Conceived, written, directed, and performed by July, the 45-minute show has toured across the country and abroad since 2000. But this Thursday's performance of The Swan Tool, presented by Miami-Dade Community College's Cultura del Lobo Performance Series, is likely the final incarnation of what July describes as an intensely sad story that is really funny too, as a tale that gets across "that particular ache of just living."
Unlike the character she plays, though, the 28-year-old July hardly seems to be in limbo. The Berkeley native started out performing in local bars and punk clubs, such as Gilman Street. After two years at UC-Santa Cruz, July dropped out of college, to the chagrin of her writer parents. She moved to Portland in the mid-Nineties, finding a musical outlet with like-minded outfits Ce Ce Barns Band and The Need, releasing solo-performance CDs on the Kill Rock Stars label, and making a music video for riot grrrls Sleater-Kinney. Her experimental short films (The Amateurist, Nest of Tens, Atlanta, Getting Stronger Every Day) have screened everywhere from the Guggenheim to the Rotterdam International Film Festival, and her 27-minute Nest of Tens was selected for this year's Whitney Biennial, along with a sound installation of chameleonlike voices, called The Drifters, which she created for the museum's elevator. She even showed up on the mainstream screen, playing the nurse with a black eye in the movie Jesus' Son.
Like her cohorts in the riot grrrl movement, July hijacks media in the service of women. In 1995 she gained a cult following with a "lady-made video chainletter" she called Big Miss Moviola (now Joanie 4 Jackie) and a set of interviews she called the Missing Movie Project. Both experiments explored the question July posed to random women on the street: "If you could make a movie, what would it be about?" The Missing Movie Report on Joanie4Jackie.com muses: "What are the missing movies about? It is hard to even guess. Maybe they are very sexy and very violent. More sexy and violent than we can imagine. Maybe they are Dullsville. Nobody knows." In 1999 July told the Austin Chronicle: "Girls write Big Miss Moviola everyday wanting, wanting, wanting. And I'm not just gonna send them a girl-power T-shirt; I am going to invent ways for them to see work that will change the way they view what is possible."
Although July says she hated her last day job, she found another symbol for what is possible -- as well as the concept for The Swan Tool -- working for a service that unlocked car doors. "Mostly it was just the name," she says of the car-opening device, "but [the tool] also was kind of cool 'cause it was like a big 'U.' It just went underneath the window and into the inside so you could easily see it in there and physically lift up the lock like a little finger."
With The Swan Tool, July attempts to lift the lock off our logical thinking brains. "It's like that moment in good science fiction where you just are able to go with it," she says of the wild premise of her performance, "then in like bad science fiction, you're like, 'Whoa! Whoa! What do you mean they're made of air?'" Or, as she told the Washington Project for the Arts: "Like everyone else, I am trying to make you feel something very specific. Sometimes it is so specific that language has to be used almost as a decoy, to distract the guards while I rush the gates."