We sat down with Jade Fusco to discuss Art Sex Magic, a hilarious and relatable musical production which showed at the Museum of Human Achievement from September 12-14th, 2019. We talk about the personal story behind the production, work as a freelance artist, social media, intimacy, her moves from LA to NYC to Austin, and finding community.
What genre would you use to describe this performance? How has that evolved over time? I know Tressa [mutual friend, Art Director of Art Sex Magic] mentioned you have been calling it a surrealist musical experience.
I was calling it jazz opera because jazz is such a multifaceted term and way of describing music, and I was avoiding musical for a long time because I think it just represented a genre that I didn’t feel comfortable with but now… I mean, it is essentially- it’s a musical. But the themes that we explore are kind of existential. I mean, it’s very existentialist. I think that it is surrealist in the truest form. In the surrealist we’re interested in art and painting becoming animated and interacting with the audience in another way, and in painting being a vehicle for deeper subconscious exploration. So in that sense it is. It is truly a surrealist musical experience. You know, a surrealist art musical, I guess, is what I would call it, surrealist art musical, yeah.
Tell me about your roles.
So I applied for the grants, I wrote the play, I wrote the lyrics, I wrote the songs, all the melodies for the songs. I’ve been doing everything, you know, conceiving the set design, having a say in the costumes, but honestly the materialization of it has become a very collaborative process. I’ve had an original vision for what it’s going to look like and we’ve departed greatly from that with time and budgeting constraints, and also just me learning how to communicate about my ideas because it’s been huge. I’m used to doing everything on my own and I’m used to improvising a lot in my process so I’ve had to really learn how to delegate and how to communicate my visions. I failed a couple of times, you know, I wasn’t able to clearly communicate what I wanted ‘cause I hadn’t really sketched it out yet for myself. A learning experience all around.
Right, it’s one thing to have the vision and then you yourself are in control of it manifesting versus having to communicate it and bring it to life through other people. So, this is you. This is an embodiment of you in a really big way which I think is really interesting. A theme that I noticed is: An artist overcoming self-doubt, truly in the modern age, struggling with social media and relationship pressures and highlighting self-fulfilling prophecies that I think are really relatable for all types of artists. And then, breaking the cycle through self pleasure. Tell me about why you wanted to tell this story. How is it personal to you and what message do you want to come through?
It is an extremely personal story. I think that since graduating college, or even before that, I’ve always been very dedicated to work. I’ve been very dedicated to being a good person doing what I’m supposed to do, making sure that I do my work and stay committed to my work or to whatever creative project I’m doing.
This has often been at the expense of intimacy and connection. There’s always been a lot of intimacy in my life, but in terms of relationships, I’ve just noticed myself… It’s really easy for me to just get lost in this vortex of projects, and it genuinely excites me. It lights me up to do projects, and I also have just seen people that become workaholics.
I think that now especially because I’m just about to turn 30, I feel like now is a really crucial time in our lives when we start to create those habits and we started to create those templates for ourselves. For what it looks like to work hard, what it looks like to to pull off a project successfully. What it looks like to be ambitious.
I think that I just really wanted to kind of call myself out on this trend that I’ve seen in my life of postponing my own pleasure, and not even just sexual pleasure, but postponing connection with friends, postponing really important recreational time and postponing going to explore a new spot in nature because there’s always something that I think I need to be doing instead. that’s more important. That will advance my career, that will advance some aspect of my life and my career as an artist forward. Being a freelancer is creating our own structure, so it’s really about striking a balance. But I think that I definitely, being a freelancer, have only myself to to account for in terms of making money. So yeah, it’s a hustle. But in the hustle, it’s really easy to not prioritize pleasure because you’re like, oh but pleasure is not gonna make me money.
But what pleasure does is reset your whole world, and it makes you energetically more available to have the thoughts, to make the choices, to make the connections with people that… It may expand your horizons in ways that you haven’t even thought of.
I think that the important part about pleasure, and it’s you know pleasure all over the spectrum, and this is something that we talk about in the play too, it’s not just sexual pleasure. It’s connection, and it’s what makes you feel open and relaxed and buzzing and fulfilled and lit up.
Being your own boss, as a freelancer, you’ve sort of taken that role, you’ve let yourself let go of that rule for a second. To be you and play.
Yeah, and I think being a freelancer I’ve internalized my own boss. I can be extremely hard on myself and put a lot of pressure on myself. The inner critic in the story represents that, represents these voices in my head that are super harsh and condemning, and that’s not what it’s about. I don’t wanna make art from that place. I don’t want to structure my life from that place, you know, and I appreciate that.
So it’s a very personal story. This iteration of the story has shifted many times and there’s different themes that I wanted to explore more. At first, it was just so many words. So many words and so many different ideas kind of jammed together. I wanted to talk more about art theory, I want to talk more about being in a queer relationship, and we’re just kind of touching on some of these things because there’s only so much you can explore in one play.
This version of it has really turned into all these characters, all these art pieces, and facets of her psyche, becoming incarnated to speak with her are just reminding her of how to be present. This version of it has become really focused more on the obsession with the social media thing, and addiction to our phones.
Yeah. Which is very relatable and very relevant.
We’re all on it. It’s this tick. I really I wanted to call myself out. I wanted to make it glaringly obvious and gross because we all feel in a similar way. It’s this love hate relationship because it’s an amazing way to be connected, and I’ve connected with a lot of people in real life that I’ve met on social media. It’s brought in a lot of opportunity into my life, but there’s a balance, and I think we’re all learning how to integrate that discipline. The message I’m trying to offer this play is being in our center and continuing to navigate the worlds and using the devices and the Internet and all that, but using it for us, being in charge of the tools.
What are the connections between your story, and this process, and your environment in the South.
Moving to Austin from New York was a start of my journey in unhitching myself from the crazy machine that is New York City. I grew up in Los Angeles and then I lived in New York for eight years and they’re two of the most infamous cities in the world for being extreme, and also for producing these narratives of what success looks like.
I’ve been weaning myself off since I moved to Austin. I knew that I wanted to pursue a different quality of life and explore the possibilities of being an artist and being successful outside of those narratives.
And experiencing the culture of the South… It’s just laid back,you know, it’s easy going. People don’t have the same standards… Which I think sometimes is a little disappointing? Sometimes I feel like people could try a little harder, but at the same time people aren’t berating themselves. It’s not the end of the fuckin world. The stakes aren’t as high and people are a lot more chill and they enjoy their lives way more.
How do you think that plays in to the art that is made here?
A lot of the art that I’ve personally experienced in our community, and a lot of the art at Moha, is more experiential. More like something that you get to experience instead of just look at. There’s a lot of really awesome performers around town. There’s a lot of drag. There’s a lot of awesome queer expression. A year and a half ago when I entered into my first queer relationship is when I started identifying fully as a queer person and being in the scene as a queer creator. And that’s been really amazing. There’s a sense of community here that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. And there’s a sense of knowing my community well and feeling intimately involved with my community and offering something in an intimate way. And that’s definitely unique to the South. It’s unique to Austin.
Do you feel like that community has helped give you the sort of security or confidence or owning everything to make this happen?
Absolutely. Also, within that community, one of the facets is the healing arts community. People that practice different therapy modalities. I’ve been trained in this modality called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) that has literally gotten me through this whole experience. I mean the past four years, since I started doing it and practicing it with people. You know I live with 2 EFT practitioners and it’s an incredible tool for supporting the creative process, for supporting relationships, and life in general. It’s about fully acknowledging and welcoming all of the experience and really making space for the breakdowns and the outbursts. But learning to be compassionate with ourselves through all of it and have faith in ourselves.There are a lot of things that are very unique to this. Time and place. I wouldn’t have made this anywhere else probably. It would have looked like a very different story. But I think I did feel safe to create this here.
Yeah and the feeling one of the biggest things that comes up with social media is that imposter syndrome where you’re comparing yourself to others and thinking “I’m not good enough compared to them” or “they’re doing this amazing thing,” but obviously social media is very curated and you have no idea what these people are actually going through. You can literally makeup anything and put it on there and it will look like your life is completely different than how it is. Yeah, but we eat it up.
Yeah, we eat it up. I have some friends that have “made it” in ways that are societally agreed upon, you know like, whatever, modeling for Gucci. My painter friend in particular, everything looks so polished and perfect and curated. And I’m just like how is this fucking real, you know? And she’s someone that I grew up with, someone that I know really well, and I know what she’s gone through. I know what she’s going through. I know that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows but it definitely looks that way. And I get tricked by it. And it’s crazy it’s like, at what expense do we need this like notoriety and visibility?
Right, it’s really taking a lot away from our humanity with each other. To have such a curated identity to be comparing ourselves against.
Yeah it’s tough because then we just start to look at everything through this lens. I wish there was a different outlet. The fact that our outlet is this and we just have our phones and our faces and it’s just so much energy that we’re funneling in to these little devices… I wish there was a different outlet. So, I really am trying to create one with creating this. Theater is the opposite.
I mean it’s a play for artists for sure, for creatives.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I want to add that everybody has their own version of pleasure. You know there are some people that need to pursue different kinds of pleasure that doesn’t necessarily mean connecting sexually with somebody or intimately with someone in that way.
There’s one line in the song that says let pleasure be the measure of success. That can be taken the wrong way. Sometimes something is important and necessary and successful in that we grow from it. I think that’s ultimately what the meaning of success is to me- when we’re growing and learning and when we’re evolving, essentially. And yeah, that’s not always fun. It’s not always pleasure. But it’s the first step in reorienting us to move away from this idea of money and fame being the measure of success, because that’s what it’s been. It’s the first step on the way of transforming the paradigm. Pleasure is such a rich, controversial word. So, it gives people the opportunity to unpack what pleasure means for them.