On a late September afternoon, Seen and Herd ventured out with performer Ashley Brockington and photographer Mor Erlich to the Brooklyn waterfront. A storm was threatening and wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we landed at Brooklyn Bridge Park the heavens opened up in thunderous glory. The photo shoot took refuge under the Manhattan Bridge. With the help of the brights from our ’91 Ford Explorer, it soon became the perfect setting for the birth of “Commanding Creature”.
Wearing Kelly Horrigan’s “Warrior Shoulder Piece and Head Dress”, Ashley brought her saucy, burlesque best to the cold, rainy dusk and left us awe struck at the base of the bridge.
S&H: This month we welcome the incredible performer, Ashley Brockington to Seen & Herd! Welcome Ashley…
S&H: We know you as a woman of many talents. Can you give us some insight on your creative life? How would you describe what you do?
Ashley: Well, I’m a host and sometimes comic (not on purpose, I’m just funny) that produces theater downtown.
I write plays and produce cabarets.
My focus tends to hover around issues that involve black queer women but I also love white people!
S&H: How did you first start coming into performance as a means of expression?
Ashley: when I was little. Performing was a natural impulse…
the brush in the mirror,
shows after dinner,
choreography with my sister and friends.
I begged for ballet lessons and was so traumatized by going to my first dance class at 11,
I thought I was over the hill to be starting.
Talent shows and dance teams in middle school and high school.
I went to college for performing arts but quit…twice.
Eventually I ended up here (NYC). Being in one place has allowed to experiment with different ways of being creative.
I used to consider myself a dancer primarily.
S&H: How did you come to settle in NYC? You spent many years wandering about, tell us some of the amazing places you’ve been.
Ashley: Hmmm. ok. i did kind of breeze past the hippy part.
Well, I spent a lot of time in the Czech Republic cuz I was partnered with a fabulous Czech fag for a decade.
What up Honza!
I used to spend my winters in Michoacan, Mexico cuz its gorgeous and in ’97 the U.S. dollar went super far there… I could just hippy out for four months on the beach.
I spent one of the best two months of my life, so far, on a little island called St. Louis (san-lew-EE) off the coast of Senegal. It was there I learned that I’m an expert dreamer.
S&H: Dreamer of the sleeping or waking kind?
Ashley: sleeping and waking (dreams)
Ashley: Washington DC was my first adult home. I ended up there in order to go to Howard U (quit) and ended up staying for five years.
I worked a glamorous coffee shop job on queer alley and bounced around fashion shows and dance companies. I took a lot of African (dance) class and took my clothes off for anyone with a camera.
Where are those pictures now?
NYC became a regular stop after auditioning Circus Amok!
S&H: You’ve been a confident performer in so many different roles: clown, sex mistress, righteous activist. What have been your most challenging shoes to fill? Anything you wish you never have to do again? Any scenario you wish to dream up?
Ashley: It’s really weird being the only “nekkid” woman in a room… And the only black one. All greased up. I call those Hottentott gigs. Unfortunately, they often come with a good paycheck and a plane ticket.
I’d like to dream up my supper club. A show and some kind of eats… Not too expensive… Regular folx can afford it.
S&H: Explain Hottentott for the cracker…
Ashley: Sarah Bartman was a South African woman from the Xosi tribe that was enslaved by the colonizers. She was taken and made a “freak” in Picadilly Square on account of her stretched pussy. The Xosi people believe that a dangling inner labia was a sign of beauty and young girls got stretched as was custom in their tribe.
She was used as scientific proof that African women were more sexualized than European women. They wanted and needed sex more than there genteel white counterparts. She eventually married her captor. That’s what they called her in the freak show… The Venus Hottentott.
S&H: Wow. Is Sarah’s story some of the fire under your work at Cabaret Cataplexy? Anyone else who your captivated by?
Explain also what Cabaret Cataplexy is for our readers…
Ashley: Sara’s story isn’t specifically fueling Cataplexy.
Ashley: Cataplexy is a sexy cabaret that I co-produce and co-host with the very talented Monstah Black. It’s performance art and costumes. Comedy and Burlesque. Live Music and lots of fellowship. We have primarily colored folx on the stage but we always have at least one whitey of the month so people know that we believe in diversity.
Cataplexy definitely pushes the racial envelope. Not only is it a primarily colored cabaret, but I also complain a lot about being colored on the mic.
I make fun of stereotypes and say things that make white people uncomfortable.
It’s really fun!
I like to talk about race cuz I’m Black.
It just is a very racialized world and only white folx get the privilege of forgetting that.
I like to remind them.
I’ll often watch my favorite Richard Pryor stuff before a show.
I’m an Aries and “blunt” is one of our catchwords.
I basically let myself say anything.
I think the audience can feel me. I love everybody and I think we need to talk about race if we’re gonna ever be at peace as a multi-cultural society and world.
S&H: Black Girl Ugly is a production you do seasonally at WOW Café on the Lower East Side tell us more about the show. Do you see it as a sister to cataplexy to present race issues in a more structured way?
Ashley: Black Girl Ugly I’ve been told falls under the category of Applied Theater. We use the creation of the play to investigate real issues in our lives. In this case: Black Women and Self Esteem. I don’t really see BGU as a sister to CC. I mean, I could do a scene from BGU at CC and both are focused on Brown folx but I don’t think of them as related. But they are cuz they both come from me. and us.
S&H: So what are some essential elements for your inspiration?
Ashley: The comedy of being Black in this country.
Richard Pryor in that he really loved Black people. He made super deep commentary on Black life and made that shit funny. Because folx wanted to listen to him because they wanted to laugh, they also had to listen to Black life or at least pay attention for an hour. Black folx loved this cuz we didn’t get to see enough representations of ourselves in the media. White folx loved it cuz that shit was funny! And, he really loved Black people which is another sentiment that is grossly under-repped in media or entertainment. I’m not talking about I love your shiny Black skin kind of love. But really love for the Black person’s experience.
I love the cabaret setting. I’m not sure why… Glamorous. Circusy. Irreverant. Sexy. I wanna be all those things!!
S&H: In most of your appearances, you’re in control of the whole process, how you’re being presented, what comes out of your mouth. It’s so important. Pryor got to deliver to the masses, does small scale performance make you feel further marginalized, like you can only reach the audience that comes to you?
Ashley: no. I just feel like we’re small for now…
The right people come. We’re still getting our game just right. I wanna be super on point when we perform to larger audiences.
S&H: Give us a plug for where peeps can access all this excitement.
Ashley: Well Cataplexy just had our big comeback on Monday (Sept 27). We’d been off for the summer. We came back into a beautiful new space called Haven in Midtown. We created a beautiful 18th saloon with performances all over the venue. It was fucking sick. We’ve decided to slow down and do our show seasonally instead of monthly so we can put more juice and intention into each show. We’ll be returning to Haven but are also looking at the The Knitting Factory for the December show.
S&H: We talked briefly during the photo shoot about the power of looking powerful. In the photos you look like a woman who yields an incredible amount of power or some mythical creature. Can you give us some context for how all those feathers made you feel?
Ashley: Yeah, the shoulders made me feel like a very commanding creature. I felt fierce and not to be fucked with, A ruler to take care of her people. Generous and loving but also super scary when pissed off.
S&H: Is this far from real life? (laughing)
Ashley: Not really. (laughing)
Some one called me a tyrant recently…
I will admit… I love a handful of minions that are eager to do my bidding.
S&H: S&H is happy to be a small vessel for your thoughts, eager to blast them far and wide! Thanks for talking with us today. What else should we know about…
Ashley: I’m in a sick fashion show on Oct. 18th & 19th at Ico Gallery. 606 W 26th St. New York. 7-11pm. Black Snow is the name of the line.
I host the Brown Girls Burlesque Show coming up on October 22nd and 23rd at the Kumble Theater.
I need a job and I want to host for people who want a really charismatic sexy thing with a sharp tongue.
I’m on Facebook, and one of these days… TheAshleyBrockington.com will be up and running. I love to collaborate. Please reach out to me if you think we should play art together.
That’s about all I got.
Be sure to check out Ashley’s work! And KIT for more interesting people and thoughtful fashion.
Visit www.KellyHorriganHandmade.com to view this and other products featured on Seen & Herd.