Featured Q-STAGE Collaborator: Harrison David Rivers

Part of the mission of 20% Theatre Company is to provide opportunities to new and emerging artists. Q-STAGE is the perfect vehicle to create such opportunity. So, as we get closer and closer to our second installment of the Q-STAGE New Works Series, we’d like to introduce you to a few artists you may not have met. Harrison David Rivers has written and will be performing in And She Would Stand Like This.

Playwright: Harrison David Rivers

Harrison David Rivers

Who are you?

My name is Harrison David Rivers and I’m still trying to figure out what that means.

You wrote And She Would Stand Like This, along with many other plays. Why do you do what you do?

I write plays because it is the thing—the activity—that makes me the happiest. When I wake up in the morning, it is the thing that I most want to do. I would even say, need to do. It is a compulsion. I need my daily writing fix or I feel less than whole. When I write, I feel most myself.

Tell us about your artistic background.

I started in musicals—singing and dancing. I went to school for acting, developed crippling stage fright, and started writing plays instead. I am currently in the Twin Cities on a fellowship with the Playwrights’ Center.

I’m not a performer, which is probably why I admire actors so much. I never ceased to be amazed by their willingness to put themselves out there—to allow themselves to be seen; their willingness to walk that fine line between the person they are in real life and the person that they have created for narrative purposes. I don’t know that I have that kind of discipline, that kind of control.

Can you describe your process for us?

I know playwrights who begin the writing process with a sound or a line of dialogue or a particular social or political agenda, an image. I usually start with an actor. In fact, most of my plays have been motivated by a particular actors’ special something—by their strength or stamina or facility with language or emotional availability. Sometimes these actors ASK for a play. Other times the play is a GIFT.

What’s your favorite part of writing?

I love that writing is hard. That it is not enough to have a natural storytelling ability. You must also dedicate time and headspace and heart space. I like that it takes grit and determination, that you must be stubborn and steadfast. I like that it requires a commitment. That it is work. Not just anyone can be a playwright. I like that.

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Featured Q-STAGE Collaborator: Shannon Forney

Part of the mission of 20% Theatre Company is to provide opportunities to new and emerging artists. Q-STAGE is the perfect vehicle to create such opportunity. So, as we get closer and closer to our second installment of the Q-STAGE New Works Series, we’d like to introduce you to a few artists you may not have met. Shannon Forney is a stage performer and Red Nosed Clown.

Stage Performer: Shannon Forney  Photo credit: Candy Coughlin

Performer: Shannon Forney
Photo credit: Candy Coughlin

Who are you? 

My name is Shannon Forney and I am a stage performer and Red Nose Clown pedagogically trained by Giovanni Fusetti. When not on the stage, I am an administrator at the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC), co-owner of WORKHORSE COFFEE BAR, and curator of Smallest Museum in Saint Paul.

What themes do you pursue in your work?

For years, I have had the desire to use “serious subject matter” as the content for a clown show. Clown is a rich performance genre with loads of historical, social, and artistic context  yet dominant culture often reduces the form to a singular version that is neither true nor compelling (this is similarly true of Burlesque). Not all clowns wear exaggerated face paint and big shoes. Burlesque performers are not all strippers, and the ‘peel’ in burlesque is more akin to subversion than submission. Having dabbled in burlesque and seriously studied clown, it seemed to me the two genres had great potential to overlap in humor, parody, and dissolving dominant culture norms.

Tell us a little bit about the Q-STAGE piece or pieces you are working on?

FEMME CABARET: CLOWN BURLESQUE is an exploration of self-doubt and social anxiety in the attempt to navigate queer femme identity, as told by a Red Nose clown. By inhabiting a gender identity that is widely accepted by dominant culture, femmes are invisibilized by both straight and queer cultures. How do we perpetuate or reclaim female roles like “Sexy” & “Mommy” within the queer community? When do we play roles for ourselves? When do we play roles for others?

What type of performance do you most identify with?

Clown strips away all of the bravado to reveal a simple vulnerability – this is the humanity of clown. This show is not overly polished or perfect, clown material lives and breathes in a very ‘real’ space. We have a performance framework, but the magic of specific stage moments is purely that; an authentic surprise made possible by suspense of judgment, critique or predetermination. -suspense of judgment as a social practice…

Featured Q-STAGE Collaborator: Anthony Michael

Part of the mission of 20% Theatre Company is to provide opportunities to new and emerging artists. Q-STAGE is the perfect vehicle to create such opportunity. So, as we get closer and closer to our second installment of the Q-STAGE New Works Series, we’d like to introduce you to a few artists you may not have met. Anthony Michael is an actor in And She Would Stand Like This: A Play in Drag.

Actor: Anthony Michael

Actor: Anthony Michael

Who are you?

My name is Anthony Michael and I am a performance artist.

What do you do, and why do you do it?

I do this because I believe it to be necessary within all the tiers of my community (local, national, international) and because I feel incomplete and unstable without it. I grew up dancing, singing in choirs, and acting in plays and competitive speaking. After seeing the Broadway tour of Chicago for my 12th birthday I decided to dedicate my life fully to the arts. I performed, wrote, sang, danced, directed (pretty much anything I could do except go to class) in high school before eventually dropping out. I moved to St. Cloud and started working for a couple of local theatres, waiting tables on the side. After a couple of years I decided to move to the Twin Cities to pursue the arts full time. Since moving here my work and ideas have begun to refine themselves into something more focused and radical. I have immersed myself in the burlesque community, performing in, producing, and hosting striptease events. I am also currently working as a choreographer, actor, and director for several different companies here in the twin cities with projects ranging from Shakespeare to ballet to devised physical work.

What made you decide to get involved with Q-STAGE?

I became interested in working with Q-STAGE after reading the posting for new works and reading more about the program and the artists that had been involved in the past. The program seemed relevant to me and my interests (queer life, theatre, NEW work, “alternative” work, human sexuality, queer visibility) while providing me an opportunity and a challenge in organizing a submission.

What Q-STAGE project are you a part of?

I am acting in Harrison Rivers’ beautiful play And She Would Stand Like This: A Play in Drag. This poetic adaptation of Euripides’ Trojan Women uses 90’s ball culture and world health crises to examine questions about health and sexuality, motherhood, drag life, and the perseverance of community. I absolutely love the play; the cast and crew are swift, hard working artists with beautiful hearts, and the text is a dream.

What frustrates you about the current state of the arts?

I am currently displeased with the stagnation the mainstream theatre world has accepted. The trickle down effect Broadway has, the security of season tickets, the acceptance of irrelevant replays, lack of diversity, disproportionate funding of the arts. That’s all one thing, right? I could go on… Not to say that I don’t love what I do, and the idyllic theatre, because I do.

What is your dream project?

My dream project is any project created by a collective of artists that is a multi-medium mix of performance that addresses issues relevant to the community, nation, or world. It is confrontational, entertaining, honest, and offers transportation but commands presence. It offers me constant fear and constant inspiration, and I am better because of it.

What is the role of the performance artist in today’s world?

I believe that a performance artist must constantly be seeking truth, and in turn offer some attempt at engaging in a dialogue with their community about their questions and findings. I believe it is our job to keep the world on their toes, keep fascism at bay, encourage humanism, represent our fellow, and provide entertainment. If politics is the head on the coin of society, the performance artist is the tail.

Featured Q-STAGE Collaborator: Emily Weiss

Part of the mission of 20% Theatre Company is to provide opportunities to new and emerging artists. Q-STAGE is the perfect vehicle to create such opportunity. So, as we get closer and closer to our second installment of the Q-STAGE New Works Series, we’d like to introduce you to a few artists you may not have met. Emily Weiss is a Production Assistant for The Escape Machines.

Production Assistant: Emily Weiss

Production Asst: Emily Weiss

Who are you and what do you do (in life? in the world? in the arts?)?

I am Emily Weiss. I work for the MN National Guard as an outreach coordinator by day, and by night I work as a (starving) artist. I teach yoga and meditation classes, paint, write poetry, sing and every once in a while, act.

Why do you do what you do?

I have always been attracted to art. It makes sense to me, a way for me to express all of the emotion and feelings I have about the world around me.

Tell us about your artistic background?

I started off on stage – singing and acting, and quickly realized my artistic tastes went much further than just performances. I started writing poetry shortly after my sweet 16th, and preformed it on stage for the first time around 17. I was continually searching for my next project, and it wasn’t long until I turned to the paintbrush. Art has always been what I turn to for comfort, and I continue to discover my authentic self in my search for my next project.

What themes do you pursue in your work?

I tend to follow themes about invisibility in my work. My experiences in life have often made me feel invisible for one reason or another, and as such, I turned to art to help create an area where I felt that I was seen. My paintings are all abstract arts, dedicated to making something out of chaos and there is always an underlying theme of love in my works, regardless of what they might be.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

My grandmother is the one who first inspired me to pick up a brush and she is an incredible painter. I remember her telling me that anyone could paint, but not everyone does. I am continually showing her my work and her approval is my greatest award.

What are three things you can’t live without?

I can’t live without love, my dog and my brushes. Paint can be made from anything…I’ve been known to crush berries, and use makeup as paint or ink, but good brushes can’t be replaced.

Featured Q-STAGE Collaborator: Sarah Wolf

Part of the mission of 20% Theatre Company is to provide opportunities to new and emerging artists. Q-STAGE is the perfect vehicle to create such opportunity. So, as we get closer and closer to our second installment of the Q-STAGE New Works Series, we’d like to introduce you to a few artists you may not have met. me 1

Sarah Wolf is a Production Assistant for “And She Would Stand Like This” by Q-STAGE Artist Harrison David Rivers.

Who are you and what do you do (in life? in the world? in the arts?)?

I’m a recent college graduate and have lived most of my life in Wisconsin. I moved to Minneapolis a few months ago for a wider variety in theater. I currently work at a nursing home planning and leading activities for the residents. I also babysit for a few families. I like to keep my days filled with games, fun, and creativity. This helps to keep me thinking as I start my theater career.

Why do you do what you do?

Theater is a way to learn and teach people about lives that are different from their own. The performances that have stuck with me are the ones that make me think. I want to work on shows that challenge other people to think.

Why did you want to become involved in Q-STAGE?

The first time I heard of Q-STAGE I instantly fell in love with it. It’s a wonderful opportunity for queer artists to share their voices. I wanted to be a part of it to support those artists in making their shows come to life. I love shows that challenge the audience and have queer themes.

Tell us a little bit about the Q-STAGE piece or pieces you are working on?

The piece I’m working on is “And She Would Stand Like This” by Harrison David Rivers (the chosen Q-STAGE Artist in this case), an adaptation of “The Trojan Woman”. It’s a powerful piece that takes a look at the relationships between mothers and children. It’s been great working with Harrison, and exploring all the different levels and layers to this piece with our wonderfully talented cast.

What is your dream project?

My dream since I was about 5 has been to one day publish a book. I’ve since expanded that to also publishing and producing and directing a play. Novel writing is easier to me than playwriting, so perhaps I will adapt my book to a play. Either way, I would love to have my work produced and known throughout the world.

Theater is a universal language. I was able to travel and spend some time in Germany and Turkey. While there, I attended a few theater productions that were in Turkish and German. I understand a basic level of German, but not any Turkish. However, I was able to understand the shows without many problems. The actors conveyed the feelings and emotions and I could follow them onstage to see what was happening. I would love for my work to be seen and understood around the world and have people connect with it.

I also want my work to have all queer characters. I want this to be the norm and have no questions asked. Since I’m still dreaming, I would also love to cast and direct my show with diversity of age, size, race, and ability. I want to change the norm in everything so that everyone can have a fair shot at being in theater. There’s a long way to go for this dream and one day I think I’ll see it.