Featured BALLAST artist: Walken Schweigert

WalkenArtistPortrait53Talk 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?

Music and theatre have been huge parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I began playing classical music on the violin when I was three years old, and performing in plays when I was four. Since childhood, I have been determined to make the strongest performances I could possibly make. When I was 18, my non-normative gender identity propelled me away from institutions of higher education and onto the streets, where I lived as a busker for many years. I hitchhiked from Guatemala to Venezuela, hopped freight trains from coast to coast and even traveled down the Mississippi River on a homemade raft. Sometimes alone, sometimes with a small troupe, I survived from what I made by performing and passing the hat. This way of life was profoundly transformative. To have my very survival dependent on my skills as a performer (both musically and theatrically) was the best education I ever had.

I have been involved in one 20% play before: I was a cast member of the 2012 production of The Naked I: Wide Open. It was a profound experience, and as such I’m delighted to be working with 20% Theatre again.

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

Music is my primary mode of expressing and uncovering the most intimate parts of myself. It has been my outlet, my source of healing, and helped me deepen my understanding of myself in traumatic and transformative situations. My rage, my desire for softness or gentleness, my process for dealing with pain and discomfort… that is all present in the music I make. My queer identity is a precious agony and delight that fills every note I compose.

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

As a transgender person, ​I have struggled with being in romantic partnerships with cisgender people. The music I have composed for Ballast was inspired by those relationships. I see the characters struggling with some of the things that I and my partners have struggled with. I believe it is terribly important to not feel alone in those kinds of struggles. To know that you are not crazy, or broken, or falling apart. That you are doing the best you can to be true to yourself, and that at the end of the day that’s what we’re all trying to do, just be true to ourselves. And that looks different to different people. We are all in different places in being able to be true to who we are, and the journey to that beautiful place of mercurial truth is not an easy nor simple one. It is complicated, it is messy, and it is THE  work each of us has in our lives. Intimate relationships, if they are allowed to, reach those depths where we begin to share those most vulnerable journeys of discovering our own truths with others. We then open ourselves up to their judgments, their understanding or misunderstanding of your identity, or their identity. It is a beautiful process, but a difficult one. I wish to shy away from over generalizing, but I believe that for transgender people this is uniquely challenging. Ballast is a play that exposes and fleshes out that complexity, and therefore is a narrative I believe can be healing for my immediate and larger community.

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

​I am committed to dismantling white supremacy, colonization, patriarchy, queer/transphobia, and other oppressive forces that destroy our social and biological communities. ​Some believe that nature (including human beings) exists solely for us to utilize, commodify and exploit. My work attempts to erode that myth. I believe we are intrinsically connected with the lands and waters that colonization tries to dominate. I create art to give people a transformative experience to expand beliefs of what is possible culturally, politically, socially. For it is our experiences that shape our beliefs; what we believe in is what we love; and what we love is what we fight for.

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

​I have been greatly inspired by my mentors Stacy Klein and Carlos Uriona of Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, MA. I was an artist in residence at Double Edge’s Farm Center for almost 5 years, and I am profoundly grateful for everything I learned there during that time. I am also continually grateful for the work of theatre companies Mondo Bizarro in New Orleans, LA and The Hinterlands in Detroit, MI. Their commitment to​ their craft inspires me daily. Musically, I’ve been greatly inspired by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who I discovered as a young teen. Just as I was starting to feel trapped by the violin GSY!BE illuminated for me that to the contrary, it would be my instrument for liberation. I would also like to extend tremendous gratitude to Clear Creek Creative in Kentucky and the larger Alternate ROOTS network for embracing me so totally and guiding me towards a deeper understanding of the integration of community, art, and resistance.

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

​Yes! I am the Artistic Director for Children of the Wild, a theatre company in residence indefinitely at Philadelphia Community Farm in Osceola, WI. We make ​original works of theatre and music that further the rewilding of industrial spaces and the human spirit as part of a common struggle for social and environmental justice.​ Currently, we are in production for The Wastelands, the first part of our operatic triptych inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Wastelands is a full-length original opera I composed inspired by Dante’s Purgatorio, featuring the work of Katie Burgess (another 20% Theatre artist). The Wastelands will be performed this fall at Philadelphia Community Farm September 29th-October 1st. All our shows are free of charge and open to the public (though we do pass a hat after our shows). You are invited to attend! Please visit our website www.childrenofthewild.org or https://www.facebook.com/wastelandsproject/ for more information.

Aside from your recent involvement with BALLAST, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

I love to garden, to hike, to spend time in the woods any way I can. I love playing music with people around fires. I love being with my family and adventuring with my friends. ​

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

Lately I’ve been dreaming of being by the ocean. Last night I dreamt that someone dear to me was on trial. I was defending them and then helping them to escape persecution by running them out of town in an orange jalopy under a purple sky wearing a pink suit made of crustaceans.

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Featured BALLAST artist: Piper Quinn

Piper Quinn HeadshotTalk 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’ve been in love with acting since before I could speak in full sentences, but I really got my start in clowning and dance. I think body language often communicates just as much as dialogue, if not more so, and I can’t wait to bring this beautiful script to its feet. This is my first venture with 20% Theatre, and I’m loving every minute of it! Being part of a company that I support creatively and socially is a great experience.

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

My queer identity, like so many, is very fluid. It’s not always clear to me where I fall on the spectrums of gender and sexuality, and it often changes from day to day. Being non-binary, to me, is a very free and open identity, but it’s not always easy to hold that identity with confidence, and I really resonate with Savannah’s line “Queer, but not queer enough.” Even within the queer community, we must always be mindful to support and validate others’ identities, and be cautious of doubting or even erasing who someone is.

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

Now, more than ever, people are struggling with how to be a “good ally.” It can be hard to know when to speak up and when to shut up. I hope that people can leave this show with a little more clarity, a few more answers, and a lot of questions to reflect on and discuss. There are many characters in this play who are doing their best, but who end up causing more damage than progress due to their limited points of view. I think this script can help many “almost there” allies to take one or two or three more steps to support and defend the transgender community.

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

Besides acting, my main passion in life is working with children. I’m a youth worker at a school in North Minneapolis, teaching theatre and creativity classes for a wonderful group of first and second graders, as well as a part-time nanny. Education is such an important process, and I hope to continue planting seeds of kindness and tolerance. I also love exploring the great outdoors, drawing, and spending time with my amaaaazing friends and family.