The stand-up storyteller.
"I don't write fiction," Dark says. "All of the stories I tell, they're funny and entertaining, but they also have some kind of social issue that causes people to think and talk about things later."
Dark says her style is more like stand-up comedy than traditional theater.
"It's not a traditional theater show where there is a fourth wall and the audience and I never really speak to each other," she says. Dark also changes the material, depending on the audience. "I teach gender studies and there's a piece of me that likes to find the teaching moment with the audience," she says.
Dark has been performing spoken word for seven years. She got her start at the San Diego Gay and Lesbian Center where she gained a reputation as "the poet who wasn't boring." She competed in poetry slams while completing her graduate degree. "I believe as soon as you stand up and read something, it's not just a poem anymore. It is a performance," she says.
Her latest one-woman show, Stripped and Teased: Scandalous Stories With Subversive Subplots, explores gender issues via stories about sex workers and their patrons. Three pieces form the center of the show, "Strippers and Waitresses," "Strippers and Soldiers" and "Strippers and Lesbians." The show garnered this year's award for Best Improvisational/Spoken Word at the Columbus Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival in Ohio.
In the story about lesbians, Dark talks about an ex-lover who enjoyed going to strip clubs and had occasional fantasies about the women. Without judgment, Dark explores the power dynamic of the dancers and the patrons.
From the piece "Strippers and Lesbians": "One fantasy that she entertained is that the dancers liked her and her friends better than they liked the men. Well, let's say they did. Maybe they felt less stressed, more appreciated.... But is this what's really involved in liking somebody? One party is clothed, safe, the subject of the story, no matter how the story reads. One party has the money, the car in the parking lot, the friends at the bar. One party is wearing shoes you could run in if you needed to."
Strip clubs are one place where gender roles are strictly enforced, she contends. The dancers embody submission, sexuality, helplessness, flirtation and prettiness. "Men are also doing gender in a really prescribed fashion," she says. "They are there to pay and objectify. We live in a time where we're told women have equality and that women have the ability to have anything a man can have. But part of what a man has is power over women."
One way Dark flips the power dynamic is just by telling these stories. "Women don't often get to see their lives represented onstage, especially lesbians."
Dark has completed three other performance pieces, including the popular Butch/Femme Chronicles, in which she explored why most lesbians don't identify as butch or femme, yet the language is pervasive in our culture. "I'm interested in how a two-gender system is recreated by people within one gender," she says.
One look at Dark's long hair, painted fingernails and sculpted eyebrows would cause most people to put her in the "femme" box, but, she admits, "I was uncomfortable with the label for the same reasons I think many people are: you don't have a line-item veto. Being femme means you're helpless, it means you're high maintenance, it means you're not capable of doing things. There's negative stuff that goes along with the positive."
Since performing Butch/Femme Chronicles, she has come to embrace the term more for herself. "Everything I write, including the political stuff, is terribly personal to me. I'm really exposed onstage," she says.
Kimberly Dark's tour schedule is available online at kimberlydark.com.