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!

 

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Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Zealot Hamm

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

I am the writer of “My Dearest Selene” and I am performing in “Thank You Zombie Lady”

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

It is important for the marginalized members of the LGBT community to have an avenue to be seen and heard. Everyone has a different view of gender & sexuality and it is important for people to know that it is fluid and however they identify, it’s important to show that it is okay. The Naked I is good at showing that struggle, giving it a face, and making it relatable.

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

My gender fluidity and its mysticism.

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

I have been fortunate to have been in all four Naked I productions and each time I have learned so much about pacing and mood and how to express that and connect with the audience. Each time I start again, I pour that through my acting and writing. I also went to college for animation where I learned acting through pictures and the importance of timing. So when I did start to act, in terms of merging those skills, it was perfect.

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

I am really interested in how race, gender, and social equality play out in our lives. These are fundamental ties to one’s worth. I met a seven year old trans girl and I was touched by her story. Until she was able to express herself she wanted to die. I was struck at how someone, at such a young age, didn’t feel like they had a place in the world. I want to change that and create stories that boost self worth.

What other artists or shows have inspired you?

Oh gosh, so many!  My Naked I family; local artist and Star Goddess, Andrea Jenkins; Shimmer Quin Villagomez; Kevin Aviance, for the way they bend their drag; & Janet Mock.  I also like artists who modify their bodies  I really like sideshow performers like Little Bear, The Bearded Woman; Erik Sprague, aka The Lizard Man; and “Vampire Woman” Maria Jose Cristerna. I am really inspired by all things anime.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

I like to hang out in my head. It is the only place where I am not chased out of towns with fire and pitchforks – LOL!

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

I spend my time reading a lot of different metaphysics books, philosophy, and comics, and one of my hobbies is role playing games.

Tell us about your pets, real or imaginary.

My little gray familiar is a funny cat. She is the size of a kitten, even at her 10 plus years of existence. She perches on cabinets and high places like a little gray gargoyle.  Her little eyes see through to your very soul! My dragon on the other hand, Equinox, is very talkative and if you call him imaginary, he will bite you! Despite his lofty title as Dragon of the Thirty Six Flames, he enjoys Netflix and warm bonfires. Oh, and yes, the rumors are true, he really is good at baking bread.

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

I would love to do a power metal musical! I really like that subgenre of heavy metal and I really think it could handle my wild sensibility! Practically, I would love to create an exercise machine that would strengthen the thighs for half the price!

Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Rehema Mertinez

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

I am acting in a performance piece called “My Dearest Selene;” I play a character who exhibits a lot of fear. Toward the end of the piece I get to transform into a goddess-like character.

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

These stories and creative pieces are important because they focus on actual things that face the GLBTQ community; these stories also bring awareness to certain important issues.

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

I am a trans woman of color. I want to portray a beautiful powerful black trans goddess as my character who I want to connect with in my everyday life.

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

I have been doing theatre arts since I was a kid. I went to a high school for the performing arts, as well as being a part of several theatre companies. I have always had a passion for theatre.

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

Trans and racial equality issues are very important to me because I am a trans women of color and I believe that absolutely nobody should be treated as less than. I try to make sure that I incorporate these issues in my work by being involved in the community and doing what I can to make a difference.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

I love to hang out at home (I know boring!) but I get to cook and get creative when I get to make a wig or something.

 

Tell us about your pets, real or imaginary.

I have a Chihuahua named Biko and a fat chubby cat name Maltese. Biko and Maltese get along very well; they like to play fight but then the next minute they are grooming each other. They are my babies and I love them very much.

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

I hope to continue performing and going to auditions. I hope to be in another fantastic play soon.

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: Renee Roe

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

I am performing in “My Dearest Selene” and “If It Might Be, It Must Be.”

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

The stories in The Naked I are powerful expressions of truth. In sharing these truths we can advance broader understanding of bodily autonomy, human connectedness, and personal power. So many are willing to share in our laughter but not our tears. These stories provide a necessary space for those who are willing to do both.

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

My heart centers around issues that require systems change. Historically marginalized people are often destroyed slowly by the socio-political and economic realities of the systems we as a society attempt to maintain. While not necessarily reflective of my entire interests or areas of expertise, I find myself typically drawn to matters of bodily autonomy (specifically gender, sexuality, and disability).

Understanding and partaking in community conversations surrounding these issues has given me a breadth of experience upon which to draw on in my work. Being able to have an impact on the hearts and minds of others is why I do what I do.
 
Tell us about your pets, real or imaginary.

Many years ago my heart belonged to my beloved pet Rocky. We would go for long bike rides and lounge about my childhood garden. One day we thought it would be fun if we went swimming at a local lake as she had never been there. Being an easily distracted child, I allowed Rocky to swim freely for a short while as I contemplated whether a cloud passing over looked more like a dinosaur or a cherry tree.

Tragically, I lost Rocky that day. She sank to the bottom, like a stone.

I have a kitten now. He likes to sit on people’s shoulders.

Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Atlese Robinson

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

I am directing Black Hole Queers by Jayce Koester.

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

Visibility, community engagement, and healing. The vast array of individuals that make up the Queer/Trans and Queer/Trans POC community possess a plethora of experiences, stories, and identities that should be celebrated openly, validated, and given a home. Naked I is an opportunity to shape that home in a world where we find a lot of stigma and marginalization.

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

My blackness, my fluidity, my femme-ness, and my creativity.

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

My performance background is primarily in ensemble acting and spoken word. But as a student at Augsburg College I studied playwriting and a bit of technical theatre. I’m bringing to this production a variety of tools and experience that I hope shines through in this awesome show.

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

Homelessness and education. Many Trans/Queer folks need accessible safe housing and educational institutions that support us instead of leave us behind. Ultimately, it all boils down to safety and I think Black Hole Queers is a piece that gives power to Trans/Queer folks to embrace themselves and simultaneously let it be known that we will not be discarded or disrespected.

What other artists or shows have inspired you?

Sha Cage. She’s been doing amazing work for years and I value and adore her tenacity as an artist and educator.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

I don’t really have one. I just prefer to be with/around the people I love.

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

Writing, drawing, playing video games, reading, cooking, and spending time with people dear to me.

Tell us about your pets, real or imaginary.

I had two parakeets when I was kid that my parent got rid of because I was not responsible. I let them out of their cage to fly around the house around Christmas and they ended up resting in our Christmas tree after exploring, but they were really cute.

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

Hopefully just performing more and completing a chapbook, maybe even being selected for the Catalyst Series at Intermedia Arts. Those are my main artistic goals for the year.

TICKETS ARE SELLING FAST FOR THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED! 
CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS NOW!

If We Were Birds Interview: Dana Lee Thompson

Through the lens of Greek tragedy, If We Were Birds presents an unflinching commentary on contemporary war and its devastating aftermath, particularly for the women who become its victims.

20% Theatre Company is excited to present this beautiful, shocking and brutal new play by Erin Shields at Nimbus Theater September 13-27, 2014.  Before and during the run of this show, we have given you the chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this last interview, meet actor Dana Lee Thompson.

Actor - Dana Lee Thompson

Actor – Dana Lee Thompson

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

I am Dana Lee Thompson and I was born in Kansas City, Missouri.  The world of acting was always a mysterious and interesting concept growing up, but I only contributed that interest to all the TV and movies I watched.  I would sit there in the move theatre staring at the people on the big screen thinking to myself, “I can do that.  I can entertain an audience of people and cause them to have real emotions from made up stories.” I was naive about my opportunities and didn’t grasp that I could actually participate in live theatre.  It wasn’t until high school when I was in my Debate & Forensics class, that my teacher suggested I audition for one of the children’s theatres in the area.  It was my senior year of high school when I was in my first professional show at Theatre for Young America, in Kansas City.  And even still, after that experience I waited a whole semester in college before the epiphany struck that I could major in theatre.  I originally enrolled in college under a Communications/Public Relations degree.  My mother told me, “Study something you love.  It doesn’t matter what you get a degree in, just as long as you get a degree in something.”  The theatre bug had bit me and left a mark.  After those words from my mother and remembering the feeling I had on stage, there was no turning back.  I graduated in 2005 from Missouri State University with a BFA in Theatre Performance.

What excites you most about If We Were Birds?

I’ve never worked with such dark material, hahaha.  It’s horrifying, and that brings me a level of excitement.

What is your role in the play? What do you think will be the most challenging and/or rewarding part of performing this role? 

I am part of the chorus, The Pious One.  Being part of a chorus usually provides it’s own set of challenges.  We work as a unit, but maintain our individualism because each of our experiences are important and crucial to the telling of the story.  The reward is to work with a cast and production crew that truly wants to bring forth a breathtaking piece of art.

Tell us a little bit about the character.  Is this role similar to roles you have played in the past or will this be a stretch for you?

Well, I had to look up the word pious.  And for those who are in my similar shoes, pious means “devoutly religious”.  The Pious One wants to find all of her answers through her religious beliefs.  I believe that she is looked up to in her community, but walks around with a sense of entitlement and self-ritiousness.  I have been playing with her character in rehearsals and Ive decided that no matter what the situation, whether it’s the evil things that have happened to The Pious One or the evil revenge she plots, The Pious One will rationalize everything to “God’s will”.

I haven’t played a character quite like The Pious One before.  She is not a stretch for me as an actor, but more of a stretch on a personal level.  Though I do believe in a higher power, I don’t consider myself religious, especially not devoutly so.

What do you hope the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, or thinking after seeing If We Were Birds?

That’s a hard question to answer.  I imagine that this play will impact every person a little differently.  I think that part of the purpose of this production is to give a voice to the stories that many of us may choose to ignore, forget, or to even pretend never happened.  The production takes the history of women and puts it in your face and says, “HERE!”.  We will all digest it differently, but what kind of after taste will it leave behind?  Being in the rehearsal process, I’m still digesting, but I’m sensing a bit of heartburn.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

I am a fulltime administrator at CLIMB Theatre.  My title is Maintainer of Excellence in Performance.  CLIMB is a non-profit touring educational theatre company.  One of the many roles of my position is coordinating the Twin Cities Unified Theatre Auditions which is going to be March 14th-15th of 2015.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

My favorite thing about the Twin Cities is he diversity, and all the appreciation for the arts in the community.

What is your favorite type of bird?

Swan