I first interviewed Karen Finley in 2014 when her show Written in Sand made it's NYC debut. I was so inspired by that interview that when this new opportunity came to interview her, I jumped at it.
Her new show Karen Finley: Unicorn Gratitude Mystery, will be debuting at The Laurie Beechman Theatre this summer! In UNICORN, Karen humorously explores America's obsession with the imagined, unattainable white-horned mythical creature. Armed with a healthy does of cynicism, GRATITUDE finds Karen obsessing on the narcissistic tendencies that fuel contemporary gentrification. And with MYSTERY, Karen dives deep into the language, emotion, and the loss of control that can happen when we give in to our fear of the unknown.
In this interview Karen and I dive deep into the creation of this show talking about Karen's interest in unicorns, what she is grateful for, and which of life's mysteries she thinks about the most. We also discuss her fears, what she still wants to accomplish, and how she would like to improve her life by one percent better!
Karen Finley: Unicorn Gratitude Mystery will play The Laurie Beechman Theatre (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, inside the West Bank Cafe) from July 31-August 21! Click here for tickets!
1. It's great getting to talk to you again Karen. You're new show, Karen Finley: Unicorn Gratitude Mystery, will be premiering at The Laurie Beechman Theatre from July 31-August 21. What are you looking forward to about performing this new show? How did you come up with the title? It is great speaking to you too Adam. There are so many reasons why I am looking forward to the performance. First, personally, I love performing and I love the Laurie Beechman Theater - and look forward to the physical intimacy of performing before a live audience being able to have a cocktail!. Secondly – the material – there will be humor, politics, and hopefully moments of profoundness. The performance has 3 sections – and each section deals with a topic - Unicorn – which is an exploration of the mythical attainment of the isolated white magical beast as a metaphor. Gratitude – explores the despair, the condescension of liberal white power, the aggressiveness of gratitude, thankfulness, forgiveness and the privilege of appreciation. The Mystery section explores the preoccupation of unknown events – trauma – such as flight 360 that vanished, the fear of the unknown. And the blues, depression that accompanies the not knowing. It is still in development….
2. According press notes, this show is divided into three sections. In Unicorn, you humorously explores America's obsession with the imagined, unattainable white-horned mythical creature. Why are you fascinated with unicorns? What do they represent to you? I have been interested in unicorns – for sometime since a child, probably since seeing the famous Cloister medieval tapestry with the gated unicorn. But what I am interested in – is the symbol – or the replacement – and the interest of the unicorn by the unconscious - and what that means. I think that the white, mythical creature – with the phallus on it’s head – a dick coming out of it’s brain – and that the imagination - circulated only in whiteness mythology. The unicorn is always alone…
3. In Gratitude, you talk about the narcissistic tendencies that fuel contemporary gentrification. Do you find any gratitude in society's obsession with each individuals narcissism? What are you most grateful for today? It is more that narcissistic tendencies but a narcissistic prevalent culture that disguises its exclusivity and elitism by the purchasing power of coconut water and the yoga mat yet the aggressiveness seen in the aisles of Whole Foods. Yet, I go deeper with the masochism in apologies – that can be ever so gendered.
4. In Mystery, you dive deep into the language, emotion, and the loss of control that can happen when we give in to our fear of the unknown. When was there a time in your life that you lost control? How did you find your way out? Thank you for taking the topic seriously – for yes, mystery – the mystery in life, in death is a space of not knowing. Mystery for me is to allow a designated space or time to knowing the not knowing – and the mystery that surrounds the situation. Allowing mystery without knowing rather in the literary genre the crime or mystery is solved. For me mystery serves both a spiritual and psychic function. Once I stopped searching – but allowed mystery a presence in my life was able to feel or accept blueness, depth, and beyond.
5. What is one of life's mysteries you think about the most? There are so many different ways to answer that – whether in my personal life- society – and larger questions of the universe – but somehow there are questions – or events that answers are never given – and for me the part is to try and not to obsess about or wait for an answer but to be present and to have a connection to humanity regardless.
7. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? That is a lovely part of your column - I would think of it as in one step on a staircase – How can I transform my pain into compassion?
8. What is something about Karen Finley that most people don't know? That I am an introvert.
9. What haven't you accomplished that you would still like to? I would like to host my own talk show.
10. If you could star in a film or TV show that was a mystery, centered around a unicorn or featured one, and made you feel grateful, which films or TV shows would have liked to be in? LOL - hahaha. The Golden Girls where ("Rose") Betty White, buys a cute Unicorn in the winodw of a Romantic Depot - shows it to "Blanche," "Dorothy," and "Sophia" and it turns out to be a unicorn sex toy. Mystery solved! And boy, were they grateful!
Since her first performances in the early 1980's, Karen Finley has become synonymous with performance art. A performer, artist, writer, musician, poet, teacher and lecturer, she is the recipient of two Obies, two Bessies, and multiple grants from the NEA and NYSCA. She has toured internationally with pieces including Make Love, George & Martha, The Jackie Look, The American Chestnut, A Certain Level of Denial and The Return of The Chocolate Smeared Woman and Written in the Sand. In 1990, Karen became an unwilling symbol for the NEA when she, along with Tim Miller, Holly Hughes & John Fleck, sued the NEA for withdrawing grants on the grounds of indecency; the controversial case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Among Karen's books include Shock Treatment, Enough Is Enough: Weekly Meditations for Living Dysfunctionally, the Martha Stewart satire Living It Up: Humorous Adventures in Hyperdomesticity, Pooh Unplugged, and A Different Kind of Intimacy.