Wide Awake asserts that the Civil War did not end at Appomattox: it continues to be fought in popular culture. Using music and text from the founding of the country to the music and ideas of 2015, The Bearded Ladies explore the lasting legacy of the Civil War on American popular culture.
Wide Awake traces a troupe, of queer cabaret performers, whose stage show about the Civil War starts taking itself too seriously: they are unable to tear themselves from the ghosts and battles of history. The show takes place on what the piece claims as a real historical site: “the America House.” As the performers become increasingly immersed, the Civil War inhabits them as they work out their relationship to history and their roles as inheritors of this legacy through the lens of more than one-hundred and fifty years of music.
Although the themes the characters grapple with are not trifling, we embrace the comedic and musical appeal of cabaret to tell this story. Speaking about the cultural legacy and conflict handed down from the Civil War, project director and co-writer John Jarboe states –“Even during the complex negotiations for Reconstruction, even after the turn of the century, Northerners and Southerners were working out their resentments, longings, and rages musically; music reinforced boundaries, loyalties, and whole world views. This musical war, which has been present throughout nearly two hundred years of American history, is the conflict that Wide Awake attempts to bring to light and examine. Like the Northern protesters for whom the cabaret is named, The Bearded Ladies ask: are we awake? We hope our audiences will leave the theatre and examine their music collections in a new light, and then look at American politics in terms of this larger historical context.” In light of the recent revelations of injustice and prejudice in American judicial and legislative bodies, attempting to fit the Civil War into a tidy narrative is insufficient. Wide Awake urges audience members to shake off the idea of the war as a separate time and place, and see how it continues to shape our contemporary lives.
// The Bearded Ladies create performative poisoned cookies. We implicate ourselves and our audience in our often unexamined relationship with pleasure, popular culture and the social implications within: we tackle questions of received culture, sex, gender, identity, and artistic invention, and we do it with wit, glitter, and a ton of cardboard.