Annie Hamilton is not for everyone. I realized this while watching the video she recently released of her live performance, Looking For Papa. The show had a sold-out run at the Jane Hotel in New York last spring, but I can only imagine the atmosphere of really being there. Instead, I air-played the Vimeo upload of Annie’s favorite performance of the run to the TV in my west-coast living room.
Looking For Papa: The Final Callback is a mostly-one-woman show in which Annie expounds on her addictive personality, her daddy issues, her sexual exploits, and her identity as an artist. In one devastating and devastatingly funny scene, she plays her father, while Odessa Young plays “prop Annie.” If you don’t like lewd art, Annie Hamilton is not for you.
Annie Hamilton also may not be for you if you like your art glossy, polished, perfect. More than one reviewer has referred to Looking For Papa as seemingly “off the cuff.” It’s messy, in a raw way that Annie herself can’t help but point out.
Before we get too far, I should say that Annie Hamilton is for me. I love her brand of self-deprecating, confessional, borderline narcissistic but extremely self-aware performance.
I love it in her social media presence, where she occasionally funnels her manic energy into Q&A marathons on her stories. I love it in her writing, where her product reviews become narrative accounts of any product’s inability to fill the void. And I love it in this performance, where the subject of her art is the art itself.
Indeed, a significant portion of the show is Annie talking about the show—her hopes for it, her disappointments in it, how much work she’s put into it. Probably most importantly, what making it has revealed to her about herself. So, if you aren’t into metatextual art, Annie Hamilton—or at least Looking For Papa—probably isn’t for you, either.
But in a commodity-centric society, where the marketplace has woven itself into the majority of our daily lives, Annie’s focus on process within the “product” is a relief. So is her confidence in herself as an artist, which shines despite—or because of?—her neurotic self-deprecation. The neurotic self-deprecation is the art, or at least part of it. Living a life worthy of performative self-deprecation is another big part of it.
What am I getting at here? It’s one thing to “do it for the story,” to live your life in order to be the most interesting person in the room at all times. It’s another thing to stand on a stage and say “I did it for the story.”
But in a commodity-centric society, where the marketplace has woven itself into the majority of our daily lives, Annie’s focus on process within the “product” is a relief.
It feels unfair of me to review Looking For Papa, a live performance from a year ago that I watched in the middle of the afternoon on my couch. Live performance is an energy exchange. Watching a live performance from your living room is one-sided at best. I’m certainly not giving Annie any energy while I eat carrot sticks and turn up the TV volume to drown out the kids playing across the street. And is she giving me any energy?
Annie doesn’t know about me (not yet, haha, but maybe she’ll read this review). She wasn’t talking to me on stage, despite the things we have in common (sobriety, daddy issues, making questionable choices because they’re the more interesting ones). She didn’t make Looking For Papa for me, personally, but she also didn’t necessarily make it for the people in the audience. Sure, she wants their attention, their laughter—this much she admits in the show itself. But here’s what I’m really getting at here: Annie Hamilton is for, more than anyone, herself.
That would be a catchy way to end this review. It might tie a nice bow around it. But it, too, feels unfair. What I mean is that Annie made her show for herself, because as an artist, what else could she do but create? Somehow, that doesn’t make her shallow or self-absorbed. It makes her work true. Ultimately, it’s what makes her work for me. Because when I see Annie making art and taking artistic ownership of her entire life, I feel inspired. More than that—I feel set free.
What I mean is that Annie made her show for herself, because as an artist, what else could she do but create?
I sometimes call these reviews I write “criticism” but I am by no means a critic. I am an artist. All of my worst decisions were made “for the story” (and all my best ones are terrifically banal) yet I’m wary of telling them. I’m afraid that sharing my stories will blight me, mar my image. My stories will hinder me, render me “not for everyone.”
I am not for everyone. I am an artist, and almost unable to be anything but one. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve tried copywriting, SEO, blogging anonymously. I’ve failed miserably, or when I haven’t, I’ve felt like a fraud.
Of course, I have artistic imposter syndrome. But in non-artistic settings, my feeling of being an imposter isn’t delusional. I can pretend for a while, put on a professional blazer, and speak in a board room for an afternoon. But it’s uncomfortable, unnatural. I don’t fit in there, and everyone knows it. Especially me.
But I feel stuck in that world, the marketplace-based world of content writing. Writing is my best skill, maybe my only one, certainly the one I went into the most debt for. If I can’t make a living writing, what can I do?
Maybe I can ignore that voice in my head. It’s the one that Annie, in Looking For Papa, attributes to her friends: “You’re going to regret this.” The writing I make about what I really see, do, want, think, feel seems to resonate the most with other people. When I’m writing for myself, I’m closer to being “for everyone” than I am when I’m trying to embody some sofa brand’s voice.
Maybe Annie Hamilton, in all her self-exposed fearfully vulnerable glory, isn’t for you. But she is for some: interviewed in Bomb, reviewed in Culture, a New York Times profile, a residency at the Jane Hotel, and a run at Cherry Lane Theatre all attest to that. She certainly didn’t make it this far by listening to the voices that told her she would regret this.
© Hannah Lamb-Vines (3/24/23) Special for FF2 Media®
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Featured photo: Annie Hamilton’s Looking for Papa. Images courtesy of Annie Hamilton.
Bottom photo: Annie Hamilton’s Looking for Papa. Images courtesy of Annie Hamilton.