Featured BALLAST artist: Eileen Noonan

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Talk about your background as an artist.

Well, from a very young age, maybe five or six years old, I was always keenly aware that I was different from “other boys.” I wanted to be … an actor! Surprise! You thought I was going to say a girl, didn’t you? But nope, I saw Macauley Culkin in Home Alone – he was my age, and I just thought “I want to do that!” I got really into it from 7th through 12th grade, then I quit almost cold turkey when I got to college. I remember the prospect of vulnerability and failure suddenly seemed terrifying. So I started writing songs and playing in rock bands for the next 12 years or so. After my last band broke up in 2014 I decided to start acting again. The mere thought of it set my heart aflutter. I took every class I could find, and when I stumbled into a Margolis Method workshop that Erik Hoover was teaching, things really started to take off. I kind of dove head first into that and haven’t really looked back.

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

Well, I am a trans woman playing a trans woman named Grace. My experience definitely informs my interpretation of Grace, but I’m more concerned with expressing Grace’s queer identity than my own. I want people to see Grace and understand that she is just like them: a flawed, three-dimensional fully human being. Grace is more than just her trans identity, as are all trans people. For example, Grace is a pastor, and she is married. She is driven primarily by her need to have a partner who understands her, and also to get “back in the pulpit” as the script notes say. What happens when those needs conflict? A real human drama emerges, that’s what, and you don’t need to be trans to relate to it. I just think that’s so rare for trans characters, to be allowed to be fully human and fully relatable. It’s very refreshing.

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

Representation, representation, representation. There is this amazing quote by Junot Diaz (here) about vampires, how part of their monstrousness is that they have no reflection when they look in the mirror. Art is a mirror for our culture. And if you don’t see yourself reflected in it, what does that make you? You begin to believe you are a monster. I certainly did. It wasn’t until I saw Jamie Clayton play Nomi Marks on Sense8 (trans author, director, character and actress, hmm …) that the thought truly occurred to me: you could be a trans woman with a normal life, friends and loving relationships. Suddenly trans women became real, transition became an option, and I literally thought “is that ME??” It was terrifying, but I was badly in need of it. Representation matters so, so much.

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

In my heart I want to see justice and the end of oppression everywhere across the earth and for all future generations who will inherit this earth from us. I aspire to be feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonialist, pro-LGBT and pro-environmental justice. I am also a white college-educated middle class able-bodied neurotypical woman, and I do not come close to living up to those aspirations.

Social issues inform the art I create insofar as they can give me some insight into what outside forces might be acting upon a character. But I think, at bottom, both my art and the social issues that I care about are informed by plain old empathy. Just understanding that people are suffering and trying to let that knowledge guide the choices you make.

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

Laverne Cox is such a great role model and such an ideal spokesperson for trans people and also for people of color. I don’t want to put anyone on a pedestal but she is as close to perfect as they come. Jen Richards and Angelica Ross were brilliant in HerStory. Laura Jane Grace has pulled me through some tough times. I’ve already mentioned Jamie Clayton – I should mention the Wachowskis too.  I’ve also mentioned unattainable aspirations – a big part of me aspires to become trans Meryl Streep. I am inspired by all the artists I have collaborated with like Claire Avitabile, Kym Longhi and Shalee Coleman just to name a few. And I am also constantly inspired by my teachers Kari Margolis, Erik Hoover, Jarod Hanson and a whole bunch of other amazing folks.

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

Nothing specific in the pipeline at the moment. There are some very vague non-specific things but I don’t want to doom them by saying them out loud.

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

My main hobby and passion in life is acting and theatre. I also recently moved into a new house and started working as a web developer for MPR. In my free time, I’m probably either enjoying a peaceful walk around a lake or freaking out about the news.

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

Lately I haven’t been remembering my dreams much. My sense is that they are of the “quotidian bizarre” variety, where everything is normal except one or two strange twists. Usually I’m trying to do something but things keep getting in the way and I can’t … quite … do … then I wake up. Sometimes I can breathe underwater or fly and I think to myself “this is going to be a really useful skill in the future!” It can be very frustrating, alas.

Featured BALLAST artist: Marcel Michelle-Mobama

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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…

Featured BALLAST artist: Olivia Wilusz

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

I am not a perfect ally. And Zoe is certainly far from perfect. I think a major component of Zoe as a character is that she would gladly be an ally, probably thinks she is an ally, but she isn’t able to reconcile Grace’s needs with her own expectations of how their life together should be. I hope audiences see Zoe not as a heartless villain or as any sort of hero who valiantly “does her best” even when it’s not enough. Zoe shows us in-process imperfection, and I hope audiences see her, though imperfect now, as having the potential to learn more and change her actions.

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

When I was studying abroad in London in the fall of 2015, I saw Almeida Theatre’s West End production of Oresteia, Robert Icke’s adaptation of the Greek triology. I was seated in the front row, and for the entire performance (almost FOUR HOURS) I was rapt, on the edge of my seat. It was such a visceral and engaging experience. The language was beautiful and poetic, and it was used so actively and powerfully. It was unlike anything I had ever encountered before. I’m very interested in work contemporary adaptations of classic stories that preserve beauty in the language, but not at the expense of high stakes and immediate relevancy.

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

When I’m not in rehearsals, I’m usually either at work, the wonderful Spoonriver restaurant, or…I’m multitasking other work while watching tv. What can I say! I love television! I’m recently hooked on House Hunters. All time favorites include 30 Rock, Downton Abbey, and Law & Order: SVU.

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

I just had this dream that I was seeing a production of Seussical the Musical (a classic). When I went backstage to say hi to some folks before the show, they told me someone in the cast hadn’t shown up, and they really needed someone to step in. I said I would do it, and then everyone just went back to business as usual. I was a little confused and starting asking questions like, “um…what part will I be playing?” and “what is any of the choreography?” Then everyone got really annoyed with me that I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, and when I tried to remind them that I wasn’t a legitimate understudy, that I literally just showed up, and they all started mumbling to each other about how unprofessional I was being. I woke up in a cold sweat, and then literally laughed at myself about how ridiculous of a stress dream that was.

 

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

 

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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

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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

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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!

 

Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Devin Taylor

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As part of Q-STAGE 2017, Devin Taylor has written & created and co-directed THE SMITTY COMPLEX, a brand new work 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 idea for the story itself comes from stories I used to make up and tell to my best friend. I would text her poems and limericks about an otter. These poems usually found the otter in some bizarre predicament, having lost his shoes, torn his pants, eaten too much–it was really all about the rhyme scheme. It’s hard to say where the original concept for The Smitty Complex began, but it’s possible that it was a spin off of one of these stories that took a dark and complicated turn.

That was about seven years ago. I carried the idea with me for a few years before finally deciding to write it in the form of a short story four years ago. Since then, it’s been a somewhat slow process of allowing this play to say something “Real.”

It began with a story of an otter named Smitty and a whole lot of semantics that I imagine only a few people (like myself) would actually enjoy reading or seeing performed. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted it to be accessible to an audience and to say something real about the institutionalization of identity–even if it meant dispensing with some of the stylized conventions of absurdist theatre and blurring the line between real and surreal. I really had to fight my own stubbornness on this. I knew the issue of identity was central… I just wasn’t sure how much I was willing to give or how earnest I was willing to let it be.

 

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

I am fortunate to have four veterans of The Naked I series–Courtney Stirn, Beth Mikel Ellsworth, Graeme Monahan-Rial, and Logan Gilbert-Guy–who will bring these roles to life on stage. I am also collaborating with up & coming director Bri Collins.

 

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

I don’t know that it is, to be honest. I hope that it is. Working on this story for the past four years has really helped me break down some useless and problematic walls that I’d built around myself and allowed others to build around me. I’d like to think that it holds the potential to do that for others. If nothing else, I hope that it is something people enjoy.

 

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

I have always felt at odds with the act of declaring the “authentic self”–not that such a thing does not exist, but that the act of declaring it is almost intrinsically contrary to its authenticity.

The idea of identifying one’s authentic self implies that this self is concrete and well-defined–something we can stand aside and observe, admire, and criticize. The self is to be lived and it occurs to me that maybe third-party perspective isn’t all that important. Maybe knowing yourself is less like staring at a portrait of your own image and more like the sensory act of feeling your way along the rocky bottom of the ocean in which you live, looking for that next tasty mollusc you need to sustain you.

 

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’ll confess that I’m not entirely comfortable calling myself an artist out of context. However, I have stage managed a number of productions with 20% Theatre. For the record, I’m not comfortable calling myself a stage manager, either. It’s just something I’ll do for you if you ask me nicely and I think you’re neat.

 

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

I feel a protective pull toward vulnerable individuals– or those I perceive to be so. Now more than ever, I find myself fearing for the safety, health, and fair treatment of the most vulnerable among us, for right now it is the most vulnerable who are the most under attack–

Those seeking asylum after giving up everything to escape violence and terror. Those living with few rights and little hope of protection as undocumented workers.

Those living with developmental and cognitive disabilities, whose very lives depend on the humanity of the more advantaged and who are at the mercy of those in power to recognize and value them as people without weighing the cost of their needs against their ability to contribute.

The elderly and disabled who depend on government-funded programs.

The children and animals who have no control over the destruction of their planet and its resources.

In many ways, my protagonist, Smitty, embodies this vulnerability. He is the perceived Other. He is at the mercy of an institution with unjustified power over his fate. He is an individual, and that in and of itself is a vulnerability. There is the depressing sense that even if he does clearly call-out the flaws, the hypocrisy, and the injustice around him, it will make little difference, because the institution will always prevail over the individual. It’s a frustration that seemed very personal and applicable to certain marginalized groups when I first began this story years ago. I believe it has lately become relatable to a much broader cross-section of humanity.

 

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

Actually, the first performance art I really loved was opera. I used to listen to opera records while I played, teach myself to play my favorite arias on the piano, and fall asleep listening to Verdi every night. Whenever the local college put on an opera, my dad would read me the story (in English) and then take me to see it.

I didn’t see many plays–outside of the occasional school field trip–until college. So the bulk of my exposure to theatre came from reading plays.

One of my earliest loves was Tennessee Williams. He had a way of making the ugly parts of reality beautiful, which really gave hope and vital perspective to a deeply depressed teenager. He made crass and pedestrian language lyrical. His characters taught me not just to accept imperfection in people, but to desire it.

Eugene Ionesco was another inspiration and perhaps one of the most influential. I began reading his plays during lunch in high school, just to escape reality during my least favorite time of day. The first play I directed in college was Ionesco’s A Frenzy for Two. It feels strange to say it, but the existence of work like his has been something of a life preserver.

Since coming to the Twin Cities, more than twelve years ago, I’ve seen some truly astonishing theatre. I’ve worked for large, medium, and small companies, and some of the most memorable, powerful, and visually and conceptually stunning work has come from small, nomadic theatre companies working with limited and borrowed resources.

This will to create and to reach people despite the difficulty of doing it is an inspiration–not just for creating art against the odds, but for living life against even greater odds.

I’m inspired by designers who use their talent to help others realize their visions on stage.

I’m inspired by actors who come to rehearsals bone tired with all the problems of daily life on their minds, who then put those concerns aside and delve into the physical and mental work of bringing concepts and characters to life. I’m inspired by their willingness to make themselves vulnerable in every space and then put themselves and that vulnerability on stage.

 

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

I’m actually engaged in a couple of different projects right now in which I’m helping other people tell their stories. It’s my favorite way to connect with people, learn about life beyond my own experience, and find inspiration.

Personally, I have multiple projects at varying stages of completion. I probably always will. I may one day write a show called Multiple Projects at Varying Stages of Completion.