Q-STAGE Feature: Marcela Michelle-Mobama & Demons in America

 

Where did the ideas for your Q-STAGE show come from?

I went to see a broadcast of The National’s revival of Angels in America and Tony Kushner was lamenting the play’s relevance today, despite it being 40 years old, saying it was his hope that the work become irrelevant. I was also watching a lot of political documentaries at the time and had just started to read more conservative/Nazi blogs. People were glamorizing America's response to Nazism in the ‘40’s in such a false, idealistic repainting of history, and I wanted to highlight the hypocrisy of that and examine why we can't call things what they are.

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

I think it is important for the artist to offer catharsis, to heal, to guard history and culture. It sounds grandiose, but it is true and ancient. Artists have a responsibility to share their reflections/ideas/stories because we can. Art is a necessary social and political part of a healthy functioning society, and some people have a capacity for and desire to confront the less examined, maybe more upsetting sides of ourselves, and that needs to be looked at and discussed as well. People still talk about the theatre here in a way that is more productive I think than cinema or streaming. Maybe someone realizes something, someone had a good cry, found the courage to make a change, got a laugh, met their future spouse, who knows?

What is this performance about for you on a personal level?

This is about being black, being queer, being transgender, being femme, being a foster of white families, being in the jail system, experiencing police brutality, being 25, and watching everything you thought might maybe become progress turn against itself. It is about my abusive relationship with media consumption and self-harm. It's about feeling like I'm going crazy and like I have to because someone has to read this shit and report back. It's about staying up all night reading terf lit and crying but also feeling better armed for battle. It's about not wanting to fight anymore. It's about the illusion of control, of democracy, of safety, of fear. It's about how far we're willing to go, and for what.

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

I've been performing since childhood, was very involved in school productions, competitive speaking, music, writing and directing plays. I studied mime as a kid, ballet folklorico, gospel music, I gave sermons...all kinds of weird shit. After I dropped out of high school I went out and auditioned. Eventually I found cabaret, variety, burlesque, performance art. I still do some traditional theatre but now I work mostly in performance art, curation, and recently speaking and teaching/facilitating. I've always been very autodidactic, so I seek out new work, techniques, mediums, artists, and research voraciously, then I try it until I'm good at it.

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

Intersectionality as a holistic approach to understanding feminism and not as a method of reinforcing hierarchical power structures amongst the oppressed. The nightmarish gift that is the body. The transitional nature of all living things. Race, Sexuality, Gender, of course. The earth is under assault, so there's that. Technology and its impact on social interaction. Police violence. White Supremacy. So many things. I think, if you know my other work, these things pop up in various smaller forms, and here I think they all are sort of on full display. We see the confusion, the overwhelming weight of what it is to spend all of your time caring and none of your time doing.

What artists or performances have inspired you over the years?

I’m all over the place. Anne Bogart is a great inspiration, as is Tony Kushner. Amiri Baraka, Anne Sexton. Anna Deveare Smith, Marina Abramovic, Ron Athey, Andrea Jenkins at Intermedia Arts in Q-Stage a few years ago is HUGE for me, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Grace Jones, Bob Fosse, Ionesco, Sartre, Baudrillard, Eartha Kitt, Becket, Badu, Albee, Reza, Sondheim, Marceau, Decroux, Hughes, Hansberry, Gershwin, Chita Rivera, Anna Theresa De Keersmaeker, Luminous Pariah, Martha Graham, Miss Indigo Blue, bell hooks, Beyonce, FKA Twigs, Liza Minnelli, and Ben Vereen. Is that enough? I've got more.

Are you working on any other projects presently or coming up in the future?

I’m singing for an evening with my bestie on May 12th at Can Can Wonderland. I’m working on some new burlesque for Pride season, which is even busier than the other months (when everyone is still gay but whatever) and something really grand for the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival in October. Daddy is always upon me (yikes) in that I always feel pressure to do something exciting. I recently got an offer to teach some workshops at a fancy museum but I won't say where because the ink isn't dry, and I'll be auditioning for Waafrika 123, 20%’s next show. I'm directing Mayda in the upcoming revival of her Dowling Studio show, now at BLB in mid-July. I'll also be continuing this work (Demons) and looking for additional funding for its continuation.

Describe your pre-performance ritual if you have one.  

Warming and stretching the body and voice is very important. I like to have a glass of wine while I do my makeup. Music is a must. In general, if I'm doing a three-week run or 6 shows in one weekend it is very important that I go and see something: a play, the museum, a great burlesque show, or a very fine dinner. Taking in a grand work of art feels fueling to me.

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?

Working is my favorite thing to do. I have a hard time shutting it off because it's so stimulating. Being a full-time freelance artist means gigging quite a bit, and you're doing all of your own administrative work on top of the creative. My partner and I love to eat, so fancy dinner is a nice treat. I watch a lot of documentaries, I like to read journals, studies, mostly sociology and psychology stuff. I love to cook, and I'm very ambitious in my attempts.  

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

After working solo for seven or eight months I brought on three artists for the last few weeks: Yoni Tamang, Zealot Hamm, and The Lady Wolf. They all have very different backgrounds/styles/minds/voices and are contributing a great deal, helping to provide shape, bringing concepts to life, showing me my thoughts so I may edit them, generating content, and invigorating me. They gave me fresh life and eyes. They also gave me the opportunity to lead some Viewpoints exercises for voice, which I hadn't done before so I'm extremely grateful for that. I think any young director should be truly humbled and honored that anyone would give their time and bodies and allow you to grow by leading or facilitating. It's a weird thing, but it's how we get better.

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