Performance artist Neal Medlyn discusses the celebrity public persona, growing up Pentacostal, and his new performance King, running through October 26 at The Kitchen.
Performance artist Neal Medlyn’s King, running through October 26 at The Kitchen, is the seventh and final installment of an eight-year series of shows in which he performs as pop culture icons including Lionel Richie, Prince, Britney Spears and the Insane Clown Posse. This one focuses on Michael Jackson. The show, in which Medlyn covers hit songs and tells stories, is accompanied by an installation of relics of previous shows in the theater during the day. Medlyn also now raps under the name Champagne Jerry.
Rosa Goldensohn Is this series an exploration of the idea of celebrity or is it an expression of your own stuff?
Neil Medlyn It’s expressing my own stuff, which has always been about performance. I’m interested in performance-related things, a lot of them being the things that pop stars do. Like there’s a part in every big pop concert where they suddenly stop in the middle of a well-known song and people applaud. A few seconds later, they don’t start the song again, they just stay silent. Then the 20,000 people there realize that they’re literally all in the same room and then they start to cheer even louder.
Taylor Swift stops and stands there for a second and then when people realize, Oh wait, this is really happening! she starts acting like she can’t do it… like she’s sort of overwhelmed by the cheering, by all those people reacting to her en masse. She stopped doing it, actually, because people caught on after a while. That kind of stuff can only happen with celebrities, in a way. Those performance ideas are awesome, I think.
RG And I guess the question is whether the audience is seeing “the real you,” when you’re performing.
NM Right, that’s been a big thing in the series. I was gravitating toward all these stars that had this thing about, “No, but this isn’t who I really am,” or “No, that wasn’t who I am, now I’m this person.” Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus was super-explicit about that being her thing. With Britney Spears it became very clear that what was going on with her emotionally was different from what she was doing on stage. And Prince realized that this bad part of himself called Camille had been responsible for all these dirty, nasty songs.