Shelly Mars is a multimedia performance artist whose work explores sexuality and power using an expanding catalog of created personae. An originator of 80s/90s queer performance culture, she is recognized as a pioneer of contemporary alternative comedy and transgressive solo theater.
Mars has performed for over 30 years across the United States and worldwide. Her monologues appear in many publications including Creating Your Own Monologue, alongside work by Karen Finley and Spalding Gray. Mars’ work has also been cited in many academic journals including Marjorie Garber’s Vested Interests: Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety.
Mars has performed over 15 solo shows, including Sex on Mars , Invasion from Mars, and The Homo Bonobo Project, her quixotic multimedia performance piece studying the sexuality of the Bonobo apes, which has been performed at NYU, Performa, and the Brooklyn Museum.
She was awarded a New York State Council on the Arts grant in 2010, along with grants from the Arcus Foundation, the Gill Foundation, and the Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art. She was an Artist in Residence at Museum of Sex from 2002-2009, and has led workshops on solo performance at Harvard and Brown universities.
Credited as the first “drag king”, Mars has been featured in several documentaries on the subject including the HBO television special Drag Kings, and the independent film Venus Boyz. A feature length documentary about Mars, The Dark Matter of Mars, premiered at New York City’s NewFest in 2006.
A member of SAG and AFTRA, Shelly has appeared on sketch comedy shows including Kids in the Hall and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment. On film, Mars as played numerous roles including work in films such as Mary Harron’s The Notorious Betty Page, Drop Dead Rock (co-starring Debbie Harry and Adam Ant), Jennie Livingston’s award-winning short film Who’s The Top, and the cult classic The Virgin Machine. Mars also appeared as a gender coach on the month-long A&E series Role Reversal, and co-starred on Comedy Central’s Out There in Hollywood comedy special.
In 2017, Mars released “From Mars”, a series of high quality prints documenting seminal moments in her performance work, along with lithographs inspired by The Homo Bonobo Project. Her next multimedia performance piece is currently in development and will incorporate these images, as well as a chimerical video works.