Alibi V.26 No.24 • June 15-21, 2017 

Culture Shock

Looking Backward

Gay Kid on a Cattle Ranch recounts joy and pain of coming of age in N.M. ranchlands

John Burns brings his one-man show to Albuquerque
John Burns brings his one-man show to Albuquerque
courtesy of John Burns

“I was living in Albuquerque and coming out as a gay man. I was looking for a place to meet men that wasn't a bar, so I auditioned for a musical,” John Burns recounted as we spoke over the phone, he in New York City—where he is now firmly transplanted—and I at home in Albuquerque. As it so happened, Burns did not meet an eligible bachelor in that show—a production of My Fair Lady—but he did discover a new passion. “Music is my medium, it's the first thing that really caught me growing up,” he explained. And in musical theater he found an expression of that talent for musical that allowed him to express himself more fully. Burns' latest elucidation of that love for the stage comes in the shape of the quirky cabaret Gay Kid on A Cattle Ranch, a piece that explores Burns' unique experience of growing up on a cattle ranch in Nara Visa, N.M., all the while knowing that he stood slightly apart from the expected farm boy type.

“I knew I was different from the age of 5 or 6,” Burns said. “I always had this fish-out-of-the-water point of view. My dad always used to say that when the car came out of the garage, I was running to get in it because I couldn't wait to get off the ranch.” Many young people can relate to that experience of longing for escape, but Burns' story—while universal in its resonance—is particular and interesting in how it played out, and where. In his stage rendition, there are whole sections dedicated to cattle branding, for example, juxtaposing a younger Burns' affinity for the likes of The Carpenters with the rugged reality of ranch life. It's those contrasts, paired with personal stories and classic tunes, that make Gay Kid on a Cattle Ranch so compelling.

“If you share your story and you're honest, you can take people anywhere,” Burns said—underscoring that the content of the show is entirely true. And while he did make it off the ranch and into the big city, where he is now both a professional and burgeoning theater draw, Burns has not forgotten his roots. “It's interesting as an adult to realize how big a part my upbringing—those values and lessons—has informed who I am,” he explained. “Everyone's childhood is a little tough,” he continued, but after several New York showings of Gay Kid on a Cattle Ranch, as he shapes it for his upcoming one-night-only performance in Albuquerque, Burns is able to apply the lens of hindsight to conclude: “I look back at it as being a really wonderful time,” though when he was an actual gay kid on a cattle ranch, it may have seemed a bit more dull. “Life's never just funny or just sad,” he said. “It's a combination of both.” And so was his childhood, and so is what he has crafted in Gay Kid on a Cattle Ranch.

Catch Burns' only local performance of this one-of-a-kind, one-man show at Outpost Performance Space (210 Yale SE) on Saturday, June 24, at 7pm. Tickets are now available online at johnburns.live.