Princess: Out There
CAM Raleigh, Raleigh
In the year 2028, a pair of artistic collaborators use their white-male privilege to build a rocket ship and escape the misogynistic dystopia of Earth in search of a better world. Clad in gender-bending outfits, they bumble their way across planet after planet, engaging in performances meant to question the role of men in the ongoing “cultural reckoning of misogyny.” These well-intentioned but flawed characters’ intergalactic journey puts their misconceptions to the test as they discover their roles in upholding patriarchal oppression.
This is the premise of Out There, a multimedia performance piece by Princess, the duo of Alexis Gideon and Michael O’Neill. The pair originally began collaborating through art, video, and music while they were both living in Chicago. Geographically separated but still friends, after an eleven-year hiatus they reconnected and began making work together again, a couple of years ago.
Out There, which the duo brings to CAM Raleigh on April 22, was born out of the climate surrounding the 2016 election, along with the Women’s March and #MeToo. It began as an album, with Gideon and O’Neill sending tracks back and forth across the country and recording music whenever they got together. About three-quarters of the way through, they began to feel that the work had a deeper narrative foundation, one that needed a video component and live performance to explore. In its live form, the finished video—which grew to include collaborators such as Le Tigre’s JD Samson, visual artist Jennifer Meridian, and the Brooklyn-based band TEEN—is paired with a performance by Princess.
Gideon and O’Neill say the show is about encouraging men to think about ways in which they may uphold patriarchal systems and structures, particularly when it comes to micro-aggressive behavior.
“I think that sometimes, when we talk about this stuff, we often just paint this grand picture of humanity and patriarchy and society and maybe even remove ourselves from them,” O’Neill says. “But whether it’s a relationship you’re in, romantic or a collaboration, the way we as men go about our lives, there’s a number of moments every day where you can examine your own patriarchal conditioning and male privilege.”
On their first stop after leaving Earth, O’Neill and Gideon seem to discover a sort of drug-fueled utopia that revolves around hedonism and partying. While they initially think this world is wonderful, they soon discover that the culture is functionally built on the backs of women’s labor and exploitation. They try to help but are ultimately ineffectual, and they end up getting thrown into prison. Of course, they escape. As they continue their journey on other planets, no matter where they go, every culture seems to be embedded with patriarchal values and systems—a reality that women from all walks of life know well, even if the narrators don’t.
“We wanted to shape the work to make a cultural commentary on our perspective, or at least, our role, as men in this moment, this movement,” O’Neill says. “We inherently understand the problematic perspective that it is two men, but we also didn’t want to be too shy or afraid of that, either, because it’s important for men to have a role within a feminist perspective or society.”
Princess is also trying to contribute to a larger cultural conversation about challenging masculinity through the relationship of the two main characters in Out There. Beyond just playing with performative gender through clothing, they share a tender, complicated relationship that illustrates a different way that men can engage not just with women, but with one another, and, by extension, with the world around them.
“Something that dates back to the early days of Princess is that we’ve always talked about masculinity and the spectrum of manhood, how to play with gender within that,” O’Neill says. “How to understand masculinity in terms of its toxicity.”
While Out There may not present radically new ideas, it is a nuanced and well-produced encapsulation of a quintessential tenet of intersectional feminism: If you have privilege, use it to amplify the experiences, lived realities, and voices of those with less of it than yourself.