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.

 

 

Oblivia Nukem Jun | Controlled Burn Featured Artist

Oblivia Nukem Jun | Controlled Burn Featured Artist

Controlled Burn artist Oblivia Nukem Jun on breaking stereotypes in Asian representation and black metal. 

Who are you?

I am a performer. A drag queen.

What motivates your work as an artist? 

I like breaking stereotypes and challenging norms. And looking evil and beautiful while doing so.

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

The lack of non-stereotypical Asian representation. Even though my drag is inspired by heavy metal and fashion, a lot of my references are of Asian culture, whether it be 90’s wuxia movies or ghost stories that my parents told me from when they were growing up in Thailand and Laos.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your performances? 

I’m a fan girl for black metal bands. I’m inspired by black metal’s stark imagery and aggressive attitude. I like to combine that with the over exaggerated fabulosity of drag queens and the dream-like delicacy of couture fashion.

Aside from your artistic work, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies and passions in life? 

I like to spend time at the gym. That’s how I like to relax. I’m also addicted to shopping. Nothing beats a post-workout shopping spree.

Lastly, describe your pre-performance ritual if you have one. 

I always try to hit the gym first thing in the morning the day of a performance. When I beat my face, I like to take as much time as I want, usually with no clothes on and metal on my speakers.

Oblivia will be performing on Saturday, February 16 @ 7:30pm for Controlled Burn: Queer Performance for a World on Fire.

Teighlor McGee | Controlled Burn Featured Artist

Teighlor McGee | Controlled Burn Featured Artist

Artist and poet Teighlor McGee on speculative poetry/theater and being a voice for their communities

What is your involvement with Controlled Burn?

I am a performing artist featuring my original work.

What motivates your work as an artist?

I want to use my abilities of creative expression to bring to life my personal narratives in ways that defy genre expectations. I strongly believe in marginalized folks creating their own work to reach and heal their communities and through my artistic endeavors I hope to be a voice for my communities.

For Controlled Burn, what is your piece about?

I classify my piece as speculative poetry/theater—it is a performance of four separate monologues that together craft a story that discusses race, gender, disability, and familial ties and the ways in which these ideas intersect with identity politics and transcend the confinements of time. I classify this work as speculative due to the way in which the pieces [together] as a single entity take place in both the past and the present, in addition to the intentionally dystopian elements in parts of the work. The audience is brought the task of speculating about the narrator throughout the piece. Are they a time traveler? Are they intended to be the same person in each of the time measures? Are they human or a spirit guide? This piece is meant to evoke these types of questions and bring to life the experience of living with multiple intersecting identities in a way that does not stick to one specific genre or style.

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

I’ve been a performing artist since I was 16, having started as an actor and then primarily a performance poet. Previously I worked for Patrick’s Cabaret as a Classroom Assistant with their Teaching Artistry program. I mostly do features, workshops and various poetry slams.

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

I am a disability rights advocate and founder of the Black Disability Project @BlackDisability on Twitter, a movement to uplift black disabled lives, which I use as a platform to discuss issues that impact black disabled folks and our communities. The intersection of race and disability are the primary lens through which I create my art. I want to be a voice for my community.

What other artists or performances have inspired you over the years?

I was deeply inspired by Penumbra Theatre’s recent production of For Colored Girls. I would also cite Dominique Christina’s poem “For Emmett Till” as being an instrumental piece for me in regards to forming my style and vision. I was 16 when I watched the video of her performing this piece and since then it has been with me forever.

Are you working on any other projects or are there others you hope to work on?

I’m hoping from this will come more opportunities to perform this unique piece of work. I will be competing in the Black Arts Matter Poetry slam in Madison, WI. I also have forthcoming writing in the Shadow and Glow issue of Pussy Magic Lit magazine, and in Wear Your Voice magazine’s #BodyPositivityinColor issue.

Aside from your artistic work, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

I love to read absolutely everything, books, news, magazines, etc. Constantly reading is what allows me to fuel my creativity and my writing.

Describe your pre-performance ritual if you have one. 

Basically just trying not to pee myself from anxiety while rereading all of my lines.

Teighlor McGee will be performing their piece “Liberation in 4/4 Time” on Thursday, February 14 @ 7:30pm at Controlled Burn: Queer Performance for a World on Fire.

Johanna Keller Flores | Controlled Burn Featured Artist

Johanna Keller Flores | Controlled Burn Featured Artist

Controlled Burn artist Johanna Keller Flores on the representation of queer people of color in theatre and telling personal stories from the heart. 

So tell us what you’re doing for Controlled Burn?

On the 16th I will be reading/performing a piece with two other actors that I wrote and directed. It’s called “¡ojo!” It’s a very short play about a young Latinx woman learning to stand on her own and some of the emotions that come up with intersecting queerness with familia. I have multiple versions of this story written and this is the shortest one.

What motivates your work as an artist?

Telling personal stories from the heart that represent some of my identities, and helping to bring love to others who may share those identities. I am all about queer people of color being represented in theatre and that’s really why I started trying out playwrighting, to tell those stories I wanted so badly to be a part of as an actor. I didn’t see a lot (or any) of those opportunities and so I’m trying to write some of my own.

Can you talk a little bit about your background as an artist? What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production?

I am a new theatre artist in the Twin Cities, just moved back home from getting a degree in theatre arts in Michigan. I’ve studied acting, playwrighting, and directing and did some of all of it in college and am out here tryna put some of this education to work and connect with other artists. First time doing anything with 20% Theatre!

What social issues are important to you and the art you create?

Theatre created by people of color, about people of color, for people of color. It sounds so simple, but in practice it’s still so lacking for so many reasons. And then, of course, representation of queer Latinidad is beautiful and important to me and will always be a part of the work that I do. I’m a big believer in writing what you know, so I will likely continue to tell stories similar to mine as a multi-racial, queer, Latina that come from a place of love.

What other artists or performances have inspired you over the years?

I’m always thirsty for Latinx playwrights and theatre in general. The Children’s Theatre’s production of I Come From Arizona stayed on my mind for so long. I just read Miss You Like Hell by Quiara Alegria Hudes, and I have a huge soft spot for musicals and loved the mother-daughter relationship and the angsty music. Last year I also loved seeing a college production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet—such an honest depiction of generations of Black queerness.

Are you working on any other projects or are there others you hope to work on?

I want to write and act more. Ready to write a full-length play to be proud of.

Aside from your artistic work, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

I love fiction novels about queer people of color. Send your recommendations my way. And I love good food and summer.

Johanna Keller Flores’ play ¡ojo! will be performed on Saturday, February 16 @ 7:30pm for Controlled Burn: Queer Performance for a World on Fire.

Çicada L’Amour of the House of Larva Drag Co-operative

Çicada L’Amour of the House of Larva Drag Co-operative

We interviewed Çicada L’Amour (Max Brumberg-Kraus) of the House of Larva Drag Co-op about their art, inspirations and passions. Çicada L’Amour and Pouchet Pouchet will be performing on Friday, February 15 @ 7:30pm for Controlled Burn: Queer Performance for a World on Fire.

For our readers, how are you involved in Controlled Burn?

I am performing with my drag group the House of Larva Drag Co-operative, specifically with my friend and artistic partner Pouchet Pouchet (McKay Bram). 

Let’s jump right in – what motivates your work as an artist?

It really depends.  I definitely do most of my art as Max, not as Çicada, but then my out-of-drag and in-drag personas are not always so easily distinguishable. I would say a lot of my art centers around questions of sexuality and gender in the body.

Privilege (racial, sexual, gendered, ability, etc.) allows us to ignore our materiality. For instance, based on all these…lovely…Greek philosophical ideals, there’s the soul/psyche/energy and [then] there’s matter. Matter is feminine and it’s shaped by the masculine soul. This paradigm was also reflected in the ways Greeks discussed non-Greeks, although they did not have the racial categories we have. Now, if what is truly human is the soul and not the body, then exploitation of bodies is not inherently exploitation or violence or violation—that’s the danger! Christianity jumped on this dualism and spread this ideology. It carried on through the Enlightenment, with reason being another attribute of the masculine, of the white, of the European, of the male, of the Christian (or at least culturally Christian). Even [the field of] human biology began as a way to argue that the anatomies of women, of black people, of sexual inverts prove their inferiority.

When you’re the dominant whatever, you can ignore the aspects of yourself that are aligned with dominance, ignore the flesh. You can operate as always a subject with the “other” always as object. For me, as a fat Jewish fag, there are ways that I can and cannot operate in certain spaces. There are behaviors, glances, and spatial awarenesses that someone who doesn’t have these identities can ignore. Street harassment or gendered bathrooms or the majority of clothing are constant reminders—through exclusion—of my body and that my body is culturally “wrong.”

Sometimes I am motivated to challenge that “wrongness.” Out of drag, my plays, poetry, and scholarship examine queer community through time, through history, through memory/trauma, through myth, through religion, and through vision/ecstasy. There’s a generativity to that work, [to] positive claims about queer community. But as Çicada L’Amour, that’s not really what I’m trying to do. As Çicada, instead of arguing for the humanity of queer people, I embody and invite (sometimes a little aggressively) the audience into physical discomfort, into feeling the aspects of their own bodies—and I do it with myself too! House of Larva uses drag as a celebration (and mourning) of physical alienation under the heteropatriarchal, white supremacist, capitalist empire that is our society and even (we hypothesize) our cosmos. I question that as beings who are constructed—socially or otherwise—that ANY of us are subjects rather than objects. I am motivated to show how subjecthood can be an ideological weapon [that] patriarchy uses to make some feel more human than others and thus exploit them.

What is the piece you’re performing for Controlled Burn specifically about?

Our piece is based on Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing and #metoo. In particular we are responding to the claim at the hearing that women and others speaking up against men is a witch hunt. Our act plays with that, supposing, what if it was a witch hunt?! I don’t want to give too much away, though. We hope it will be funny, but it’s also dark. You know, what’s that line between hilarity and deep pessimism?

That sounds super interesting and relevant! Can you talk a little bit about your background as an artist? What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to Controlled Burn?

In the Twin Cities, I’ve mostly performed in drag as Çicada, a lot with Patrick’s Cabaret, but also at Pangea and even at universities. Last spring House of Larva got a really awesome gig teaching workshops and putting on a full-length show at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. But my greatest passion is out of drag. I love writing, and I love directing. I’ve been able to write and perform poetry in the Twin Cities and Rochester, MN. I directed about five shows in college (and two in high school), but recently I’ve only been able to do more directing stuff through workshops. By the way, House of Larva offers a drag workshop, “Genderbending Starts at the Skin.” Book us!

Awesome! I hope folx will. So, what other projects are you working on right now?

So when I’m not performing, I study at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, which just moved to St. Paul right by University and 280.  With my dear chaplain-in-training friend, whose background is in clinical social work, I’m developing a program called “Drashing the Body,” which combines movement, somatics, midrash, devising, and critical pedagogy to explore trauma in the Bible. There’s also a healing aspect as well, [this idea] that engaging pain in the Bible can be a resource for engaging our own pain. These workshops will be open to the public and I’d love to see some familiar faces from the performance/art world come through!

Besides that, I’m always writing.  I’ve got two plays I’m working on and I can’t wait to be able to workshop them!

You are working with a lot of ideas in so many different ways. Which artists have inspired you over the years?

There’s a deep influence of Antonin Artaud’s dramaturgy in House of Larva. The ritualistic, carnivalesque, and violent nature of his charge to theatre is as potent today as it was a hundred years ago. I tend to look toward the sixties and seventies a lot: very influenced by John Waters, by Divine, by Jayne County, by Jackie Curtis. For theatre, I am so inspired by the work of Reza Abdoh in the 1980s and 90s, the radical combination of Americana, of kitsch, of Sufism, of the queer, that indulgence in cacophony and spectacle! Movies too! I love folk horror (there’s a folk horror theme in this show), and old sci-fi, film noir, and I have a soft spot for Peter Greenaway’s long, dry, visually stunning, often quite cruel movies. I love ‘em!

So, it sounds generally like you are very busy! But when you do have a bit of extra time, how do you spend it?

I love cooking, especially soup. And I love hosting. Basically, what I’m saying is: let me feed you! But also I really love going to the movies, playing with makeup, and talking about religion, sex, and politics at the table. I’ve been really into that show 100% Hotter on Netflix. It’s peak trash and I love it.

Ok, last one – describe your pre-performance ritual if you have one. 

Usually entails taking a shot, blasting Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” or Jayne County’s “Toilet Love” and singing along. That’s all. I’m a simple creature. 

Find Çicada L’Amour and the House of Larva Drag Cooperative at house-of-larva.com and on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Dua Saleh

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Dua Saleh

What role do you play in the production of Waafrika 123?

I am playing the role of Awino.

Why are the stories told in Waafrika 123 important to share with the community?

This play highlights a number of stories, but one of the primary narratives addresses the ways that gender restrictions and limitations on sexuality serve a functional purpose in patriarchal societies. This is a story about the ways that that rigid nature of existence within a broad social imaginary effectively benefits those at the top of society, which further reinstates bold hierarchy. This hierarchy only benefits tradition in theory, merely mimicking the echo of an indigenous existence tainted with postcolonial entrapments.

Without giving anything away, what does Awino bring to the story?

My character is very multilayered and exists at the margins of many different identities. Although this is the case, it is also my belief that this character holds an immense amount of unbridled power. His resilience and enigmatic presence are dually wrought with an incredibly thick sense of social insecurity, both in regard to gender identity and indigenous identity.

What has been challenging about working on this production?

This is the first full production that I have ever been involved with, so I’ve been confronted with a number of learning opportunities as an actor. The challenge has been in developing a genuine connection to this character, seeing as there are very distinctive differences between our expressions of masculinity and our expressions of love. I want to make sure that I genuinely capture the spirit of Awino and understand him in a more profound way.

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

I am a multidisciplinary artist that has had experience in theater, music, and spoken word. I previously directed a piece in 20% Theatre’s The Naked I: Recognize/d and have recently been selected to be a part 20%’s 2019 Q-STAGE cohort. I have been active in Minneapolis’ theater scene for two years and have had work featured on stages with Pangea World Theater, Patrick’s Cabaret, Queertopia, Free Black Dirt, and Pillsbury House. As a relatively new member of the theater community I hope to further explore my artistry and connection to the stage through experimental avenues that fill the soul to the brim.

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

The personal is political in every sense of the word. The social issues that I often tackle in my creative process are always subjects that directly affect me or the communities that I belong to.

What other artists or performances have inspired you over the years?

Beyoncé is the ultimate curator for stage performances. I aspire to have even an iota of that woman’s ability to layer a performance with both sociopolitical texture and raw emotion.

Are you working on any other projects coming up?

As I mentioned, I have recently been selected to be a part of 20% Theatre’s 2019 Q-STAGE cohort. My content will address matters of displacement that exist at three social locations. On top of that I am also looking to release an EP soon through my label Against Giants. I’m very excited about these new developments.

Aside from acting in Waafrika 123, how do you spend your time? 

My primary means of income is music. I spend most of my time rehearsing for musical performances, producing, and writing lyrics. Outside of that I oversaturate my time watching anime, cleaning, and playing Dancing Lines.

Describe your pre-performance ritual if you have one.  

Stretching, breathing, and centering of the soul.