Q-STAGE 2019 artist D. Allen on their new work NET/WORK.
What is the inspiration for NET/WORK?
In early 2018, after doing final revisions on my first book and starting research for a very heavy nonfiction project, I had no words left. I was experiencing a deep depression, which combined with the increasingly difficult symptoms of my illness to leave me both speechless and physically isolated. I had trouble leaving my house and found it difficult to talk about what I was going through with even my closest people, but I still wanted to connect, to communicate, which is what art-making offers me. So I started knitting, a skill my Nana taught me when I was a kid. Each stitch felt like a word I couldn’t say. While my hands were busy my brain began to make connections between silence/stillness, sensory pleasures/comforts, trauma, mental illness, physical disability, and queer & trans embodiment, and NET/WORK was born. It was the only work I felt I could make at the time, so I just followed its lead.
And why do you feel it is important to share the stories of NET/WORK with the community?
I am sharing my personal story because it is what I have to offer and because I was gifted the incredible opportunity of Q-STAGE, but the major threads running through this work are not unique to me. NET/WORK is part of a lineage of queer, trans, disabled artists and writers who have put forth their bodies and stories in direct opposition to the deep history of disabled folks and queer & trans folks who’ve been forced into isolation and silence. I want to participate in that creative ecosystem in the hopes that other disabled queer artists in and beyond my community will know that there is a place for us in the art world, the publishing world, on the stage.
Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production?
First and foremost, I’m a poet. I make a lot of visual work along with some sound/music and other uncategorizable stuff, but all the creative work I do, no matter the form or discipline, stems from that core poet identity. I perform sometimes, but I by no means see myself as a performer or theater person, so creating a full-length solo show has been both intimidating and exciting.
Have you collaborated with other artists to create this piece?
I’m consulting with two dear friends on the creation of this work: Merle Geode, multidisciplinary artist and poet, and Beth Mikel Ellsworth, theatre artist and dramaturg. On some level, every meaningful conversation I’ve had in the last 8 months—with friends and chosen family, my Mom, healthcare providers, and artist-poet-queer-trans-disabled-ill community near and far—has been a collaboration that allowed NET/WORK to grow into what it is.
What social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?
I make everything I make with queer, trans, and disabled folks in mind. Not issues, but people. I’m invested in our collective flourishing, not just our survival (but definitely also our survival), and a big part of that for me means making art, sharing stories, witnessing each other. My story is what I have to offer, and it connects me to so many others. By sharing our own stories, naming/paying/lifting up the artists and writers whose work has informed our own, and caring for each other in very practical ways (through food, support with daily tasks, rideshares, showing up, making a call or text, etc.) so that storytelling isn’t competing with basic needs, we invest in the long-term survival of our communities. I believe that art is a powerful tool for advocacy—for connecting us to our collective power, getting better policies in place, and breaking down/working outside of systems that kill or silence us. So a big part of my practice takes place quietly behind the scenes, conspiring with my fellow queer/trans/disabled artists to create conditions under which we can make the work we need to make.
What artists or performances have inspired you over the years?
Whew! I could go on forever about this, so I’ll just name some of the writers, artists, scholars, and activists whose work has informed NET/WORK: #AccessIsLove, @TheNapMinistry, Mia Mingus, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Ellen Samuels, Johanna Hedva, Chely Lima, Eli Clare, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Angel Dominguez, and many others.
Do you have any other projects in the works that you’d like to tell us about?
My first book, A Bony Framework for the Tangible Universe, is newly released into the world, so I’ve been slowly but steadily getting that out into the community. After Q-STAGE wraps up I’ll focus on a new collection of lyric essays about queer/trans/disabled embodiment and the natural world, which I’m very excited about. I’m also looking forward to doing more durational multidisciplinary work and short- or long-term collaborations.
When you’re not deep in Q-STAGE rehearsal and development, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?
I spend a lot of time caring for and talking affectionately to my house plants. In the warmer months, I garden in the backyard and raise Monarch butterflies inside my tiny screened porch.
Describe your pre-performance ritual if you have one.
I’m not sure I have one, but if I did it would be rooting down in my senses by holding something small like a river stone or a piece of cloth, drinking water, and doing 5 minutes of self-Reiki.