‘Gay Henry’ is a heterosexual millennial drag queen in Guerneville, a small town in rural northern California still populated by descendants of loggers. Gay Henry is especially unusual in this old frontier town; a family friend describes him as an “absurdly talented kid.” In this picture, Gay Henry, whose real name is Guy Henry, is rehearsing and putting on makeup in his living room.
Gay Henry is the performance moniker of Guy Henry Mueller, who grew up in Santa Rosa and has since relocated to Minnesota. After playing in bands for years, the format grew stale for Mueller, and casual experiments with sound collage quickly blossomed into full on performance art, where, clad in full drag and immaculate makeup, he delivers seemingly perfectly synchronized renditions of his patchwork sample collection. This past January he returned to the Bay for the opening reception of V. Vale’s Terminal Punk, where he strung together 20 minutes of disjointed audio that touched on the looming anxieties of the new year, among other topics.
The piece was delivered with such conviction, and mimed so closely, that even the abrupt changes in audio and voice quality seemed to still emanate from Mueller himself, who stood atop a small stage, clad in a floral romper and stringy yellow wig, his face matte with powder and illuminated from below by a work light. Near the end of the performance, he clutches a mirror, his back to the audience and his face contorting in its reflection. We caught up over email several weeks later to discuss the process behind creating these audio collages and preparing to perform them.
TBB: How would you describe the Gay Henry character?
GH: Gay Henry was the slur I was teased with in elementary school, so I think Gay Henry is the personification of my inner self, the person people didn’t or don’t understand. It is a hyper extension of Guy Henry. Gay Henry is the adult version of the cross dressing kid I’ve always been, the insecure, anxious, nervous ticking, ever changing freak I always long to be.
TBB: Do you put together a new performance every time you perform live?
GH: I try to refrain from repeating the same performance in the same space to the same people. When I make a new piece, I usually will do a run of the piece within a block of time, let the piece have its moment, then move on.
TBB: How do you decide on what the new piece will be about, and does each piece have a central theme?
There are general themes to each piece. The themes of the shows have been evolving. When I first started, the shows were much more light-hearted, not really thought-out, and more of a stream of consciousness. Over time, the work has become much more personal, which has made a theme more available to grasp on to, not only for myself but for the audience as well. There is still an element of the stream of consciousness, which is just a part of the medium at this point, but a lot of the focus has become about my own inner dialogue, my anxiety, fear and manic glee. People always say that everything has been done, that there is no originality anymore. I think the most authentic original content that exists is your own story. If you create space to tell your story, people will show up with their stories too, which can lead to an unspoken dialogue between the performer and the audience. I’ve been trying to explore the idea of being alone in the world, truly alone, in the way that we are when we die and when we are born. When you have a moment of silence, you are alone with only you and your thoughts. What does your mind say when you try and let silence be the waking force? I’ve been exploring these ideas in therapy and in practicing mindfulness and it has been inspiring to try and apply those ideas to the work.
TBB: What’s the process of getting together audio like for you?
GH: The process of collecting audio is always changing. A lot of the time I will hear audio in passing or on the radio or TV and wish I had a way of capturing that, and sometimes I can track it down online, but for the most part I just try and remember the essence or idea that I found funny or poignant. A lot of the time I will search out specific ideas or phrases and see what kind of audio I can find from those particular search phrases and then that will lead to finding something else which I end up using. If I have a visceral response when I am listening, that is always a sign that it’s something to pay attention to. I try and stay in touch with how my body reacts to the audio, often leading to editing down or adding to the piece.
TBB: How do you practice for your sets?
GH: When I have solidified a piece, I will listen to it obsessively while I do my everyday activities. I will practice in the car, on a walk, in my room, in the shower. I just listen to it until it becomes like a long song, then I will memorize it as if it’s music. When I was in California in January, I found myself alone at my favorite beach. I got naked, put on headphones and rehearsed and performed to the ocean for three hours. When I lived in California, I rode the bus everywhere and I would just rehearse with headphones, looking completely nuts mouthing the show.
Check out his January performance in Oakland below, and catch his rare Bay appearance this weekend in the small town of Leggett, where he’ll be joining artists like Shannon and the Clams, the Seshen, Cosmonauts, and more for Hickey Fest. For more on Gay Henry, check out this interview where he examines some of the reactions he’s received as a heterosexual man performing in drag, and his take on the genre.
June 17, 2017
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