From booking metal shows at Mac’s Bar in 2013, Teisha King has carved out an original performance art scene built on inclusivity and odd-ball entertainment.
Many artists from the Lansing area owe much of their success today to King, the co-founder of The Dark Art of Michigan. She started Dark Arts of Michigan with partner of 13 years, Sean Peters. The couple’s latest event was The Dark Art Holiday Meltdown at The Avenue last week.
The unconventional holiday celebration was kicked off with Peters, co-owner of Eclectic Art Tattoo Gallery in Lansing, painting onstage alongside artist Harley Zeke. The paintings were auctioned off, with all proceeds donated to GEM Social Club, a club dedicated to serving teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorders. The club provides things such as a sensory-friendly prom and other social events designed for them.
While artists tended to their booths, selling oddities, art and fine craftwork, King announced each burlesque dancer, drag performer and musician as they ascended to the stage. Each performance was delivered with vigor and flair, suggesting the close knit and comfortable relationship between the entertainers and the audience.
King has made it her purpose to cultivate an uplifting artist community by giving creative minds the opportunity to put themselves out there. “In the last seven years, I’ve watched each of these vendors and performers, grow from being unsure if they can do this, to making bank. Soon they start doing craft circuits, doing the burlesque shows out of state, doing drag shows and brunches — so I couldn’t be prouder.”
As the night progressed, local favorite, Tater Tot Noxious, graced the stage at the Avenue, gave a full-bodied performance to demonstrate their gratitude for King and The Dark Art of Michigan. Tater Tot Noxious is performed by Jeremy Behr, who prefers to use they/them pronouns. Behr met King while helping at a previous Dark Art event. Soon after, Behr became increasingly involved with The Dark Art of Michigan. King remembers taking them aside one day.
“I asked them, ‘What can the dark arts do for you’ and they said, as they looked at the stage, ‘I wanna be on the stage,’” she said. “After that I watched them grow from being this quiet, reserved person, to this exuberant and amazing performer that’s doing social justice work at MSU and just really came out of their shell.”
Vehr developed Tater Tot Noxious over a series of peformances at the Dark Art of Michigan. “I always had little dreams of performing on stage that I never thought would be a reality, I was always just too timid and not really confident.” Today, Behr said they are living their dream. Tater Tot Noxious performs regularly, with a steady following of fans in the Lansing area.
“I’m their drag mom, so I’m going to gush about them. I’m so proud because they just emulate everything I wanted to do with Dark Art.” King said. “I watched them grow from being this quiet, reserved person, to this exuberant and amazing performer that’s doing social justice work at MSU.”
Veronica Lockhart, co-producer of The Dark Art Holiday Meltdown and burlesque dancer, has flourished through the Dark Art of Michigan as well.
“I first did Dark Arts in 2017, and it was a really happy accident,” she said. “I had seen it before and thought it was really cool and never thought about applying, until a friend of mine suggested it and well, they’re kind of stuck with me now,” Lockhart said.
On the Avenue’s upstairs loft, tucked by the pinball machines, Colleen Conrad runs a booth where she sells her signature baby head candles made from a mold she found at a thrift shop. Conrad, also known as the Waxx Witch, is an avid collector of creepy dolls and oddities. Conrad, said she has always had a heart for weird looking dolls and toys. “There’s just an odd charm that goes with them,” she said.
The Dark Art of Michigan has given Conrad room to grow and be inspired by fellow artists.
“Dark Art has connected me with other artists that enjoy weird, creepy stuff too, it’s really nice having that community, because it’s hard to find that on your own,” Conrad said. “It’s not like I can go up to someone at my job and talk about baby heads, a lot of people don’t get it.”