Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Syniva Whitney of Gender Tender

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Who are you and what is your show called?
I’m Syniva Whitney, the choreographer, director and writer…and also one of the members of Gender Tender. Our piece in Q-STAGE is called “BENT/STRAIGHT” – performing this weekend, May 20 & 21 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, May 22 at 2pm.As one of our 2016 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?

Well, I guess I jumped down the rabbit hole of BENT/STRAIGHT by creating  fictitious versions of my co-star Will Courtney and I. They’re names are Wizard and Scout. This work has developed into its own world mixing up my interests as a dancer, a visual artist and a drag performer as well as my a love for film noir and futuristic thinking. The imaginary couple Wizard and Scout are always wrestling with the anxiety of losing their better half while also wondering who is the better half and wondering if thinking there IS a better half does that mean there’s an evil half? Or maybe there is never a whole. A whole what? They’re not sure.

This work is also certainly about navigating the world in as a non-binary person…the weirdness that happens as a so very bent person walking through a mostly straight world…that feeling of the black hole of the straight world taking up so much of your tiny island of queer space with all the barbed wire and booby traps around it but somehow something still gets in, threatening ourselves and our loved ones, seeping into our minds and souls. That sense of being outnumbered, tokenized, invisible, misunderstood…and then finding a loved one, another flame in the dark. It’s an abstract work, at times super visual and  very physical. Using abstraction and movement as language to me means honoring what we cannot explain, name or define, we’ve got to experience it to know. This is also inspired by the fact that Will and I are a real life queer couple, an alternate spin off, bizarro us. There is also compulsive urge I have to modify or mutate my own world, my home, my own body for good and bad reasons….also the urge I have to fulfill the desires of others, build their dream worlds and dream bodies. This is probably present in BENT/STRAIGHT. I think we are all wizards with the power to create change inside and outside of ourselves….I also think we are all scouts testing the terrain and preparing others for what is to come.

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

We’ve been collaborating with visual artist Madeleine Bailey. She’s a very good friend of mine, and we met while in the MFA program together at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She’s a multi-disciplinary artist, writer and mentor currently based in New York…she’s been coming here to Minneapolis for a few intensives and collaborating digitally and on the phone from the beginning of this project talking visual stuff, brainstorming and testing ideas for BENT/STRAIGHT. She’s got big beautiful ideas and I’m so inspired by that, I  love what she’s created for this work. Making the objects come to life has added a whole other dimension to the process and it’s been a lovely mind meld. Madeleine is also a fellow lover of film noir and the absurd and so we’ve had fun doing research and just getting deep into playing around with what could happen….she’s brought an amazing eye to this, I feel lucky she agreed to work with us! We get to perform with her objects throughout and there is also a light installation that we interact with and kind of build during this performance. These elements have really become a part of the heart of this work. Also, we’ve got music from Ariskany Records featured throughout. Ariskany Records aka Cary and Evan James. They are brothers and artistic collaborators and we’ve been able to use their music in a lot of our work in the past and I’m so happy they still don’t mind us using their art as a soundtrack for Gender Tender. I’m a big fan, I love the sound they create and definitely have always felt aligned with their experimental approach to making music. Check them out! Download it, you’ll like it. I love being able to dance to their sound, it makes me so glad I get to do this kind of work. And of course Will Courtney is a brilliant performer and lovely human and it’s been an amazing experience having so much time to develop the work together. Collaboration is the best.

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

Yes, I was invited by Pramila Vasudevan to be one of the facilitators and designers for Aniccha Arts upcoming durational performance called Census. It will be happening at Northern Spark this June. Will is performing in it as well. It’s been great to work with a big team of artists of all disciplines and backgrounds since this past December talking about social identity mapping, institutional structures, parades, autonomy, underrepresented communities, the idea of a critical mass and people performing murmurations. There will be a cast of a 100 people performing in a line for 9 hours! So excited to be a part of this project.

As far as Gender Tender and my own personal projects…I’m always looking forward to making new or more work, or getting to refine and research what we’ve got….I have a recent dream of writing and directing a solo work for Will, so we shall see. I keep writing. I’m always looking forward to continuing to create new things, to keep on art-ing.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

Currently and usually my yoga mat in the morning is a favorite spot…especially with some sunshine coming in the window. Yeah, also I like going outside and staring at trees and sky and birds and people and squirrels lots of squirrels in Loring Park. Also, I like sleeping in. I’m cool like that.

When you’re not deep in Q-STAGE rehearsal and development, how do you spend your time?

I’m into watching cooking shows on Netflix… especially demented ones like Cutthroat Kitchen and Chopped. I think these kinds of things should definitely replace fighting of all kinds in general. Let’s just have a cook off. Someone can win. And then we can all be friends and eat together.

Don’t miss BENT/STRAIGHT this weekend! Click here for info & tickets.

The Naked I: Insides Out – Get to Know Shanny Mac

This winter, 20% Theatre Company is thrilled to present the world premiere of The Naked I: Insides Out – the 3rd in a series of Naked I plays that explore queer and trans* experiences through monologues, short scenes, and spoken word poems. The show was created over the past year by selecting 25 of 119 stories submitted by community members. This newest installment of The Naked I will involve over 75 LGBTQ artists and allies – including contributing writers, directors, performers, designers, technicians and supporting staff.

You can see The Naked I: Insides Out February 13-23, 2014 at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. Purchase tickets now!

Over the next several weeks, we will be featuring interviews from a variety of The Naked I: Insides Out artists.  We recently asked Shanny Mac what they had to say about The Naked I: Insides Out.

Shanny Mac

What is your role in The Naked I: Insides Out? What pieces will you be directing?

I have several roles in this production: Instagram photographer, karaoke event planner, and general promoter of tom foolery. In my official capacity, I am directing Fuck Stereotypes by Love, Femme and True Things I Don’t Say by Galen D. Smith.


What attracted you to The Naked I directing opportunity?

So much that I’ll just give you the highlights: theater, 20% Theatre, gender, queerness, community, Claire Avitabile, directing, Andrea Jenkins, identity, artsy folks, performers, Intermedia Arts, collaboration, Blythe Davis, storytelling.


Briefly, what is your directing background? Education? Experience?


I studied theater with a minor in being a ‘mo at Perpich Center for Arts Education, followed by an interdisciplinary arts degree from Antioch College. I also went through the filmmaking program at Minneapolis College. I’ve directed a number of plays and films over the years, most recently Mammal Stories and Paris in March.


Had you ever seen any version of The Naked I before?


I saw the second production, The Naked I: Wide Open. As soon as the Q&A started after the show my hand shot up to ask, “So, when is the next round happening?!”


What about this production and opportunity excites you most?

This changes daily, but right now I’m just really enjoying being part of this process and meeting and working with all these great artists.


What do you hope to contribute to the show?


Busby Berkeley style musical numbers.


What do you foresee as your biggest challenges in directing for this show or with these specific pieces?

You always want to be true to the work and use an authentic voice when staging personal narratives, but there is a little added pressure when the writer is in the audience. Like, right there. In the front row.


More about Shanny Mac, the person…


What is your pronoun preference?


Whatever’s clever.


If your gender identity was a food, what would it be?

Definitely sweet and salty. Like a peanut butter stuffed pretzel covered in chocolate. Ok, I just described a Take 5 candy bar, so I guess that’s what I meant.


What do you do in the world, outside of working on this production? (job/hobbies, etc.)  


I work at a nonprofit for my day job, but by night I frequent the stages of cabarets around the Twin Cities as the bon vivant with savoir-faire, the pièce de résistance with je ne sais quoi, Randy Dandy.


Shanny Mac, you feel the most naked when…


See: Tobias Funke.


What is your first memory of gender?

Asking my family to call me by a different name when I was maybe 4 or 6. No one ever called me it, but that might partly be because it wasn’t an actual name. It’s too embarrassing to say what I wanted to be called on the internets, but if you ask me in person I just might tell you.

What is your most favorite accessory or article of clothing?

Fancy hats, like a trilby or flat cap. But nothing too flashy, like a derby or a stove pipe, and never a magician’s hat.


Name one of your favorite songs right now.


Nothing that will make me sound even remotely cool or interesting. Next question…