Dance!!! Dance!!! Dance!!!
As Robert O’Hara’s outrageous episodic odyssey follows its young gay protagonist, Michael Jackson receives more than one passing but reverent shout-out. I spoke with the playwright about his relationship to the King of Pop, and why his presence suffuses O’Hara’s delightfully subversive Bootycandy.
Sarah Lunnie: Do you remember the first time you heard Michael Jackson sing? What did he and his music mean to you, growing up?
Robert O’Hara: I don’t remember the first time I heard Michael Jackson sing. I do remember the first time I saw him sing live... my mother took me to a Jackson 5 concert when I was a little kid because she knew even then that I was a huge fan. I was constantly being asked by my family members to dance like Michael Jackson, which I did with abandon. He was a god to me even when he was still singing with his brothers, but Off The Wall was the first cassette that I bought on my own. I was nine years old. It was transformational. MJ was special. Like me. He didn’t act like all the other boys. Like I didn’t. He was a man-child and so I could relate to him being “different.” And throughout my life, when he danced, my soul shifted. It was the closest thing I can imagine to getting the Holy Ghost. I followed everything about him and felt, because we were both aliens from another planet, we would eventually find one another and work on something together. I honestly felt this way until the very moment that I heard he died, and at that moment a 39-year-old man whose idol had passed away, wept.
SL: When in the process of writing did Jackson weave his way into the fabric of the play? Was that part of how you imagined the piece from its conception, or did he find his way in more gradually, as you wrote?
RO: Once I decided that Bootycandy would have a throughline that took its main character from childhood into adulthood, I knew that Michael Jackson would figure into that. If I was going to satirize moments of my life, then I knew part of that satire would be my obsession with the King of Pop. I was an oddity as a child; Bootycandy is an oddity of a play; and
I wanted it to be a tribute to the greatest oddity of them all, giving thanks to his spirit for helping me get through a life that has been at times incredibly lonely and dangerous as a gay black man. And I’ve always thought of MJ as a gay black man, and maybe if he wasn’t a “King” he could have lived an open life… at least, that’s the narrative I choose to believe.
SL: I realize this question begs a million answers, but what’s so great about MJ? And what would you say is his legacy?
RO: Watch “Thriller.” Watch “Billie Jean” or “Beat It” or “Smooth Criminal” or “Bad,” and the question of what is so special about him will instantly be rendered rhetorical. He is a wonder of the world. I can’t name another person who has existed that could do what he could do and did it the way he did it. He was a genius. Play the opening of “Billie Jean” right now. Seriously: turn it on right now. Better yet, don’t turn it on—it’s already on in your brain: “Do do… do do… do do… do do… she was more like a beauty queen of a movie scene, I said don’t mind but what do you mean, I am the one, who will dance, on the floor, in the round…” Now hum Beethoven’s Fifth. Exactly. They’re both in there already. THAT is his legacy. And the last person in the last spaceship that leaves this planet, they will know MJ and his music.
Associate Literary Manager