and they were just like, Oh, there's a free thing at the museum. Let's go. I had no idea. And I got this beautiful email that she was so taken and, like, really understood the content. Like, it hit her and had, like, went home and she said first she picked a fight with her family and then realized why she was picking that fight. And then they they had basically a family meeting about like her experience as the mother. And in that you know, that space with raising two sons and having a husband and and I think that's what you're saying. It's like that was a surprise. Like they didn't know what they were coming to witness. And it it sort of sparked this conversation about about gender and politics that starts in the home.


Britt[00:53:23] Yeah. What are we going to do about. I mean, that's a beautiful, beautiful moment. I'm so glad they shared it with you. And sitting here wondering, like, what are we literally going to do? Like, Jonathan, I was chatting before you came on today about the, the reproductive rights activism and, and art in the US all the the myths and lies are told daily about abortion and reproductive freedom and reproductive health. And we're just sort of like flummoxed, like what are we going to do? Literally, what is going to happen, what it feels like we're under in the US anyway? It feels like we're under daily assault, moving from just careening from one outrage to the next. How can we marshal our resources and band together and start to address this stuff?


Jody[00:54:24] I know. I mean, I feel so similarly and honestly. You know, when the Roe v Wade thing came out, it was another moment where I was like, Well, who cares about being an artist? I better go like, sign up to do something else. Like, again, does it matter? Like, I don't know if what I'm doing matters. That. And even though I do make, like, political based work and. It really does. You know. Conjure those feelings of like meeting extreme extremists. And, you know, it's kind of funny because at the beginning of the like in 2019, going into the very beginning of 2020, I was making a piece for the Washington Ensemble Theater about abortion. And we basically had researched and we were working out your abortion. We were making like we had a script and we had one rehearsal. And then the pandemic shutdown happened and we were like, Well, this doesn't matter anymore. Now we're just surviving in the pandemic. And, you know, and we're like. Getting past that. And so it's just interesting to come back to like. There was problems then and it's just getting worse. You know, and I talk to Maggie, who works at Washington, Somalia, and she's like, well, we have this show. We never got to put it up. Just let's just, like, revisit it, get it up to date and, like, we can put it out. But I think it feels. Saddened. Depressing to. I was thinking about this. Where was it like in Argentina or somewhere where like when they're, you know. Rights were being taken away. Like there was just a massive a massive protest about about abortion. And they actually, like, changed it and and made it. And I was like, I don't feel like that would ever happen here. Like, I can't see that many people coming together. And I was like, Why is that? Is it because the US is so spread out or. And then I was like, or is it just because we've all been we've been taught in the US to be individuals and like we're so individual focus that coming together and with that much power is something that will never. I don't know. It's just a question I don't I don't really know.


Britt[00:56:59] But let me ask a really provocative question before Jonathan. I know consider managing to jump in for all the the the listeners in our audience who are not able to bear children because obviously it's not just women that can bear children. What would it take to us for us to express our fury, our collective fury at this decision? Why are we placing it on other people? And you know what, if all the the the non childbearing people in the world staged a walkout, a workout and just refused to go to work for a week. Until this is addressed or if we staged a march on Washington, what might then the response be? To Jody's point, instead of requiring those that are bearing the brunt of the trauma, to also bear the responsibility to lead the social justice movement, which seems like not only a double bind but just a huge slap in the face. Just kind of a rhetorical question for all of us to kind of think about and what is it going to take for us to express our collective fury and outrage?


Jonathan[00:58:13] Hmm. I mean, you know, because, you know, clearly there's something going on up here. Yeah. And I know they're like my my personal view on that is that if you are, you identify as male and you care about the people in your life who are against five female or, you know, nonbinary and childbearing then. Then you have a level of responsibility to fight for them. And also to understand your responsibility and what I see. That has been the narrative for the longest time is that it is only the child bearing persons responsibility, but also are going to take away your ability to have responsibility for your body. And and I really I really struggle with this idea that that men absolve themselves of responsibility in this situation. And. You know, if you have a penis and can ejaculate, then you are responsible. You are responsible for. The act of sex for conception and. And I just. It enrages me. And men get to. Stand up and fight for. The. Child bearing people in their life. I am I am sickened by the. The constant desire to take away bodily autonomy whilst also. Taking no responsibility. None whatsoever. I just I can't wrap my head around it. That's my take. And there's probably a lot more in there.


Britt[01:00:17] I think it's even worse. Real quick, Judy, before you chime in. I think it's even worse, Jonathan, than you paint. Like as usual, I'm the person. Yes. Like, I think it's actually that we're real happy to reap the unearned advantages of abortions as people who don't ever require them per se. With regards to our bodies, without fighting for them or incurring any cost. So we're just stealing from people's lives. And so what I mean by that is you listeners may not know that depending upon how you define the the procedure, the term abortion, abortions, abortive procedures can be used in fertility treatments like IVF or can be used in forms of contraception like IUD that benefits all of society, not just the person experiencing the treatment. So we're really happy to reap the rewards without incurring any of the costs. And that's just another way of saying that we stand with you as long as it doesn't inconvenience us in any way. Mm hmm. And that is the heartbreaking, searing truth of so many liberals in Seattle, so many Democratic politicians, something like hashtag BLM, hashtag pride. And we're not going to do anything about it. We do not want to be inconvenienced in any way. And so that's why I think Jonathan and I are challenging all of us to find ways, because unlike Jonathan, I experienced a level of rage when that decision was announced, I didn't frankly think possible. And so how we effectively harness and channel that outrage these days feels like part of being an American. And so I challenge all of us to meditate on that and hold our fury and then find constructive means of expression personally and collectively. Jody, I don't know. What are your thoughts?


Jody[01:02:07] Yeah. I mean, I really I have to like my own thoughts about it. I feel like you're right on it. I think there's a problem with responsibility, which is the same thing with racism. I feel like for white folks particularly, like, well, it doesn't affect me, you know, same with abortion. Like, well, it doesn't really affect me. So, you know, what am I going to do about it? Sort of attitude? Which goes back to my thought about like the individualism that we've been taught here. It's like it's somebody else's problem. And I think, you know, there's also like. The really heartbreaking thing about it is that all these people in power who have money, they're still going to have access. They're still going to get abortions. They're still going to have abortions in their life because they can access it and they have the money and the resources. And so it's so infuriating that it feels like a political move. You know, it's really hurting so many people of color and underprivileged people. And like that just it really does build the rage. And then also, I think. It comes back to like the the build of the patriarchy where like. You know, folks without uteruses have not been taught to understand what the fuck is going on or what it takes to be pregnant or, you know, it just reminds me of like. You know, the education around bodies and.


Britt[01:03:46] Basic biology.


Jody[01:03:47] Actually is just like biology. I see your point. What was that thing about the like the woman who was going to space for like a month and they were like, do you need just like two.


Jonathan[01:04:01] Or 300 tampons? Yeah.


Jody[01:04:04] It's like, you're fucking kidding me that those scientists don't know about periods that intensely. You know, I feel like that that filters into this, like. I don't know anything about bodies with uteruses, and I haven't been taught anything and I haven't been taught that it's okay to know anything because of the patriarchy.


Britt[01:04:27] And I can't be bothered to Google it. I'm a scientist. I'm real happy to express my ignorance and privilege publicly on behalf of an entire governmental organization. I can't even be bothered to type in a 5/2 Google query.


Jody[01:04:45] Yeah. It's it's enraging, invasive and it's really enraging and like to tangent a little bit, it reminds me like, you know, but which we already know. But the in, in the queer and drag community, you know, like all the, like the pussy jokes. That those are that's still I mean, it's getting less and less, which isn't great. But I mean, I just I went to a show of this, you know, really amazing queer, progressive, sort of drag, whatever artist. I'm not going to say who it is, but who made a joke, who made it quick off the cuff like joke about curses that was derogatory. And like I was there watching everybody who I considered most liberal queer community laugh. And I was so annoyed by it. And I also know that sometimes those things slip through and you're on stage and you're like, Oh, shit, I said that and I shouldn't have said that. I get that. So I'm not like, I'm no one to like, cancel. But it was just it was very hurt. It was like heartbreaking to me. And then I got in an argument with somebody at the show. It was like an adjacent friend where, you know, we were like, Oh, how's, you know, you're enjoying the show? And I was like, Yeah. I was like, Well, that one joke was like, unfortunate, but other than that, I'm really that's all he said. The one joke was unfortunate, but I'm really enjoying the rest of the show and I love this all the. And like this person. You know, who identifies as a man. But, you know, a queer man was like really, really got on me about it and was like, God, like, I was just like, so, like, oh, you're so sensitive. And, you know, they didn't mean it that way. And I'm like, Hold the phone here, like. First of all, they did mean it in a derogatory way. And second of all, like. I'm the one with the vagina. So, like. I just. It was so. It's just heartbreaking that it's like even in our communities we're still dealing with.


Britt[01:07:03] Gina's are always up for debate and discussion and it's just ridiculous. It's like we don't need to hear any more hot takes on vaginas. It's like, we got it. We're good.


Jonathan[01:07:14] You know?


Britt[01:07:15] It's it's, you know, it's like we're done, you know, the other the other kind of predictable conversation I found and raging about abortion is trauma centricity. So what I mean by that is the mainstream media, for all sorts of reasons, tend to frame abortion conversations around outlandishly traumatic events, like one that was in the news recently with a ten year old being raped and impregnated, which is horrific and horrible and needs to be dealt with. But the truth is, most people seeking abortions are married, heterosexual, straight women who have children already. And the truth is, if you believe in reproductive freedom, you believe probably in all of it. And abortion is health care and it shouldn't have to be steeped in trauma to gain our empathy, care and concern. And when we frame conversations in that way, we inadvertently, at best, marginalize all the important, healthy choices that people are making every day out of us for all sorts of reasons that are, frankly, none of our business. And it kind of creates this ongoing culture of trauma porn where we're, you know, kind of racing to the bottom for shock value and clickbait because we think maybe we can win some people over on the other side. But inadvertently, we're casting aside a whole swaths of the community. It's just absolutely enraging.


Jody[01:08:43] It's really hard. And I think the thing that I run into too is like, you know, in this discussion of how politically we're getting so polarized between like the right and the left and how we need to listen to each other more or have more conversations. And that's the thing I run into with that is that I think like with some of these issues, they're just wrong. And so how do you. Like I really, you know, because somebody my mom and I talk about this where it's like, yeah, but when you're talking to that other person who's very anti-choice and they're like, I'm right, you're wrong. Then it's like, well, we both could like. You know, how do you decide who actually is? But I'm like, no, but they really are wrong. Like, actually, like people having body autonomy and all that is actually the correct thing. And so it's like, I don't even know how to, how to. Come together on this or if it's just a. A generational shift. Like, is this anti-choice folks more part of the older guard are like, well, will it just be like more people are going to be pro-choice and eventually, like, you know what I mean? I'm just like, I don't really understand how to change anybody who is so anti-choice. Like, in my mind, I'm like, they're not going to change. Like, really? Like, a conversation with me about abortion is not really going to change their mind. Probably not. I don't know what would unless that person needed an abortion like it was their personal experience. And they're like, Oh, shoot. I got pregnant and I don't actually want to have this child. So I think that comes up for me or I'm just like, how are we going to just we were saying before, like, how are we going to do this? How is this going to happen?


Jonathan[01:10:51] I think the reality is that, you know, if you really look at stats, the the the minority are actually those people that they speak the loudest. They put people in positions of power, etc.. And so we end up in a position where they are gaming the system in their favor. And so really, the only way that we win is not actually through that kind of one on one discourse, but it is through doing what you're doing, which is creating art that shows people a different way of seeing things, but also to be able to vote. And and unfortunately, a left leaning folk often say in the land of apathy quite a lot of the time. And I'm as active and do sit on their laurels a lot of the time. So I think really the answer is yes. In doing that, unfortunately, we've lost Brett. And it looks like he's Internets going out. So I think what we'll do is we'll wrap up there. So thank you so much for joining us today. Jodi, it's been an absolute pleasure. What we'll do is we'll make sure that all of the links to you are done in the show notes. If there are any particular ways people can get in touch with you specifically that you'd like to share with us now, now is the time to do it.


Jody[01:12:25] I mean, really, I mean, my Instagram, that's where I post all my show stuff, which is does shirt on like astronaut astronaut draw and. And yeah, there's a, there's email on my website if you know, you want to chat more about that. Yeah. It's it's been so great to be here.


Jonathan[01:12:48] Yes. Absolute pleasure. And yes, as it always says, if you've listen this far, congratulations on making it through another Not Going Quietly episode. It's been a pleasure having you and and we'll see you in the next one. Thank you so much.


Britt[01:13:08] You've been listening to. Not Going Quietly with co-hosts Jonathan Beale and Brett East.


Jonathan[01:13:14] Thanks so much for joining us on this wild ride. As we explore ways to help everyone leap into life with a greater sense of clarity, passion, purpose and joy.


Britt[01:13:22] Check out our show notes for links, additional information and episodes located on your favorite podcast platform.

Jody KuehnerProfile Photo

Jody Kuehner

Dance Artist, Director, Drag Queen

Jody Kuehner aka Cherdonna Shinatra uses dance, drag, theater, comedy, camp, pop culture, feminist traditions, absurdity and subversive commentary to make art. Eighteen years ago, Jody landed in Seattle where she fell in love with its rowdy, postmodern dance culture. She devoured everything experimental and improvisational, and fell in love with her own queerness. In doing so, Jody created Cherdonna Shinatra as a persona and character to question herself and explore the world from a uniquely queer perspective. Cherdonna’s innocent and child-like personality spreads the love we need to become a better society, but at the same time exposes all the fucked up ways we treat each other. By examining the polarity and proximity of joy and sadness, excitement and fear, and the idea you can love something so much you can hurt it—together with her cartoon-drag meets David Lynch aesthetic—her work as Cherdonna acts as a vehicle for social change, political action, and radical commentary.