It was just after sunset when I arrived at Jay Very's cozy East Oakland apartment filled with succulent plants and oil paintings of goats, devils, and mermaids. I was offered a cup of tea and told that sushi was on the way, along with the rest of the cast. That night was the first read-through of WildCardXFaust, a queer rock opera co-produced by Very, his partner Apaulo Hart, and burlesque-inspired performance artist Fabienne Delacroix.
The three of them had been meeting here for months, shaping the production that premieres at the Center for Sex and Culture this Friday. WildCardXFaust is more than six years in the making and was fueled by a passionate community of queers, artists, sex workers, and transgender people, but it began as pure catharsis for Very.
“It really started with me just singing in my shower, crying, and trying to cope with life,” Very said. “And then I eventually realized that these songs could actually be interrelated, form a narrative, and be my art-therapy masterpiece, so to speak.”
Like many, Very moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest seeking like-minded artists: “In Oakland and San Francisco, that's where kinky/queer/trans people come to actualize their dreams.”
He began performing his songs at burlesque and variety shows. There, he crossed paths with Delacroix, known in this production by her stage name, D. Faust. Delacroix had been working for several years on a play with similar themes, and they decided to smash their creations together and invite a cast of 15 or so along for the ride.
“I'm so thrilled that it's not just me,” Very said. “It's a whole production now, and it's really a collaborative effort with other artists.”
During that first rehearsal, the cast read through the script and listened to bits of the score, which is being developed by punk-rock guitarist Di Vashti, another Midwestern queer who relocated to the Bay Area in search of community.
“I had a very stable job, I had a very comfortable life,” she said. “But I didn't have that community and I knew it wasn't coming to me, so I left. This is what I moved to California for.”
The first act is D. Faust's creation: a multimedia, theatrical, ritualistic experience inspired by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as the German legend of Faust — the scholar who sold his soul to the devil for unlimited earthly pleasures.
“As a brown, sex-working witch, I'm constantly stigmatized, I'm constantly challenged, I'm constantly harassed,” Delacroix said.
“It's hard for people to believe that a good person can come in a dark package,” she said. “It has always been adversarial figures that have inspired me to keep going. So I'm going to embrace that, and I'm going to make it something beautiful.”
“I really felt demonized throughout my life,” added Very, “and I embraced that.”
The second act is Very's kinky musical comedy about a trans-masculine sex worker on a quest to find love and understanding in the big city. Though the mood is lighter in the second act, divine elements of angels, devils, and demons are peppered throughout.
Very admits the story is self-referential, but the play is far from autobiographical. “I'm rewriting my history, that's what I'm doing,” he says.
So often when sex workers, trans people, queers, and people of color are portrayed in the media, it's a negative or tragic tale. But though Very, Delacroix, and their cast and crew are playing with some heavy themes of heaven, hell, and beyond, they promise this show will end on a refreshingly high note.
This show is for everyone who has ever yearned for a story where the sex workers, kinksters, trans folks, and people of color are the heroes, and aren't punished at the end of the tale.
“There's a disproportionate amount of sad stories about sex workers of color, witches, kinky people, and transgender folks,” Delacroix said. Though they don't want to give away too many spoilers, Very assures audiences, “Nobody dies,” which Delacroix pointed out is revolutionary in and of itself.