As an openly gay transsexual performer, Harvey Katz, otherwise known as Athens Boys Choir, uses humor to address topics ranging from gender to politics in his poetry pieces. He is currently on his “F to Embody” tour with hip-hop artist Katastrophe.
Accent Editor Kelsey Fowler spoke with Katz about his spoken word topics, how he prepares and what it’s like being a role model.
Kelsey Fowler: How is your performance different from your typical spoken word?
Harvey Katz: I like to call it the poetry your mama warned you about. It happens so often with spoken word where people will come up to you and say, “I hate spoken word, but I like your spoken word.” It is really honest. I try to keep it a little roller-coaster-y. It’s a little sad but really human. But there’s always an aspect of something to lighten it up. Life might be classified as shitty, but it’s never really so horrible you can’t laugh at it.
KF: How would you define your style of poetry?
HK: It’s like hip-hop in a way. A lot of it is just freestyle pieces. I don’t have a particular style. It’s like listening to a CD where you have your rock ballads and then you have your more upbeat piece, then a super heavy sensitive piece, and every piece sounds completely different than the one before. I have to perform it every night. I don’t want it to get boring for me either. I want it to still feel important.
KF: Has anyone ever approached you for advice about being transsexual?
HK: There’s not a ton of us out there, and it’s important to know other people are going through what you’re going through. If I can offer anyone advice, that’s great.
KF: Is transsexuality one of the topics you often talk about?
HK: It certainly is a large part of it, especially because so much of what I do is identity based performance. I also have super gay hip-hop performance stuff I do that is part of the show, and that’ll have video with it. I green screen myself into a Justin Bieber video. It’s lighthearted stuff. A lot of topics are gender-based. A lot is life-based. It’s hard to objectively evaluate what you do. I cover religion, family, politics — all the big bases.
KF: How do you write your pieces?
HK: Usually when I’m in motion, riding my bike or walking or in my car, I’ll think of a line. Sometimes a whole piece will just come out of that one line. They all really self-evolve. I feel like if I push anything too hard, go into writing with motive behind it, I’ll end up with shit. It’ll feel contrived; I just let it come. It feels like a separate entity to me — so bizarre. If there’s something you’re good at that you love, it opens fields and becomes effortless at a certain point.
KF: Will people who haven’t heard spoken word before still be able to enjoy your show?
HK: I hope. Both Katastrophe and myself try to set up our show, perform and take the audience into consideration. Everybody is there to enjoy themselves. I want to make sure people coming have a good time. I don’t even make my set list until I get there. I am there to be out and proud and make sure people who are there don’t feel isolated.
KF: Why the name Athens Boys Choir if you’re a solo performer?
HK: I would do anything to get rid of that name now. I’ve done really well with it though so I’m sticking with it. I originally worked with another guy, that’s how the choir aspect came out of it. He’s Catholic, I’m Jewish, and there’s something just a little gay about a boys’ choir. We lived in Athens together, so henceforth the name.
KF: How do you get the audience involved in your show?
HK: With a lot of spoken word, some of it is really funny, some is really serious. I always like to take into account my audience and make sure they get a sense of release in each piece — key thing to what I do. I tend to handle stuff that comes into my life with a sense of humor. I make sure I put that in my pieces, but I also have a lot of pop culture references.
KF: Do you think you’re a role model?
HK: It’s inspirational to be called a role model, but I don’t know if I am. I’m on the road traveling, talking about nothing but me and my community. I am a happy and healthy, human, sexual person. It’s really important that people get to see that side of it. It’s a
really important role, to open people’s minds a little bit, or let people know everybody’s having human experiences. We’re all just getting through it.
To listen to a track from the Athens Boys Choir, visit theithacan.org.
If you Go
“F to Embody”
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Emerson Suites
How much: Free