Featured BALLAST artist: Marcel Michelle-Mobama


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 have a multidisciplinary background, everything from miming to improv comedy, music theory to ballet folklorico. Lately my focus has been erotic performance and curation. I have worked with 20% as an actor in And She Would Stand Like This (part of Q-Stage 2015), as a performer for their annual Queer Prom, and most recently as the curator of Exposition: Queer Performance and Conversation.

What aspects of your [queer] identity do you hope to express through your role(s) in BALLAST?

All of the women I play in BALLAST are cisgender, so it’s devilish fun to take those roles as a trans woman, especially with all of the acclaimed performances of trans people by cis people in history. The emphasis here was to cast trans people period, not just as trans people, and that is appealing to me.

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

The work that I do is important to me because I know that the vast majority of people still have little to no concept of what it is to be at these intersections of oppression. Because the arts, particularly in cities like this, have a comforting idea of themselves as progressive, inclusive, social, when that is truly not the case. I do this work because Guys and Dolls can still sell out on Broadway, because racism, misogyny, and transphobia still run rampant in the arts, even among companies that pride themselves on their queerness or feminism. I do this unstable, exhausting, stressful, sometimes painful work because I believe my success will make it easier for trans women of color to exist in these spaces in the future.

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

Intersectional feminism is important to me socially, A lot of my work deals with subverting notions of eroticism, race, gender, subjugated sexuality, psycho-sexual stigmas. Other influences for me include childhood trauma, narcissism, communion, possession, exorcism, martyrdom, and apotheosis/transcendence.

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

Locally, events like Q-Stage, Queertopia and The Minneapolis Burlesque Festival, along with people like Victoria DeVille and Red Bone, have been great inspirational boons to my work. There was a (somewhat controversial) festival called Diversi-Tease a few years ago that changed the way I thought about what individual short form performance (burlesque/drag/variety) could be. Other inspirations for me include Bob Fosse, Amiri Baraka, Etienne Decroux, Esperanza Spalding, Grace Jones, Anne Bogart, Patina Miller, Luminous Pariah, Tony Kushner, Stephen Sondheim, Billie Holliday, and Bob Wilson.

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

I have to stay busy. Project 42, Exposition, and Daddy are the things I’m most excited about right now. I really encourage people to look them all up and come if they can. Project 42 is happening in museums all over the world, honoring the lives and acknowledging the deaths of 42 trans women who have been murdered in America. Exposition is this thing I do with 20% where we gather artists both emerging and established form different mediums and put them in a show together where they review each others work followed by performances and a panel with the audience. Daddy is the coolest hottest queerest newest monthly variety show in the Twin Cities. The lineups are amazingly diverse. I’m also working on something quite grand for the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival.

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

I honestly don’t do much outside of work. Most of my recreation is research based. I can’t listen to music without turning it into some kind of performance, or go see a movie without taking notes on the technicalities, or go to a party and not turn it into a string of 10 minute meetings. For me, there’s always a way to be working, and that’s how I like to live my life. The hobbies I do have seem centered around creation/consumption. Mostly food and sex. I love going out to eat with my partner or experimenting with culinary techniques far beyond my capabilities. I also enjoy the board game Risk.

Dreams play a big role in BALLAST–tell us about a weird/scary/wonderful/funny dream you’ve had recently.

The best/most interesting dream I’ve had recently was about having a very wholesome and sweet threesome with Natasha Lyonne and a high school friend I had a huge crush on who turned out to be queer and has coincidentally re-emerged in a lot of spaces in my life. They were married in the dream, it started with them showing me all of their toys and… just sort of… went from there…