Featured BALLAST artist: Margo Gray

Margo and Georgette 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 moved to the Twin Cities two years ago after working in Chicago for a number of years and then finishing my MFA in directing. I had the pleasure of working with Ballast playwright Georgette Kelly previously, on a workshop production of her play I Carry Your Heart. 20% was one of the first companies I heard about whose mission seemed exciting to me, and from our first contact, Claire was a positive force, welcoming me into the Twin Cities theatre community with open arms.

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

The world has gotten scarier recently, and one cause that’s become more important to me is finding ways to help people with privilege increase empathy and understanding of groups they don’t identify with. Art can sometimes slip past the defenses people have built up around their world view and privilege and work on an audience’s subconsciousness or emotions in ways that dispassionate discussion doesn’t.

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

I lived in Russia for a while, and was very inspired by visually dynamic, physical, and highly imaginative work that was very different from the realism I’d seen in the U.S. The directors Kama Ginkas, Yuri Butusov, and Genrietta Yanovskaya particularly inspired me with the way they created striking, memorable images onstage and drew ideas out of classic texts I hadn’t seen before. The country has some real political challenges, but I found the artists I met to be generous, thoughtful, and open-minded human beings. Their adventures methods inspired me to think bigger in my own work.

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

I’m part of a company called Playable Artworks that creates and curates interactive performance. Right now we’re developing a piece about well-meaning ally-ship, and we’re also working on creating opportunities for folks who create or work in interactive performance to come together and collaborate or share information. If that might be you, drop us a line! info@playableartworks.org.

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

My partner and I are currently rehabbing a cabin in Minnesota’s Iron Range. We’re doing a lot of yard work, plumbing, and carpentry right now, but someday hope to get back to hiking and canoeing again.

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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 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.