Going to Come Back

I’ve been traveling over mountains
Even through the valleys, too
I’ve been traveling night and day
I’ve been running all the way
Baby, tryin’ to get to you.

There’s a moment in The Ted Bundy Project when I casually introduce the show. I look audience members in the eye and smile at them, trying to reassure them and to make them feel safe.

Only, the atmosphere is uncomfortable because this ‘introduction’ happens near the end of the show, I have put a pair of tights over my face and I’m repeating word-for-word, beat-for-beat the introduction I gave at the top of the show. The first time it felt real. People giggled and relaxed. The second time it feels fake. People avert their eyes and shift uncomfortably. Even though it was a lesser-commented-on moment of the show, for me it was a real theatrical moment in the most interesting sense; a moment when the ‘real’ and the rehearsed collide in a way that actually changes the air in the room. The very twiceness of the moment trips it into the realm of the peculiar.

Ever since I read your letter
Where you said you loved me true
I’ve been traveling night and day
I’ve been running all the way
Baby, tryin’ to get to you

It’s this idea of the redone, the repeated, the rehearsed, that sent me into a reenactment of Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special. When I was making The Ted Bundy Project, I felt like I was constantly looking for ways to do something ‘real’; to reach for ‘authenticity’ onstage. I can’t not put those words in quotes now because of the serious doubts I have of their stability. Somehow the quotes give the words a plural meaning. In reaching for ‘realness’ in making the performance, I found the sense of ‘realness’ was, indeed, always in quotes. The theatrical context itself meant that there were always other things going on far aside from any singular straightforward action.

Ever since I read your letter
Where you said you loved me true
I’ve been traveling night and day
I’ve been running all the way
Baby, tryin’ to get to you

greg3115 rit

With Comeback Special, I’m interested in all the other things going on aside from the ‘real’, and I’m interested in holding all those things at once. In a reenactment of the ’68 Comeback Special, I move my hips as if I were Elvis. The audience members look at my hips moving as if they were members of the 1968 audience. But also, I’m actually moving my hips, and the audience here and now is actually looking at them. In constantly trying to hold those ideas at once, we are nudged off both of them and fall into the gap between.

I’m most interested in this in-between space. The space where things become inverted, we can’t pin anything down and it’s beside the point to try. But it doesn’t mean we stop the motion of reaching.

When I read your loving letter
Then my heart began to sing
There were many miles between us,
But they didn’t mean a thing.

I just had to reach you, baby,
In spite of all that I’ve been through.
I kept traveling night and day,
I kept running all the way,
Baby, tryin’ to get to you.

To me, it feels both radical and nonsensical to try to arrive at a place of in-transit. While it might not necessarily be detectable in the finished performance (it’s a piece of art, after all—not a book report), one of the most influential pieces of text in making this show has been a short bit of writing called Queer Masculinities of Straight Men by Robert Heasley. I have had a growing and shifting relationship with this text since I first came across it about two years ago, but there is one thought of Heasley’s that I love, and the way he articulates it still fires me up:

“‘Traditional males,’ on the one hand, are the ones society understands; even if there are problems associated with the image, there is acceptance and legitimacy accorded to the typicalness of his presentation. The ‘nontraditional’ male presents an unknown, unfamiliar package; even if qualities the male exhibits are desirable, his difference demands justification, explanation. Being ‘non’ means ‘not having.’ Applied to gender and sexuality, the implications are profound. The very labeling of a person as the absence of something (such as labeling women as ‘nonmen’) reifies the dominant group while subjugating the subordinate. ‘Non’ erases. And in the process, it problematizes other. There is no place for awareness of self in relation to what is. He becomes the deviant, he is isolated… ‘Non’ has no history, no literature, no power, no community. ‘Non’ requires an invention of self.”

greg3023 rit

Comeback Special is a lot of things, but it is not an ‘issue piece’. One of the things it is, though, is an attempt to invert the ‘non-‘; to fill the negative space with invention of the in-between; between past and future, between me and you, between where we’ve come from and where we’re going. And to make the in-between space a place to live—however slippery, chaotic, confusing and plural. I want us to lean into the double negative. The language of possibility. It’s not the original Comeback Special. But it’s not not.

Because to pretend that any of us is ever experiencing a singular time, present in a singular place or holding a singular identity, unaffected by echoes of everything that came before and hopes for what will come after? That just isn’t real.

Well if I had to do it over
That’s exactly what I’d do,
I would travel night and day,
And I’d still run all the way,
Baby, tryin’ to get to you.

Tryin’ to Get to You
by Rose-Marie McCoy and Charles Singleton
performed by Elvis Presley in the ’68 Comeback Special

Comeback Special premieres at Shoreditch Town Hall 22-26 March, followed by tour dates on 10th May at South Street Arts Centre in Reading, 12th and 13th May at Mayfest in Bristol and 15th May at Brighton Festival/Caravan Showcase.

Photos by Manuel Vason

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