We never forget the one that got away. No, I don’t mean your last Tinder date. I’m talking about missed connections of the creative variety. The song that was just a catchy chorus short of Top 40 euphoria. The webseries one clever concept away from Comedy Central success. Drafts languishing in drawers and hard drives all over the city. Murdering your darlings is essential writing advice, but sometimes you’ve got to wonder what it would be like to bring them back to life.
Amanda Duarte understands. The voice-over artist, singer, actress, and creator of the Pussy Grabs Back campaign has a monthly show called Dead Darlings, dedicated to all of those creative corpses, the ideas that were just too pretty to live.
February’s edition at the historic Judson Church began with Duarte’s rendition of the Stephen Sondheim classic, “I’m Still Here,” reengineered for life under the Trump administration. She’s an Elaine Stritch in training, and a reminder that the revolution must include humor.
After the rousing opening number, the performers and their darlings for February included work from cartoonist Emily Flake that was passed over by the New Yorker, a killed article and video short about a polyamorous commune that just happens to raise wolves by journalist Jessica Bennett (Duarte’s partner in Pussy Grab’s Back), and scenes from an abandoned play about rehab from playwright Jaclyn Backhaus. In what was perhaps the most surprising (and surprisingly emotional) moments of the night, comedian Bowen Yang lip-synced along to the infamous moment on Cycle 4 of America’s Next Top Model, when Tyra Banks screams “I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you” at recently-eliminated model hopeful Tiffany Richardson.
I didn’t know I needed that moment in my life, but Amanda Duarte did. Post-show, I chatted with her about her inspiration for the show, what it’s like to go viral, and what’s next for Pussy Grabs Back in the Trump era.
Brooklyn Based: Where did the idea for Dead Darlings come from?
The idea came to me when I was taking a playwriting workshop, and was just hacking away at this play I was writing, and thinking of the saying “kill your darlings” and thought to myself, “Sigh, all these dead darlings are just piling up at my feet.” They were good, and it made me so sad that no one would ever hear them! Then I thought, you know, just imagine all the dead darlings that artists have–wouldn’t it be great to have a forum where they could be presented? So I started one.
Brooklyn Based: Tell me about a particularly memorable moment from the show, please. And have any darlings been brought back to life as a result?
AD: Ha, I do think a few darlings have been brought back to life! Sometimes the artists are really taken aback by the positive audience response to what they thought was subpar material, and they reconsider abandoning it. I know that John Early brought in screenshots of a hilarious Toni Collette fansite he made when he was 13 that made their way into his show Literally Me, and I’m sure there are other examples. There have been so many memorable moments over the last few years–writer-performer Cole Escola playing Blythe Danner in a solo show he wrote based on her osteoporosis med commercial, actor Michael Cyril Creighton replicating an audition for a potato chip ad in which he fell out of a cardboard bathtub shirtless, Time Out New York critic Adam Feldman performing a weird abandoned cabaret show of songs sung by women about how they know their husbands love them because they beat them…gosh there have been so many, but those are some recent ones that come to mind.
Brooklyn Based: How did the Pussy Grabs Back campaign start? Was there a goal in mind, or was it spontaneous?
AD: It was completely spontaneous. The night that the infamous “pussy tapes” were released, I wrote a Facebook post that said, “November 8: Pussy Grabs Back,” and started the hashtag on Twitter. My friend Jessica Bennett (journalist for The New York Times, author of the book Feminist Fight Club) cobbled together the image with Stella Marrs‘ cat artwork and posted it as a comment under the Facebook post, and both went viral really really fast. By morning, celebrities were Instagramming it, it was everywhere. But it was never planned or contrived, it was just two women responding instinctively and creatively to the unravelling misogynist rape culture horror show that was and is the 45th president of the United States.
Brooklyn Based: How does it feel to go viral?
AD: It’s both terrifying and exhilarating. I had written a couple of Facebook posts that had gone viral previous to that, one of which was about abortion, and it was exciting but rather scary, as I received a lot of hate mail and death threats. Pussy Grabs Back was, by comparison, just tremendously exciting and empowering. Seeing it on protest signs and t-shirts around the world was and continues to be one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever experienced. A lot of women wrote to me to tell me how empowering it was for them, and this time around no one threatened to stick a needle in my head and drain me to death, so I call it a win.
But the power and speed with which the human race is now able to communicate an idea is sometimes a bit daunting. It’s so new. We forget how new it is. I mean, this is very “puff, puff, pass,” but I wonder if it’ll ever seem normal to me, the fact that I can have a thought in my head, and 10 seconds later the entire world has access to it, and to me. Well, the entire world that has unfettered internet access and net neutrality, both of which I fear we stand to lose very soon.
Brooklyn Based: Beyond the t-shirts, any plans to expand PGB?
AD: It’s kind of taken on a life of its own at this point! It’s still on signs and torsos around the world, which is where it belongs. It’s on its feet and on the streets. We have a few ideas kicking around as far as actions and events, so watch this space! And the t-shirts are still available through Female Collective and Spreadshirt! Spreadshirt will also put it on coffee mugs and tote bags!
Brooklyn Based: How do you choose performers for the show?
AD: Well, I’m lucky enough to know a clutch of incredibly talented people in NYC, and I often reach out to them to see what they have on the cutting room floor. I also see a ton of performance, I read a lot, and as a coastal elitist libtard welfare queen snowflake, I try to take in as much culture as I can. Then I reach out to the people who excite and inspire me. Lucky for me, a lot of them say yes!
Dead Darlings is the second Wednesday of every month at 8pm at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South. The next edition is Wednesday, March 8.