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.

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Briana Patnode

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Briana Patnode

What role do you play in Waafrika 123?

Bobby. Bobby is as former Peace Corps volunteer who falls in love and stays in this rural village.

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

More queer love stories all the time.

What has been rewarding about working on this production?

This show is immense, but I’ve been really fortunate to work with this stunning group of artists, and really build a family around this project.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production? Have you been involved with 20% Theatre in the past?

I’m a local freelance artist: I thrive off of making, whether that be acting on stage, in film, [being] behind or in front of a camera, playing dress-up endlessly, and being around people who care about shit. I’m interested in making things that matter; I think this show matters. This is my 3rd show with 20% Theatre Co.

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

Black lives matter – I want to actively work against white supremacy in my art. Especially after participating in this show, I will never work with a white majority again, which unfortunately limits me within our local commercial scene (*yes, that’s shade), but there are so many amazing artists around here, [so] I’m not worried about it.

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

I am inspired by protest pieces; I am addicted to television as a medium for storytelling; fashion inspires me, especially queer fashion.

Are you working on any other projects right now or ones that you hope to coming up?

I want to make a webseries about queer/poc intersectional and diverse artists in Minneapolis. In the snow. ‘Cause why not–it’s a pain in the ass and we’re fucking badass. I’m also interested in addressing the way we as artists navigate our mental health with/through our art. I want it to reflect my greysexuality, and explore bodies and relationships in non-sexual ways.

Aside from working on Waafrika 123, how do you spend your time?

If I had nothing to do, I’d be traveling and playing dress-up. Or re-decorating my living spaces. I just want to be *making* all the time.

Describe your pre-performance ritual if you have one.

Water, candy–go!

 

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Christy Johnson

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Christy Johnson

What is your role for this production of Waafrika 123 and what inspired you to get involved?

Sound Designer. What inspired me to join the team was the diverse nature of the play. I love how the play touches on the difficult issues. The sound design calls for a dynamic soundscape that highlights the culture and shows glimpses of western influence.

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

My background in production started in undergrad. I attended a school called Southwest Minnesota State University that allowed me to try many different areas of theatre. Sound design allowed me to paint a visual picture with music for audience members. The stories I find most compelling to design for are the productions that push the paradigms of audience member’s thoughts and touch on issues everyone thinks about, but that no one may speak up about.

What have been some of the unique opportunities of designing for Waafrika 123?

Some of the opportunities that come with this script are using music, and recording cues, which are in a different language. It is not something I get to do often, and I am happy to be doing it now.

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

One of the most critical issues to me is diversity. Also, I think it is important to give people who are marginalized a safe space to explore and create art. Therefore, I want elements of my design to feature many different artists and sounds that complement those cultures.

What playwrights have inspired you over the years?

I have an eclectic taste in playwrights that have inspired me such as Shakespeare, August Wilson, Sarah Ruhl, Harold Pinter, and Paula Vogel among many others. Each playwright has helped expand my artistic essence and they have given me new perspective on life.

Have you been involved with 20% Theatre in the past?

This is my first time working on a production for 20% Theatre. I hope to work with them more in the future!

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

My other passions include acting on stage and sometimes singing in musicals. When I am not a part of a show, I love to hang with family and friends, travel, attend music concerts, cook, or play board games.

 

Meet the Director: Lisa Marie Brimmer

Meet the Director: Lisa Marie Brimmer

Why did you want to direct Waafrika 123? Why are these stories important to share with the community?

When Claire [Avitabile] first approached me about the project, I couldn’t believe the amount of complexity I was witnessing for a trans* character, for a queer relationship, for a white NGO worker. Lol. Every character in WAAFRIKA 123 is critical on some level: of the patriarchy, of transphobia, of tradition. I think of myself as a bit of an outcast, as a bit of an unplaceable, so I think that helped me connect emotionally to the characters. I’m also an Aries, Capricorn moon, Aquarius rising…so…

But the stories in WAAFRIKA 123 are so important to share with a community right now that needs to see its drama, beauty, and glamour, and terrors represented as real. People like Awino exist, not only in 1992 Kenyan Africa, but also here in the U.S. Maybe this story helps folks understand that the fear of violence against trans* folks, womxn and Black and Indigenous folks is REAL, ya’ll. It’s 2018, get with the program.

What have been the unique challenges and rewards of directing Waafrika 123?

This play has multiple content warnings, including rape, female genital cutting, suicide. Those themes are all layered on top of homophobia, transphobia, and a colonial/post-colonial environment. Working on this play right now has had to be very intentional and include a lot of room for response (emotional and intellectual) to the stuff going on in the world and in the play.

The way Nick [Hadiwka Mwaluko] works with exile and belonging in queer and indigenous communities is by collapsing tribal identities and practices to sort of create a fictional Luo people. It’s an odd move, but one we are kind of mimicking by having an all-Black american cast. Like, for various reasons, and I know some of these reasons, this is the cast that we have. And I think it made us nervous at first, but I feel less nervous about that now, personally. I just think about who this play is written for, and in a lot of ways it is about waking folks up, stirring the pot, not preaching to the choir; although, there is some beauty in there for the choir. There is humor and sweetness and human-ness that I don’t want to be missed.

We have had such amazing community members of Black, African, and Queer fam showing up for me, for the cast, for the community. This is a great reward: looking around at a group of people that think yes, this is challenging, yes, this is a risk, but Awino’s story—a story of trans masculinity, coming of age, young love, and bucking tradition—needs to be told!

Talk about your background as an artist and director. What inspires you to direct plays?

This is my first time directing a full-length play. I’m also growing through a lot of transition right now: I’m an interdisciplinary artist and have been writing and performing my poetry for almost 10 years, and I’ve been involved in theater since I moved to the Cities, but we didn’t have a program at the college I went to. I worked on a collab with SUPERGROUP back in 2012 at Bedlam. Since then I have done a few Late Nite at Mama Laurie’s series working on new work. I had the incredible experience of being mentored by Laurie Carlos for a little bit through a program that doesn’t pay their artists, so I’m trying not to name them.

I had some of the most amazing and ridiculous and demanding directors in high school. Or at least I thought they were. I thought that they were fabulous and still think of some of the things they got away with doing. I’m also an administrator and have managed a ton of projects, so I suppose what inspires me to direct plays is the super collaborative work that happens in theater, the risk of telling a story as a team, the risk of sharing the story you’ve created with the audience. I mean, it is all possibility and all about chemistry. The story that we tell can only really happen once. I think the script jumped out at me because of what Nick was doing with conventions. He was futzing with them and distorting some sort of western gaze on Kenya, and also doing some really (presumably) Kenyan stuff up in there too.

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

Right now, we are responsible for building a world that makes our lives, thoughts and experiences credible. Some of that will come from voting, some of that will come from considering how we are being a good neighbor (pronouns, bathrooms, housing, healthcare and beyond!) This is shit that queer and migrant communities share a bit in common: lack of knowledgeable healthcare access.

Sure, I care about culture, but I also care about policy. I see art as a major social tool—both igniting conversation, enhancing beauty and the lived experience, and nurturing us in ways that other institutions just cannot.

One thing I’ve found myself saying this week is that WAAFRIKA 123 serves “Dostoevsky realness” in its pursuit of the realities of the human condition. Nationalism, individualism, race and white body supremacy, queer and especially trans safety, are all big concerns. This doesn’t even begin to include the fact of the neo-colonialism that comes with global capitalism or the ways that the effects of global climate change are distributed throughout Planet Earth. This is what I care about in my work. We tell this story on occupied Dakota land (which is also a bit of a shortcut of history, btw). As part of this settler colonial project, I’m trying to reckon, and undo, and release so much. Trying to vision forward by remembering—like, Sankofa. That’s where I am now with it, anyhow.

Have you been involved with 20% Theatre in the past?

I have been supporting and supported by 20% Theatre Company for a few years. In 2016, I joined performance artist and writer AP Looze in thier Q-STAGE production. This year was my first opportunity to direct with The Naked I: Recognize/d, and I worked with Rica de la Concha on her piece Morning Rituals. So much fun!

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

What kind of question is this? I miss everybody from Patrick’s Cabaret, Bedlam, and Intermedia Arts. Over the years, working with J. Otis Powell‽, and folks at Intermedia (both the artists and the staff) was super informative on how I (try to) carry myself as an artist and an activist. I feel like I’ve been influenced by all collaborators ever. This year I got a chance to work with and explore queer black possibilities with some queer black folks in New York and have been so grateful for friendships that have kept up. My friend Alex and I got our brains turn around in our heads by the Adrian Piper exhibit—her formal fu@kery and meditations on the white imagination’s impacts on the black body in the U.S. was ON TIME for me, even if I was late to it. I love the convos I have with my partner.

Lately, I’ve been really encouraged by Shannon Gibney, Chaun Webster, Simi Kang, Marcela, Rica de la Concha, Keno Evol, Val Deus, Sun Yung Shin, Su Hwang, Paula Cisewski, Camille Gage, and AP Looze. All a dat is in different ways and means throughout the last five years. This is a hard question and one I’m reflecting on major. But like Kahlil Brewington, Dameun Strange, Max Corcoran, Greg Schutte, Park Evans, Andrew Foreman—those boys were all there for me big time and our work together was super fun and co-inspiring too.

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

I’m really excited for the opening of the Liberation Library in collab with Family Tree Clinic that is happening on November 16 from 4-6pm at Family Tree Clinic in St. Paul. We’ve got some incredible folks reading, a mural to unveil and a library to celebrate. There are local presses donating books, and so much exciting stuff going on! Art is finding new homes! The J. Otis Powell‽ “Interrobang Library” is a collection I had started at Intermedia Arts that closed and I had been lugging those books around since! FTC has been kind enough to make these resources available to folks in their new lobby library.

The other thing I’m excited to share is that I am co-editing this anthology Queer Voices: Poetry, Prose & Pride through MNHS Press with Andrea Jenkins and John Medeiros and it is due out in Spring of 2019!

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

I like to make jewelry, refurbish furniture, and hang out with my dog and cat. I would say writing is a passion of mine, so I hope to be doing more of that when this play is closed!

Photo by: Rochelle Lund // @elec tricebonyterrorism

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Brenda Bell Brown

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Brenda Bell Brown

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

I primarily play the role of the irrepressible Mama Mugabe—first wife to the Chief—and also lend my voice to that of nameless village vixen and rabble rousers.

Without giving anything away, what does Mama Mugabe bring to the story? What’s she all about?

I entered into the development of my role as Mama Mugabe with the intent to meet this woman on her own terms. In order to make my performance believable, I had to find every aspect of personal affinity that we shared. One of the most admirable attributes that Mama Mugabe possesses is her insistence upon “tradition.” Holding fast to tradition, she uses it as a standard for individuals and the entire community to live by. Over the years, the defining aspects of communal tradition may have gotten confused with personal gain by this extremely manipulative and powerful woman. One cannot help but admire the way that she keeps everyone on course with her innate sense of survival and insistence on tradition.

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

These stories need to be told to address a fundamental aspect of difference. Difference is a prime descriptor of nature, of human nature. Lack of reason leads to denial and disruption of this beautiful aspect of life. In Waafrika 123, playwright Nick Mwaluko gives voice to many reasons to celebrate difference and arguments for the beauty of minds and bodies, in form as born or trans-formed, existing on their own terms. It is the debilitating, irrational non-reason that provides the dramatic tension. I hope that the community leaves the play scene with indelible commitment to act on the goodness, not the ill-will, that we share.

What has been challenging or rewarding about working on this production?

Our director Lisa Marie Brimmer is most insightful, brave and generous. As an actor who is treading socio-cultural waters that are not personally experienced in my day-to-day life, it is most beneficial to have guidance from a director who understands what may cause triggers of fear and trepidation, who also possesses the tools to work the actor through it. Reflecting on the rehearsal experience, we have gone through phenomenal cultural immersion exercises to better feel and sense the characters that we are growing. That type of ensemble development has to be intentionally driven. I am glad Lisa has the keys.

What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production? Have you been involved with 20% Theatre in the past?

I have not been involved with 20% Theatre in the past. However, I have been in the company of, witnessed the work of, and have worked with some of the artists who comprise this company and its supporters over the 20+ years that I have lived and worked in the Twin Cities arts community. These are hopeful times that we live in, during this time when there is such a commitment to acting out heretofore untold stories via companies like 20%. Industry-wide, money-wise, the arts world has not changed: As a Black American, female artist, I still work to leverage the same monies for the technical, administrative, creative arts work that I do that is commensurate with the monies made by my white, male counterparts. Theatre groups like 20% give me hope and incentive.

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

Reparations. Monetary and societal equanimity. Indigenous celebrations of culture and spirit. Separate but equal housing and schooling. Red-line reform. I could go on and on about what concerns me and I have done so in my poetry, my scripts for stage and screen, my broadcast journalism and my visual art for no less than fifty years.

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

While recently sharing the love that I have for writing with my students of critical writing at the Saint Thomas University Dougherty Family College, I shared the title of a book, Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau. I told my students that, after reading Texaco, I was so moved by its contents that I stopped reading other people’s work for over five years. I so wanted to replicate the feeling that I got from reading the book in my own work, that I could not be distracted by any other until then. That instance being most significant, others include the sermons of Southern preachers, a child’s recitation of The Night Before Christmas, as well as the viewing of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas (family fave), and the folk who sing the blues down home in Memphis, TN.

What other projects are you working on right now?

I am working to fund a summer to work on the edit and production of several works primed for the can for way too long— books of poetry and prose, films, scripts and visual work. All I need is a summer of concentrated, uninterrupted time. It would be divine.

Aside from this production of Waafrika 123, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

I am loving my work as a recently-appointed Adjunct English Professor for Saint Thomas University Dougherty Family College. Being that I know no set time for work or play during the day, I am in continuous creative mode: writing, editing, producing, envisioning. Most everything I do is a joy, and therefore is a hobby or passion in life. That is how art was gifted to me by my mother and my father and others—as an everyday life occurrence, a natural propensity in life. There is one creative act that brings me calm in the most motored and unthinking way: sewing, primarily, a straight stitch.

Describe your pre-performance ritual if you have one.

Prayer for strength and clarity, among other significant things.