A table at the entrance displays earplugs alongside dainty leather harnesses. A swarm of gender-fluid greeters garbed—barely—in shiny fabrics and tattoos leave off dancing in the aisles to guide us to our seats in the Den's Heath Mainstage, decorated for the occasion in spray-lighting and wall-to-wall music. Spectators of all ages, ethnicities and sartorial proclivities promenade the lobby, pausing to pose for strolling photographers. Oh, and this is all before the performance starts.
Welcome to The Fly Honey Show, an event created in 2009 by Erin Kilmurray for the multi-disciplinary Artists Collective identifying as The Inconvenience, and re-assembled annually for the purpose of sharing the empowerment that comes of unity in social consciousness expressed through Dionysic revelry. Less theatrical presentation than interactive festival, what Fly Honey's carnival ambience strives to celebrate is encapsulated in the phrase, "Everybody. No matter WHAT your body"—an inclusive manifesto endorsing full acceptance of individual diversity encompassing everyday "imperfections" too frequently censured by our society (plus-sized physiques, dancers wearing eyeglasses, AARP-eligibles of any gender).
Fly Honey producer Missi Davis traces its "origin story" to the fortuitous meeting of herself, Kilmurray and Mary Williamson at DePaul University, before Davis and Williamson took up residence in the Lakeview loft that became home to The Inconvenience. Recalls Davis, "I wanted to present a performance piece incorporating extensive movement, so I called Erin, who was studying dance at Columbia [college] by then, and said 'you wanna make something in this big open space we got?' One of her ideas was for a kinetic composition reflecting a femme-focused message of body positivity—"
"The Inconvenience loft housed a lot of different artists," adds Williamson, who, along with Molly Brennan and Sydney Charles, serves as emcee for the show, "many of whom were men—"
"—but when Erin asked thirty of her friends to take their clothes off onstage, they all did." Davis concludes, "And Fly Honey was born."
The show's title—based on a poem by slam poet Shannon Matesky—was just one part of the Fly Honey evolution, though. Its first motto was "celebrate the skin you're in" but when Dove personal care products trademarked that slogan for an advertising campaign, "it made us sound like we were selling soap."
"The first Fly Honey was conducted in our loft, for only one night," Davis remembers, "but the response made us decide to move the next year's show to the Chopin basement, where it played for five years—until we realized that we couldn't claim to be a body-inclusive event while performing in a non-ADA accessible venue." [The Heath Mainstage is located on the ground floor of the Den complex.]
Neither Davis nor Williamson recollect anyone ever proposing an act for Fly Honey verging on unacceptable. "Stories of sexual assault have always been difficult to present in a positive context," Williamson admits, "But Erin has a great eye for the placement of each individual act —for example, a beautiful, but potentially upsetting, monologue right next to a high-energy dance—in order to offer each artist the most favorable platform for their message."
What do you want the audience to take away from Fly Honey? "To feel seen," Williamson answers promptly, but Davis considers the question before replying, "Over sixty percent of our performers started as audience members. They arrived looking for a party, but left feeling like they had found community. So it's more the other way round—what we want is to learn just what made them come to our show, so we can give them more of what they need."
The Fly Honey Show runs at the Heath Mainstage in the Den through September 8.
Mary Shen Barnidge