Youth in revolt

College kid-slash-performance artist John Michael Colgin hopes to make a splash — one awkward moment at a time

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ABOUT FACES | John Michael Colgin goes from snobby private school gay-baiter to out-and-proud McDonald’s worker in his one-man show ‘Would You Like Guys With That?’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

For John Michael Colgin, homophobia is an easy term. Too easy. When people start using it as a label, Colgin sees it as losing its weight.

“It gets people off topic so easily,” he asserts. “That’s where the struggles begin.”

Colgin, just 22, is a ball of pent-up energy. He squirms in his chair trying to find that right comfort level and yet his enthusiasm when talking about his one-man show Would You Like Guys With That? keeps him on the edge of his seat. He punctuates his sentences with lively gestures and a multitude of facial expressions. He’s eccentric in personality, but passionate.

“The show is sometimes about transformation,” he says. “As a gay man, when you don’t have role models, the only thing you associate with ‘gay’ is what you’re shown. So from beginning to end in the show, the sexual identity thing is going on.”

In his piece, Colgin’s main character (himself, really) is a snobby kid, the product of private-schooling and a sense of entitlement; he becomes even more judgmental when he attends college in Stillwater, Okla. But then he goes to work at McDonald’s as a kind of social experiment, he begins to see the world anew: Just because he hates small-talk with his co-workers, he discovers that listening to different music doesn’t mean you’re not a human being.

“I did my research on people who seemed so different than me,” Colgin says. “After the first time I performed it, I learned that I could really reach people with my voice. Every thing is so authentically true in my head as in the show.”

He created the show while attending Oklahoma State, but had to convince the group there called SODA (Sexual Orientation Diversity Association) that he had a viable piece. In a shrewd move, he previewed what he said was a 70-minute show with a 10-minute micro-version. They were impressed, and he got a $500 grant.

Only he hadn’t actually created the remaining hour’s worth of material.  That’s when he got to writing.

Even now, he says, he doesn’t work from a fixed script, instead coming up with an outline and rehearsing it until the rhythm becomes second nature.

When he came home to Dallas, he had to start the process all over again.

“Going to theaters and spaces here, I was forced to convince people again that my work had value to it,” he says. “It was frustrating but part of my mission statement is to go to non-theater groups. My show doesn’t need perfection in lighting or stuff, it’s just about bringing the work to people who won’t get to see it.”

He performed Guys at Nouveau 47’s Theatre Appresh in November, a sort of guerrilla performance night. It got him some notice. One local critic called it “focused, fresh and engaging … with gritty humor, pathos and an honest, dark conviction fit to delight Lenny Bruce.” Someone from the Cathedral of Hope attended after reading Dallas Voice’s Instant Tea blog and liked it enough that Colgin was invited to perform there later this spring.

They were probably responding to the same charisma that makes Colgin a challenging interview. He bounces around so much — physically and narratively — that when he talks about coming out, it’s not always clear he’s talking about himself or his show … or whether there’s a difference. Maybe it doesn’t matter; for Colgin, performing is his reality.

“There is stuff that makes me ashamed and uncomfortable, but it’s worth telling onstage,” he says. “I learned the people who piss you off are usually the people who remind you about yourself. The self-realization is onstage.”

He even turns his breaks from the interview to do an impromptu segment from his play, he goes for it full-force. In a cramped office, as his character recounts the pleasure of sneaking a peek at his teacher’s breast (he hadn’t realized he was gay yet), Colgin simulates an orgasm.

“I’m freakin’ naked up there,” he exclaims. “I never felt more clear than right now.”

Still, Colgin’s performance isn’t just about coming out, but more a confession (he admits to being particularly hurtful to gay kids to mask his own feelings) and apology.

It’s about putting his young, confused life on display.

“You want other [gay] kids to see you can be happy,” he says. “I was ugly in the closet. I knew I was unbearable to some people. When I came out at 21, my writing started and now I can see the me I wanna be.”

Would You Like Guys with That? Davidson Auditorium — JSOM 1.118, 800 W. Campbell Road on the UTD Campus, Richardson. Jan 30. 5:30pm. Free. UTDallas.edu/womenscenter

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas