Meet the 'toxically defensive uber-Karen' embodied by artist Alexis O'Hara in this wild performance
The massive, unwieldy subject of white privilege heads into the woods in this clip from Queer Pride Inside
CBC Arts Presents Queer Pride Inside: A Buddies in Bad Times Cabaret was a virtual cabaret featuring over a dozen LGBTQ Canadian artists that CBC Arts produced in partnership with Buddies in Bad Times this past June in celebration of Pride Month. Over the course of the summer, we'll be highlighting some of the individual performances that were included in the cabaret.
Alexis O'Hara is a remarkably talented self-described "undisciplined artist" who has always strayed from the norm. And that was certainly clear in her wildly engaging performance in our recent special CBC Arts Presents Queer Pride Inside: A Buddies in Bad Times Cabaret. Entitled "OUFF," the work was adapted from for her first full-length solo performance of the same name, which premiered in 2019 and was set to start touring in late 2020 — until you-know-what happened.
As is very clear in "OUFF," O'Hara turned her focus to the massive, unwieldy subject of white privilege. She embodies various facets of white womanhood: "attention-seeking princess, self-involved mother, aging rich lady clinging desperately to a claim on dominant beauty standards, toxically defensive uber-Karen." In the climax of the performance, a giant inflatable creature — "the elephant in the room that is white supremacy," O'Hara describes — takes over the virtual stage, situating herself in the midst of the discomfort of reckoning.
"The process of creating this show took several years and a lot of research," O'Hara says. "In hindsight, I admit that early iterations of the work demonstrate a great deal of hubris. Like, I had read the book White Fragility but I hadn't stopped living my own white fragility. I still haven't! Unlearning racism is a life-long project. But I had gotten to a point where I felt like 'OUFF' the show was finished in a way that so much of my work never does get finished. I'm primarily an improv performer! So of course it was upsetting to have my 2020 (2021?) touring plans evaporate. So it was great to have the opportunity to make a four-minute excerpt video for Queer Pride Inside."
O'Hara and her partner Atom Cianfarani (who made all the sets and costumes for "OUFF") had fled Montreal in early April for a house in the Laurentians.
"So of course I had to send up the whole notion of cottagers and the inherited wealth of land ownership in general," O'Hara says. "My process as an activist artist has always involved a lot of self-deprecation. I feel like if I can identify and satirize my own normative conditioning, I can hopefully help others undo their own hang-ups. Despite my decades of obscurity, I still feel very idealistic about the goal of my art. I've always had a talent for making people uncomfortable with my performances; within the context of acknowledging the sins of whiteness, that discomfort finally has purpose."
O'Hara has notably also released four albums and published a book of poetry, and her drag king alter-ego, Guizo LaNuit, has been a mainstay of the cabaret scene in Montreal for years (and was featured on CBC Arts docuseries Canada's a Drag). Learn more about her work here.
See CBC Arts Presents Queer Pride Inside: A Buddies in Bad Times Cabaret in its entirety on CBC Gem.