The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

May 29, 2013

Bearded Ladies: "We are not your normal family."

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By John Jarboe, Bearded Ladies

I’m sitting in the Beard-Quarters after our monthly company meeting.  I made a 1950s recipe for the group that is only three ingredients: canned peaches, onion soup mix, and chicken breasts.  We eat together at every meeting.  It supports the idea that we are a family and it makes the scheduling conversations a little more fun.  We talked over so many ideas: touring our new Civil War Show, hosting Bearded dinners for the community, starting a street performance project called Parades! Parades! Parades!, titling our new show at the Wilma involving Judy Garland tunes, and maybe feeding that audience dinner.  And at the end of this meeting, I found myself exhausted by my Bearded family.  I am so fortunate to have such a queer, creative, loud, and tirelessly inquisitive group of people in my home and my creative life.

We are not your normal family.  What ties us together is not blood, but music…music and questions.   I think the heart of our company best emerges around a piano, when someone says “that reminds me of a song.  Let’s sing that.”  The trick and challenge for us is taking those organic moments of musical association and realizing them into full pieces with dramatic arcs, characters, and meaning.  The trick for us, being such a strange family of artists, is also finding support, funding, and resources.  We don’t fit into the traditional mold of arts organizations and don’t want to institutionalize ourselves in ways that might hurt the home-made, heart-felt nature of our work.  We have been so lucky this year, then, to have had individual support from so many people in Philadelphia, and from foundations like the Wyncote, Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, and, of course, the Knight Foundation.

A bunch of Bearded Ladies, including myself attended the recent awards ceremony in Philadelphia.  What is most heartwarming about the event for me is that Knight sponsors not just the major organizations and institutions, but also supports the other strange Philadelphia Art families.  Some of our favorite companies like Swim Pony and Team Sunshine got funding.  Artist U, an amazing initiative to work with artists to better themselves in marketing and supporting their crafts, also got Knight Support.  We are so lucky that there are sources of funding in Philadelphia that value and support families like ours.

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