Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Ryan Green Interview
Ms. Green Sings the Blues
By: CHRISTOPHER MURRAY
Bringing order by day, Ryan Green offers mournful tunes by night.
"Ms. Green - Assisted Suicide"
258 Bowery, btwn. Houston & Prince Sts., 2nd fl.
Jul. 15, 22 & 29 at 8 p.m.
$15; $12 for students, seniors
dixonplace.org or 212-219-0736
By day, Ryan Green sits behind that queer spacepod of an elevated desk just inside the front door of the LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street. There he oversees a staff who welcome more than 5,000 Center users each week, a responsibility that includes the Herculean task of keeping the place safe for everyone. That might mean smoothing ruffled feathers, calming frayed nerves, talking down a drama queen, setting some limits, and occasionally even calling an ambulance.
When he found out his son's job description, Green's dad, an undercover drug cop in Cincinnati, said, in mock shock, "You're in charge of cupcake security!" Thank God someone is.
By night, Green, 28, is an up and coming gender-indifferent chanteuse of the Justin Bond school. His new show, "Ms. Green - Assisted Suicide," runs Tuesday nights in July at Dixon Place as part of the queer HOT! Festival, where he is artist-in-residence for the summer. The show, a series of songs and monologues musing on mortality, emerged largely in response to his father's death from cancer in December.
Ryan has made a name for himself singing moody and sometimes mournful bossa nova numbers - including a Brazilian version of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Trust me, it's brilliant. In order to master the form, he learned to play the guitar, the pandeiro (a type of Brazilian tambourine), and to speak Portuguese. He recently released a bossa nova CD, "Tive Razao" ("I Was Right"), with guitarist Scott Anderson, available on iTunes.
CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: What's the show at Dixon Place about and why does it have such a cheery title?
RYAN GREEN: It's about being alive and the problems that arise as a result. It's about surviving bad things that happen. The title is cheery, isn't it? Well, I think everyone has thought about killing themselves at one point or another. Or thought about asking someone else to kill them. I think it's all part of human nature. And I really feel like none of this would be happening were it not for my director, Michael Cherry, who has, in the words of the Divine Miss M, "taken chicken shit and turned it into chicken salad."
CM: What special privileges come with being the Dixon Place Hot! Festival's artist-in-residence? Do you get free popcorn or anything?
RG: I think just free cold cream.
CM: Who else is in the festival that people should know about?
RG: Well, there's so many great people. There's [monologist] Laryssa Husiak, who is just so good. And there's [operatic sexpot singer] Joseph Keckler and his pal [writer] Erin Markey. [Kiki & Herb's] Kenny Mellman and [Liverpudlian cross dressing stripper] LaJohn Joseph. And, of course, the amazing [dancer/choreographer] Rose Calucchia, who also works at the LGBT Center with me.
CM: Where did your interest in Brazilian music singing in Portuguese come from?
RG: Well, I was working at this restaurant in the West Village while taking French lessons from a Parisian in East Harlem. One day while waiting tables, I overheard some women speaking the most beautiful language I'd ever heard. It turned out they were from Brazil speaking Portuguese. It was in that moment that I said, "The hell with French."
CM: Are you Latino? How do you manage all your identities? Which ones take precedence?
RG: I am not Latino. I'm actually a half-breed. Half white and half black. Just a mulatto girl really. You know, like Mariah Carey. People always ask me if I felt like I had to choose. I didn't. I just was what I was. But when I think about, you know, childhood trauma, I think about being called a fag and all of that - walking the hallways of my middle school - my eighth grade social studies teacher, Mr. Zimmerman, a white man with a jerry curl, making fun of me in front of the entire class. That kind of abuse sort of overshadowed everything else. The bi-racial stuff was more of a side issue.
CM: Do you consider yourself to be working in any specific gay performance tradition?
RG: I would consider what I'm working on as sort of progressive gay cabaret. Storytelling and song singing.
CM: What songs make you weep at home alone at 3 a.m.?
RG: Oh God. Well, when my aunt died in 2000, I would just sit in front of the television in my dorm room and watch Bette Midler sing "Stay With Me" from "Divine Madness," over and over and over and just cry and cry. It was all very gay. Also, when Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman do "Moments of Pleasure," that really gets me.
CM: So running the front desk at the LGBT Center - that must be trippy. How do you wrangle and intimidate everyone from Larry Kramer on a rampage to dozens of homeless drag queens every day?
RG: Intimidate! I love that. Well, it's a wonderful job. I love the people I work with. The girls of the front desk are a special lot. I'm very proud to be a part of the Center and I really do feel like I help people.
CM: From your vantage point as the welcome wagon lady for the gay community, how are the homos changing these days? Are we getting better or worse?
RG: Oooh, what a question. Well, I think lesbians have always had their shit together more than us faggots. I think we're a real mess. I can't believe how internally homophobic we are with each other. Its like, the lesbians have, at least from my perception, this openness and acceptance of butch/ femme identities - but the faggots all want to be "straight acting" which is such a screwed up term and I can't believe people use it as a compliment. It's like the N-word to me. I don't get it. I think we need a faggot revolution where femme faggots, off stage, are valued as much as the butch ones. Am I right? I mean the Center has a lesbian group called "Butch Femme Society." Would gay men ever have a group like this? Well, why the hell not?
CM: You used to wear a big droopy, funereal purple silk flower in your lapel at the front desk. Why, and where is it now?
RG: It's actually navy blue with purple accents. It's in a drawer under my vanity. I wore it to draw attention to my chest area. I think I have a nice breastbone. But then I started to notice that every time someone showed me a picture from a work thing, or a night out, I had that goddamn flower on. I thought, "Lady, it's time to move on." It was really heavy anyway. Plus, it always caused such a scandal with the girls on the A train every morning. Especially when I wore it with my Daisy Dukes.
CM: What's the new musical frontier for Ms. Green?
RG: I'm very into world music: bossa nova, French chanson, and now fado, this really depressing Portuguese music. The word fado means fate - "the inexorable destiny that nothing can change." The fado singers, know as fadistas, are backed by two guitarists. They wear black shawls and sing about death and loss. I had my first fado gig last weekend on the day of the Gay Pride Parade. I thought it was a wonderful idea. I mean, come on, suicidal Portuguese music sung by a homosexual in an Italian restaurant. What better way to spend Gay Sunday?