Kat Cunning Shatters Gender Stereotypes in Contemporary Cabaret Tryst

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A curvy woman in lacy, red lingerie, and sky-high heels cooking dinner for her husband. A man with rock-hard abs and bulging biceps carrying his wife across the threshold. The way media and popular culture define sexy is a holdover from a previous, gender binary-obsessed era.

But for actor, model, dancer, and musician Kat Cunning, who is queer and nonbinary, there’s so much more to sensuality — especially when traditional gender roles are thrown out of the window.

Cunning will host and headline, Tryst – A Lovers’ Rendezvous, a contemporary cabaret at the Faena Theater in Miami Beach. Premiering Friday, March 5, the show features burlesque, circus, and musical performances that offer a more androgynous and gender-fluid version of sexy, offering audiences a new lens through which to see themselves, their partners, and their sex lives.

“We give audiences a bunch of colors through which to feel sexy that run that gamut of what we think of as masculine and feminine and dark and light. You can take what you like,” Cunning says of the show. “As an emcee, I love playing with control and acknowledging that my audience has grown up in a patriarchal world, but in my house, I want to make sure to challenge them, take care of them, and send them home excited to try things they’ve never tried before.”

Cunning began their career by performing in “baroque-burlesque operas” with the Brooklyn-based Company XIV and has performed on Broadway in productions of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Cirque Du Soleil’s Paramour, as well as the site-specific theater work Sleep No More. They’re excited to return to the burlesque art form at a point in their career when they have assumed control over their story and their representation to others.

“Because of my body type and falsetto voice, I used to be cast in these hyper-feminine roles. I would sing songs by Lana Del Rey, who represents the ultimate submissive feminine. But when I sang them, I would feel masculine. I found that gender means nothing at all,” Cunning explains. “I feel all genders. When I perform, I act on both sides of myself.”

Tryst will feature performances of original music from Cunning’s soon-to-be-released debut EP for Lava Records. Their first single, “Confidence,” and its accompanying music video will premiere on the production’s opening night. Cunning says their music, though upbeat and danceable, serves as an outlet for them to dig deeper into the more raw and unbridled corners of their psyche.

“My music plays with the dichotomy between being a hero and a villain. There are two sides to me: one is the valiant hero who will do anything for love, and the other side is the Scorpio who will break your heart in a second,” Cunning says. “There are a lot of adult themes in this show, so I’m excited to premiere music that has a little bit of edge and darkness to it. I got broken up with during the pandemic so I wrote a lot of songs about that.”

In addition to a series of performances illustrating Cunning’s past, present, and future sensual experiences, Tryst includes burlesque performances by Samantha Mixan and Elena Lee, aerial acrobatics by Megan Stockman, Ernest Melton on saxophone, and an acrobatic dance piece by M.P. Letourneau and Andrey Moraru.

The Faena Theater’s health and safety standards include mandatory masks unless seated at a table, increased cleaning and sanitation, physical distancing, touchless menus, enhanced HVAC controls and air filters, and temperature checks and screenings.

“We will be trying new creative techniques to engage with our audiences in the time of COVID-19,” says Anthony Magliano, creative director of Tryst. “We hope to give audiences an evening of elegance and indulgence, allowing them to escape to a world of multifaceted love and inspiration.”

Cunning, who’ll appear in the 2022 film Marry Me, starring Jennifer Lopez, says they hope audiences remember the power of two things after they leave the theater: live art and live chemistry — whether between two lovers or between a performer and their captive audience.

“I want audiences to feel aroused, inspired, and reminded that live performance and art are very important,” Cunning says. “My heart is in performing, and I want to protect nightlife spaces and venues that create the ability for artists to thrive and grow. There’s nothing better than the chemistry of a group of people in a room.”

Then Cunning adds, “And I hope they go home and have sex. It’s a hot night.”

Tryst – A Lovers’ Rendezvous. 9 p.m. Thursday, March 5, and every subsequent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, at Faena Hotel Miami Beach, 3201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; faena.com. Tickets cost $95 to $250 via faenatheater.com.

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