Bastion Carboni: Agitating, educating with art

Bastion Carboni: Agitating, educating with art

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Ah, Fringe is back and all of my favorites are once again ready to thrill, chill, entertain and educate. The always-exciting Brian Sanders’ JUNK presents “Strand,” while Tangle Movement Arts soars high above with the vertical drama “Life Lines.” Drag songstress Cookie Diorio uses her 6.5-inch platforms for some philanthropic frivolity in “Art of the Heel” and the ever-dynamic Gunnar Montana takes us into the “Kink Haüs.” In fact, there is a whole page of LGBT-identified shows and performers this year. The list includes former Portraits Timaree Schmit and Tiel Guarino and a host of other folks you know who will be participating in the SEXxy “List of Common Misconceptions.”

This week’s Portrait, Bastion Carboni, has been making a mark on the Philadelphia theater, drag and burlesque scenes. In addition to several acclaimed Fringe shows, Carboni (as his alter ego Pilar Salt) has joined forces with HoneyTree EvilEye (Schmit) to create the monthly event “Agitated! Performance with a Point.” At this year’s Fringe, he’ll present “Scattershot,” a dark comedy about hierarchy, inevitability and animal instinct.

PGN: Isn’t the motto from your neck of the woods “Keep Austin Weird”?

BC: Yes, but it hasn’t been relevant for years. It’s been very corporate and tech-bro for the past 10 years. It’s had its soul sucked out of it. All the people who are on the “weird” side can’t afford to live there anymore. I know a lot of Philadelphia is getting gentrified and I really hope it doesn’t go the way of Austin because I really love this city.

PGN: Are you from Austin proper or nearby?

BC: I was actually born Mesquite, Texas, the rodeo capital of the world. It’s a suburb of Dallas. I dropped out of college and moved to Austin when I was 20. I wanted to expand my theater work and self-produce my own shit.

PGN: What were you like as a kid?

BC: My dad says I was really somber, very morose with a dark sense of humor, which is what happens when you’re the only openly gay person in a small Texas city. I knew that I was gay when I was 6. I told Daniel Beavers on the playground in first grade — and yes, that was his real name — and from that day on I was called faggot on a daily basis. I went to school with the same kids for 12 years and the whole time I was “the school faggot.” So I didn’t have a lot of friends, I read a lot and consumed a lot of art. A good indication of my state of mind: When I read “Carrie” the first time, I cried because I empathized with her deeply. 

PGN: Was there anyone who showed you empathy?

BC: I remember when 9/11 happened, they were showing the news in my science class as it was unfolding. People were in the halls singing, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” by REM and I just fucking broke down. I was sobbing and this girl — who I later found out had defended me when my name had come up, which it did a lot because I was “the faggot” — came up to me and just hugged me. I also had an English teacher … isn’t it always the English teachers who come to the rescue? Her name was Ms. Dersham and she was amazing. Do you know that famous Japanese print with the tiny boat, I think it’s called “The Great Wave”? You’ve seen it a million times, probably on a placemat at Kohl’s. There’s a rectangle on the print with some Japanese writing. I knew she’d studied Japanese in college and I’d asked her what it meant. The day after 9/11 I was really devastated by what had happened to all those people. I was sitting in the front row, despondent, and she put her hand on my shoulder — something that’s probably illegal now — and she slid a piece of paper to me with the translated caption, “In the crest of the wave off the coast of Kanagawa.” It was one of the most wonderful, deeply human interactions I’ve had with an educator.

PGN: What was one of the craziest moments?

BC: I was accused of making bomb threats. I was in high school during Columbine and I was a gay teenager in Texas writing emotional, dark poetry. The first alert came when they found a list of names of kids in the school that I had labeled my “To-do” list. [Laughs] It was actually a list of people I wanted to have sex with! It was all the popular kids that I hated but secretly wanted to do. I never found out who accused me of the second one, but it never amounted to anything.

PGN: Tell me about the family.

BC: My dad is a machinist and my mom is a nurse, so I grew up watching surgery videos while eating Sunday dinner. Mashed potatoes and open-heart surgery were often on the menu, so to this day I can watch gross things and it doesn’t bother me. I have one brother, Greg, and he’s a construction worker. 

PGN: What did you want to be when you grew up?

BC: What didn’t I want? Let’s see, I wanted to be a cop, a primatologist, an ornithologist, a herpetologist … I wasn’t good at science but I read a lot of comics and somehow thought I would have a squadron of animals to defend me and do my every waking bidding. I’ve done some phenomenally stupid shit in my lifetime! One time I tried training an army of bees by trying to control the general bee. Well, that asshole committed insurrection and would not cooperate at all. [Laughs] I never seem to get in trouble for real stuff, it’s always dumb things like getting arrested in New York for smoking on the subway. They ran my ID and found that there was a seven-year-old warrant out on me for peeing in public and they put me in jail! The funny thing is that my parents seemed to think I was a wild child, out sucking dick, drinking Boone’s Farm wine and stabbing hobos, but actually I just had a bad habit of losing my keys, so I had to break back into the house at all hours and they assumed I’d been up to something crazy. 

PGN: What did you study at college?

BC: I went to UNT [University of North Texas] for two years, studying English and Italian and theater, until I decided to drop out and pursue theater, but then I became very self-conscious that I didn’t have a degree. So to educate myself over the next few years, I read 650 American plays and a lot about the theater before producing my own show. I’m dismayed at how many directors these days don’t bother to learn the history of theater. You have to know where we’ve been in order to know where to go!

PGN: And you have to know the rules to break them.

BC: Yes! That’s one of the reasons I love the burlesque community. Now there’s a group that reveres their history and they support and teach each other. They have a sense of their own trajectory in the art form.

PGN: How did you end up in Philly?

BC: Well, I was doing a show at the Fringe Festival in Austin. I found this woman to do a monologue in my show and she was a Jersey nightmare, fur coat and skintight Juicy Couture jeans with heels. Perfect for the part. Her boyfriend invited me to come to New York and let me crash at his place in exchange for paying the electric bill, so I dropped everything and went. I lived there for most of 2005 and then one night I was drinking gin, smoking a rolled cigarette with three weeks of rent left in my bank account and I was trying to write a play and it wasn’t coming out. A voice in my head said, “Go back to Austin,” so I silently screamed at the universe while throwing shit into my suitcase and I returned to Texas the next day with $10 to my name. Back in Austin, I produced another show but after a while I felt that I’d done all I could in Texas. I’d been keeping an eye on some theater companies in Philly and liked the scene here, so I said, “Fuck it,” found a place on Craigslist and moved to Philly. The worst year of my life. 

PGN: Oh no!

BC: Yes, it was awful. I was living in a shitty situation, had no money, no friends, it was terrible. I became suicidal but having made it through, I learned a lot of valuable lessons. I came to realize that when I’m not making art, I want to die.

PGN: What turned it around?

BC: I was approached to do a theater piece with Olivia Jorgensen of Pig Iron Theater. I met a lot of people through that and in fact we cast a lot of people from Pig Iron in “Agitated.” They’re all such talented and incredible people. I also competed in Miss Everything, where I solidified my character Pilar Salt and realized that there was an audience for something other than lip-synching, which I appreciate, [but] it’s just not for me. But as Pilar Salt, I could do theatrical monologues in drag. I met HoneyTree EvilEye, who took a chance on me and we created “Agitated.” It’s been amazing. If you told me three years ago that my artistic work would be as some mouthy blonde, I wouldn’t have believed you.

PGN: And what is “Scattershot”?

BC: I was trying to figure out what to do for Fringe and I wrote to my friend Tiel Guarino, who’s doing a show at Fringe with HoneyTree EvilEye called “List of Common Misconceptions.” I sent her a copy of a script I had in mind and she said, “That’s the one. Do it.” It was perfect because it captures as best I can the anger, paranoia and anxiety of the moment, the dread we’re all feeling in 2017. The play’s about four femme assassins in a waiting room. As a gay man, I wanted to write a play with femme-identified people that makes no mention of maleness, and where they don’t have to play “women.” I didn’t want to make a “Steel Magnolias.” They’re just people first and I have some badass humans playing the roles. 

PGN: Anything else on the horizon?

BC: Yes, we’re doing a series at Tabu called “Collision,” me and HoneyTree, Tiel, my performance husband Paul Severe and the fabulous Brittany Lynn. The theme of the first show is “My First Album.” 

PGN: OK, time for some arbitrary questions. Best birthday?

BC: For years in Austin I had a party each year. My friends were all performers so they’d bring a short piece or song to perform. It was the best! That and my 10th birthday when I got a Mega Man IV and an Ace of Base cassette. 

PGN: Tell me about coming out to the family.

BC: Well, when I was 7, I told my mother that I had AIDS. I’d been fooling around with another boy named Max before swim class and soon after that experience I was in my grandmother’s trailer watching the news and there was a story about gay men and AIDS. I freaked out and told my mom and she said, “You can’t have AIDS.” And I said, “But I’m a lesbian!” I thought it sounded more grown-up than gay. I told her about fooling around with Max and she said, “You’re fine … just don’t tell your father.” But then when I was 16 they found gay porn on the computer and it was a disaster. It took a while and a lot of angst but now they’re fine with it. I finally had to give them an ultimatum, “Do you want one child? Or two and one of them is ‘a gay’? Also, please have something other than Moscato in the fridge when I come over. That stuff is just gross.” 

PGN: First album you bought?

BC: Well, I was a part of BMG music club.

PGN: Oh my God, I’d forgotten all about that.

BC: Yup. I had an Eddie Murphy album, which my mom heard and threw away because of all the cursing. And “Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Bach,” classical music for kids. But of course like any teenage queer in the ’90s, Alanis Morrissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” was defining. I even have an Alanis tattoo for God’s sake!

PGN: Three foods you want banished?

BC: Creamed spinach, creamed any vegetable really. Scrapple — though I do appreciate the idea of not letting any parts go to waste — trash in food form. And oh God, those horrible old-ass peanut-shaped candies that come individually wrapped in orange or black cellophane and they’re all gritty in the middle! Those can go! 

PGN: Describe Philly in a Tweet.

BC: A place where people think it’s acceptable to wear sweatpants in public. But the arts are great. 

For more information about “Scattershot,” visit http://fringearts.com/event/scattershot/.  

To suggest a community member for Family Portrait, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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