Chelsea Petrakis

IN JUNE, I profiled a series of short pieces presented for Risk/Reward’s Festival of New Performance. Known onstage as audacious drag clown Carla Rossi, Anthony Hudson presented a piece that stood out for its exciting exploration of Native American cultural assimilation via Cher’s Half Breed and the 1954 Peter Pan Broadway musical number “Ugg-A-Wugg” as performed by blue-eyed, blonde-haired Sondra Lee. For the 20-minute Risk/Reward preview, Hudson stripped off his clown persona and performed a large part of the piece as himself. This weekend, he debuts the full show in Portland at the Hollywood Theatre for two nights. He showed up to our interview wearing a beautiful pink and purple cosmic skull t-shirt. Here’s what happened next.

MERCURY: What are you trying to accomplish with Looking for Tiger Lily?

ANTHONY HUDSON: My drama teacher in high school—who was the only reason I didn’t drop out of high school—always said theater was to educate, enlighten, and entertain. That’s basically been my approach ever since.

Because Carla is a drag clown, not a drag queen.

Exactly. I’ve always been interested in Carla being this trickster character—on the edge between satire, reification, and critique. In Looking for Tiger Lily, there’s this whole dream sequence where I’m talking with Grandmother Willow after I’ve sung a Pocahontas song in my canoe. I can’t help but laugh every time because it’s so stupid but then you also have moments where there are no slides. There’s no music and it’s just me.

Yes. As a white person, I’m excited about the use of PowerPoint in this performance.

I’m going to put that on the poster for the show.

No, seriously, how much PowerPoint can we expect?

The entire show is run through Keynote, which relates to my father. He’s the main inspiration for this piece. He was a social worker, and when I was in my teens I traveled with him to different state conferences where he gave presentations about the importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. That’s really where I learned about all the wrongs that had been done to us. That’s where I learned about intergenerational trauma and assimilation.

But the 1954 Peter Pan musical with Sondra Lee also informed you.

Yes! Sondra Lee, who is my Tiger Lily.

And you still love that song.

It’s stupid. It’s joyful. It’s old classic Broadway. For me, “Ugg-A-Wugg”—as awful as it is with all the Indian gibberish—never came across as mean spirited. The whole Broadway production of Peter Pan reads like children just playing and having fun. I just recently learned this, but the New York Times in 1905 called the representation of Native Americans in Peter Pan less a representation of actual Natives and more a weird mishmash of Natives that had been collected by the British Empire. There’s this weird tendency to try to legitimize it and to make it not racist.

Oh! That’s something I had never considered. That Peter Pan should be offensive to the viewer.

Yeah, it’s just a racist kid story!