Bad and Nasty (aka Bad Hombres and Nasty Women) is a loose knit coalition of artists, activists, media makers, theatre folk, web geeks, designers, performers, writers, and concerned citizens who are tired of waking up every morning since Election Day 2016 feeling angry/scared/sad and not having anything useful to do with those emotions. So, they began to plot a DIY art action for February 20, 2017 called Not My Presidents’ Day. The coalition has over 1700 members, and counting, from across the country and around the globe. I sat down with Bad and Nasty collective members and performance artists Holly Hughes and Lois Weaver and social media coordinator Mary Jo Watts to talk about the origins and aims of this intervention.
Sara Warner: How did the idea for Bad and Nasty arise?
Holly Hughes: I had the world’s saddest election night party. The next day I was in a state of paralysis and numbness, and these feelings haven’t totally subsided. I felt too depressed to cry. I felt as if my bodily fluids had turned to sand. I posted on Facebook that I wanted to have a night of performance in Ann Arbor that would bring together artists and activists to protest the presidency. The idea took off. People from across Michigan wanted to join in and people from other places wanted to do something similar in their communities. By the next morning, I was weeping. There were too many people for me to add to a Facebook group. I didn’t know what to do with the level of enthusiasm. I’m used to having unpopular opinions and ideas. Luckily people who were adept at organizing offered to help, including Lois Weaver and Mary Jo Watts.
Lois Weaver: I too was hurt and depressed, as was everyone around me, but I had a slightly different strategy. I felt we needed a place where we could gather together and take care of each other. I started thinking about an idea for a Care Café, a place for people to gather their wits, thoughts, and comrades in action. It’s not my nature to put something out on Facebook or the Internet. I’m a little bit shy about that, but I felt really concerned that we needed a place to gather and a way to gather. So I took the risk and put that out there, and loads of people responded in a way that felt that this could be a focus and a community for me to get through the aftermath of the election. But that was a very inward response, so when Holly floated the idea of a big performance event, which seemed to me an outward response—an expressive and performative way to accomplish a similar result—I jumped in. By that time, I had developed some confidence about creating communities online and Mary Jo had come on board as the tech and social media coordinator.
Mary Jo Watts: I was not depressed immediately after the election—it didn’t hit me until later. My initial response was anger. I thought, “Fuck this, we’ve got to do something.” Holly had this fantastic idea of a day of protest performance, which I saw as a lightening rod. I saw all of these people drawn to her, as if saying, “Aha, there’s somewhere for us to go.” I didn’t want to lose this energy. I wanted to capitalize on it. I felt that if we lost that spark it would be even harder to stage any kind of resistance in the coming days. That initial burst of rage was very important. I wanted to contain it, and give it a space to burn. That’s what I tried to do with the social media. It was a coping mechanism for sure, but I felt like action was the most important thing.
Sara: Why stage a DIY day (and/or night) of performance on Presidents’ Day? What do you hope to accomplish through this art action?
Holly: No one expected this outcome, not even Donald Trump. So, there’s the horror and there’s the shock, but there’s a rhetorical vacuum. Into this vacuum there’s an opportunity, if not an obligation, for more artistic voices to intervene.
I’m hoping that having a nation-wide day of performance will magnify the individual efforts and will remind us that we are the majority. Part of the reason for having something so fluid is that this isn’t a normal situation. There’s something unique about performance, broadly defined, in its ability to resist normalization. Performance can be a loud and bratty art form, and we need something that resists normalization and commodification.
Lois: Holly used the term magnify, and I was thinking about the word amplify, which highlights the variety and multitude of voices and forms and modes of expression that are rising up in response to the election. These voices won’t be silent or silenced. I think that is one of our biggest fears. As inauguration draws closer, we feel physical fear—some of us more than others—and we fear being silenced. Bad and Nasty seems to me a fantastic scream in the middle of the night. This scream is like the human microphone in the Occupy Movement, which reverberates across the country and the world with all of us shouting at the same time. We’re not going to be silenced, and we’re going to be creative in the face of our fears.
Holly: We wanted a decentralized, radically inclusive model, because that is what we are familiar with from the WOW Café. We also wanted something different than the After Orlando model—which is a great model—in which established playwrights create short scripts in response to a tragedy. I wanted something more immediate, something along the lines of a World AIDS Day, which started out as a Day Without Art and grew out of artistic communities who were particularly hard hit by the epidemic. For World AIDS day, there’s a date, a title, some elementary branding, and a focus, which is to call attention to people we have lost to AIDS and to the ongoing crisis. The event is free and people can interpret the call in any way they want to according to their capacities and the needs of their communities. Working from this model, Bad and Nasty Events can take many different forms: an open mic, a cabaret, a curated night of performances created in response to the election, or a Care Cafe. Some people are taking previously scheduled performances and marking them as a Bad and Nasty event. For example, there’s as a production of Trumpbu Roi at FlynnSpace in Burlington, Vermont that rebranded itself as a Bad and Nasty event.
Lois: What I love about this initiative is that it is encouraging people to make art in the face of obstruction, and not to simply complain or cry or lie down and want someone else to do something about it, but to make the statement themselves and to do so a creative intervention.
Holly: The first people to respond and the most animated responses didn’t come from what we think of as the big cultural centers of the country: New York, Chicago, and big coastal cities. It was people in South Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and rural Virginia.
Mary Jo: What started as a national event has spread. People across the globe who fear the spread of fascism have signed on. There will be Bad and Nasty Events in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and Berlin.
Sara: Why did you choose to ban together under the name Bad and Nasty?
Holly: Bad and Nasty refers, of course, to Trump’s negative comments about Mexicans and female votes. The title points to the disruptive, provocative quality of the performance traditions that Lois and I come out of, and there’s also—not to sound too academic—something intersectional about it. It calls attention to race and gender, two reasons why I think Donald Trump is the President Elect. I realize the title could be read as binary, but the terms are capacious. I’ve seen a lot of different people embracing nasty women who aren’t cis-gendered females, for example. We’re using a scrolling banner on our website where people can “name it and claim it,” making their own language for their event, be it “Not My Presidents Day,” or whatever it is that they want to call it.
Lois: I believe racism and sexism are the reasons we lost, so this is important to foreground. Bad Hombres and Nasty Women are the monikers for these two things. We are re-appropriating Bad and Nasty from Trump’s hate speech. This is what we’ve done, as oppressed minorities, in other instances. I call myself a dyke. I call myself queer. I call myself the things that others have wanted to call me, and this gives me power.
Holly: Part of the reason for me doing this is my impatience with a lot of the immediate responses to the election, whether it is the women’s march on Washington or the safety pins. I was seeing a lot of friends who are very smart—much smarter and more thoughtful than I am—putting a lot of energy into critiquing what they felt was inadequate or problematic about these actions. No singular response is going to bring down Trump or end this nightmare. We are going to need sustained and multi-pronged attacks. What’s happened so far has been so horrible, in terms of his supposed cabinet and his tweet storms, sometimes against private citizens, that we need a million different approaches. We don’t have a cure for HIV, and the only thing that holds it in check is not one drug but a bunch of drugs that attack the virus that is always mutating. This to me seems like a powerful analogy for approaching Trump. Bad and Nasty won’t work for everyone. I have proven time and again that I’m not someone who can come up with a one size fits all model for art and activism. I don’t have a script for reinventing the Democratic Party.
Mary Jo: What do you make of Donald Trump’s tweets about Pence and Hamilton, about his suggestion that theatre should be a safe and special space?
Holly: That’s what most theatre is: occasioned entertainment that tells us what we already know and that isn’t surprising or challenging. Having survived the Culture Wars of the 1990s, I can say that this period didn’t really embolden people. It terrified them and it terrified cultural institutions, which couldn’t put enough distance between themselves and anything that was controversial. Lisa Kron, who has relationships with big institutions, said, “Don’t expect courage to come from institutions because institutions are inherently conservative.” Artists are different.
Lois: We are using Trump’s tweets ironically in our tag line: “Coming soon to a safe and special place near you.”
Sara: Technology has played a decisive role in the election, and it is an important organizing strategy for Not My Presidents’ Day. How are you using social media?
Holly: One of the first ideas we had was to create some kind of democratic archive, like the “It Gets Better Project,” which was a response and an attempt to draw media attention to LGBTQ youth suicide rates. There were lots of problems with the framing of this project, and the notion that it gets better (because sometimes, for some people, it does not), but the project itself was kind of amazing in that it allowed a huge range of responses. People made video art, responding in the moment. I felt this was an incredible democratic response.
Lois: We have called for people to create YouTube videos with statements: “I’m a Bad Hombre because….” or “I’m a Nasty Woman because…” or “I’m bad and nasty because….” This can get the energy going.
Sara: As this initiative gains momentum, are you afraid of being harassed or of the participants being targeted?
Lois: If we can foreground our sense of humor and the playfulness of this protest, then I think we can ride out any negative responses. Typically, I take a quieter approach, and I’m tired of being quiet. I don’t think we have the freedom to be quiet right now. I think we have to be loud and angry. We need mass public resistance.
Holly: …preferably in forms that are entertaining. A lot of people who want to use performance to make a statement are drawn to campy, in-yer-face, fierce, and funny performance as a way to push back.
Mary Jo: Many people who are drawn to Bad and Nasty are not provocative or outrageous.
Holly: In some communities just doing anything resistant is being provocative. That’s the decentralized, leaderless nature of this.