September 27, 2021
Watch: Cabaret's Rod Ferguson Swims with the Sharks, Chases Butterflies & Opens Up in Solo Show
John Amodeo READ TIME: 10 MIN.
"Someone who really hated me writing this article could say 'Rod Ferguson presents a new show about his suicide attempt and a lawsuit! Get tickets now!'" quips out cabaret performer Rod Ferguson about his new show "Man Overboard!!!," which he will perform at the Club Café's Moonshine Room on Oct. 2, and Oct. 22, accompanied by Jim Rice at the piano, and at Manhattan's Don't Tell Mama on Nov. 12, and Dec. 4-5, accompanied by Michael McAssey.
If you are still reading this, then you have figured out that Ferguson has the chops to tell his hilarious autobiographical tale of personal growth, coming out, and suing the government of his native Bermuda over LGBTQ rights, all without an ounce of self-praise or self-pity, 'though with some occasional drama," Ferguson says with a mischievous wink. After all, what else would one expect from a show about a young gay man's enigmatic relationship with butterflies, sharks and his mother. His show, which premiered this past June at CabaretFest Provincetown was such a hit that these Boston and New York gigs were booked on the spot.
After living in Boston, where he was a fixture at local open mics, and performing his earlier cabaret show, "Some Others I've Seen" to cheering audiences, Ferguson moved to New York City some years ago, where he has been performing in cabaret and comedy clubs, while periodically returning to Boston to host piano bar evenings at the Club Café's Napoleon Room. Ferguson marshaled his connections made at the St. Louis Cabaret Conference to get Tony Award-winner Faith Prince, with whom he studied, to direct his show, and worked with New York musical director Bobby Peaco to create the musical arrangements for the songs that pepper Ferguson's roller coaster monologue.
Edge recently spoke with Ferguson about anything but "Man Overboard," because we agreed it was best to let the audience experience the show as it unfolds. Still, there were some questions that had to be asked about his fascination with creatures of the air, creatures of the sea and of drag alter egos.
EDGE: How did butterflies first captivate you?
Ferguson: When I was a kid, I turned to nature for my comfort. There was a neighbor's garden with a variety of milkweed, and it was easy to spot the monarch caterpillar on the leaves. I thought it was gorgeous even without knowing what the butterfly would look like. Then I studied its evolution into a butterfly and the transformation inspired such wonder in me that I just kept pursuing it. My sister's science teacher, when she was teaching about the evolution of the monarch life cycle, would ask my sister to ask me to bring in leaves and chrysalises to show the class. As an adult, I just continued to nurture butterflies. I would find an egg or two, raise the butterflies, and then I release them.
EDGE: Was it hard to release them? Was it like a parent sending their child off to school for the first time?
Ferguson: No, it isn't hard to release them because they are meant to fly. There's an hour and a half window within which to release them. They have these brand-new wings and new muscles developing to use them.
EDGE: How do you know when they are ready to fly?
Ferguson: The night before they emerge, the chrysalis turns clear and you can see all the markings of the butterfly clearly, and I know the next morning they will emerge. I sometimes even travel with them. I was in P'town last week to be an extra in a movie, and I wasn't sure when the butterfly would emerge from the chrysalis, so I drove it all the way to P'town and back.
EDGE: Few people who have ever heard you sing or seen your comedy skits would know you are an avid shark diver. How did that hobby start?
Ferguson: When I first mentioned to Faith Prince that I loved sharks, she asked, "Why?" I grew up in Bermuda, and the shark is the most powerful predator in the ocean. A funny juxtaposition that I love the most delicate creature that flies in the air, and that I love this brutal killing machine in the ocean. As a kid, I always loved watching "Shark Week."
EDGE: There is such a thing as "Shark Week?"
Ferguson: The Discovery Channel every year shows a week full of programming about sharks. Those programs can be pretty bad, almost as bad as reality television, but I watched them a lot as a kid, and that's how I learned about the different kinds of sharks. But now, I watch the real thing. In Bermuda, we have the Great Barrier Reef, and we had this delusion that sharks never came within the reef, but there was this one time that a shark found me within the reef. My mother yelled "Roderick, get out of the water now." I didn't ask any questions, and just got out. But then I got back in, up to my chin, to see the shark.
EDGE: Why would you do such a thing?
Ferguson: The shark was physically limited how far it can enter the shallow water. And my sense of safety is lower than my sense of curiosity. Ultimately, sharks really don't care about us. If a shark bites a human, they think, "Ugh, that tastes terrible, why did I do that?"
EDGE: Then why do sharks attack people?
Ferguson: Mistaken identity. In the case of Great Whites, they think we're seals.
EDGE: How is it that butterflies and sharks find their way into your cabaret show?
Ferguson: Ultimately one key theme of the show, which is about my life, is my authenticity, my unapologetic love of the things that I love. I become more resolved in being my full self in the world. I received a lot of negative attention for not being able to pretend to be something other than who I was as a child. The love I have for sharks or butterflies is infectious; there's a joy I derive for the things that I love. It doesn't make sense when you try to put all the parts of my life together, but the absurdity of my life is one of my greatest pleasures.
EDGE: One aspect of your life that doesn't find its way into the show is your drag alter ego, Rhonda Bout. What happened to her?
Ferguson: She gets a passing reference, but that's as much mention as she gets. It's surprising how much of my life doesn't get into this show.
EDGE: How did Rhonda Bout come into your life?
Ferguson: I've always been annoyed that society makes such a big deal about a man wearing a dress. So, I first found a time when it was okay for me to wear a dress and that was Halloween. I got a hideous dress and balloons for boobs, and a really bad wig. Playful and silly without trying to look like a woman. Eric Laravee was selling off inventory of his theater costumes many years later, and he was selling dresses for $25 each, and I bought 8 gowns, with no intention of ever wearing them. My friend Linda said, "You should enter the [Boston] Pride Pageant." And I said, "I can't lip synch," and she said, "But you can actually sing!" And I said, "Is that even allowed?" That year, the Pride Pageant had a "Gender Bender" category, which I entered, so I borrowed a southern accent from my cousins in Atlanta. I entered wearing a beautiful gown with flip flops and a blond wig with a baseball cap. This was the first time I ever experienced that I had appeal as a stage presence, and my personality came through, even with my fake southern accent, and I won the Royal Gender Bender of 2011. They discontinued that category in 2012, so I'm the one and only Royal Gender Bender Queen.
EDGE: What does your family in Bermuda think of Rhonda?
Ferguson: I didn't tell my family about Rhonda until I won the title. I shared it with them, and I was surprised that they were concerned. My mother asked, "Does this mean you think you're a woman?" I said, "No, I think this is funny." I'd understand if they were upset that I was a failed drag queen, but I figured their concern would be mitigated knowing I had won. It turned out that my parents' house sitter, Mark, is the one drag queen in Bermuda (and he calls himself the Queen of Bermuda). When my father learned that Mark did drag, he told Mark, "My son is a drag queen" and he showed Mark the video of my show!
EDGE: What about the lawsuit you have pending in Bermuda?
Ferguson: I took risks with this show I've never taken before. You'd be surprised at how many people don't find lawsuits compelling entertainment. To set it up properly, I need to talk about what leads up to the law suit: that I grew up in Bermuda, that I'm gay, my mother, because she plays a significant role in the story. The show is almost a love letter to her. It gives me such joy that she gets applause at the end, and I credit her with my sense of humor. And one of the things I'm most proud of in the show, is that it addresses important things. Still, the agenda isn't to raise awareness, but to deliver something really entertaining.
Rod Ferguson performs "Man Overboard!!!" Oct. 2 and 22, 7:30 PM at Moonshine, Club Café, 209 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA. Tickets: $25; for reservations, visit: https://www.clubcafe.com/club-events/man-overboard/
and on Nov. 12 and Dec. 5, 7 pm, and Dec, 4, 4 PM, at Don't Tell Mama, 242 W 46th Street, New York. Tickets: $20. For reservations, visit: https://www.donttellmamanyc.com/shows/main/6357-roderick-fergusonm-inman-overboard-11-12-21
Watch Rod Ferguson perform a comic take on "I Dreamed a Dream":??
John Amodeo is a free lance writer living in the Boston streetcar suburb of Dorchester with his husband of 23 years. He has covered cabaret for Bay Windows and Theatermania.com, and is the Boston correspondent for Cabaret Scenes Magazine.