House shows.

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…”

-Some guy

We’re doing a show in houses. It’s a show about life, family, home, dying, and all the other things. It’s not about blond hair or sparkles, except when it occasionally is.   The entire house is the stage. It starts when we enter the house. The dance is about the people in it, and made by the people in it. It feels incredibly circular and sometimes I wish we’d just written a monologue and called it good.   I’m terrified of doing a show in a house. I’m terrified of how unshowlike it is, how blurry the lines between performance and life. I’m terrified that it will seem too much like life, and too much like performance when I want something right smack in the middle.  

  But the piece calls out for the comforts of a home. For the objects, sight lines, smells of a home. Watching Monica in her grandfather’s house was different from watching Monica in a studio or theater. The content of the piece asks for it. Why build a fake home when we could invade someone’s home, have their memories laced with ours? Where are we from if the places where we grew up used to belong to someone else? Why not ask the audience for support and complicity throughout the piece, just like we do of family?   We’ve learned an incredible amount about families, and homes, fitting in, supporting, history. And these house shows feel more like another step in the research than they feel like a big present wrapped with a bow, which is how I normally like it.   Come see these experiments. We have two public performances–March 28 and 29–with very limited seating. Come to the show. Rub shoulders with us, hold our hands, tell us about your grandparents. Move and speak with us. We’re learning a lot and want to share with you. And we want to hear your stories and see your family vacation pictures.

Going home.

It feels great to hear good news about one grant application the same day you submit another. Mad King Thomas has received money from the Jerome Foundation to finish our latest endeavor, the Home Project (but wipe that from your mind, it is a stupid title and not long for this world).

We went to Albuquerque, NM last fall (my home town). Cody, WY this summer (Theresa’s stomping grounds). And we just got back from Great Barrington, Massachusetts (Monica’s childhood setting). 

In less than a week, we head to Raleigh, North Carolina (to visit Monica’s dad)… and then we spend a month in Miami (where we will actually put all this research together into a performance piece). By the end of the year I’ll have traveled to 10 states I’ve never been to before.  (If you want travel photos, they’re all over our facebook page.)

We have met each other’s parents, grandparents, cousins, fake cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles, step families, pets, high school teachers, religious leaders, family friends.  We have (notably) not met each other’s dance teachers or dance peers. 


It has stirred up (or has been the stirred-up result from) interest in family, heritage, location. We’ve talked about this project for years–almost as long as we’ve worked together–but I think if we’d done it seven years ago it would have been a mess. It would have been all boisterous contrasts, confusion, bouncing joy and autumn leaves. We needed time to find our inner starlets, our lost polar bears.

Now it feels slow, intimate and maybe a little bit noxious. It is uglier and more tender than it could have been when we were 23.

I feel zoomed out and zoomed in at the same time. How can a dance incorporate Carlsbad Caverns, Yellowstone, the Appalachian Trail? How can it hold tight (but not precious) Zozobra, Buffalo Bill and WEB DuBois? How can it be more than us telling stories we want to hear about people we love? 

I think, maybe, there are no mermaids. We are all land-locked, mountain-dwelling creatures. Maybe I am a bear in this one.

How can we investigate the land we live on when it was taken from those who came before? How can we show our love and our sorrow in full, side-by-side measure? It seems to be the question we are always asking.

On a more practical note: How can we possibly make this dance without flying out every member of our families and putting them on stage, which is, by the way, completely prohibitively expensive, not to mention totally awkward?

Well, it is big and scary, as it always is. Here we go once again, into the breach.

Miami, here we come!

Friends! We are going to Miami, and we are looking for housing! We are so super flexible but we are not so super rich. So, we’re putting our flexibility to work and hoping you can help us. 

If you know someone in Miami, we’d super appreciate if you could pass along this information.  We won’t infect their home with glitter (unless they want us to)! 

What we’re looking for: 

A place in Miami to call home for October 18 through November 10.

There are many permutations of how this could work: 1 place for all 3 of us, 3 different places for each of us, staying the whole time, or just a week and then moving on to a new home. 

Access to the Wynwood neighborhood

We are all bicycle commuters and plan to get around by bike. We’d like to be within a reasonable commuting distance of the Inkub8 studio (5ish mile-radius?) or have access to bus-lines.

What might work:

  • Pure unadulterated generosity: if you have a guest room (or 3 guest rooms!) and would be willing to host 1-3 of us, for all or part of the time, we would be incredibly grateful. We are respectful, non-smoking house-guests with a busy schedule.
  • Subletting: if you know of a cheap apartment or room(s) in a house, we have a small budget we can devote to this.
  • Good old-fashioned exchange! Know of anyone who needs pet-sitting? We would happily water your plants and take care of cats, dogs, fish, iguanas, and any other pet-like creatures (not including babies) in exchange for a place to stay.
  • House-swap! Perhaps you have always had a burning desire to come to Minneapolis? Thriving arts scene, biking haven, land of many lakes and bitter winters! Perhaps you would be willing to host us now, and we can host you in Minneapolis at the time of your choice. (Just not January or February. Trust us.)
  • Arts-specific residency swap: Maybe you’re a dance-maker wishing for a residency of your own. Maybe you feel slightly spontaneous and want to have that residency in Minneapolis and literally swap spaces with us for Oct. 18-Nov 10. We can arrange an ad hoc residency by connecting you with various members of the Twin Cities dance scene, subsidizing rehearsal space, and maybe even hooking you up with performance opportunities. You stay in our home, we stay in yours. The only caveat is that we have 2 cats, so the whole deal is predicated on not having cat allergies.
  • Some other genius idea you just thought up… especially if you’re a genius, because then we’d really like to meet you.

Feel free to e-mail us at madkingthomas at, ask us any questions, make any suggestions, request references, or make friends. 

On sparkles, sadness and self-integration

I took Paul, Theresa and Monica to a dance competition this weekend. It was sort of inspired by a project we’ve been working on, which we’ve lazily been calling the Home Project.  It’s why we visited Albuquerque last summer, and why we’re visiting Cody, WY and Great Barrington, MA this summer. It’s what we’re working on in Miami this fall.  

I look back with such deep unhappiness on my competitive dance career. As part of the home project we’ve been visiting each other’s homes, etc., and although they can never attend one of my own competitions, the spirit lives on today, in a perhaps more obsessive and neurotic way.   

After more than a decade away from the mesmerizing, intense, unforgiving world of competition dance, I found a few new things to think about:   

-Competition dance has no shame. At all. For better and worse.

-It’s militaristic, effective, and unbelievably professional. 

-It’s a ton of fun, mostly.   

I found myself staring across an unbridgeable divide; the old emotions and aesthetic tendencies cohabiting with newer, more philosophical aesthetics about time and space.  I wondered how my time training with Julyen Hamilton affects all those muscle memories of pelvic thrusts and high kicks.  

I wondered how I could be so naive to think that moving into the contemporary performance world would be easy or simple.   

Because muscle memories are not just muscle memories; I have pretended for years that my training in competition dance was nothing more than physical training and a tendency towards glitter and heavy makeup.  But the fact is that after ten years away, I still speak the language of competition dance. I know and feel the emotions of a certain contraction in the rib cage or a sassy head flip.  That movement vocabulary is deeply part of how I move and think and feel.  For better and worse.   

At my first dance competition, we danced to Enya’s Sail Away.  I was eight. I wore a purple leotard with attached skirt, cut-out shoulders and mock turtleneck.  We bedazzled the dress and the little leather thongs with yellow-gold rhinestones.  (Was it really Enya?)  It was choreographed by the kindest dance teacher I ever had.  And when awards were announced, it turned out our piece was disqualified–it was six seconds too long.  I cried for a really, really long time, and the thing that made me stop was my mom telling me that I couldn’t compete anymore if this was the kind of reaction I was going to have.    

I never cried at a competition again.  We upgraded from cheap off-gold plastic rhinestones to Swarovski. We brought in choreographers from the coasts.  Every year brought a new complicated hairstyle, a type of shoe that flattered our feet, a trick picked up from Nationals.    

I wonder about all these highly-trained kids and what happens to them after they graduate high school.  Most will not go on to dance careers; it’s possible most won’t even dance in college.  The reason I made it through from studio dance to postmodern dance is murky even to me.  I felt incredibly frustrated and worthless in college as a dancer, and afterward.   When I went to Macalester, I learned that competition dance was not a thing to be proud of, or to even mention your involvement with.  The jazz classes were incredibly square and unsexy, there were no tap classes, and “lyrical” was no longer a category of dance.  I never hid it, exactly, but also didn’t talk about it a ton. As time went on, I mostly found joy in the confusion and shock people felt when they realized I come from “the studio world”. (I feel like I keep writing the same essay about feeling unloved as a dancer and getting nowhere. I still feel unloved and I don’t think the essay adds much to the collective discourse.)  

The complete lack of a bridge from the studio world to the academic/performance world may have been the key–I was forced to find what I wanted from a dance program and build it myself, not given a clear path to continue following mindlessly.  That kind of training was invaluable for the professional world when most of what you do is build it yourself.    As a competition dancer, you learn a few things: 1) You must follow the rules, all the time. Point your toes. Smile. Never complain about your costume. Never go outside in your costume. Learn the choreography. Place dance above all other pursuits. Work hard.  If you’re not good enough, it’s probably because you’re not working hard enough.    It values strength, flexibility, dynamic movement.  It doesn’t value gray spaces, interstitial movements, or subtlety.  It’s much easier to get 70 kids age 5-18 to look fucking awesome if they are focused on big, blaring moves and if they keep the transition movements to a minimum.  Everything is on hyperspeed, high energy, maximum intensity.  Just like being a teenager.   I’m glad I went.  It showed me how professional kids can be. Competition dancers are 12 years old and don’t always understand what they’re doing or why, but they know how to time a kick so it peaks on the downbeat and not a split second sooner.  The amount of production expertise wielded by these studios is immense and impressive, more so than I ever realized when I was a mere pawn.  You have to get the buy-in of the whole family, to rearrange their schedules and priorities so that a barrette is never missing, a kid is never injured.   I have had many moments of being told I’m not good enough and yet I persevere.  I wish often that I would quit.  It’s Brokebackish in its awkwardness.  I have less confidence in my dance ability now than I ever have but when I actually dance, I feel great.  I don’t know if I look great, and inside myself, that’s all I will ever want from dance.  The ability to look as great as I feel.  

But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid.

The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

I believe (both because I must and because I’ve seen it) that the older a dancer gets, the better they are.  The high kicks may fade but the power grows.  I still don’t take class but I do dance at home.  I don’t know how to mend the gulf that is my former self and my current self, though I’ve been trying for ten years. Each attempt seems to take me farther away.  There it is again–that ghost ship.  But this is one area in which I think I am doing better.  I don’t take classes the way I used to and I don’t really want to. What does it mean to me to be a dancer? I’m not sure except I always call myself that and can’t seem to escape it.  Perhaps it means I should take classes again to mend what has become a rift.   Perhaps it means I keep doing what I want.  I don’t know.  

Phone Dances (colon) Dances for the Telephone

What: Art(ists) on the Verge IV

Where: The Soap Factory (514 2nd Street Southeast,Minneapolis, MN 55414)

Who: Mad King Thomas (that’s us!), Asia Ward, Sarah Julson, Chris Houltberg, and Anthony Warnick

What: ART.  Like, visual art? We think.  Anyway, we made some phone dances and we would like for you to come to the Soap Factory and experience them.

When: May 4th – 26th, 2013

Opening night reception May 4th, 7 – 11 pm.  We will be there looking as artistic as possible.

So, now that we got all those details out of the way, here is the real nitty gritty:  For nine months, we’ve basically been hermits who don’t blog or otherwise interact with others, because we’ve been working on these “phone dances”. 

We decided for some godforsaken reason to combine our love/hate of dance with our love/hate of telephones.  And the product is, at least in our humbly royal opinion, pretty rad.  We are thrilled to have spent all this time hanging out with people who know about laser cutters and plywood, typefaces and electronics.  (We contributed our usual wiggly dance moves and vulgar jokes.)

Now for a made-up FAQ:

Do I have to come on May 4th to get the good stuff?
You can come to the gallery any time during the installation and experience the dances we made. You won’t necessarily see our pretty faces but there is a live component…just come to the show already and it will all make sense.

Should I bring my cell phone?
Yes.  Although if you actually leave home without your phone regularly, we would like to hear from you because you are not normal.


Way Too Much Information (by Tara)

Dancing on the phone, or near the phone, or…over the phone? (by Tara)

Dancing on the phone, or near the phone, or…over the phone?

Because I can’t stop myself from explaining where we’ve been: I haven’t been blogging for Mad King Thomas because I’m not sure what is happening with Mad King Thomas. We have been working on this crazy phone dance experiment for many months now and the fact is we don’t (I don’t) know what to say about it. We have gotten ourselves in deep, this time–a lot of work to do, not a lot of consensus on what it will be. We’ve made dozens of tiny dances and only about four of them have been any good.

But here is what I’m thinking about the phone dance right now:

What is dance? It’s been a question that is both deliciously meaty and distastefully mealy. The reason it comes up is because you tell people you’re doing a telephone dance and they get all kinds of radical notions about what that means, including: I am going to learn a dance by telephone! I’m going to hear a dance happen over the phone! I am going to hate it because it’s like super advanced jazz and I really don’t understand!

So, first of all, we think: Maybe let’s take the word “dance” out of it. I thought we had, more or less, found our own working definition of dance, but of course we have not, because how could we have? Dance is an infuriatingly useless word, when it comes down to it. Dance is what I did in the chalky pink studios of my youth. Dance is what we do when we are drunk on Friday nights. Dance is going to the ballet. Dance is when we have to pee and hop back and forth between our feet. For Mad King Thomas, using the signifier dance is both habit and activism. Habit because we are dancers by training, and activism because we all dance through most of our lives so we slap the word dance on our pedestrian shows to make it all click. (This is a really bad idea as far as marketing goes, though.)

There’s also this question of preparation. With a stage show, the audience is usually versed in the rules. You buy a ticket. There is a start time. You sit in a seat in the dark and the performers are on a stage in the light. You clap when it is over, and then you go home. Since we have deleted the stage, the number of variables to consider is immense: When does the phone call happen? What does the phone call hope to do? Does the audience member prepare themselves for the call or is it a surprise? Each of these variables has a huge impact on the phone call so we have been getting lost in decision trees of extreme size.

Anyway, I think I’m finally excited about it. We still are not entirely sure what will happen, but I like the opportunity. I like being out of our comfort zone, although it has been hard. Very hard. I like that we will reach a whole new audience who have never seen our stage works and have no idea what to expect. I like that I will not be required to eat anything disgusting on stage.  I am excited to let you in on it.  I think it will be one of the most exhausting months of my life, to be on the phone so much, but you know, I’m game.

(Photos by adorabe baby sister Trista King!)

San Francisco, we’re gonna love you so hard.

San Francisco, we are working so hard for you! We are rehearsing, we are getting new haircuts, we are doing pushups.  We are hassling strangers and they have proven to be kind & helpful.  We are having anxiety nightmares and spending too much time in the soap aisle at the store.  We are bringing sweaters, and nobody hates a sweater more than a Minnesotan in June.  That’s how excited we are.  So here is a little gift for you:

Mad King Thomas meets San Francisco, June 2012: Workshops and Shows

Mad King Thomas is delighted to be performing and teaching workshops in San Francisco June 23-30!

First, as part of the National Queer Arts Festival and Verge3:

A mermaid, ballerina and jazz dancer on stage.

All-Stars 3 along with Sara Yassky and Rodrigo Caldera   at The Garage 715 Bryant Street Saturdays June 23 and June 308pm   $10 with code “mad king thomas” on brownpapertickets or $15 at the door.    The World is Your Oyster, Eat Up, Little Pearl is a dance in which a god-like mermaid, a gender-confused ballerina, and a giant slutty trash bag share their beautiful broken queer family and delve into self-determination, sexuality, and rule-breaking. Armed with penis jokes and sparkles, Mad King Thomas deliver “a brilliant and beautiful fugue of dark humor, despair, and resigned absurdity” (Twin Cities Daily Planet).
  More info at   Most importantly, buy your tickets now! Then, tell us you’re coming on the facebook! RSVP here. Invite your facefriends!  

Next: a couple of workshops!

“A is for Authority, A is for Anarchy, A is for Alive”
Monday, June 25 from 6-9pm
at The Garage, 715 Bryant Street, San Francisco
Sliding scale $1-25

This is a process-based workshop by Mad King Thomas for dancers, performance-makers and thinkers of all stripes. As a group, we’ll investigate questions of authority, authorship and subversion: What does it mean to make? How do we give and take authority over our work? How do we borrow, and what do we claim? What is the value of chaos? How can we subvert authority? How can performance be revolutionary (on a societal or personal scale)? Come with questions you’re interested in and we’ll find ways to answer them together.   The workshop will involve movement, writing, improvisation, discussion, and experimentation.  Participants of all backgrounds and levels welcome. Please wear movement-friendly clothing and bring something to write with and on.   You can promise to come on facebook here

“Making Things More Awesome”
Saturday, June 30 from noon-3pm
at The Garage, 715 Bryant Street, San Francisco
Sliding scale $1-25

This workshop investigates embodiment and intellectualism (aka embraininess, aka thinking about stuff) in this workshop for dancers, choreographers, performers, and art-makers. Predicated on Mad King Thomas’ flippant (but earnest) mission statement, “Making things more awesome,” this workshop asks: What is the stuff of life? How do we transform it into the stuff of performance? How can we make art that works, not in a bringing-home-the-bacon, capitalist way, but in a way that subverts the status quo and makes the world more as we want it? How can we use our bodies, the vehicles of everyday existence, to make that same everyday existence even better? We will focus on the body as an intelligent being and the mind as an articulate and engaged part of dance-making. Participants should expect to move, speak, write and improvise. Movers and makers of all experience levels and styles welcome.  

Nothing says “Yes, I want to be there!” like RSVPing on facebook!      

Way too much information.

So, I have no idea if we’ve mentioned this publicly yet but we’ve been accepted to the Art(ists) on the Verge 4 program, which (I know, I know, names with mid-word parentheses but give me a minute, this one is awesome) is this program designed to support artists “working experimentally at the intersection of art, technology, and digital culture with a focus on network-based practices that are interactive and/or participatory.” So yeah, you’re probably like, “That’s hilarious because nobody is as bad at technology as Mad King Thomas”. But actually! Well actually you probably didn’t think that. Probably you’ve just never thought about us in relation to network-based practices and digital culture. Or… you know what, I’m just gonna leave this one alone. I have no idea what you’ve ever thought about us in relation to any part of the previous paragraph.

BUT ANYWAY: We’ve been kind of feeling homesick (which is my way of saying we are permanently sad about living so far from our homes, even as we make new homes). 

And I personally am so frustrated by the fact that you have to go sit in a specific room at a specific time to watch dance. I mean, I know that’s the best part about dance & performance, but I’m kind of a hermit with an addiction to spontaneously deciding to stay home, so it makes it hard to see shows. When I really WANT to see shows is in the middle of a bad day at work, or at two in the morning (of course you can find dance anywhere anytime, as described in this great essay by Lightsey Darst, which deserves more commentary than just this parenthetical but let’s not get carried away). 

So, as I’m swimming farther up the internet stream (guys, I’m learning PHP) and as I’m feeling more and more homesick and also veering wildly between loving & hating dance, it seems like a good time to figure out how dance & the internet can get a little more cozy. Which means we’re making telephone dances, by which I mean dances through a telephone, by which I mean…well, we don’t know what that means. If Monica or Theresa were writing this, you’d probably get a completely different explanation, so hopefully they will and you can hear all the ways in which we don’t know what a telephone-dance is.

It’s maybe a bit retro-fetishist, unless of course it involves smartphones & skype & videophones and whatever, but it might not involve those things, in which case it probably is retro-fetishist, and I have way too many thoughts about that to stick them in here. But in any case some of that is seeping into this project, where we are going to have breathing and liveness and also distance and intimacy.

ANYWAY I actually came here to write about our first AoV4 meeting, with the directors (Steve Dietz & Piotr Szyhalski) & the other artists (Asia Ward, Chris Houltberg, Anthony Warnick & Sarah Julson). And you know, I’m sometimes kind of judgey about people & their art and stuff, which is why I don’t have as many friends as I’d like, but can I just say…I’m really really excited not only about our project but about their projects as well.  Because they’re awesome is what I’m trying to say. Here are notes I took from the meeting, to show you how great this is gonna be:

Making dances on found phones. 50s & 60s party lines, where you call in and talk to a bunch of strangers. Cell phones vs. anchored phone lines, the visceral experience of. How long seven years is. Maholy Naj/Electronic Cafe. How people interact with art. Making landscapes that are less static. Disneyland (not fair of me to bring it up since I love it so much). Thomas Hirschhorn & caves of duct tape. Shamanic power & google. Divine knowledge. Church lights. We are all already interacting with these systems. What is given vs. what is taken without our knowledge. Facebook. Google. Corporate personhood. DIY Art kits & famous performance works. Medium-agnostic (my new favorite phrase). Fake institutions vs. investigating real ones. UN headquarters vs. easter egg hunts. HTML on a chalkboard on a frozen lake. Is it okay to be a Luddite? Ideological soccer match (sounds like an ideological boxing match).

I mean, come ON.  Awesome.

Anyway, now I’m off to see First Position, during which I will undoubtedly cry about my lost childhood and/or lost future a little bit, or a lot. But guys, the trailer has sparkly gold intertitles!!