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 Artist: Nadia Honary

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As part of Q-STAGE 2017, Nadia Honary is creating a new performance piece combining video and movement – These Floating Bones – that will perform May 5 and 6 at 7:30pm, and May 7 at 2pm. For more information about this and other Q-STAGE shows, click here

As one of our 2017 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?

The inspiration for this piece has been in development for over a year. I’m very fascinated with the body’s relationship to the mind, and its relationship to the natural moving world. It’s very easy to become distracted and disconnected from the world around us as we advance in technology and strive for comfort and convenience. This disconnection prevents us from listening to our bodies, and ultimately lose a certain sense of the self. It is this reason that I chose to explore some of these themes using butoh-inspired movements and combining that with video of natural occurrences, such as water in a lake or leaves blowing in the wind. This piece is very personal for me because I am exploring my tendencies to become disassociated to my own identity. So for me, this piece is more like a journey into becoming reacquainted with this “self” through elemental inspired images and movement. My gender is fluid, my identity is liquid. I feel a connection to the idea of Noguchi Taiso which is the notion of the human body as a form of liquid, a water bag in which our bones are floating.

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

My director/collaborator, Shalee Coleman, has been an absolute dream to work with in creating this piece. She is one of the few humans who will completely understand what I’m saying and be able to take any of my ideas, no matter how large or seemingly impossible, and mold and shape it in a way that works beautifully in the piece. I feel very lucky to get to work with her. I have also had the privilege to meet with interdisciplinary artist and dancer Michael Sakamoto. His work is very deeply influenced with butoh and having the chance to talk with him and also to watch him perform has greatly inspired me to keep pushing forward with my own work.

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

Vulnerability is incredibly important in the work I create because that is what people connect to. Although it is very scary to create this kind of work, it is also a very healing process for me. I hope this piece creates a sense of healing within the community, inspiring people who witness this work to embrace the natural evolution the body experiences, and to feel the physical changes internally and externally.

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

I am taking an experimental approach to topics that are very personal to me as an always evolving queer-identified artist. I am creating a performance that indirectly addresses the evolution of the physical body and its connection to nature, very conscious of the fact that my own identity is in a constant state of transition. My journey coming to terms with my own sexual identity is an ongoing process and I am fascinated with the way society tries to box people into neat packages for the sake of convenience when gender and human identity is entirely complex and changing.

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’m a multimedia artist with over 10 years of experience in the visual arts. I’m very passionate about photography and videography. That’s why video is a huge part of this particular piece; I’m very visual and find great inspiration in movements inspired by nature. I also have several years of experience doing experimental theatre work. I love to move and as a performer, am very physically expressive. This will be my first time involved with 20% Theatre, but hopefully will not be the last.

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

The concept of gender identity and how cultural identity influences gender and sexuality very much informs the art I create. I’m half-Iranian, with half of my family still living in Iran. This means I’m still closeted to most of my extended family as Iran. I think about freedom of expression, of perception and censorship. These themes come up often in the art I create. I’m also very impacted by immigration policies and the act of inspiring fear in order to discriminate against an entire group of people, how certain words are used in conjunction with an entire region or religion in order to manipulate the way others view anyone coming from that area. I consider these specific social issues often when I create my work.

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

There are so many! I am influenced by artists that physically and intellectually challenge perspectives. M.C. Escher has aesthetically inspired my approach to installation through use of reflections and mirrors. Conceptually, I am inspired by surrealism, which is why I draw inspiration from the works of Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, and Salvador Dali. Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s use of video projection to transform spaces, as well as the usage of text within her work has also shaped my work. I also love the work by installation/video artist Pipilotti Rist. Local artists whom I know or have met that have shaped and inspired my work include ceramist and interdisciplinary artist, Katayoun Amjadi, photographer Wing Young Huie, and as I mentioned earlier, mover/interdisciplinary artist Michael Sakamoto.

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

I would like to eventually finish a documentary that I started on my half-Iranian identity which also focuses on my dad’s story and how he got here. I think stories on immigration and identity are important to share, especially in times like today.

What is your favorite pre or post-rehearsal snack or meal?

My favorite post-rehearsal meal is tacos! Always tacos.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

I love going to Caffetto cafe. The space is cozy and they have pinball machines in the basement. I also love being outside whenever the weather permits. I will walk anywhere and everywhere and hang out in the park. Specifically Powderhorn Park is very close to my heart.

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?

I love spontaneous dance parties in the living room, riding bikes with my partner, and cooking with simple ingredients. I also love challenging myself by trying new things. I’m excited to mountain bike more often as the weather warms up; I just started last fall and I’m hooked!

 

Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Devin Taylor

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As part of Q-STAGE 2017, Devin Taylor has written & created and co-directed THE SMITTY COMPLEX, a brand new work that will perform May 5 and 6 at 7:30pm, and May 7 at 2pm. For more information about this and other Q-STAGE shows, click here


As one of our 2017 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?

The idea for the story itself comes from stories I used to make up and tell to my best friend. I would text her poems and limericks about an otter. These poems usually found the otter in some bizarre predicament, having lost his shoes, torn his pants, eaten too much–it was really all about the rhyme scheme. It’s hard to say where the original concept for The Smitty Complex began, but it’s possible that it was a spin off of one of these stories that took a dark and complicated turn.

That was about seven years ago. I carried the idea with me for a few years before finally deciding to write it in the form of a short story four years ago. Since then, it’s been a somewhat slow process of allowing this play to say something “Real.”

It began with a story of an otter named Smitty and a whole lot of semantics that I imagine only a few people (like myself) would actually enjoy reading or seeing performed. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted it to be accessible to an audience and to say something real about the institutionalization of identity–even if it meant dispensing with some of the stylized conventions of absurdist theatre and blurring the line between real and surreal. I really had to fight my own stubbornness on this. I knew the issue of identity was central… I just wasn’t sure how much I was willing to give or how earnest I was willing to let it be.

 

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

I am fortunate to have four veterans of The Naked I series–Courtney Stirn, Beth Mikel Ellsworth, Graeme Monahan-Rial, and Logan Gilbert-Guy–who will bring these roles to life on stage. I am also collaborating with up & coming director Bri Collins.

 

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

I don’t know that it is, to be honest. I hope that it is. Working on this story for the past four years has really helped me break down some useless and problematic walls that I’d built around myself and allowed others to build around me. I’d like to think that it holds the potential to do that for others. If nothing else, I hope that it is something people enjoy.

 

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

I have always felt at odds with the act of declaring the “authentic self”–not that such a thing does not exist, but that the act of declaring it is almost intrinsically contrary to its authenticity.

The idea of identifying one’s authentic self implies that this self is concrete and well-defined–something we can stand aside and observe, admire, and criticize. The self is to be lived and it occurs to me that maybe third-party perspective isn’t all that important. Maybe knowing yourself is less like staring at a portrait of your own image and more like the sensory act of feeling your way along the rocky bottom of the ocean in which you live, looking for that next tasty mollusc you need to sustain you.

 

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’ll confess that I’m not entirely comfortable calling myself an artist out of context. However, I have stage managed a number of productions with 20% Theatre. For the record, I’m not comfortable calling myself a stage manager, either. It’s just something I’ll do for you if you ask me nicely and I think you’re neat.

 

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

I feel a protective pull toward vulnerable individuals– or those I perceive to be so. Now more than ever, I find myself fearing for the safety, health, and fair treatment of the most vulnerable among us, for right now it is the most vulnerable who are the most under attack–

Those seeking asylum after giving up everything to escape violence and terror. Those living with few rights and little hope of protection as undocumented workers.

Those living with developmental and cognitive disabilities, whose very lives depend on the humanity of the more advantaged and who are at the mercy of those in power to recognize and value them as people without weighing the cost of their needs against their ability to contribute.

The elderly and disabled who depend on government-funded programs.

The children and animals who have no control over the destruction of their planet and its resources.

In many ways, my protagonist, Smitty, embodies this vulnerability. He is the perceived Other. He is at the mercy of an institution with unjustified power over his fate. He is an individual, and that in and of itself is a vulnerability. There is the depressing sense that even if he does clearly call-out the flaws, the hypocrisy, and the injustice around him, it will make little difference, because the institution will always prevail over the individual. It’s a frustration that seemed very personal and applicable to certain marginalized groups when I first began this story years ago. I believe it has lately become relatable to a much broader cross-section of humanity.

 

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

Actually, the first performance art I really loved was opera. I used to listen to opera records while I played, teach myself to play my favorite arias on the piano, and fall asleep listening to Verdi every night. Whenever the local college put on an opera, my dad would read me the story (in English) and then take me to see it.

I didn’t see many plays–outside of the occasional school field trip–until college. So the bulk of my exposure to theatre came from reading plays.

One of my earliest loves was Tennessee Williams. He had a way of making the ugly parts of reality beautiful, which really gave hope and vital perspective to a deeply depressed teenager. He made crass and pedestrian language lyrical. His characters taught me not just to accept imperfection in people, but to desire it.

Eugene Ionesco was another inspiration and perhaps one of the most influential. I began reading his plays during lunch in high school, just to escape reality during my least favorite time of day. The first play I directed in college was Ionesco’s A Frenzy for Two. It feels strange to say it, but the existence of work like his has been something of a life preserver.

Since coming to the Twin Cities, more than twelve years ago, I’ve seen some truly astonishing theatre. I’ve worked for large, medium, and small companies, and some of the most memorable, powerful, and visually and conceptually stunning work has come from small, nomadic theatre companies working with limited and borrowed resources.

This will to create and to reach people despite the difficulty of doing it is an inspiration–not just for creating art against the odds, but for living life against even greater odds.

I’m inspired by designers who use their talent to help others realize their visions on stage.

I’m inspired by actors who come to rehearsals bone tired with all the problems of daily life on their minds, who then put those concerns aside and delve into the physical and mental work of bringing concepts and characters to life. I’m inspired by their willingness to make themselves vulnerable in every space and then put themselves and that vulnerability on stage.

 

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

I’m actually engaged in a couple of different projects right now in which I’m helping other people tell their stories. It’s my favorite way to connect with people, learn about life beyond my own experience, and find inspiration.

Personally, I have multiple projects at varying stages of completion. I probably always will. I may one day write a show called Multiple Projects at Varying Stages of Completion.

 

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.

Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Hector Chavarria

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Who are you and what is your show called?

I’m Hector Chavarria and my Q-STAGE show is called The Big Gay Mexican Show. 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?

Well, I have been working on Big Gay Mexican for almost two years. The reason I created this persona was because I realized that someone like me wasn’t being represented positively in the media. I decided it was about time that a bigger build, Mexican American man, who happens to be homosexual, be shown as a proud individual to be himself.

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

This process was crazy. So, I started working with Stacy Schultz, my director/roommate, as soon as I found out I was chosen for Q-STAGE. We both decided that this should not be a one-person show and that we should have at least two actors be part of the show. I asked Jen Buckhout and Donn Saylor to be in my show giving them very little information about their characters and I’m so fortunate they still said, yes! Once I knew who was involved the story came alive in my head. I started to create characters and storylines and the final product turned out better than I expected. With my art, people around me inspire me and I’m so happy to be surrounded by so many awesome spirits. I think the BGM crew contributed more to this project than they know.

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

Being a bigger person in the gay community can be difficult. Many gay men, not all, like to fat-shame. Being Chicano in Minnesota is also challenging. I’m a minority here, whereas in El Paso, TX, I was not. The Big Gay Mexican Show, in a way, is fighting against stereotypes. I want to spread the message that being different is a good thing. Being different is beautiful.

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

Although BGM deals a lot with identity, I want to bring out more the struggle I have with relationships with other gay men versus the struggle I have with myself as a gay man.

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 consider myself a performance artist. I have written and performed art pieces in various cabarets throughout Minneapolis. In my pieces I always include dance and song because I always wanted to do musical theater. When I first moved to Minneapolis and started auditioning, I began to realize that I was going to have a hard time being cast because of who I was: a big, gay Mexican. So eventually I started writing my own work because if they weren’t going to let me sing and dance then I was going to have to make my own opportunities myself! I have not been involved with 20%Theatre before but I am so grateful to be involved now. The work 20% Theatre does to celebrate queer artists is incredible. I’m so happy they exist because the artist they promote, such as myself, need to be heard!

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

Equality is important to me. I want everyone to be treated the same, to have the same rights. With my work, I tend to focus on body image and positive self-esteem, and the fact that these issues also effect men. Living in a society that focuses a lot on physical beauty is hard when you yourself do not fit in with what is considered the norm.

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

Recently, Taylor Mac, who had a one-person show at Guthrie in April, inspired me. Taylor Mac also wrote the play Hir that was produced at Mixed Blood Theatre. Taylor has a very clever way of bringing out serious issues but adding a twist of comedy and fun to them. I think that is genius. It’s a way to inform the audience but also allowing them to enjoy themselves.

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

I am in the works of starting a YouTube Channel. At first it was going to be The Big Gay Mexican Show on video but then I decided to expand myself and create another character. My new character is a cow named Vaco La Vaca. Vaco is a genderqueer cow. It’s in the early stages of production but so far Vaco is a lot of fun!

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

I love the 19 Bar. I love the atmosphere and the people. In my opinion it’s the one gay bar in Minneapolis where I don’t feel left out.

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

When I’m not working on art I like to go on long walks. Its one of my favorite things to do.  I also go to a lot of theater shows; I like to be surrounded by theater so I go to as much of it as possible. But mostly I like to stay home and just relax; life can get so busy that sometimes being at home can feel like paradise.

Click here for more information about The Big Gay Mexican Show and other performances in our 2016 Q-STAGE: New Works Series!

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!