Heidi Madsen and I met about a year ago when I joined CAW (Creative Arts of Women) but I had seen her perform and out and about at some of the local art shows before that. I was totally enthralled with her installation piece and performance art at the Remnants show at Urban Arts Space earlier this year and was happy that she agreed to an interview!
Heidi is a multi-talented lady…a performance artist, clown, drag king and playwright with a stage name of Toe B. Although she grew up in Mentor Ohio, she made her way to Columbus in 1989 for college and has lived here since. Professionally, she is a Technology Program Manager at JPMorgan Chase with a Computer Science Engineering degree from OSU. In her job, she is a facilitator that brings people together to have meaningful conversations to create sustainable change. During the last 5 years, she has studied Social Presencing Theatre and The Art Of Hosting with her current career goal being to integrate performance art with leadership training.
However, as she puts it, “passionately, I am a performance artist”. She has been performing as a drag king since 1995. She has studied improv with Jeff Gage here in Columbus (2010) and studied clowning with Sue Morrison in Toronto in 2011.
When asked what inspired her to go in the direction of art/performing she stated:
Growing up, I had two choices in my mind of who I wanted to be. The career choice was an engineer like my dad. The person choice was an artist like my grandmother. My career took precedence until 2002 when I realized that my life goals and career goals didn’t match each other. In a forest in New Zealand, I made a commitment to myself that I would make life choices going forward that were in alignment with the core of who I am. When I slid across a stage for the first time in my underwear in 1995 as Tom Cruise in Risk Business I had no idea that performance art was at the core of who I was. Managing and performing with H.I.S. Kings drag king troupe for the next several years, I grew into a social activist and educator through gender performance. I perform as a drag king to reveal the absurdity that “real” women are 100% feminine and only attracted to “real” men; and that “real” men are 100% masculine and only attracted to “real” women. I added clowning to my repertoire to learn how to share my authentic self with my audience.
Heidi feels that performance art is a powerful way to capture an audience’s attention and start a meaningful conversation. As a performed, she wants to become a mirror for her audience so that they can see themselves as part of the conversation. Her only interest in performing is to present something that brings the performer and audience together to say something new.
Inspiration comes from the feeling of community. As a performer, she is inspired by collaborating with artists of all genres. “The intersection of performance art, dialogue and leadership is where I thrive!”
Her first installation was the piece I previously spoke of in the CAW Remnants exhibit. Orginally, her plan was to create a video of the performance that she would also perform live at the opening. However, because of the logistics and flow of the gallery space, she was given her own area to perform. After reviewing the location and size of this reserved area, she chose to stretch herself as an artist to fill the space. Her installation of “Test Results” grew into a collaboration with other artists to create a visual arts, video original music and performance experience. The installation was then brought to life with a live performance on opening night that left a few surprise remnants behind that became a permanent part of the installation. Collaborating with those other artists and bringing the installation to life is an exciting new direction for her as a performer and now a budding visual artist. “I am truly grateful for the inspiration, support and friendships I have nurtured with the collaborators on this project, the amazing women artist of CAW and my studio mates at
Open Heart Art studio (where she now has a studio). They have all helped to shape the artist that I am today.”
As part of the Remnants exhibit, she also developed and taught “Walk Like Yourself”, a children’s clowning workshop at the OSU Urban Arts Space. She also taught this workshop at Camp Sunrise, a camp for children affected and/or infected by HIV.
She also received a GCAC Artist in the Community supply grant this year and considers this an accolade because it will fund clown noses for the following ongoing clowning projects:
a.) “Clownsense” : As a performance artist, I believe in the power of performance as education. And, as a clown, I believe in the power of the universal symbol of the clown nose as a way to open up people’s hearts and minds. I have been experimenting with performance installations that start the moment each person enters the performance space. Clownsense will help spread awareness and inclusion in our community.
b.) “Walk Like Yourself” & “Walk Like A Leader” : I am also integrating performance art with leadership training. Specifically, I have prototyped a clowning workshop called “Walk Like Yourself”. In this experiential workshop participants learn a basic clowning technique to find their walk. “Walk Like a Leader” is the next step. Learning how to amplify the qualities that make their walk unique is a metaphor for amplifying within themselves that make them a leader. Leadership, like clowning, is a way to see and be seen by your community.
As a performance artist, her goal is to spend all of her time doing creative things for good causes, supporting good causes creatively and creatively causing good. The performance is only half of what the performance artist has to offer. The other half is the person. Both aspects are equally important for growth and development, further integrating who she is with what she does in her vocation.
She also believes that as a social activist, she can use performance art as an effective tool to capture the audience’s attention and start a meaningful conversation. Through performance art,she hopes to help communities to find their authentic collective voice, focus on topics they care about, strengthen their relationships and see themselves in new ways to co-create emerging futures that they want to be a part of.
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