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Bridget Barkan Loves You
October 16, 2017
Bridget Barkan

Bridget Barkan bridges many disciplines: house music, acoustic guitar, slam poetry, dance. She has performed with Scissor Sisters, worked as a teaching artist, and been called “the secret child of Cindy Sherman and John Waters, raised by the ghost of Janis Joplin.” Here, she speaks with A.R.T. Editor & Assistant Dramaturg Robert Duffley about her new show, Dear Stranger, I Love You, playing at OBERON on November 16 as part of the GLOWBERON series.

How would you describe Dear Stranger, I Love You to someone who might be a stranger to your work?

Creating the show has been a layered experience for me—it’s always new and changing. A quick backstory: my first show was called The Love Junkie, and it was about my experience going to a 12-step program. From that experience, I started to look at the world around me: my struggles were the “micro” to a “macro.” The disconnections I was feeling in my dating life felt like part of a larger disconnection from real transparency and deeper connection with each other.

Through my journey, I wanted to keep extending myself as an artist to the world around me, to the different people that I meet. And I see the concept of this show as trying to share the lessons that I have learned: to create a heightened reality where we can listen to each other, where we can see strangers on the street and think, “Maybe that person has a piece of gold to offer me. And maybe I have a piece of gold to offer them.” And we start to see each other as this beautiful web, this tapestry of souls.

What role does music play in those efforts to connect with one another?

For me, music plays the role of the parable. Music is how we have taught one another, how we have passed on knowledge. I think that every person has a legend in their life—and if I can find the way to a song that honors that myth, that’s where I find the most joy.

All of the music in the show is original. Before a show, I go out to the streets, and I meet strangers, and I talk to them about their lives, and I listen to their stories, and I ask them if they maybe want to write a song about what they’ve been through, or just share something that they’ve learned. I meet strangers all the time who offer new stories and inspire new songs, so this show is always shifting—like life. I’m always learning something new about the piece.

It’s interesting to consider the one-person show as an expansive genre—one that’s not necessarily facing inward, but reaching outward.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between art that is selfish and selfless. One-person shows can be very hyper-personal, very “look at all the things I can do.” Creatively, I started very inward-facing. But I was talking so much about my sex life, and my love life onstage—I was getting sick of myself. We’re so self-obsessed that we can get lost in ourselves. But once you get out of yourself, you are open to the energies around you. And that openness is very spiritual for me.

I really feel that artists are healers, and that’s where the expansiveness comes in: I’m not claiming that I know more than anyone, but if I share my truth, then we can share each other’s truth, and we can find healing in that together. Taylor Mac is one of the most challenging inspirations to me right now because of how expansive he is. That’s the kind of art that I’m interested in: going beyond my own personal inventory to find the universal in the personal.

Speaking of inspiration, you’ve been described as “the secret child of Cindy Sherman and John Waters.” What was that childhood like?

Very confusing at times. In the show, I’m really trying to see and accept this chameleon aspect of myself—which I’ve often struggled with. My whole life I’ve been playing different characters, sometimes without realizing it. But in my work as a teaching artist, and in volunteer work, I’ve learned that I can use this mirroring gift to see people and help them feel comfortable.

What techniques or ideas from those artists inspire this piece?

Well, I definitely don’t hold my tongue. I might hold yours. And I definitely transform. I’m a sponge in the way that Cindy Sherman can be. As an artist, I operate by picking up people’s energy; I feel like a mirror. And while Cindy Sherman is very visual, I work more tonally—there’s an element of transformation in my voice. I’m a very eclectic performer.

What would like OBERON audiences to bring with them to your show?

I would say their open mind, their open hearts, and all their brokenness. Bring all the pieces, and hopefully together, we can piece some of them back together in the moment. I’m always asking how I can involve the audience more, how I can make the show an experience for all of us. Some of my own personal journey definitely lives within the show, but there are also moments for people to be really involved and to claim their power back. It’s a church for the broken-hearted.

It sounds like a shared journey. 

That’s what I hope. That’s definitely a goal of mine: to kind of strip away the ego to get to the heart. 

Interview by Robert Duffley, with research contributed by Zoë Aiko Sonnenberg.

Publication date:
October 16, 2017
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