Meet snem DeSellier | Lighting Designer

Meet snem DeSellier | Lighting Designer

Lighting designer snem DeSellier on their work for 20% Theatre Company’s upcoming world premiere production Unknown.

What work are you doing for this premiere of Unknown? And what inspired you to join the team?

I’m really excited to be light designing ​Unknown​! The project was mentioned to me during tech [rehearsals] for Q-STAGE last spring, which had been my first real taste of the exciting work coming out of 20%. Within reading the first few pages I was ready to bring these sweet and complicated lesbians to lit life. A big factor was that I’m a journal person. I’ve been carrying one everywhere I go for years and years and often get fixated on the “what will become of these pages” and “how can I collaborate with my future archivist from today’s page”. The way those questions live within this play, combined with growing up closeted in my own family and with an Italian grandmother who shed so much of her Italian to fit into an American mold means that this story has its cords snaked in my heart. With its long love and new love and tricky love and recorded love—it’s full of things I love.

How did you become a designer? What sorts of stories are you most excited to design for?

My making has always been very webbed and organic and sticky. I’d say the core of my making is devising, often via dance, poetry, and design. Sometimes I think I’m more design-dancer, light-poet. I fell into design when all my directorial proposals were actually fully articulated set plans, and then again when I found out that you could paint mood and breath in light choreography. Light is such an in-between medium, and as an in-between maker it took my heart on impact. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time with creative teams and new scripts building a repertoire of light language. In my design, I’m drawn to stories that shift through time and place and proximity, stories that can believe in light, that can lean into it.

What are you bringing to Unknown with your designs?

Unknown exists in a split but tethered world. We have a clear tether in the overlapping of space, we can feel the whole story as layered and connected, but I think light can give us the tones we need to hold these worlds distinctly. Lights are a key part of the shift that demonstrates the two worlds are separated by physical distance, time and generational intimacy.

What have been some challenges or unique opportunities about designing for Unknown?

Well, it’s my first time designing at The Crane! Every new space brings a new world of possibles and also a host of learning curves. I’m figuring out how to still be in a learning process while also remembering how to trust myself and my ability within this craft.

Don’t miss snem’s work in the world premiere of Unknown October 18-27 at The Crane Theater in Minneapolis.

Meet UNKNOWN’s Ankita Ashrit

Meet UNKNOWN’s Ankita Ashrit

A little chat with Unknown actor Ankita Ashrit.

What role do you play in Unknown?

I play Sophie’s on/off girlfriend Imari. 

What has been challenging and/or rewarding about working on Unknown?

I think a challenging aspect of the show is finding the humanity behind a character that is generally disliked by the other characters. I’ve had a lot of fun exploring Imari’s softer, friendlier side. 

When you’re not acting, what are some of your hobbies and interests?

Well I love dogs and plants. I had a garden over the summer and, if I somehow have free time, I try to volunteer with a local animal rescue center. I try to practice witchcraft as often as I can. Mostly that involves collecting rocks and lighting candles.

Catch the world premiere of Unknown October 18-27 at The Crane Theater in Minneapolis.

Meet UNKNOWN’s Gina Sauer

Meet UNKNOWN’s Gina Sauer

Actor Gina Sauer on her character Sydney in 20% Theatre Company’s upcoming world premiere production Unknown.

Without giving anything away, what does your character bring to the story in Unknown?

Sydney has led an interesting life, to say the least, and one that has been difficult at times. She has known a great deal of loss, but has persevered, and maintained her sense of self. She has kept a journal for many years, and her memories serve as a backdrop for the play.  

What has been challenging and/or rewarding about working on Unknown? 

Sydney is one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever played. For starters, there’s the physical challenge of playing someone so much older than I am, and the challenge of mastering an Italian accent (one of the harder accents to do!). But as an actor, I want to continue to learn and grow, and push the boundaries of what I can do, so I’m loving the challenge. I also love how Sydney—and specifically her friendship with Beverly—evolves during the show. She starts out very closed off, and little by little, reveals more of herself and lets her guard down with Beverly. It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion, and allows for a lot of nuances as an actor.  

Talk about your background as an artist. Have you worked with 20% Theatre Company in the past?

My theater career is one marked by detours! I studied theater and acted when I was younger, then took a 20+ year hiatus to pursue a different career, raise a child, etc. Six years ago I took a leap and went back into acting, and have been fortunate to work steadily since then with some wonderful Twin Cities theaters. 20% Theatre was one of the first companies to take a chance on me when I got back into acting (I played Hannah Gold in Leah’s Train), and I will always be grateful for that.  

Don’t miss Gina in the world premiere of Unknown October 18-27 at The Crane Theater in Minneapolis.

Meet Anna Brauch | Costume Designer

Meet Anna Brauch | Costume Designer

Costume designer Anna Brauch on costuming for varied gender identities in 20% Theatre's upcoming production Unknown.

How are you involved in this production and what inspired you to join the design team for Unknown?

I'm doing costume design for Unknown
and I'm stoked about it. This is my first time working with 20% and I was
really excited to have the opportunity because I love the way this theater
company interacts with the Twin Cities queer community and builds community by
creating accessible, equity-minded art and events like Queer Prom.

Talk about your background as an artist and designer.
How did you become a designer? What sorts of stories or productions do you find
most compelling to design for?

I've done fiber art, costuming and garment construction
for about fifteen years in the Minneapolis queer community, usually in the form
of organizing small social justice-oriented art events or taking a supporting
role in other artists' projects. Anything that speaks to queer
intersectionality or complex gender and sexual identities is particularly
interesting to me; my education background is in Gender Studies. The central
theme of Unknown is the evolution of queer (female) identities in the
context of their time and place in history, with intersections of race and
class, so this show is pretty on-the-nose for me, personally.

What are you bringing to this production with your
designs? How do you think you as a designer contribute to the telling of Unknown and its stories?

This is a really interesting question for me with this
show because I’m creating personal expressions of gender for each of the
characters through designing their costumes. Queer people feel the significance
of self-representation through appearance and style, and how strongly our
choices of wardrobe impact our senses of self and interactions with our
community. Even the script for this play addresses that issue directly in
dialogue between characters struggling with visibility and acceptance as queer
women with intersectional identities, and I get the awesome job of working in
collaboration with the actors and director to decide just how that plays out in
their visual self-representations. The play is also modern-day and several of
the central characters are people I see as reflections of myself and my own
community—thirty-something queer women/femmes with politicized sexual
identities—so designing this feels personal for me as well and allows for some
fun cultural references.

What have been some challenges and/or unique
opportunities of designing for Unknown?

This play has a lot of frequent scene changes making costuming a seemingly small cast a bit more challenging. I love working with other queer artists, though, and helping them to bring ideas about incorporating pieces of themselves and their own experiences of queer community into their roles.

What artists, playwrights, and/or performances have
inspired you over the years?

I grew up in the Minneapolis theater community and am so
proud of the artists and performances this city creates. The first show that
made me feel like a visible member of the queer community and filled my little
gay baby heart with theatrical urges was Hedwig and the Angry Inch,
which had a very successful Minneapolis run by the then-only LGBT theater
company in the city, Outward Spiral Theater, which was such a lovely company. I
love the gritty, DIY side of the queer performance scene, like Dykes Do Drag
and Queertopia, which allow for really personal artistic expressions and true
depictions of the complexities of non-binary gender identities.

Have you been involved with 20% Theatre in the past and,
if so, in what ways?

This is my first time working on a 20% production, and I
hope it will not be my last!

When you’re not designing, how do you spend your time?
What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

I'm a parent of two children and also work in public health as a lactation counselor. I do a lot of gender equity work within my field, and I stay ridiculously busy with sewing, music, biking, friends, and family.

Catch the world premiere of  Unknown October 18-27 at The Crane Theater in Minneapolis.

Meet the Playwright – Alexis Clements

Meet the Playwright – Alexis Clements

Unknown playwright Alexis Clements on queer stories, LGBTQ women’s spaces, and writing to make sense of the world.

What can you tell us about the stories behind Unknown? What inspired you to write the play?

In 2010, I started coming to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, NY, to attend events and occasionally volunteer. I was there not only looking for histories I couldn’t find elsewhere, but also to meet other lesbians.

One day, while volunteering at a time when special collections (collections of people’s personal papers) were being processed, I remember going through a few boxes of materials from one woman in particular. The boxes contained diaries and writing and audio recordings from throughout her life. As someone who has kept journals my whole life, and knew the intense feeling of violation that comes from someone else reading them without permission, it felt particularly powerful that someone would choose to let others into their diaries – all those deeply felt emotions, the banalities, the confusions, the excitement, the loneliness – all of it. Why would someone do that? Was she still alive? What did she hope others would find there?

Of course, I tried Googling her, but she was clearly of a generation that lived most of her life before the internet, and she wasn’t a famous person who would garner lots of web links late in life.

As a writer, as someone who was actively seeking stories of other queer women, it was an incredibly rich encounter. That was the seed from which the play grew – that moment of encountering another person’s life through their most intimate thoughts.

I should add, however, that no facts from that person’s life were included in the play, and all of the characters in the play are completely fictional, they are not based on anyone in particular at the Archives or elsewhere. The situation itself was the catalyst, rather than specific details.

We’re so excited for Unknown’s world premiere! Tell us more about your background as an artist and a playwright. What kinds of stories inspire you to tell them?

I loved reading, telling, and writing stories from an early age. Like a number of other writers, I was a bit of a loner as a child. My family moved around a lot and I changed schools often, so stories and writing were a form of companionship, a way to explore, an attempt to understand or come to terms with things that didn’t make any sense. And they were also just fun.

But the thing that has really stuck with me over the years is the desire to make sense of a world that rarely makes sense, to understand why we do the things we do. In particular, I’ve always been interested in questions of how the things we believe (true, false, or something in between) shape our actions. We create worldviews, we learn them, we wrestle with them, and they impact so much of our lives. Beliefs about how and why we are or not loved or accepted. Beliefs about what success looks like. Beliefs about our value in the world. Beliefs that differ dramatically from the people who might be sitting right next to us, people who might be taking the same action, but for wholly different reasons. That’s usually part of the spark that gets me going on a new project.

Unknown is a story that addresses social complexities as much as personal relationships. What social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?

The truth is that there’s not a single issue or single set of issues that I have always focused on in a singular way in my politics or art. I started getting politically active as an undergrad primarily in anti-war organizing following 9/11, and also a bit around labor rights, but that wasn’t necessarily apparent in my creative writing at the time. And I would say that’s true today as well. The particular issues I end up engaged in activism around don’t always directly link to my art-making. In my writing and creative work at this moment, I’m really interested in the idea of community. “Community” is a word we use a lot in the US, but the things we’re signaling with that word don’t really link up with the experience of being in community with people, of the messy realities of being accountable, of encountering conflict and challenge. I’m really interested in that disconnect, and I see it a lot in the political spaces I participate in.

Creatively, are there artists, playwrights or performances that have influenced you?

I’m restless and disloyal when it comes to influences. I’m always willing and ready to discard one in favor of something that’s new to me. I feel like there’s so much I didn’t read and learn as a young person, even though I feel like I had some great teachers (my parents as much as the adults I encountered at school), and I was a voracious reader and inhaled every cultural experience I could. I feel like I can never be exposed to enough, I always want more stories, more histories, more perspectives and arguments that I haven’t yet heard. Because the reality is that I was educated in a history and a literary and artistic canon that taught me that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a thinker or an artist I needed to emulate or aspire to be like the white men who were at the center of those histories and canons, and who were most of the ones telling me how to interpret those legacies, leaving so much of the world out. I grow more skeptical of what I was taught and the influences that got me here with every passing day.

Do you have any other projects coming up you’d be excited to share with us?

This play, which I wrote a bit over 7 years ago, ended up pushing me off on a journey that took me around the country, visiting spaces that are primarily run by or center the experiences of LGBTQ women. And that journey became a feature-length documentary film, my first film, titled All We’ve Got, which will have its world premiere in New York City at NewFest, one week after Unknown receives its world premiere. It’s a remarkable coming together of two projects that are, for me, deeply connected, and wrapped up in similar questions about how we find connections with other people, why we need those connections, and the ways our encounters with community are not always what we thought they might be.

When you’re not writing or creating documentary films, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

A few years back, I became a birder. Thanks to my parents, hiking and camping were always a big part of my life, but being in a big city now, it isn’t so easy to access. Birding has become a really enjoyable way for me to stay connected to a sense of wildness and the rhythms of the natural world. It also offers an incredibly intimate and direct understanding of the consequences of human influence on the environment, for good and ill. Not to mention it is its own subculture full of interesting twists and turns, which makes the people watching sometimes as interesting as the bird watching!

Catch the world premiere of Unknown October 18-27 at The Crane Theater in Minneapolis. Check out Alexis’ website.

Meet D. Allen | Q-STAGE Artist

Meet D. Allen | Q-STAGE Artist

Q-STAGE 2019 artist D. Allen on their new work NET/WORK.

What is the inspiration for NET/WORK?

In early 2018, after doing final revisions on my first book and starting research for a very heavy nonfiction project, I had no words left. I was experiencing a deep depression, which combined with the increasingly difficult symptoms of my illness to leave me both speechless and physically isolated. I had trouble leaving my house and found it difficult to talk about what I was going through with even my closest people, but I still wanted to connect, to communicate, which is what art-making offers me. So I started knitting, a skill my Nana taught me when I was a kid. Each stitch felt like a word I couldn’t say. While my hands were busy my brain began to make connections between silence/stillness, sensory pleasures/comforts, trauma, mental illness, physical disability, and queer & trans embodiment, and NET/WORK was born. It was the only work I felt I could make at the time, so I just followed its lead.

And why do you feel it is important to share the stories of NET/WORK with the community? 

I am sharing my personal story because it is what I have to offer and because I was gifted the incredible opportunity of Q-STAGE, but the major threads running through this work are not unique to me. NET/WORK is part of a lineage of queer, trans, disabled artists and writers who have put forth their bodies and stories in direct opposition to the deep history of disabled folks and queer & trans folks who’ve been forced into isolation and silence. I want to participate in that creative ecosystem in the hopes that other disabled queer artists in and beyond my community will know that there is a place for us in the art world, the publishing world, on the stage.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production?

First and foremost, I’m a poet. I make a lot of visual work along with some sound/music and other uncategorizable stuff, but all the creative work I do, no matter the form or discipline, stems from that core poet identity. I perform sometimes, but I by no means see myself as a performer or theater person, so creating a full-length solo show has been both intimidating and exciting.

Have you collaborated with other artists to create this piece?

I’m consulting with two dear friends on the creation of this work: Merle Geode, multidisciplinary artist and poet, and Beth Mikel Ellsworth, theatre artist and dramaturg. On some level, every meaningful conversation I’ve had in the last 8 months—with friends and chosen family, my Mom, healthcare providers, and artist-poet-queer-trans-disabled-ill community near and far—has been a collaboration that allowed NET/WORK to grow into what it is.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?

I make everything I make with queer, trans, and disabled folks in mind. Not issues, but people. I’m invested in our collective flourishing, not just our survival (but definitely also our survival), and a big part of that for me means making art, sharing stories, witnessing each other. My story is what I have to offer, and it connects me to so many others. By sharing our own stories, naming/paying/lifting up the artists and writers whose work has informed our own, and caring for each other in very practical ways (through food, support with daily tasks, rideshares, showing up, making a call or text, etc.) so that storytelling isn’t competing with basic needs, we invest in the long-term survival of our communities. I believe that art is a powerful tool for advocacy—for connecting us to our collective power, getting better policies in place, and breaking down/working outside of systems that kill or silence us. So a big part of my practice takes place quietly behind the scenes, conspiring with my fellow queer/trans/disabled artists to create conditions under which we can make the work we need to make.

What artists or performances have inspired you over the years?

Whew! I could go on forever about this, so I’ll just name some of the writers, artists, scholars, and activists whose work has informed NET/WORK: #AccessIsLove, @TheNapMinistry, Mia Mingus, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Ellen Samuels, Johanna Hedva, Chely Lima, Eli Clare, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Angel Dominguez, and many others.

Do you have any other projects in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

My first book, A Bony Framework for the Tangible Universe, is newly released into the world, so I’ve been slowly but steadily getting that out into the community. After Q-STAGE wraps up I’ll focus on a new collection of lyric essays about queer/trans/disabled embodiment and the natural world, which I’m very excited about. I’m also looking forward to doing more durational multidisciplinary work and short- or long-term collaborations.

When you’re not deep in Q-STAGE rehearsal and development, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

I spend a lot of time caring for and talking affectionately to my house plants. In the warmer months, I garden in the backyard and raise Monarch butterflies inside my tiny screened porch.

Describe your pre-performance ritual if you have one. 

I’m not sure I have one, but if I did it would be rooting down in my senses by holding something small like a river stone or a piece of cloth, drinking water, and doing 5 minutes of self-Reiki.

D.’s piece NET/WORK will premiere at Q-STAGE: New Works Series on May 16, 17 & 18th at Phoenix Theater.

Meet Keila Anali Saucedo | Q-STAGE Artist

Meet Keila Anali Saucedo | Q-STAGE Artist

Q-STAGE 2019 artist Keila Anali Saucedo on their new work Brujería for Beginners.

Where did the ideas for Brujería for Beginners come from?

My play Brujería for Beginners was first only a dream. As I was delving deeper into my own spiritual practices, so much was coming up for me. I was raised in a strict Mexican Catholic home. I was exposed to church services around two to three times a week. As you might know, Mexican people can make anything dramatic and exciting—even church! Catholicism meant less and less to me as I learned about the religion’s painful past, as I understood the mission for the Spanish. Unlike the attempted genocide of Native folks on this land, in Mexico the colonizers had a different dark mission: to create a new race that would be closer to them, that would relate more to the Spanish culture. So they took the language, the kinship structures, and the spirituality of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and replaced it with their own. This isn’t just history. It’s the reason my face looks the way it does, it’s in the land where my family is from, these are stories alive in me. The only thing I could think to do is make art about it and this is the art that came of it.

Why do you feel it is important to share this with the community?

I think I said it best in my application for this program: the work, which exists now in only vignettes, lullabies, and prayers, is about Mexican children of varying ages and the stories of their interactions with the holy, their magic, and their ancestors. For me, this work is so urgent. In an age where dehumanization is the norm for our people, an offering of healing and truth that is rooted in our forgotten indigeneity is paramount.

What is this performance about for you on a personal level?

It’s funny, I was recently in Chicago (my hometown) for the National Performance Network’s midyear meeting and I had the opportunity to visit Root Work Gallery. Here, I was sharing a bit about my piece and I called it an autobiography, which is not necessarily true. I am not any of the characters in this play. I think I’m every character. I see myself as proof of survival from all the atrocities that have happened on these lands. Perhaps because I hold myself in this way, stories pour out of me like water. Maybe this is a play about my ancestors or about my forgotten spirituality or about the way my parents raised me to understand the holy. Either way, it all comes back to telling the stories in an effort to heal.

Who are your collaborators for Q-STAGE? Tell us about them.

The artists involved in this project are lifechanging. Marcela Michelle, my dear friend and teacher, is directing. My friends Eric Gonzalez and Kieran Myles Andres Tverbakk are providing sound and set design, respectively. Then I have this luminary ensemble working including Lelis Brito, Stephanie Ruas, Johanna Keller Flores, Atquetzali Quiroz, y Xochi de la Luna. They are an intergenerational, bubbling burst of creativity and willingness to jump in. One of my most treasured communities. They are each Latinx-identified, many are also queer, and each have a beautiful light that they bring. I am overjoyed and humbled to have their hands in my work.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production?

I am a graduate of a predominately white institution where I earned a degree in theatre arts through the lens of dramaturgy. I have extensive production experience as a stage manager, board operator, and have a special place in my heart for scene shops. My craft though is really in playwriting and ensemble creation. I led a playwriting troupe in college for all four years, and I continue this leadership in my role as a facilitator, teaching artist, and artist for hire!

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?

I think that’s quite clear in the past answers what issues resonate with me. I don’t actually understand the question regarding my art because there is no informing-of-social-issues that’s in my art. My art is a social issue, my art works to illuminate stories of those who have been underserved. It is a process of joyous booty-shaking resistance to the dirty rotten system of Western theatre.

What artists or performances have inspired you over the years?

Suzan Lori Parks is a sharp teacher in each of her plays. The performances at Pangea World Theater, where I serve as an ensemble member, have taught me the way to decolonization through storytelling. And of course, the performances of NOCHE BOMBA and Demons in America, which were both a part of Q-STAGE last year.

Do you have any other projects in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

I am happy to announce that I am a co-producer for Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories, a fantastical cabaret that celebrates the art of Black, Brown and Indigenous artists. Our next performance is on June 15 & 16 at 711 W Lake St, Suite 101.

When you’re not deep in Q-STAGE rehearsal and development, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

I am hard at work! I am horribly devoted to ‘the grind’ mentality, I am working on getting off of it before I burn out. A passion and ritual practice of mine is Don’t You Feel It Too? DYFIT is a mind-body practice of moving as your honest self in public with a pair of headphones. When I’m dancing, I dream of new plays, brighter futures, and my child self. I miss her so. I highly recommend joining me.

Describe your pre-performance ritual if you have one.  

I sing Naranja Dulce and kiss one part of the theater. Also, I pray.

Keila’s piece Brujería for Beginners will premiere at Q-STAGE: New Works Series on May 16, 17 & 18th at Phoenix Theater.

Meet Dua Saleh | Q-STAGE Artist

Meet Dua Saleh | Q-STAGE Artist

Q-STAGE 2019 artist Dua Saleh on their new work Diaries and Displacements.

Where did the ideas for Diaries and Displacements come from?

This piece is something that came together from my personal narrative relating to displacement. This piece is a retelling of some narratives that took place in three locations: geo-location, social-location, and bodily-location.

Why do you feel it is important to share these stories with the community?

Sudanese people have a long history of oration and storytelling. It is important for me to continue on with this ancestral legacy that has enriched the lives of my people and to provide people insight on the complexities of carrying both indigenous identity and gender non-conforming identities.

What is this performance about for you on a personal level?

This performance is chockfull of reimagined memories and stories that I hoped to pass on to people in the audience. I reformulated real memories to be better adjusted to the stage. Stage performance is another way to further express my story to the people that I’m surrounded by, so each performance is extremely personal and stays with me a long time after I leave the stage.

Have you been collaborating with any other artists for Q-STAGE?

I am working in collaboration with two artists for this project. The first is Beth Peloff who is a Twin Cities-based animator that has been producing work for the past decade. We have collaborated on an animated short called “Underground” that I have vocally composed a soundscape for. The other collaborator is Psymun Christensen, a producer who is internationally recognized for his amazing work. We have collaborated on the song “Pregnant,” which he has produced and which I have written poetry and lyrics for.

I have also been taking time to reflect internally for this performance project while seeking inspiration from places that I have lived in the past and identities that I have connected with. With the use of mixed media arts, I hope to better expand the breadth of my work through different lenses.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?

The social issues that I hold the dearest to me are resource deprivation and resource hoarding, as it relates to genocide and displacement. This can be found in a number of different sociopolitical contexts in the world, but this is especially a concern in Sudan as the third revolution since the nation’s inception ruptures the sociopolitical climate. The rising effects of heteropatriarchal violent crimes enacted by the government and military officials, the rising cost of goods, the effects of resource insecurity due to hoarding and crop burning, and the censorship of journalists and social media have been ever present during this revolution. These issues have directly informed the work that I have created for Q-STAGE, shaping the landscape of my narratives for this piece.

What artists or performances have inspired you over the years?

The artists that have inspired me the most have been artists within the Twin Cities. Primarily, the people who I have been impacted by are poets and theater performers. These people are often a part of grass roots theater initiatives. One artist to name is Fatima Camara. This poet has is a youth poet that has been very active within the poetry slam community.

Do you have any other projects in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

Nothing that I would like to reveal at this moment due to the secretive nature of the projects, but I promise that something is on its way! Be sure to pay attention to my social media content in the next couple of months!

Dua’s piece Displacements and Diaries will premiere at Q-STAGE: New Works Series on May 9, 10 & 11th at Phoenix Theater.

Meet Taylor Seaberg | Q-STAGE Artist

Meet Taylor Seaberg | Q-STAGE Artist

Q-STAGE 2019 artist Taylor Seaberg on growing up as a military dependent and transracial adoptee, and on being free as a black and queer individual.

Where did the ideas for the play you’ve been developing through Q-STAGE come from?

The idea for Weirdo_Indigo Childcame from autobiographical themes of my growing-up experience. I was a military dependent and a transracial adoptee born out of the country in Kusel, Germany, but one who still has a relationship with their biological mother. There was always this shrouded history behind our family heritage because I was adopted, my mother was adopted, as well as my grandmother. I used to say growing up without our fathers was a family heirloom, an unfortunate tradition passed on of ambiguous loss, a loss of land and family. My mother was adopted by a Black American man around the age of five. After interviewing my mother, Jovone, Ngiri is the proposed last name of her original community in Kenya. I was taught that he was from the Kikuyu tribe, one of the largest ethnic tribes in Kenya that resides in Mount Kenya. My grandfather was a biochemist in Nairobi who met my grandmother on a missionary trip almost forty years ago. There is currently extensive gay rights activism happening in the Kenyan High Court to decriminalize homosexuality and up until 2011/2012 the military also had “​Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in place, which meant you could be dishonorably discharged for being outed as gay or expressing publicly queer. I didn’t grow up with a close proximity to my Kenyan heritage, but I also feel a strong personal calling to further the relationship to this family ancestry as the stems of our ancestral roots very much guide us and shape us.

Why is it important to you to share these stories with the community?

I enjoy sharing stories that I was ashamed of as a child but reclaimed later in life. In the 90s/2000s I was very ashamed of how seemingly unconventional my family was at the time. I like art that speaks to the voice that a younger version of myself needed to hear. As a child, I grew up in a very racially mixed family with individuals who were Scandinavian and Kenyan, but my family wasn’t as adept at discussing the implications of race to me and my brothers, especially because we grew up experiencing our blackness vastly different living in Europe versus in America.

One of the first military bases I actively remembered living on was Langley Air Force Base in Norfolk, Virginia. This was in 1999, I was six, and my parents were divorced. In elementary school, I was asking the bus driver to drop me off a couple blocks down from my house so neither the white nor black kids would make fun of my adoptive Dad. This area of Virginia (close to Virginia Beach) was very racially segregated and there were gang wars against other communities of color. I was more attuned to my blackness and the political realities of my black identity in this neighborhood.

At the age of sixteen I was going to a military academy in Aviano Friuli Venezia, Italy and was obsessed with Jada Pinkett Smith performing heavy metal music in the band ​Wicked Wisdom​.

Frontwomen who were the driving force in punk/metal groups in the early 2000s such as​ Flyleaf​, ​Paramore​ and ​Lacuna Coil​ became my main iconography. As with many adolescents, I was into the grunge and emotive emo soundscapes that haunted our upbringing and laid bare the slow aches of pain and trauma over guttural vocals and quick-stepped guitar progressions. My older brother was a huge influence because I grew up watching him play in his punk rock bands.

I was made fun of a lot for many of my natural tastes growing up, but my brothers and I were also so unapologetic and mysterious about our art forms that people always flocked to us playing in the hallways during lunch breaks, a single guitar amp and a quarter inch cable echoing our tunes through the walkways to the cafeteria. It wasn’t until the rise of social media in 2007 and the hyper-exposure of other “alternative” black folx that I was aware there were other black kids “like me” who enjoyed rock, heavy metal, and punk music along with rap and hip hop.

Clearly this work is intensely personal, but what are the major themes of the play generally?

Being free as a black and queer individual. Redefining what it means to be black and how constricting it is to feel a need to fit into specific boxes of black identity. Most often times in white spaces you can’t be unapologetically black and in black spaces you can’t be unapologetically queer. Internalized racism was a big thing in my family, there being social ostracization from Black Americans, Kenyan family, and white family alike for being different and internalized racism influencing that. Additionally, when my Mom tried to visit Kenya as a teenager she was ostracized by the African family for not being “African” enough and more assimilated in American culture. The play is as much about my life as it is about my mother’s. My upbringing might be an unfamiliar experience to people and I want there to be a visual embodiment of what me and my family have been through. Often times there’s nothing more real than watching someone go through an awkward coming-of-age story.

Tell us about the other artists you’ve been working with to create Weirdo_Indigo Child. Who are they? 

I have been having a great collaborative experience with the actors playing the main characters, Salecia Barry (playing Evy Ngiri) and Nia Madison (playing Cicada Otieno) in rehearsals twice a week at The Guthrie. The natural chemistry between these actors is something that is wholly inspiring in a way that gives me life, [and speaks to] the relationship of black femininity while simultaneously challenging gender narratives. As the characters are growing into queerness, so too do I see the actors traveling through this landscape in their personal lives. Kevin Gotch (Philip) and Lisa Brimmer (Lenora) were great to incorporate in the voice recording process. Antoine Martinneau and Kahlil Brewington (of the Afro-futuristic band Moors Blackmon)​ will be part of the live band performing throughout the play. And my partner, Rosey Lowe, is the show’s stage manager, having a wealth of experience in the world of performance theater, stage combat and stage blocking/direction. It’s great to work with someone who knows my crazy mind and artistic process and who is always encouraging me even through self-doubt.

Tell us a little more about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to Q-STAGE?

So I’ve never ever been a playwright, but I’ve always been a writer, particularly of short stories and spoken word. I grew up in a very musical family and my mother was a choral director in a Lutheran church who sang and played piano. If you didn’t play an instrument you were sort of the black sheep (​haha​) in my family. My mother was the same way about music that she was about religion. We didn’t have to believe in the same faith as her, but we needed to believe in something. When I said I no longer wanted to sit in on the Lutheran church services but play bass in the Gospel church service my mother said, “As long as you go to church, I don’t have a problem with what you do.” When I said I wanted to quit playing flute my mother side-eyed me and retorted, “​Well…you don’t have to play flute but you better play something.”​ That same year I enrolled in an introductory guitar class at my high school.

Around freshman year of high school was when my Drama and Literature teacher asked if I wanted to run lighting for the community theater plays for extra credit. My Mom also featured in many of these community theater plays and I accompanied her. I shrugged my shoulders and said yes but ended up developing a passion for the theater world molded by my mother – I was just too shy to perform.

Generally, what social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?

Social issues that pertain to POC trans and gender non-binary identities are my focus. It’s amazing how overlooked and despised we are and yet how integral we are in many forms of culture. Introduced by Britain during colonial rule and incorporated into Kenyan law after the country gained independence in 1963, the penal code punishes acts “against the order of nature”—usually interpreted as sex between men—with up to fourteen years in prison. I’m always looking up to the work of Karĩ W. Mugo, a Kenyan writer who resided in Minnesota for a time as a freelance author and currently works with the Mawazo Institute, Women Leading Research in Africa. They create opportunities and platforms for the participation and leadership of women in STEM and the dissemination of transformative research and ideas from African researchers and thought leaders. Through Karĩ’s posts I am also being updated on the ruling of homosexuality in the Kenyan High Court. She often talks about the National Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, one of the gay rights groups litigating the case.

Which artists or performances have inspired your artistic practice over the years?

I’m really grateful to be sharing a weekend with Dua Saleh because they have inspired me heavily as an artist. It’s great to see a Sudanese hip hop artist who defies boundaries being seen and recognized on a global scale. I also love genre-bending artists like Grace Jones, Prince, black punk rock groups and black psychedelica like ​Bad Brains​, ​Fishbone and Funkadelic. I’m inspired by local artists like Eric Mayson (who is also a genre-bending multi-instrumentalist) and Drea Reynolds (who is a genre-bending electronic loop artist).

Do you have any other projects in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

Currently, I’m the lead guitarist, pianist, and singer-songwriter in a black psychedelic group called ​Black Velvet Punks along with Traiveon Dunlap (drums and vocals) and Roderick Glasper (bass). I want to begin learning Swahili more intensively and incorporating my Kenyan heritage into my work, which I’m hoping to learn from my friend, Fanaka Ndege. I used to perform with my older brother, Donovan Seaberg, who is a phenomenal guitarist for the local band, ​Ghostmouth​, and I want to return to this collaborative relationship making music with family.

When you’re not deep in Q-STAGE rehearsal and development, how do you spend your time? What are some of your other hobbies and passions?

I enjoy reading books from political authors like Adrienne Marie Brown and bell hooks. I’m just now learning how to use Logic Pro X to record my own beats and mix/master live instrumentation. There is a studio behind my house that the landlord and I are working to fix up. I am studying audio engineering to be a better live sound engineer in general. I legitimately just actively consume new music; I’m a huge fan of the Colors Music Youtube channel and British hip-hop artists Kojey Radical and Little Simz are my longstanding obsessions.

Ok, last question! Describe your pre-performance ritual, if you have one.

I wish I had a better one. My pre-performance ritual to get pumped for a rock concert is usually a shot of tequila with a pineapple back, or a rum and coke, while meticulously strumming a guitar in the back corner to rid myself of chronic nerves. However, I’m all about leaning into the nervousness and using it as additional energy to project on the stage. The biggest pre-performance ritual is honestly meditation, in isolation, encouraging yourself to remember all of the reasons why you put your work before an audience and the impact it has on your own life.

Taylor’s play Weirdo_Indigo Child will premiere at Q-STAGE: New Works Series on May 9, 10 & 11th at Phoenix Theater.

Jaffa Aharonov | Controlled Burn Featured Artist

Jaffa Aharonov | Controlled Burn Featured Artist

Controlled Burn artist Jaffa Aharonov on their work, background and hobbies. 

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production?

My formal education was a BA in photography, and I also have a background in video, film, sound/music, writing, and coding (web development).

What is your piece in Controlled Burn about?

My piece is a sci-fi multimedia performance about trans persistence/rage/resilience that’s an exercise in imagining a utopian future rather than a dystopian one. (It’s hard…)

Are you working on any other projects right now or something you’re hoping to work on?

Yes. Always.

How mysterious! Let us know when we can know more! Aside from your artistic work, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

I read a lot (but also watch a lot of TV sometimes), enjoy cooking/eating food that doesn’t make me sick, bike, make websites, spend time with my partner/cat/friends, work in healthcare, and also work at a pretty sweet music venue/event space (shout out to Moon Palace!).

Jaffa will be performing on Thursday, February 14 @ 7:30pm at Controlled Burn: Queer Performance for a World on Fire.