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.

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Madeline Achen

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Madeline Achen

What is your role for this production of Waafrika 123 and what inspired you to join the design team?

I am the scenic designer for this production. When I read the script, I was really taken aback and moved by the story. The style is dreamlike, but the content is so real and personal and sharp that I could not put it down. I knew that I wanted to help create something incredible with this design team and give the performers a space that would support their storytelling.

How did you become a designer? What sorts of stories and productions do you find the most compelling to design for?

I’ve been sketching and scheming for as long as I remember. I always loved creating ground plans for impossible spaces: I’d challenge myself to figure out how I’d make a house with no ninety-degree angles, or how I’d put a house inside a silo or a theater inside a train car. I like to design with teams that are excited to try something new. Using scenic design to tell stories that are important, immediate, timely or timeless is the most interesting to me.

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

I have so much to learn about so many perspectives and issues that I do not encounter on a daily basis. Every day, and every project, is an opportunity to confront the biases and assumptions that I either hold myself unintentionally or have experienced first-hand. I believe that the arts can help us re-learn empathy and understanding, and that empathy is one of the first steps to dismantling the systems that keep us from equality. I try to create art that inspires people to think critically about the world around them and how they exist within it.

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

Yes! If you’d like to see me turn a bunch of odds and ends into a lifelike caribou and are looking for a show about family, healing, and a little bit of magic, I’ll be designing and puppeteering in Prancer at Lyric Arts this November and December. It’ll be a festive time for all ages.

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

When I am not working, I love to be outside wandering and climbing into precarious places, preferably in the company of animals. I also enjoy learning new styles of stage combat, shenanigans with friends and family, and scavenger hunts, which are really just a combination of all of my aforementioned passions.

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Antonio Banks

Waafrika 123 Featured Artist: Antonio Banks

What role(s) do you play in the production of Waafrika 123?
I play the Chief.

Why are the stories told in Waafrika 123 important to share with the community?  
What is important to share with the community is a Queer love story full of integrity, honesty, and pride! The visibility of queer people fighting for the right to love and be loved is one thing that can bring allies and queer folk closer together.

Without giving anything away, what does your character bring to the story? What’s your character all about?
My character brings…mediation…as best as he can with what little opportunity is given. My character truly is about communicating the fact that love defeats tradition(s).

What has been challenging and/or rewarding about working on the production of Waafrika 123?
The most rewarding thing about this production is the cast and crew! And how engaged and passionate everyone is about not just “doing theatre”, but immersing themselves in the political history of Kenya, and LGBTQ issues relating to our domestic communities and Kenyan communities!

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 and, if so, in what ways? 
This is my 20% Theatre debut! Honestly, the “artistic experience” I’m bringing to Waafrika 123 is that I know who I am as an artist and I know what I want as an artist, which is to be my own genius while learning and growing with the minds of other geniuses. Also, I celebrate the importance of just simply showing up to rehearse and showing out…remembering to HAVE FUN!

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?
LGBTQ social issues!!!! There’s every truth in [this]: before you can be proud, you have to be loud! Being an artist, and being visible in the fight for LGBTQ rights is the way I understand how to navigate my life. I [approach] LGBTQ social issues as a teacher. And what other way to communicate social change than through art!

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

James Earl Jones: Everything relating to Voice! Viola Davis: Great example of connecting humanity to acting. Jennifer Holliday and Billy Porter: Love how they can tell the human story through song. Mary J. Blige: Her performance in the movie Mudbound shows that you can strongly connect with the audience with the fewest of lines.


Meet the Playwright: Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko

Meet the Playwright: Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko

What inspired you to write Waafrika 123?

There was a woman in our village; she had been exiled. Exile means zero contact; it makes you [a] social pariah extraordinaire on your own soil among your own people. As is the custom, the elders told us of her exile, warning us not to go near her until they gave the signal, permission granted to reengage. Nothing unusual about the procedure, completely in-keeping with traditional custom. The unusual thing was this: neither me nor my expanding circle of friends knew why she had been exiled; usually we’d know because tribal code makes it crystal clear from birth which in/actions lead to exile, your social death publicly announced to your community. I was maybe seven years old when this was going down. Independent little me decided to completely ignore my elders and become obsessed with this woman with her mystery circumstance, secretly following her any and every spare moment at my disposal. So one day, when I’m super obsessed with my detailed detective work, a passing wind blew her window curtain wide open so I saw inside her home; a wellspring of shame passed through my seven year-old Self.

I think Waafrika 123 is a product of that intense shame. I was spying on a life in exile, a life privately experiencing its social death, which my obsession openly violated, or at least made significantly less private. I felt then at seven and still feel years later that the public announcement of her exile was intended to shame her; stripping her exile of an explanation was intended to oppress her; my spying, though not intended to humiliate, did exactly that. That cocktail—shame, oppression, humiliation—is what makes patriarchy effective and especially lethal. Writing the play, I think, was my reckoning with a deep need to piece back the explosive shards, to resurrect her life and mine from Death by quieting shame, lessening our shared oppression because of, not despite, our helplessness. Yes, I felt and feel myself powerless over the forceful agents at work in my Life, but writing is miraculous for so many reasons, not least of which is when impact gracefully dances with intention on the page.

No, the exiled woman was not lesbian nor queer nor, to my knowledge, romantically involved. I gave her a queer identity to transform her exile, her social death, into something special, magical. I felt the best person to give her best Self to would be someone like her who was not like her, a woman who was a foreigner, so that the rules pertaining to her exile did not apply, nor would she be accountable to those rules when a couple, when sharing their shared Selves. Invention, creativity, risk, surprise took over, so all this is speculation; every single word is. Writers are known to extemporize. In summary, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know what inspired Waafrika 123, my play.

Without giving anything away, what can you tell us about the stories of Waafrika 123 that we won’t know just from seeing it? 

It’s important to understand the significance and understatement that is the subtle difference between Chief’s generation and that of Awino’s, his child, for one is truly a philosophical umbilical cord to the other. Chief is from that generation of African (male) who experienced the entire breadth of competing and transforming global points of view within the African continent. Chief was a child when his father was Chief under tribal law; he was a young man when colonialism arrived and abolished tribal law; he was a man when colonialism ended, independence was celebrated and nationalism installed new laws; and he was an elder as globalism approached. The arch of that political narrative could read as someone who saw his father fight for his freedom only to see his own child (Awino), through globalism, embrace the culture of his father’s oppressors. Maybe.

Less open to speculation is that Awino’s “freedom” is intimately bound to Chief’s, though not obviously so. In short, every effort Awino makes to separate or be free from patriarchy is, in essence, subverting the multilayered helix between tribe, tradition and historical sacrifices made by family members so [that] Awino could arrive at a place to claim hir freedom. Nobody is wrong; wrong isn’t wrong when there is no “right” way to become Self nor script for “freedom” (as license). Awino’s generation is likely to interpret hir claim for freedom as the natural extension of Chief’s struggle; independence meant fighting to free the body politic and so it would and should obviously lead to freeing the body by allowing for its fullest expression. To Chief and his generation, that struggle had nothing to do with queer rights; indeed, to link their noble fight against colonialism for independence and freedom to queer Africanity is a slap in the face and spiteful mockery of precious blood that was shed. To make peace with such bold contradictions, I created a world where both truths peacefully coexist. In the end, when Queer Africa is ultimately birthed by Awino, it lives on several plains within two worlds: old and new; traditional and omni; reality and non; cis and queer. Awino and Chief need each other; they peacefully coexist because they are each other: they are born, both die, both resurrect and both are reborn because of each other, stripping layers to expose the heart, which could be one definition for freedom, for Self, for love.

There is such a fine line between self-preservation and cowardice, isn’t there? Within the Trump presidency and Republican Party, we are witnesses to it. The distinction between self-preservation and cowardice in a world where there is no single Truth is made by persuasion through perception. Perception, how one sees the world, informs decisions, choices, persuasion. So you can only live your persuasion; how can you not? So, it’s very hard and very easy to judge the characters in this play. My hope is audiences will suspend judgment along with disbelief. I’ll leave it at that.

I fear a queerphobic audience (member) will use Race to block the genuine, deeply heartfelt complex desire Awino and Bobby have for one another. It’s easy and therefore convenient, given the (current) climate of tribalism, to substitute whiteness for “savior”, “ineptitude”, “the enemy”, “Johnny Come Lately African activist”, etc. But I feel a more complex story is being told and hope audiences embrace the opportunity to let go of traditional readings of plays where there is a clear path to normalcy as the status quo. Anyway, I don’t think artistic formula works: if anything, such scripts distort Life—and therefore Art. This play is not “love with dictums”. This is not right versus wrong; good versus evil. This is about Being. And Being is not a performance; it comes without a formula, [has] no script.

Talk about your background as an artist and a playwright. What kinds of stories inspire you to tell them? What’s compelling and important to you about a narrative?

I like work that attacks the unbearable. I prefer an attack when it’s bold, uncompromising, unapologetic, atomic in subject, theme and structural lawlessness. Work not asking for permission, nor seeking validation, nor Anointing from dead institutions. Material that explodes the stale, Old, ego-centric order with its cheap version of Radicalism posing as “style”. Like the Russian novelists, I privilege “misfits”, more marginalized characters. Like the Russian novelists, I believe they offer a wider emotional spectrum because, not despite, their lack of material resources. Like the Russian novelists, I believe “misfits” are better equipped to illuminate (read: reveal what it truly means to be a human being). I write to places in myself that bleed.

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

Like everyone else: LOVE.

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

Women writers, particularly African-American novelists after the epoch dubbed as The Protest Novel, though some systems/socio-political African-American male writers from that era influenced me too. Russian novelists, European existentialists as well. Peppered with a few German and French philosophers who make for better reading when bitter and disillusioned. I like critical theory, queer theory, rad manifestos, travelogues, religious texts, poetry, anything I can get my hands on. I’m teaching myself how to take in visual art. I get drunk on dance. Appreciation and applause goes out to artists from every genre, really.

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

Thank you so much for asking. Following a residency with the amazing Crowded Fire Theater Company in San Francisco, California, there will be a reading of my full-length play about a Black trans-femme in December 2018.

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

Reading, dancing (poorly).

Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Simone Bernadette Williams & Holo Lue Choy



Q-STAGE Core Artists Simone Bernadette Williams & Holo Lue Choy have created a dynamic and powerful show together, titled e. Click here for more info and tickets! (Photo Credit: Blythe M. Davis)

Can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your Q-STAGE show came from?

We really wanted to create a narrative about our lives. We are both mixed race, queer, trans and struggle with eating disorders, and we don’t get to hear stories revolving around all of those identities and their intersections often enough. We wanted to make something that was so authentically us.

Why do you feel it is important to share this story/the story(ies) of your performance with the community?

e is really important for audiences to see because it is unlike anything else. We’ve never made a piece like this, we’ve never seen a piece like this. At this point, the most targeted body in America is that of the black trans woman, and so for two black, trans femme people to come up and communicate about our lives, while we are alive, is revolutionary.

What aspects of your queer identity do you hope to express through your Q-STAGE piece?

The main focus we’re working with is the intersectionality of our trans identities and our racial identities, and the way those co-actively affect the way we navigate the world. We want other queer and trans folx of color to see themselves, for once.

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 and, if so, in what ways?

Simone: I work primarily as a spoken word artist, and dabble in acting, directing, playwriting, visual art, curation, singing, songwriting, fashion design and knitting. This is my first time working with 20% as an artist, but I have attended many shows.

Holo: My training started in a conservatory dance and theatre context. Outside of this training, I’ve been heavily interested in incorporating sonic design (both live and recorded) and visual art in the form of video, lighting design, and use of architecture/space to create interdisciplinary performance works. This is my first time working with 20%, after having seen The Naked I, and last years Q-STAGE.

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

The more appropriate question would be if there were issues unimportant to us. Every piece we create, whether together or individually, is in response to the oppressive systems of hetero-normative, cis-normative, white supremacist, neo-liberal, capitalist, patriarchy. In e, we address all of these, and talk about how they affect us as artists.

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

Simone: I am a huge fan of the work that youth in our community make. Any poet who goes through TruArtSpeaks inspires me, especially executive director Tish Jones. Pillsbury House, Penumbra and Million Artist Movement are three organizations that continue to center the voices of people of color, which is important to me when looking at work.

Holo: Huge influences on my early artistic training were Kenna Camara-Cottman, Angharad Davies and the two years I spent apprenticing with Ananya Dance Theatre. More recently my work has been based in the performance art idiom, using movement as the basis. A lot of what I’m currently working with is inspired by the Judson Dance Theatre, and my experiences performing for Rosy Simas and Laurie Van Wieren.

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

Simone: I just wrapped directing a piece written by myself and three other youth called BATTLE FATIGUE through blank slate theatre company, which shines a spotlight on the school-to-prison pipeline’s intersections with blackness and mental illness. Mostly, however, I am gearing up to head to UW Madison as a member of the 11th cohort in the First Wave program next fall!

Holo: Currently e is my main focus as a creator, though performatively I’m preparing for a lot of new works. I’ll be performing in Aniccha Arts’ 3600 Cuts in June, and Fire Drill’s Bill: The Musikill in July, both at the Southern Theatre. Additionally, I’ll be performing in Rosy Simas’ Skin(s) when it tours to Illinois next Winter.

What is your favorite pre or post-rehearsal snack or meal?

Simone: Ice cream. Hands down.

Holo: Fried rice seems to be a daily post-rehearsal staple.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

Simone: I really love hanging out at the Midtown Global Market and walking the greenway. I can get some delicious food, celebrate diversity & enjoy a beautiful walking path.

Holo: Any spot in nature is ideal. I most frequently find myself walking through the Lake Harriet Bird Sanctuary, though Cedar Lake forest is also amazing for wandering.

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?

Simone: I spend most of my time making or watching art. I love hanging out with my friends, going out dancing, knitting and reading books.

Holo: Most of my time seems to be consumed in making art. When not working on a show, I’m usually walking around nature, seeing work, or listening to music.


Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Sami Pfeffer


As one of our 2017 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?

My piece is about the ways in which trauma and abuse, a well as others’ reactions to and judgements of those experiences, haunt survivors. The piece is also about theatrical hauntings. Who possesses whom: the audience or the actors? The play features two performers, a paranormal investigation, and lots of flashlights.

I’ve been obsessed with abuse and trauma for as long as I’ve been actively healing from my own. Which is to say I’m interested in empathy. I want to understand how empathy can be withheld because I can’t even withhold empathy from the folks who’ve been abusive to me. But they can certainly withhold it from me.

I’m also interested in the structures in our lives that teach us about empathy. Like theater. I find theater odd. We can sit six feet from an actor and believe that they’re dying in Medieval Europe, but we won’t believe their lived experiences of rape or racism. What conventions make the former reasonable and the latter suspect?

My more recent performances have happened in the context of tourism- I spent a winter working as a ghost tour guide which is a job that requires dexterous empathy because the people who embark on ghost tours can be susceptible to great amounts of cruelty for their beliefs. Personally, I’m undecided on spiritual matters, but I had to quit that job because I felt like those fucking clerics of old who sold relics by the dozen to already impoverished believers.

I intended to write a different play about that experience. This play was supposed to be more surreal, performance art instead of theater. But the spirits want what they want. And who am I to withhold empathy, especially from myself?

Have you been collaborating with any other artists to create this show? Who are they are how are they contributing?

Yes! I’ve collaborated with the actors, Suzi and Beckett Love, and the co-director, Kai Greiner. I had about ⅗’s of the script finished by the first rehearsal, so we spent a few weeks devising the last ⅖’s of the play.

The piece is much stronger because of the collaboration. This is by far the most personal play I’ve ever written and at a certain point, for me, I needed it to become other. I needed the play to no longer be about me but to be about a character so that I could finish the story because otherwise, it’d go on for as long as I’m alive.

Why do you feel it is important to share this story/the story(ies) of your performance with the community?

I hope that this story does three things: 1. Encourages folks who’ve experienced emotional abuse to believe themselves and take those abuses seriously. 2. Encourages folks who’ve perpetrated emotional abuse to believe that their behaviors can be damaging even when we don’t have very strong cultural definitions of what emotional/psychological abuse looks like. 3. Encourages community members in general to recognize that we are all capable of committing abusive acts (which are really similar to oppressive behaviors, just on different scale and with different amounts of power and privilege) and that we are all culpable because abuse is not an individual failure alone but also a communal one.

What aspects of your queer identity do you hope to express through your Q-STAGE piece?

The biggest aspect of my queer identity that I hope to express through my Q STAGE piece is that of self-work. My queerness is less grounded in my desires, my genders, my body even, and more in how I commit myself to being in the world. For me, queerness is about finding ways to radically identify with others and dismantle the systemic barriers that our collective bodies face. As a white, educated, owning-class, size-privileged person I define some of my queerness in how I hold myself accountable to the power I inherently receive. And use, to be honest. I have yet to find a way to have power and not use power so I try to be aware of who I’m aligning myself with and who I’m aligning myself against.

Another aspect of my queer identity that I hope is expressed through my Q STAGE piece is one of survival. Like so many queer folks, I’m gaslighted every day. Our realities are ridiculed, ignored, challenged, denied, and made murky by this world. We are more likely to suffer depression and anxiety and all those medical pathologies made up to narrate our valid responses to an invalidating country.

We struggle not only to have our bodies recognized, but to have our minds declared cognizant enough to engage in the act of recognition, to recognize ourselves as ourselves. We struggle both to feel and for the right to feel. And we struggle to recall and maintain our histories because even within our own stories, some of us use our confluences of privilege and pain to overwhelm and drown out other queer voices.

In short: sometimes we gaslight each other. On a national level, gaslighting is a strategy employed by generally privileged queers in order to gain access to systemic power by performing sanctioned acts of erasure of other queer truths and identities considered more “disruptive” to dominant society. We see this in white-cis-washed films like “Stonewall” and the Gay Marriage movements which helped endear straight Americans to certain queer bodies because of perceived sameness, but did nothing to advocate for the validity of difference.

On an intimate level, gaslighting is a strategy employed by often similarly positioned queers in order to gain psychological power by performing acts of erasure towards their partners’ truths, especially those considered disruptive to the gaslighter’s dominant sense of self. I understand the urge here- having a queer self is already hard. We are continuously experiencing threats to not just our selves but to our right to have selves in the first place, and thus any request to engage in self-examination can be perceived as yet another ontological threat.

Plus, this level of self-examination requires us to also acknowledge the traumas that we collectively and individually carry within our queer bodies, and to engage with those traumas in order to avoid perpetuating them. In other words: we are asked to heal.

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 and, if so, in what ways?

As an artist, I’m late-blooming, less a flower than an ivy, creeping up on even me. I spent six years fallow and asleep. I dropped strong roots though and found little veins of truth to stick my tubers in. And now that I’ve got a stalk and stem, I’m pulling those truths up through my body, up into my unfurling leaves.

20% Theatre is one of the first companies I’ve branched into. I directed two pieces for The Naked I: Self-Defined.

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

I feel like I answered this above in the section about queerness which for me is inextricable from fighting against the white supremacist cis-het patriarchy of capitalism.

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

Recently: Faye Driscoll, Shá Cage, Michael Sakamoto, Rennie Harris, Eric F. Avery, Vie Boheme, Pedro Lander

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

I am working on other projects! In addition to my Q STAGE piece, I’m also creating my second installation for Northern Spark and working on a series of short films about self-empathy. As a person both dysphoric and dissociative, I struggle to spend time in my body, and my films document the revulsion and joy of my self-embrace.

What is your favorite pre or post-rehearsal snack or meal?

My favorite pre AND post-rehearsal snack is grapefruit, steak, and La Croix.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

My favorite hangout spot is a secret little beach on the MPLS side of the Mississippi River because 1. I love the river, 2. I love being alone.

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?

When not deep in Q STAGE, I spend my time facilitating youth programs and events at Intermedia Arts, and in the few hours I have not doing either of those things, I take my dog on long runs, I walk through the alleys looking for cool trash, and I try to find moments to sit still and just be me.

Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Nadia Honary



As part of Q-STAGE 2017, Nadia Honary is creating a new performance piece combining video and movement – These Floating Bones – that will perform May 5 and 6 at 7:30pm, and May 7 at 2pm. For more information about this and other Q-STAGE shows, click here

As one of our 2017 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?

The inspiration for this piece has been in development for over a year. I’m very fascinated with the body’s relationship to the mind, and its relationship to the natural moving world. It’s very easy to become distracted and disconnected from the world around us as we advance in technology and strive for comfort and convenience. This disconnection prevents us from listening to our bodies, and ultimately lose a certain sense of the self. It is this reason that I chose to explore some of these themes using butoh-inspired movements and combining that with video of natural occurrences, such as water in a lake or leaves blowing in the wind. This piece is very personal for me because I am exploring my tendencies to become disassociated to my own identity. So for me, this piece is more like a journey into becoming reacquainted with this “self” through elemental inspired images and movement. My gender is fluid, my identity is liquid. I feel a connection to the idea of Noguchi Taiso which is the notion of the human body as a form of liquid, a water bag in which our bones are floating.

Have you been collaborating with any other artists to create this show? Who are they are how are they contributing?

My director/collaborator, Shalee Coleman, has been an absolute dream to work with in creating this piece. She is one of the few humans who will completely understand what I’m saying and be able to take any of my ideas, no matter how large or seemingly impossible, and mold and shape it in a way that works beautifully in the piece. I feel very lucky to get to work with her. I have also had the privilege to meet with interdisciplinary artist and dancer Michael Sakamoto. His work is very deeply influenced with butoh and having the chance to talk with him and also to watch him perform has greatly inspired me to keep pushing forward with my own work.

Why do you feel it is important to share this story of your performance with the community?

Vulnerability is incredibly important in the work I create because that is what people connect to. Although it is very scary to create this kind of work, it is also a very healing process for me. I hope this piece creates a sense of healing within the community, inspiring people who witness this work to embrace the natural evolution the body experiences, and to feel the physical changes internally and externally.

What aspects of your queer identity do you hope to express through your Q-STAGE piece?

I am taking an experimental approach to topics that are very personal to me as an always evolving queer-identified artist. I am creating a performance that indirectly addresses the evolution of the physical body and its connection to nature, very conscious of the fact that my own identity is in a constant state of transition. My journey coming to terms with my own sexual identity is an ongoing process and I am fascinated with the way society tries to box people into neat packages for the sake of convenience when gender and human identity is entirely complex and changing.

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 and, if so, in what ways?

I’m a multimedia artist with over 10 years of experience in the visual arts. I’m very passionate about photography and videography. That’s why video is a huge part of this particular piece; I’m very visual and find great inspiration in movements inspired by nature. I also have several years of experience doing experimental theatre work. I love to move and as a performer, am very physically expressive. This will be my first time involved with 20% Theatre, but hopefully will not be the last.

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

The concept of gender identity and how cultural identity influences gender and sexuality very much informs the art I create. I’m half-Iranian, with half of my family still living in Iran. This means I’m still closeted to most of my extended family as Iran. I think about freedom of expression, of perception and censorship. These themes come up often in the art I create. I’m also very impacted by immigration policies and the act of inspiring fear in order to discriminate against an entire group of people, how certain words are used in conjunction with an entire region or religion in order to manipulate the way others view anyone coming from that area. I consider these specific social issues often when I create my work.

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

There are so many! I am influenced by artists that physically and intellectually challenge perspectives. M.C. Escher has aesthetically inspired my approach to installation through use of reflections and mirrors. Conceptually, I am inspired by surrealism, which is why I draw inspiration from the works of Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, and Salvador Dali. Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s use of video projection to transform spaces, as well as the usage of text within her work has also shaped my work. I also love the work by installation/video artist Pipilotti Rist. Local artists whom I know or have met that have shaped and inspired my work include ceramist and interdisciplinary artist, Katayoun Amjadi, photographer Wing Young Huie, and as I mentioned earlier, mover/interdisciplinary artist Michael Sakamoto.

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

I would like to eventually finish a documentary that I started on my half-Iranian identity which also focuses on my dad’s story and how he got here. I think stories on immigration and identity are important to share, especially in times like today.

What is your favorite pre or post-rehearsal snack or meal?

My favorite post-rehearsal meal is tacos! Always tacos.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

I love going to Caffetto cafe. The space is cozy and they have pinball machines in the basement. I also love being outside whenever the weather permits. I will walk anywhere and everywhere and hang out in the park. Specifically Powderhorn Park is very close to my heart.

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 love spontaneous dance parties in the living room, riding bikes with my partner, and cooking with simple ingredients. I also love challenging myself by trying new things. I’m excited to mountain bike more often as the weather warms up; I just started last fall and I’m hooked!