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 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.