Singer-songwriter Marcy Marxer has won a Grammy for her work as a musician — something she used to her advantage in All Wigged Out, a musical to revisit her journey with cancer that she made with her life partner Cathy Fink.
Cancer is not fun for anyone. So many have lost their lives to the disease and it has impacted many people – specifically those who are struggling with cancer. With All Wigged Out, Marxer takes us on this journey – but it isn’t depressing and morose. Instead, it’s celebratory and is tempered by Marxer’s wacky sense of humor and ability to make her personal story universal.
All Wigged Out offers insights for caregivers, family, and friends of cancer patients and others with severe illness. In it, Marxer compares her comparing her cancer journey to being dragged through a car wash. She deals with people’s “Unsolicited Advice” and sings about “My Chemo Bag”.
With Fink by her side on stage, Marcy sticks to the truth when it comes to her journey. She sings about her experience at the wig shop (hence the title of the musical) as she transitions into baldness as well as her triumphs and tragedies through the 10 songs in the musical that span multiple genres of music.
GLAAD chatted with Fink about the journey to the musical, her loving bond with Marxer, their experiences revisiting Marxer’s struggle and sharing their personal story with the world.
GLAAD: Why did you want to translate your experiences into All Wigged Out?
Cathy Fink: As Marcy went through each stage of cancer and treatment, she made a series of hilarious social media posts that let folks know what was going on. Some were short videos, some were cartoons. They were followed and commented on by a lot of people who either learned something about a cancer patient’s real experience or about how to be a good ally and support. I encouraged her to write down details of her experience to help her be specific with doctors, but it turned out to be really helpful to others as well. So, initially, I instigated us writing her one-woman show, along with our good friend Andy Offutt Irwin. Andy’s a master storyteller and comedian, but really understood how we could use comedy and reality to tell this story.
We did six readings in different cities and learned from audience responses what people got from watching the show, tweaking it along the way.
When COVID nixed our live theater opportunities, we pivoted, and made plans to turn this into a film. We hope the film will help us to reach nore people than we could reach in limited live performances. More on that later.
GLAAD: What was one of the most difficult things to share in All Wigged Out?
Fink: This is a very personal story, so there is a lot of vulnerability in telling it. We had to get used to that. There is the vulnerability of telling people you are sick and of being honest about how it feels. And there is vulnerability in making a private relationship public. But we felt the value outweighed our discomfort and we became comfortable sharing everything in the film. This is a cancer story and a love story…42 years and strong.
GLAAD: How was it like performing the musical for the first time compared to more recently? How is it like to “relive” these ups and downs in your life?
Fink: Once we decided to make a film, we had a huge learning curve ahead of us. We’re musicians and storytellers, but not full-time actors. We had twice weekly rehearsals via zoom with director Tracy Walsh throughout April and May of 2021, revising the script and digging in. And we only had two live performances that were filmed. The pressure was terrifying, but the audiences were amazing, and we knew they were with us.
Reliving the ups and downs in screenings is interesting. When we are at a screening, we usually sit in the back so we can both watch the film, but get a sense of the audience response. At a recent screening in North Carolina, the space was lovely and it almost felt like a live theater show rather than a film from a live show. The audience acted like it was a live show with lots of laughter, a few gasps, and silence when appropriate. But it does feel like reliving that time and it generally exhausts us a bit.
GLAAD: What have been some of the most memorable reactions to your performance?
Fink: Two of our favorite moments took place after the first live filming. We visited with audience members and there was a 13- yearold girl who had come to the show with her family to celebrate. She had sickle cell and was celebrating a full year of no hospital visits by coming to All Wigged Out. At the same show, there was a couple in the front row. The man and woman held hands during the performance and looked at each other from time to time. After the show, they thanked us. Our show validated their experiences. The man looked at Marcy and smiled saying proudly, “I’m her Cathy.” He was speaking about his role as caregiver and advocate.
At the National Women’s Music Festival, we offered an opportunity for anyone to meet up in a room together after the screening if they wanted to share feelings about the film. One woman came and talked about her own cancer experience for the first time. She said she had never told anyone about it-not at work or amongst her friends. The film inspired her to speak about it and that was very important.
And after one of our readings in Toronto, a dear friend, Ken Whiteley, offered up one of his songs that perfectly fit the scene about the ridiculous things people say to cancer patients. People are usually well meaning, but sometimes, they just don’t think before talking. Ken wrote a perfect song that landed in the show, “Unsolicited Advice.”
GLAAD: What does this musical mean to you after going through the journey as well as the past 2 years of the pandemic, a racial reckoning, LGBTQ discrimination — in other words, how did you persevere through this time that gave you extra challenges?
Fink: Part of persevering through this challenging time was to buckle down and do something really hard that we hoped would benefit a lot of people. We wanted to help cancer patients, their friends and loved ones with tips for getting through a major illness. That theme resonated with a lot of people with COVID at the time as well. And in light of the LGBTQ world, we also got to use this production as a way to celebrate our 42 year relationship. We are insanely lucky to be a married, committed couple who create art together and support each other personally and artistically. That story alone is worth telling and we hope it inspires others.
This was a huge undertaking. Marcy completed her 5 years of oral chemo during the pandemic, close to her 65th birthday. We celebrated with a masked front yard party with social distancing, live music and 65 cupcakes. But going through cancer made it easy for us to pivot during the pandemic. We’d already learned to adjust around cancer and cancer treatments, cancelled concerts, a total pivot in our lives and livelihood. So more adjustments were easy. We approached All Wigged Out like we approach many new ideas. Once we decide to do something, we just get to work. We raised $85K from GoFundMe and private funders. We found an awesome female drummer and bass player in Chicago where we filmed and they were great players and great team players. We hired an Emmy Award winning production team and an ace director. The stage and lighting director, Todd Clark, built an entire set and lighting in a dance studio since all theaters were closed due to COVID. We moved to Chicago for a month, rehearsed 6 days a week and filmed 2 live shows in front of fully vaccinated, masked audiences. And we were able to stay healthy (no COVID) and maintain strong protocols throughout- an additional challenge.
GLAAD: What do you hope people take away from All Wigged Out?
Fink: This is a film about two Grammy-winning musicians figuring out how to get through a horrible disease with the help of humor, music and love. The main character went from virtuoso on 20 instruments to unable to touch an instrument due to neuropathy, back to full time musician who lives with side effects from live saving treatment. There are several important take aways in All Wigged Out. Marcy inspires patients to find and use their power. She also reminds us that it is possible to find a little humor in some of the weird things that happen as patients. Hey, this is a comedy musical, with many touches of reality. And Cathy shows how an advocate can step up and make the process easier, and help a patient take charge of their situation.
Most of our screenings include a Q&A, discussion and live music. We are using that time to connect with local Cancer Support Communities in all the places we go. In Berkeley at the Freight & Salvage, we’ll be joined by Cancer Support Community of the San Francisco Bay Area, HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, Women’s Cancer Resource Center, Bay Area Cancer Connection and Notes 4 Hope. Rob Tufel of CSC will moderate a post-film discussion with us and with Dr. Nicola Ally, a radiation oncologist. So we also want people to know what their local support resources are.
We want people to leave with hope, with love, with a few laughs, cancer resources and some great music.
For More information onAll Wigged Out go to: https://www.cathymarcy.com/allwiggedout/