PuSh Blog

Cynthia Hopkins: the artist’s artist – A Curatorial Statement by Norman Armour

February 04, 2016

A Living Documentary, Cynthia Hopkins, 2016 PuSh Festival
Photo: Ian Douglas

Cynthia Hopkins.

Now I know that Taylor Mac feels, with the utmost conviction, that comparisons are murder; but screw it.

Cynthia Hopkins is a cross between Tracy Ullman and Catherine O’Hara. And she sings like Gillian Welch. Listen for yourself.

She is an artist’s artist. She is a performer’s performer, a comic’s comic. She is the cat’s meow. She is dindangity – as our dear friend and colleague Lane Czaplinski might say.

But I will leave it to the ever-articulate writer Claudia La Rocco to lay it all out for you. By the way, Lane is artistic director of Seattle’s On the Boards, where Claudia is a writer in residence. And Cynthia has performed at On the Boards. Dindangity!

A Living Documentary,” Cynthia Hopkins’s new one-woman show at New York Live Arts, is small-scale and stripped down, with a barely-there set and minimal technical accouterments. It’s a departure from some of her recent, more involved productions; Ms. Hopkins’ s name is the only one in the program.

But the musical performance artist is not quite the only person present. Employing efficient, onstage changes of costume, makeup and wig, Ms. Hopkins cycles through several characters of varied age and gender (this being Ms. Hopkins, however, they all sing). Yet she also undermines her creations, so that the line between autobiography and fiction remains ambiguous. Her storytelling persona is folksy and sincere: factual is another matter.

This slippery approach is one strategy for dealing with the intractable issue at hand in A Living Documentary: how to do the work one wants, while also earning a living. Or, to put it more bluntly, as Ms. Hopkins does at one point, “If you run a nonprofit theater company, Jesus, Mary and Joseph help you.”

Ms. Hopkins was preaching to the choir on Thursday night. Her audience contained many New York artists who are all too well acquainted with the terribly underfunded world of noncommercial theater, in which performers and creators tend to subsidize the whole shebang, working for little or no pay. Dark laughter accompanied one of Ms. Hopkins’s best segments of the night, a motivational speaker who drew salty, sharp distinctions between the money available to build fancy theater lobbies and the scarcity of resources dedicated to supporting the artists who draw audiences through those lobbies.

A Living Documentary doesn’t really offer solutions (though it does smartly advocate doing less). But as theater it ultimately offers something more satisfying and complicated: a series of overlapping and sometimes contradictory impulses and desires around the making of art, laced with bracing reminders of the true costs involved in these quixotic pursuits.

There! You now have your marching orders. See you all Friday, February 5 at Club PuSh at The Fox Cabaret. 8pm!


Norman Armour
Executive and Artistic Director

See Cynthia Hopkins in A Living Documentary live on stage on February 5, 2016. Book tickets on your PuSh Pass, Youth Passport or as single tickets online.