Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Syniva Whitney of Gender Tender

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.

Featured Q-STAGE Artist: JamieAnn Meyers

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Who are you and what is the title of your show? When will it be running during Q-STAGE?

My name is JamieAnn Meyers and my show is titled First Person: A Life in Transition. It will be presented during the first weekend of Q-STAGE May 13-15, 2016.

As one of our 2016 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?

I’m primarily a storyteller, and have been using this medium for many years in facilitating workshops, panels and discussions around social justice issues, especially those involving the LGBTQ+ community. The next step for me was to use some of these autobiographical stories to build a show that could eventually be “taken on the road” for education and entertainment through the medium of theater. The script just blossomed from there.

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

After the original version of the script was written, I began collaborating with my director, Shalee Coleman. Shalee is especially creative when it comes to the use of body movement to tell stories. In my Q-STAGE proposal I originally intended to do a one-person show, but Shalee eventually convinced me to make use of a Greek Chorus to make my work come more fully alive. We wanted to involve other trans and gender non-conforming artists to form this chorus and to participate in dialogue. My friends Erica Fields, Zealot Hamm, Suzi Love, Beckett Love and Pearl Noonan, all of whom have experience in the Twin Cities Theater scene, agreed to share the stage with me to bring this play to life.

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

We need a great variety of stories from the trans and gender non-conforming community to help break down stereotypical barriers that prevent people from knowing us as an incredibly beautiful and varied spectrum of individuals. Each of us has a different story, and First Person is my unvarnished truth. It’s the story of my life-long transition, a life that’s being lived “halfway up, halfway down,” in-between, and my claiming CHANGE as my identity. I want the audience to leave the show with an understanding of the complexity, struggles and joys of a trans person’s life. I want the audience to get inside my head and understand that each of us is different, that each of us struggles with many conflicting emotions. I want the story of my lifelong transition and the complexity of living “in-between” to emerge.

What aspects of your queer identity do you hope to express through your Q-STAGE piece?

The primary aspect of my queer identity that I want to emerge is that it has evolved over the entirety of my lifetime and this evolution is ongoing.  I’m what many would call a “trans elder.”  I came out in my late 50’s and am now 70 years old.  People often ask me “when did you transition?”  My answer is “from when I was a fetus, until long after my death.”  (Peoples’ memories of my life will evolve after my death as their own personal and societal contexts evolve.)  It’s been a lifetime of discovery, of peeling back the many layers of my identity and expression, and discovering the seeds that have grown into who I am today.  When I first uncovered my childhood feelings of gender difference in middle age, I realized that I was part of the transfeminine spectrum; I later identified myself in therapy as bi-gender.  When I began my social transition, I identified in the binary as female.  My recent gender confirmation surgery has finally liberated me and enabled me to come out as fluid.  I’ve also been enabled to claim my orientation as bisexual.  And the journey continues.  What identity will I claim in another five years?  I don’t know.

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?

My first theater experience was on stage as an actor in 20% Theatre’s production of The Naked I: Wide Open back in 2012. I performed Congruity, written by Erica Fields, a story not too unlike my own, except that back then I had begun to think that gender confirmation surgery was beyond my reach. I was greatly moved by this experience, which in effect saved my life and enabled me to open more doors and move forward in my gender journey. I realized that a more effective way for me to do advocacy work around gender identity and expression was through theater than by simply giving talks, facilitating workshops and participating in panels.  Since then I wrote and performed the piece Upside Down, Inside Out for 20%’s  The Naked I: Insides Out in 2014, and performed a variety of storytelling pieces in 20%’s “Open Stage” series and in the cabaret evening during MORPHOLOGIES: Queer Performance Festival put on by 20% Theatre, Pangea World Theatre, and RARE Productions. I also performed the trans-related monologue They Beat the Girl out of My Boy in Winona State University’s 2013 edition of the The Vagina Monologues. In that same show I wrote and performed the original version of Upside Down, Inside Out, which dealt with genitalia and the intersection of transmasculine and transfeminine identities.

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

20% Theatres’ production of The Naked I: Monologues from Beyond the Binary back in 2009 (“the first Naked I” as it is often called) touched me deeply and inspired me to approach Claire Avitabile, 20%’s Executive Director, about opportunities to pursue advocacy through theater. My work in faith-based queer advocacy brought me into contact with Peterson Toscano, a playwright and gay activist whose one-person play Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible informed my work in First Person: A Life in Transition.

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

I hope to use my experience in working on First Person to write more short plays dealing with gender identity and expression. A book is also in the back of my mind and I think that this Q-STAGE experience will kick-start that project.

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

My wife Peggy and I live in Winona and enjoy the atmosphere of a small city where three institutions of higher education influence the social fabric of the community. We are both retired and have fun playing golf and taking long walks together. Every Wednesday night is “date night,” which includes a meal at a local deli and a movie at our local theater.  Travel is a big part of our lives and we are often on the road with one another. Our two adult children and three grandchildren live in the Twin Cities, and “Old Blue” (our car) knows the U.S. 61 river route by heart. Queer advocacy work in secular and faith communities also occupies a chunk of my time.

Click here for more information about First Person: A Life In Transition and other performances in our 2016 Q-STAGE: New Works Series!


Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Graeme Monahan-Rial

In what way/s are you involved with THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED?

I’m performing a monologue piece called Trascendente, written by
Dr. Alex Iantaffi.

Why is it important to tell the stories in THE NAKED I?

I grew up in a small, Southern town, where if things didn’t conform to the normative, one didn’t talk about them. My hometown was racially divided along railroad tracks. We didn’t discuss that, or racism, or sexism, or anything else that was “uncomfortable” for those served by the structure. Such discussions were placed in the back of the closet with clothes from another season and left to rot. We should talk about heterosexism and cissexism, about the lives that gender nonconforming individuals lead, about the love they find, about the structural barriers they face. The Naked I is a fantastic way to do this.

What aspects of your identity do you hope to express through your involvement with THE NAKED I?

More than anything, I hope I do Alex’s work justice; Alex wrote a very powerful piece, and it’s super-exciting to have been chosen to relay it. Alex’s words resonate with me; I am a transmasculine individual who wants to use his privilege to overthrow these power structures, who doesn’t wish to hide his invisible disabilities from the world but doesn’t wish to be defined by them, and who doesn’t wish to lead a normal life, because even on my most normative days, I’m far from normal.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production?

I’m a little bit nervous, because I haven’t done anything theatrical in a while. I play the violin, but this is not the violin.  I sing, and a very small bit of Alex’s piece involves my singing, but I haven’t done anything theatrical since February of 2003, when I was The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could for Furman University’s production of The Vagina Monologues.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform your work?

Wow. There are so many! I really want to see an end to sexism and racism, and I try to use my white male privilege (because, even if one is trans, one still has privilege; a lack of privilege in one area does not undo privilege in another) to dismantle those structures, so the parts of Alex’s piece that spoke of doing that resonated strongly with me.

What other artists or shows have inspired you?

I’ve seen Ani DiFranco something like eight times, and she’s a strong source of inspiration in my life. She lives her beliefs; she was courted by record labels and chose, instead, to create her own. I saw Mykel Pennington in a one-woman show called The Pink Unicorn a few months ago, and she was amazing, as she also blew me away in the last two productions of The Naked I that I have seen. I’m also surrounded by trans people fighting for justice and just trying to live their lives.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

I adore breweries; even if I can’t get anyone to go with me, I’ll take a book and sample a flight. All the better if there’s live music. I recently gave up caffeine (ouch!), so I try to stay away from coffee shops, but Hard Times Cafe is one of my favorite spots in the cities, and I haven’t been there recently or often enough.

When not involved in this production, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies?

I play and write music.  I take my dog to the dog park.  I hang out with friends.  I cuddle my cats. I go to the gym, although I messed up my left rotator cuff the other day being overenthusiastic with the shoulder presses. Damned testosterone…

Tell us about your pets, real or imaginary.

I have a black Lab mix named Zappa who was part of the 4th Precinct Shutdown and accompanied us to put decorations on the awful fence they put up around that area. He’s very energetic and likes running around on the Mississippi River in the wintertime. When I met my wife, she already had Thelma and Louise, two cats she’s kind enough to share with me. Thelma can detect my migraines before they happen and Weezy is really good at whining a lot.

What other projects are you working on or hope to work on?

I’m hoping to get through this without making an ass of myself (lol), but if I do, I hope to work with Claire and 20% on other projects.

Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Molly Payne

In what way/s are you involved with THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED?

I’m both a performer and author.

Why is it important to tell the stories in THE NAKED I?

With my piece in particular, I want to make someone feel less alone in their relationship struggles being trans/queer, and that it’s alright to be gentle and forgiving with the choices we make to combat loneliness, and make do with our bodies.

What aspects of your identity do you hope to express through your involvement with THE NAKED I?

Most of my life is not lived in a queer space. The Naked I provides a refreshing chance for me to give a strong voice to my queer/trans identity in a very unapologetic manner.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production?

I have never acted or written professionally before. My artistic outlet has always been musical in nature; so I am a bit nervous about sharing such an intimate piece of myself with strangers and friends. I am sure it will go fine though; nice to stretch boundaries and all of that.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform your work?

Probably the Black Lives Matter movement is the one I pay the most attention to these days, and the importance of not letting the short attention span of the American media hurt the important work people are doing. Regarding the queer community more specifically I think it is deeply important for us to explore and pay attention to our interactions with each other. I hope we can remember to treat one another, and ourselves with greater intention and remember that we are all just trying to make it work out here.

What other artists or shows have inspired you?

I always fall back on jazz artists for inspiration. Especially those artists who use/d their talents to fight for social issues including the stigma surrounding mental illness. Listening to the beautiful and unexpected harmonies created by Thelonious Monk never fail to bring me inspiration.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

Anyplace that serves a warm cup of coffee. Café South Side and Bob’s Java Hut are definite faves.

When not involved in this production, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies?

My day job takes up more of my time and energy than I would like it to. When I do have the time I love spending it outdoors, or playing some music.

Tell us about your pets, real or imaginary.

My 3/4 wife has a wonderful service dog named Chestnut. She is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and is a real sweetheart (most of the time).

What other projects are you working on or hope to work on?

I would really love to get involved with mentor/tutoring programs that are free and target queer youth, and queer adults re-entering the workforce. I am always amazed at the amount of talent the individuals in our community process, and would really like to see us help one another decrease our unemployment rate through support and informal training.

Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Cherri Borey

In what way/s are you involved with THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED?

I am performing in “My Dearest Selene.”

Why is it important to tell the stories in THE NAKED I?

Empowerment through education. My hope is that these bravely told stories and shared experiences will empower those who are still questioning and encourage compassion in would-be allies. Enlightenment through art.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production?

My acting background is mainly within comedy–plays, sketch comedy, and stand-up. Although I’ve been on artistic hiatus for a while, I’m excited to be able to return to acting in such an awesome show.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform your work?

My gender non-conformity and queerness attracted me to this production, but I think what really informs my performance is the commonality of human experience in its deeply held desire to be treated with dignity and respect.

When not involved in this production, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies?

I enjoy reading, listening to music , writing fiction, and playing video games.

What other projects are you working on or hope to work on?

I am currently a trombone player for the MN Freedom Band, as well as working on a novel I began during 2015’s National Novel Writing Month.

Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Shalee Coleman

In what way/s are you involved with THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED

I am excited to return to THE NAKED I to direct Do No Harm by Eddy Samara and to choreograph a dance narrative number to Cat Hammond’s catchy and triumphant song, Pretty Boy.

Why is it important to tell the stories in THE NAKED I?

I believe wholeheartedly that representation is the solution to oppression. Representation in art, media, government, you name it. When people see themselves represented on stage, they no longer feel so isolated. When people see people other than themselves represented on stage honestly, accurately, and vulnerably, empathy and understanding becomes a natural reaction. THE NAKED I gives transgender artists and non-binary/ gender non-conforming folks the chance to speak their stories in their own words. Audiences create and form a bond with people all over the spectrum of queer and trans identities. And anyone in the audience who may be questioning the identity they were assigned at birth can put language to those feelings and relate to a story they see on stage. That is unspeakably radical. I have seen people’s entire perspective change in the span of a ten minute NAKED I piece.

For example, there was a moment in Oliver Schminkey’s piece two years ago when they said that in Spanish everything and everyone is referred to in the masculine (El -o) or feminine (La -a) with no ability to refer to anyone in gender neutral terms. Oliver then said that in the love language of Spanish, “they” basically did not exist. During this section I was sitting with my partner’s mother, a Spanish language medical interpreter. She works with Spanish speakers every day to advocate for them to get the best care possible. I heard her epiphany in a sigh/gasp. I watched her realize the inherent problem with that in the moment, and try to process solutions. In that moment, I saw the power of THE NAKED I.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production? 

I acted all throughout college and was pretty content to be on stage performing. It was not until I studied away at the National Theater Institute in Waterford, Connecticut, that I was assigned a scene to direct. That experience sparked my love of directing. I discovered a desire to guide actors toward great performances rather than be up there myself. My first opportunity to professionally direct was with THE NAKED I: Insides Out, and I owe every professional directing opportunity I received since then to 20% and the amazing relationships I formed during this incredible show.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform your work?

Social issues that I am most passionate about are women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, the rights of transgender people to exist and receive medical treatment and the intersections between all of these issues. I have garnered a bit of a reputation for indulging in the “hard” conversations: brawling on Facebook and calling out people for misogyny/racism/transphobia in the moment. I was the person at Christmas breakfast who asked “So, who are we all voting for?” This is a reputation that I fought hard to achieve and that I am extremely proud of. To me it is more important to let people who have faced oppression (visibly or invisibly) know that there is someone to defend them than it is to make people in power more comfortable. This streams into my work as a lot of my art has a social justice bent. More than that though, it means that my rehearsals are designed to be safe spaces. You can only ask people to perform boldly through vulnerability if you make it clear that you are there to catch them if they fall. People make mistakes sometimes; I do too, societal programming can be difficult to decode. But if you work hard to let people know that you will fight for them, you empower them to correct you when you make those mistakes. My hope is that any performer or friend of mine would feel comfortable bringing that to me. The correction, while uncomfortable, has only ever made me a more whole and empathetic human being.

What other artists or shows have inspired you?

I find myself most inspired by writers. Letting your imagination run wild is a skill that we learn to stifle while sitting in 7th grade home room. The people who hold steadfast to that skill inspire me and I could not do what I do without them. That is why most of the directing I do is new work. I relish the opportunity to pick writers brains, reaffirm them, invite them to rehearsal, and allow them agency in shaping the final product. Just another reason working on THE NAKED I is a real treat for me.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

I love having friends over at my place when it is clean. My apartment feels like a little hideaway complete with Hulu/Netflix, tons of books/graphic novels, and two fuzzy cats. I prefer to fill my home with friends though, because at my core I am a social being and adore sharing my space with people who love to play video games and yell at the TV during political debates.

When not involved in this production, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies? 

I am a TV junkie. That feels like an unpopular thing to say, but I am a sucker for developed characters, intriguing plot, and voracious writing. If you get me talking I will recommend at least 5 shows you SHOULD be watching along with the various internet mediums where you can procure them. Just Finished: Fargo. Currently watching: Master of None. Looking ahead to: Jessica Jones (Season TWO y’all).

Other than that I enjoy playing video, card, and board games with large groups of people or simply catching up with friends. Did you know that we are in the golden age of board games? I’m serious, games nowadays are way more fun than Monopoly. My favorites include Escape, Resistance, and Sushi Go!

Tell us about your pets, real or imaginary.

Ok, but just remember, you were the one who asked. You started this. I cannot be held responsible for monologuing about my cats when you opened the flood gates.

I am the proud co-parent to two adorable and quirky felines. The first we adopted is named Tetra after the pirate in the Zelda game Wind Waker. She is all grey with darker grey stripes and bright green eyes. She is extremely dignified and a queen. She is not a big cuddler, which makes her cuddles rare and magical. Her circadian rhythm wakes her up at about 4-5 a.m., which would be fine if she didn’t think it was really fun to pounce on my partner and my feet underneath the covers. Alas, she makes a decent alarm clock. My favorite quirk about her is when she sees prey, she makes a small guttural noise that sounds like clicking. For what reason? No idea, but I am convinced it intimidates the hell out of the ladybugs that are practically glued to our ceiling in fear.

The second cat is Clementine, who is named after the protagonist in Telltale Games’s Walking Dead series (play it, it’s so good). She also happens to be a striped ginger tabby cat, but she was named after the video game character, not the small orange, promise. Clementine has an insane amount of energy and loves face scratches and snuggling in bed at night. This is a cat who spends the majority of her time in blankets. If you are under a blanket, she is on top of you.

We got two cats because when we only had Tetra, we could tell that she would get lonely during the day when we were at work. When we got home after a long day, she would cry and cry and follow us around. A need for companionship is a trait animals and humans share. No one likes to be alone. Although Tetra and Clementine don’t snuggle up together and are often tumbling and swatting at each other, they appreciate each other’s company. Having someone that speaks your language and fundamentally gets you because they are going through the same thing is infinitely and vitally important to our survival. Tetra doesn’t cry when we come home anymore.

What other projects are you working on or hope to work on?

Currently I am open to the universe. I have a couple irons in the fire for the Fringe Festival, I’m in talks with artists for a few other projects, and have some applications out. Above all, I hope to continue to be trusted by artists to stage their stories in a way that does them justice.

Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Oliver Schminkey

In what way/s are you involved with THE NAKED I: SELF DEFINED? 

I’m the writer and performer of the piece “Misgendered, by a Friend, June 21st.”  I was also an intern this past summer for 20%, so I was responsible for creating the promo materials for the call for submissions and really getting the word out there about this show.

Why is it important to tell the stories in THE NAKED I?

It’s vital to tell the stories in THE NAKED I because trans and queer people are so often denied the fundamental act of telling our own stories and creating our own representations for ourselves, especially along lines of intersecting marginalized identities.  It’s important that we have spaces for us, by us, and about us; trans justice can only happen when trans people are in control of our movements, our art, and our representations.

What aspects of your identity do you hope to express through your involvement with THE NAKED I?

For this piece, I tried really hard to focus on a really small moment, that of being misgendered.  I think there’s a tendency to feel pressured to talk about murder and homelessness and other “big” issues whenever we talk about oppression facing trans people; and I think all of those things are vitally important.  They need to be said, and I’ve said them many, many times.  However, it was my challenge to myself this time to write a piece that focused on the small things that tend to grind us down, like microaggressions and misgendering, which work in tandem with the same systems of oppression that target and police trans bodies.  This isn’t to say that microaggressions operate on the same scale as hate crimes which disproportionately harm trans women of color; it’s just to say that there are a million moments, small and large, that make up the varied lived experiences of trans people.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production? 

I’m a nationally touring slam poet, and I’ve competed and performed in over 15 states.  I’m also a musician and a visual artist, with numerous years of theatre experience under my belt as well.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform your work?

This is a huge question.  I’m dedicated to putting out ethical work; this means constantly questioning the ways in which I, as a white person, have a stake in white supremacy (and actively trying to dismantle white supremacist ideology in both myself and others), although I don’t perform much work written explicitly about race.  Like I said before, I believe in letting people tell their own stories, and I would never want to take up space/take space away from people of color in order to whitesplain about race.  I’m also hugely dedicated to trans justice and queer justice, as well as disability justice.  I’m not interested in assimilationist politics; rather, I try to envision and work toward radical spaces in which we can find authenticity.  In shorter, less pretentious words, I don’t care much about “gay” marriage, but I do care about systematic reform that supports those most affected in our communities, largely disabled, working-class trans and queer people of color.  This means that my politics can never be separated from having conversations about interwoven relationships between colonialism, white supremacy, and the gender binary—even as I look toward a world in which non-binary people like myself can live sustainably. This informs my work so much because it informs my life—although I definitely don’t always succeed, in my work and my life, I try to actively fight against oppression.

What other artists or shows have inspired you?

DarkMatter, Venus DeMars, Cam Awkward-Rich, Rosanonymous, Jane Doe and the Misery Loves Co, Danez Smith, Patrick’s Cabaret, The Exchange (and everything they do), Miss Major ❤ ❤  the list goes on and on.

What’s your favorite hangout spot and why?

The Fox Egg Gallery! A ton of great events are held there, and it’s such a phenomenal 3rd space for me.

What other projects are you working on or hope to work on? 

I’m very busy!!

Right now I’m the guest curator at the Fox Egg; in addition to the show that’s going up in mid-January featuring the Tantrum Art Collective, I’m also curating a show called “Stare Back: Queer and Trans Artists Reclaim the Gayze,” which will open for submissions shortly.  The show is going to be a space for radical redefinition as all types of queer and trans artists represent ourselves visually, fighting against the ways in which largely cis, white, gay people are the face of queer communities in mainstream media.

I’m also finishing up my first full-length book, which will include both my poetry and my visual art.  It’s called “Spoiler: The Trans Kid Dies,” and it’s about my experiences as a specifically non-binary transgender sexual assault survivor.

In addition to those things, I founded and run a weekly poetry workshop on Sundays from noon to 2 p.m. at the Fox Egg Gallery called Well-Placed Commas.  WPC is a 16+ space for writers of all levels to come write together and build community.  We just produced our first chapbook, which is available for purchase on my Etsy page, OllieSchminks.

I also co-host the Twin Cities finest queer open mic, OUTspoken! with my lovely friends Nik Martell and Paul Canada, which happens every second Wednesday at the Fox Egg Gallery.

As one of my other loves, I run the Macalester Poetry Slam and tour nationally with my poetry at colleges and other venues.  You can check out all of this and more at my website.