December 5, 2011

Walking the talk on moneyballing theatre

As my plans for the 2012 production of Tulpa, or Anne&Me start coming together, I'm in a pretty good position to apply some of the ideas I brought up in my "What If . . . Theatres Played Moneyball?" post. As I'm researching venues and running the IndieGoGo campaign (which you should contribute to if you haven't already), I'm also thinking of ways to describe what I'm looking for in various members of the cast and crew.

Being that the director is the keystone person in all this, I created a job ad for a director that lays out, in simple terms, what I need that person to do. When writing it, I gave myself a few "rules" to work with, such as:

  1. Must be written as "can do," not "must have"
  2. No less than 3 but no more than 7 requirements
  3. Directly mention the people I want to apply

What I came up with was:

This play needs a DIRECTOR who can:

  • apply anti-racist principles and practices to all aspects of production
  • create an amazing theatrical experience with limited tech and budget
  • work within the guidelines of the AEA showcase code
  • respect the playwright's voice and vision
  • collaborate with the playwright to select cast and crew
  • schedule and attend all rehearsals
  • maintain a healthy working environment

Although education and experience are definitely helpful, what matters most is your passion, vision, and commitment - and how easy you are to work with. Because of the play's subject matter and my personal interest in giving opportunities to underrepresented theatre artists, queer women of color are strongly encouraged to reach out.


I am seeking to make my final decision by January 15. 


Please send all inquiries and supporting materials (if any) to [my personal info].

Hopefully, this will draw people who would be the biggest assets to the production and not just those who interview well. I'm sure that some experienced theatre artists may look at my requirements and go, "Well, duh!" But I've heard a lot of stories about people who get involved in projects without being solid on the "Well, duh" parts and wind up creating a complete clusterfuck. As time goes on, I've learned to give myself credit for the fact that, while I make mistakes, I don't have to make ALL the mistakes ALL by myself to learn.

I hope that, should I find a director this way, I can apply the same thing to the rest of the cast an crew.

What about you? Do you have any experiences with "moneyballin" theatre? How did it turn out?

November 15, 2011

Tulpa 2012 is coming! And you can help!

Visit the IndieGoGo campaign to make a contribution and find out more about how you can help make Tulpa, or Anne&Me happen.

November 12, 2011

Discourse and community organizing in indie theatre

Previously, I talked about the need for community organizing in indie theatre and what that means. I mentioned that transforming the landscape of indie theatre will require a different way of engaging so that everyone can fully participate.

I want to parallel two recent experiences that bring into sharp relief the need for a new way to navigate discourse in the indie theatre community. The first is the Audre Lorde Project's QTPOC Occupy Wall Street Town Hall meeting. The second is Gwydion's Playwrights Wish List.

At ALP's Town Hall, there were a few things that stood out about the process: 1) the participants came from all walks of life; 2) everyone present participated and was fully engaged; and 3) there were differences of opinion but not debate.

I believe this has to do with the way the town hall was set up. First of all, there were ground rules for discussion which everyone agreed to abide by. They were:

  1. One mic, one diva
  2. Step up, step back
  3. Check your privilege

With these 3 simple rules, it set the stage for this town hall to be a place where the community could listen and share, just to get a lay of the land and see where people are. After sharing those rules, we broke up into 6 groups. We did not have our choice of groups; we just counted off. In retrospect, this was probably a good idea because it gets rid of habitual ways we have of interacting in a familiar group. Each group had 1 or 2 facilitators.

Once we were in our groups, we went to our assigned spaces, we selected a note-taker and reporter (for the report-back). Then we asked 3 simple questions for us to ask about QTPOC involvement at Occupy Wall Street. Not leading questions, just open things for people to share. If I'm remembering correctly, we were asked:

  1. Are you involved with OWS? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think QTPOCs are marginalized at OWS?
  3. What can we bring from OWS to our own community organizing?
  4. (Bonus) What did you want to get from the town hall meeting?

We were given about 30-45 minutes to talk about these questions. After that, we reconvened, and each group gave a 5-minute report-back that shared the general feeling of the group plus some responses to the questions. Then we had a few minutes for general feedback and to fill in info gaps about what happened in our group breakouts.

It was an amazing experience because I felt empowered and connected in a way that I rarely feel in everyday life. Let's be clear here; I was not controlling anything. I was just one participant in a group. Yet I felt more powerful there than I did in situations where my control is more or less absolute. Isn't that something?

Over Twitter, Gwydion and I chatted briefly about how we could import this model to the virtual world. Since then, I've been thinking a lot about his Playwrights Wish List because that's exactly the kind of thing we need more of in the theatre community. It hits almost every single one of the community organizing principles. Granted, it's going to be tough to sustain that effort since Gwydion took upon himself roles that are usually spread out among at least 3 other people (facilitator, note-taker, report-back). However, comparing the success of the town hall meeting with the success of the Playwrights Wishlist, I noticed that they had a few things in common.

  1. An explicit invitation to a specific group
  2. A clear understanding of what we're there to do
  3. Willingness to allow individuals to speak for themselves, asking for clarity where needed
  4. Responsiveness to the group needs and concerns
  5. Commitment to follow up in the future

Those are just off the top of my head. What other things would you add to creating a truly participatory model of discourse when it comes to organizing in the indie theatre community?

Community organizing and indie theatre

A while back I mentioned an interest in combining theatre with community organizing. For a variety of reasons, November has been the month where I've committed to learning more about community organizing. I'm taking part in the Audre Lorde Project's Daring To Be Powerful community organizing workshop, and I'm really enjoying myself and sensing a lot of growth.

My work with the Audre Lorde Project is a natural continuation of what I've been doing with the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond.  With the People's Institute, I've developed the ability to analyze power structures and root them in real history. With the Audre Lorde Project, I'm learning how to apply that analysis in a way that reflects and serves QTPOC (queer/trans people of color - pronounced "Cutie Pock") communities.

This community organizing aspect of my artistic journey is particularly striking because, in my opinion, theatre is the most communal of the arts. It is the art form most intimately connected to where, when, and with whom it happens. You can tell a lot about a community by the theatre it creates.

As this communal element becomes a bigger part of who I am as a theatre maker, it becomes increasingly important for theatre to become the vanguard for exposing, examining, and transforming the power dynamics within our communities. Part of being able to do all that is creating methods of discourse that truly allow for the full participation of the community.

Yet as a community, theatre tends to be more reactive than proactive. We react to what the NEA is doing. We react to this or that theater's decisions. We react to this or that critic's statements about The Ultimate Truth About The State Of All Theatre. We react to this or that article or book being published. And I'm thinking, "Shouldn't this be the other way around? Shouldn't we be telling them what needs to change? Shouldn't they be listening and responding to us?"

Then again, how would they do that? It's not like we're being invited to fully participate in conversations about things that affect us (To me, this is what differentiates the Haves from the Have Nots - see HowlRound). And it's not like those things are receiving sustained effort and attention. As a result, it seems that we're having the same conversations all the time, and we're starting from ground zero each time we have these conversations. No matter what the discussion is, we always have to deal with
  • Denial that there is a problem
  • Refusal to believe things can change
  • Disbelief that we, collectively, have the power to make those changes
  • Unwillingness to act even in small ways
So what we have are stimulating discussions with brilliant people that never seem to lead to concrete action. We lack for nothing: not vision, not knowledge, not resolve, not know-how, not resources. Look at what we actually accomplish! Look at how much time and energy and brainpower we've put into doing the work we do just for the love of it. We're not powerless. We're not lazy. We're not stupid. We have the ability to make things very different for ourselves and our communities, but we seem to keep doing the same old thing.

Allow me to go on a bit of a tangent and explain different ways to work for change because without it, what I say after this won't make much sense. There are 4 basic aspects to working for change. They are:

  1. Service - focus on individuals and respond to immediate needs
  2. Advocacy - work with representatives to change policy
  3. Activism - mobilize individuals to increase attention about issues
  4. Organizing - community members change power relations to address root causes

Because of what I've learned from the People's Institute and the Audre Lorde Project, I've come to understand that what theatre needs now is organizing. When I talk about organizing, I don't simply mean doing things in an orderly fashion. I'm using the Audre Lorde Project's definition, which states that organizing is:
a strategic process for building people's collective power to achieve self-determination and justice
Political action is one of the more overt forms of community organizing, but there are many ways that it can be applied. Of course, just waking up one day and saying, "We should organize!" just doesn't work. Organizing efforts need to be guided by solid principles. In my experience, having clear, explicit principles for action cuts down on a lot of dysfunctional bullshit that makes dealing with some organizations a real pain in the ass. The Audre Lorde Project outlines a few organizing principles:

  • Self-determination - those directly affected by the problem decide what should happen and are in leadership
  • Power - build a base of people/community power; make changes in power relations
  • Justice and movement building - in line with justice for all oppressed people
  • "We" not "I" - broad base of community members; act together based on shared vision for change
  • Direct action - actions that directly take on those in power; using our voices, minds, bodies, and creativity in numbers for empowerment
  • Address root causes - address underlying causes; address the ultimate reason for a problem ("-isms")
Of course, this is just one group's set of organizing principles. How could we refine them for the indie theatre community?

November 3, 2011

Will you contribute $50 to support theatre by and about queer Black women?

“When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid” — Audre Lorde


Earlier this year, I wrote and produced a play called Tulpa, or Anne&Me that debuted at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.

Since that first production, I’ve often been asked about what’s next for Tulpa, or Anne&Me. This is a great sign because it means that the play has touched people in some deep places and led to powerful moments of growth and healing for many. I feel a real responsibility to make this piece the best I can make it and bring it to as many places as I can where people want and need to see it.

Right now, I’m talking with someone who can offer me an opportunity for more performances in mid- to late April. Despite the fact that I’m based in NYC, there are still only a few plays by and about queer Black women being made. Although the world we live in wants me to be comfortable with feeling insignificant, I no longer have the luxury to deceive myself into believing that my work and my voice are not important.


I am raising $3,000 for the 2012 production of Tulpa, or Anne&Me. If only 60 people contribute just $50 each*, I can reach that goal. If only 60 people contribute just $50 each, my work will have another chance to do what it’s meant to do — pave the way for healing and transformation in our lives, relationships, and communities. If only 60 people contribute just $50 each, they will be doing more than putting a story on stage, but creating a vibrant opportunity to honor those of us who are Black and woman and queer.

  Will you contribute $50 to be part of that process?


(*That works out to only 1 person a day for the next 60 days.)

October 21, 2011

Emptiness and the living playwright

It may seem strange for me to say this, but the biggest influence on my work as a playwright is Peter Brook's The Empty Space and The Open Door. The Empty Space is one of the first books about theatre I ever picked up. At the time, I only plucked them off the shelf because they were short and easy for me to understand. Little did I know how fortuitous it was for this piece to appeal to me. From the first sentence, I was immediately made aware of the sheer possibility of theatre:
"I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all I need for an act of theatre to be engaged." -- Peter Brook, The Empty Space
If I can be said to have anything approaching a philosophy of theatre-making, that would be it. This idea of emptiness as a core component of theatre-making fascinates me as an artist. What a liberating, empowering concept! To make vital theatre that engages audiences at every moment, you don't need a building, or sets, or a light/sound board. All you need are people and space. Imagine that!

The Open Door is the book that made me realize that making theatre that captivates and touches an audience depends not on a complex intellectual edifice, but the freedom to explore and discover. This helped free me from feeling obligated to explain so much about my plays, whether in the script itself or when collaborating with others.

Of course, Peter Brook was working with playwrights who are either dead or not present during the production.

As a living playwright, this puts me in a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, I want to help collaborators in whatever way I can. On the other hand, I want to give people the space to discover their own meanings for the play. Sure, I want to be involved, and I want the intentions I have to be honored, but at the end of the day, I wrote a play, not a manifesto.

In my own writing, I deliberately create empty spaces, and I am often reluctant to make any definitive statements about my work's meaning or intent. For one thing, those things are not static. Who I am when I initially write a script is often not the same person as who I am six months after the final draft. Another thing is that I enjoy making room for a variety of perspectives and approaches. Giving my scripts this free space, I find, does much to keep the work fresh and allows for more powerful collaborations with fellow artists and audiences.

What about you? How do you create empty spaces in your own work as a theatre maker?

October 19, 2011

Follow-up "Moneyball" post at TCG Circle!

At TCG Circle, I ask, "What if . . . theatres played Moneyball?"

Then I dig deeper by asking, “What if, instead of relying on gut reactions and chemistry, we figured out a way to describe, observe, and measure what we are looking for?”

Check it out and drop a few of your ideas!

October 13, 2011

What if . . . Indie theatre played Moneyball?

There's rich teams, and there's poor teams. Then there's 50 feet of crap, and then there's us."
-- Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, Moneyball

I'm not much of a sports fan, so Moneyball was a real departure for me in terms of my normal film viewing habits. That said, I was glad I went to see it because what I saw got me thinking about the way we approach making theatre.

In the film, the Oakland A's is a major league baseball team that doesn't have the money to attract and maintain star players. When they get someone really good, they're quickly snapped up by teams that can offer a lot more money. In effect, the A's were constantly hemorrhaging talent to rich teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox.

The story starts when the A's have just lost their top three players, which they have to replace on the same limited budget they've always been operating with. Having had enough of this, General Manager Billy Beane starts to question the conventional wisdom of finding and recruiting talent. Help comes in the form of Peter Brand, a Yale economics graduate who has adapted a system for determining just how much a player can contribute to winning games. It completely goes against the old way of thinking about what matters when it comes to how baseball games are won. The system leads to the A's uncovering rare gems in major league baseball who were previously overlooked because they looked and performed differently from the square-jawed All-American ideal of what makes a great baseball player. The result was what Peter Brand called the major league baseball version of the Island of Misfit Toys. Once they were able to maximize and synergize the unique talents of these players, the A's had a 20-game winning streak.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

What if . . . we applied Moneyball thinking to off-off-Broadway theatre?

How would we take out the guesswork and bias of conventional wisdom to find what truly works for the theatre we want to make? How can we transform the way we relate to and organize with other people in the trenches with us? How can we maximize the strengths of off-off-Broadway theatre to uncover the hidden gems that get overlooked by the current way of doing things?

The way things look now, a lot of us are doing what Broadway does but on a smaller scale (in other words, cheaper). From our selection process to putting together a cast and crew to securing a venue for rehearsal and performance, there's nothing about the way we go about doing these things that separates us from the big guys. We even look for the same things when we do this, with a few cosmetic differences here and there.

We're all on the lookout for this vague thing called quality and striving for this thing we call excellence. Although this can lead to some amazing results, I sometimes wonder if this is despite the system rather than because of it.

What would happen if we took the search for quality out of the equation? What if, instead of relying on what we call talent or chemistry, we figured out a way to describe, observe, and measure what we are looking for? How would that change the way we talk about what we're trying to do? How would that change who could be involved in that process? How would that change where we worked? How we worked? Why we worked? What we worked with/on?

What I see happening is a move away from credentials and connections toward model where individuals come together to create theatre for a specific purpose in a distinctive way. Imagine more things like FUREE in Pins and Needles, things that could not happen in any other environment but one that made room for experimentation, encouraged the participation of non-specialists, and facilitated direct collaboration within communities.

At least, that's what I hope would happen.

October 5, 2011

Present-day African theatre forms

I came across this article about present-day African theatrical forms while doing research on a few things. It's an intriguing read, especially in comparison and contrast to discussions about devised theatre that crop up from time to time.

I'm not yet sure how I'll relate this to the poiesis as a whole, but I do know that I am reluctant to do what's always been done with African culture and limit analysis and engagement to specific forms as opposed to digging a bit deeper. For instance, I wouldn't want to end up focusing overmuch on masks and dance -- the predictably "exotic" elements -- while ignoring the different ways African cultures conceive and construct reality. I'm far more fascinated by, say, the impact of a diunital worldview upon the ways people of African descent construct and interpret story.

October 3, 2011

QBWL poiesis: go figure

Somebody beat me to it. It's worth a read, especially as a way of putting a lot of what I say in context. While the linked article described what womanist theatre is about, my poiesis seeks to be more about how to make it work.

September 10, 2011

QBWL poiesis: creating space

In my previous post about a queer Black womanist liberation poiesis, I talked about queer space and Black space and what I imagine that being like. Now that I'm thinking about how the next phases of Tulpa's journey will take shape, I am starting to believe that I was not far-reaching enough in my analysis. Rather than define queerness, Blackness, and womanhood as abstract concepts and attempting to create aesthetics from it, what I should have been doing is assuming queer Black womanhood from the start and working on the ramifications for allowing that to express itself. I should have known better than to try to force that reality into a format that was not meant to contain it.

I believe that, instead of trying to fit my selfhood into these neatly defined ideas, I instead need to start by affirming that . . .

I am Black. I am woman. I am queer.

And then asking . . .

Now what?

This shift in perspective is due in part to some soul-searching I had to do about what I wanted for Tulpa, or Anne&Me and the role that each potential collaborator will play. For a while now, I've been reflecting on some of the patterns I enabled in the development and performance of Tulpa, and I come at it from a few conflicting places. At the root of these conflicts was a question: How do I create a space where the queer Black woman voice can be heard as free of distortion as possible? Who is permitted in that space? What are the mandates of that space?

You have to understand why these questions are so essential to creating a praxis that allows me to exist in the fullness of myself.

Oftentimes, in order for the world at large to recognize my humanity, I must excise my queerness, my Blackness, my womanhood. I have to effectively erase the parts of my identity and the experiences I've had - those things that signify my uniqueness as a living, breathing human being - in order to even be allowed entrance into the human family. In a weird sort of cognitive jujitsu, I must mutilate my humanity in order to affirm it.

Given that the world is hostile to my full self - especially to my woman self, my queer self, my Black self - art becomes a sanctuary in which I can feel free to be myself for myself. Ironically, theatre allows full self-expression by giving us permission to fully be other selves. Just as a physical location creates a space that can be filled by the world of a play, the masks we wear create a space that our selves can fill. Through the dynamic interplay of these spaces and selves, a voice* can emerge.

*Here I should probably update my definition of voice as the relationship between the spaces created in the play. Plot, character, theme, and spectacle are aspects of the voice, but they do not define it as I suggested earlier.

But there must first be the space.

And, again, I must return to the question of how I will construct space. As you may have guessed, the creation of space has more far-reaching ramifications than the particulars of, say, blocking or design. It influences the relationships that artists have with each other, perhaps even the relationships that audience members have with one another and/or with the artists.

While it's tempting to simply say, "It all depends" and leave it at that, the fact of the matter is that I am creating a queer Black womanist liberation poiesis, so defining how to create such a space is part and parcel of this effort. If pressed for a concise definition, I would define a liberated queer Black womanist space as one where womanhood, Blackness, and queerness - all these symbols of Otherness - may be fully integrated into that space.  It is a space that embraces Otherness as an essential component of selfhood and one that makes room for fully engaging that Otherness without stating or implying a reduction of the self to Otherness.

In more concrete terms, a liberated queer Black womanist space expresses its Blackness through diunital cognition (both-and thinking), is queerness through embracing difference and fluidity, its womanhood through  birthing spaces via the self. Such a space is liberated because it frees those of us who dwell in these spaces to (finally!) express the fullness of who we are.

Of course, when creating these spaces, it is not simply a matter of stating, "This is what I want." Again, it must go back to praxis. What must be in place for this space to exist? What are the demands this space would place upon those who would step into it?

I honestly haven't thought about it too much, but the main thing that comes up is that it must serve the needs and interests of queer Black women by placing queer Black women at the center of knowledge and authority. This does not allow, say, a Skeeter to swoop in, take our stories, and use them primarily for her own gain. It does not allow someone who is not a queer Black woman to set the agenda, determine the terms of engagement, or control the process. Yet, it encourages self-examination. It encourages intimacy. It encourages solidarity. But it must be free of the taint of domination in order for us to find our own voices and realize our own potential for freedom.

I hope that explains it. Does it make sense?

September 9, 2011

I drank the Facebook kool-aid

Against my better judgment, I joined Facebook. You can find me at https://www.facebook.com/rvcbard.

Yes, I am deeply ashamed of myself. Please don't rub it in.

September 5, 2011

reflections on soft power

Adam Thurman has a TEDxMichigan Ave Talk, "Power and the Arts," that's all too brief yet full of amazing insights about the use of power in the arts:



For those of you who don't have 10 minutes to spare, or just want to skip to the good parts, I offer a highlight of the piece that stands out to me:
There are two types of power: hard power and soft power. What we've been using in the arts for the past 50 years is hard power. Hard power is about force. Hard power is about coercion. And we have been master of hard power. We know how to build big buildings. We know how to turn artists into forces of personality. And we know how to argue. [...] Coerce, force, persuade.

And what we're learning now [...] is the limits of hard power. [...] Now we have to transition to a second type of power. And that is soft power. Soft power is defined as the ability to bend people toward your worldview through attraction, not force. [...] What's your worldview? What do you believe in? Don't tell me what you do. I don't care what you do. I've observed that someone else who does what you do, and they're probably better than you. [...] What's the point of all this? [...] How do we get better at telling the world what we believe? And then, let's take it one step further: How do we show what we believe?
This is an fascinating line of thinking in light of my recent work with Tulpa, or Anne&Me, as well as a couple of my most recent posts about writing artist statements.

This may surprise people who only know me online, but it takes a lot of physical and psychological resources for me to interact with people. In public, and around people I don't know well, I tend to be extremely reserved. Part of this is my natural introversion, so I feel deeply uncomfortable when thrust into an unfamiliar environment with a bunch of strangers and being expected to perform socially. So when I am present and engaged in such a situation, it really means something. It's not something I'm doing just because it's something to do. It also means that when I talk about myself, I don't like feeling as though I have to puff myself up to seem capable, important, or worthy.

As you may guess, this means I suck at selling myself. But when I am invited to share something I'm passionate about that means a lot to me, it's a lot easier (not easy!) for me. I don't know if it's because it relieves most of the anxiety by taking the onus off me as a person, if it's because my enthusiasm becomes apparent and therefore contagious, if it's because I'm tapping into something greater than myself that speaks through me, or some combination of these or other things. The result is that it's much easier to talk about myself and what I do when I can focus on passion, vision, and purpose.

This would, if Adam's TEDx Talk is anything to go by, put me firmly on the side of soft power when it comes to the way I orient myself as I use the energy and resources I have. More than that, though, I tend to be deeply uncomfortable with hard power. If I were to hazard a guess, it may have something to do with the fact that, in my experience, whenever I have felt or was mistreated, it has been because of a misuse of hard power - especially in the form of actual or perceived authority. It's not that I hate it; after all, we all use both forms of power. However, I do tend to be very distrustful of it because of my experience with people using hard power to violate my boundaries.

As a result, using and receiving soft power as opposed to hard power feels very different for me. Soft power feels like an invitation. "This may be something you're interested in because blah blah blah. Would you like to join?" Hard power feels like an ultimatum. "Do what I want or lose something precious. Do what I want or you fail at life."

That's not to say that's what really happens, or that's what people are really trying to do. But I often receive it that way. As my social consciousness grows, I've become increasingly sensitive to how hard power functions within systems of oppression. While there is the obviously problematic nature of hard power when it is used by a privileged person against a non-privileged person in discussions about oppression, there is also the question about the use of hard power in the service of dismantling systems of oppression.

Put simply, hard power doesn't work. It doesn't work because it comes from external sources trying to breach into your internal processes. Although it's a great temporary fix, and it can have immediate and effective results when trying to convince powerful people to make a decision about a specific act, it fails to undermine the internal processes that uphold these systems. As social justice activists are increasingly starting to notice, books, articles, statistics, workshops, advertising, and other methods of instruction and argument cannot prompt a person to change themselves if they don't want to or see a need to change.

What does lead to lasting change? Friendship. Marriage. Family. Religion. The things we value most about our lives. The things that can be reached only through soft power.

For instance, the person who sticks to a diet and exercise regimen won't be the one who's bought into all the weight loss advertisements or all the articles that prove how healthy eating and exercise is good for you and will lead to a longer, fuller life. It's the elderly man who wants to be there for his granddaughter's graduation. The person who quits smoking is not the one who has read all the studies about how cigarettes will kill them. It's the 30-something woman who nearly dies from a stroke with so much left they want to do.

It's the same thing with social justice. Real change comes from our connection to what has intrinsic value to us. It's a White woman who gets into a serious relationship with a woman of color and sees a tiny bit of what she goes through then decides that the world should not be that way. It's the pastor who sees the pain homophobia causes the brightest and most exemplary members in his congregation. It's a mother realizing that her son has actually always been her daughter, and what it means to support her in a reality rife with trans misogyny.

Since theatre, like all arts, creates and reflects the world we live in, it is inherently an agent of soft power. So why aren't we seeing more individuals, organizations, and institutions using the tremendous soft power that is already a part of what makes theatre so vital? I honestly don't know, but I think it's worth clearing up some potential misconceptions that may be limiting our ability to notice and nurture the soft power all around us. This is all based on my experience with tapping into soft power. Other people's understanding of it may be different.

Soft does not mean weak.
Let me give you an anatomic example. Compared to muscle and bone, the vagina is soft and pliant. But babies come out of there. Speaking of theatre in terms of passion, values, and purpose allows the work itself to accommodate many forms, building experiences and relationships on the way. But when it gains momentum, it becomes an irresistible force. Like pussy for people who like pussy.

Soft is resilient.
When you talk to people who have experienced catastrophe, pay attention to the things they say when they talk about how they got through it. The common thread I've noticed is hope. Hope is the ultimate soft power. Hope lends courage, tenacity, and resourcefulness to people and places where they would not be expected to dwell. Hope does more than help people survive. It gives us the ability to heal and to live.

Soft does not mean easy.
I don't know about you, but I wasn't fortunate enough to be born knowing what I'm here to do or who I'm meant to be. I still don't have any certainty about those things, but I have a better grasp on it than I did. It took trial and error. It took serious soul-searching. It took making a commitment despite the cost. Finding and pursuing your Why (as Simon Sinek calls it) is not easy. It takes the ability to be honest with yourself and the willingness to cut off things that detract from your Why.

Soft power is not determined; it is revealed.
The hardest thing about using soft power is the fact that you can't force it. Like a seed taking root or a flower starting to blossom, you cannot create soft power just because you say you want to. Sometimes the hardest thing about soft power is the fact that you sometimes have to just stop, wait, and watch. It's very much like the way people describe being pregnant. You have all these mysterious processes leading to something wonderful. But in the meantime you're subjected to cravings and mood swings and pain in weird parts of your body. Once it's over, and you recognize your child, you finally see what it all meant.

This post has gone on long enough, so I want to hear from you. What is your relationship to hard and/or soft power? How does this affect the way you go about doing things? How does this reflect who you are as a person? What other thoughts and insights do you have to share?

September 3, 2011

healing and transformation: a brief introduction to my artistic self

On my LiveJournal, there is a post entitled, Why I'm Doing This. It is a collection of quotes from people who reached out to me to tell me how Tulpa, or Anne&Me has helped heal them or has transformed how they think about the issues the play raises. When I reflect upon this, I see that as a playwright, I act more as a shaman than as an author. Through my plays, I lead the audience into an alternate reality where they can find healing and transformation. This parallel grows stronger with each piece that I write, making it an essential part of my process and purpose as an artist.

Shamanism reveals itself most clearly in the structure of my plays. In each script, I take people to a different world where they encounter essences – spirits, if you will – of forces we confront everyday yet do not always recognize. This experience helps change thought patterns and start conversations that are so important to us, yet are so frightening to have. Stripped of everyday dross, this gives people the opportunity to face and name these things in order to overcome them.

This may seem strange considering my commitment to advocating social justice. Talking about spirits and other worlds seems ephemeral in comparison to the daily realities of systemic oppression. As someone who lives at the intersections of several oppressions, when I run into racism, sexism, and/or homophobia, it hits me like concrete. At the same time, what is racism but a ghost that lingers and haunts our lives? What is sexism but a spirit that seizes control whenever given the opportunity? What is homophobia but a demon that feeds on the hate and fear of those in its grip, and devours the pain and suffering that fear and hate cause?

Aesthetically, this mystical approach to current realities means that my plays are steeped in mythology, religion, fairy tales, folklore and even astrology. These have been the wells of inspiration I have drawn from since childhood. I have yet to outgrow this inclination to “play” with reality, to make literal and concrete what is often abstract and allegorical. So my works lend themselves to a stylized approach to staging. They have much in common with non-Western theatrical forms such as Noh drama and Butoh, religious rituals based in Vodou and indigenous traditions, and role-playing games that take place in fantastic or science fiction settings.

In thematic terms, there is a strong current of Otherness in my work - other worlds, other beings, other times - due in no small part to my own experience with Otherness. Living as a queer Black Jewish woman makes Otherness an ever-present reality. No matter where I go, I am some form of Other. Please do not misunderstand; I have no desire to be "normal." Yet life as a perpetual Other does come with a certain amount of internal and external strife. By laying this bare from the perspective of the Other, my work transforms Otherness from a source of powerlessness and isolation to a source of knowledge and freedom. Through this process, I hope to heal and transform the world by showing how I heal and transform myself.

September 2, 2011

artist vs. audience? maybe not.

At the 2AMt blog, Aaron Andersen asks if we really want to be like Apple.

In my comment responding to the post, I reveal my fully fledged nerd status when I said:
Sometimes I wonder about this artist/audience division. Speaking for myself, I write plays like the ones I like to or want to see. So in a weird, roundabout way, I am the audience too. This does gel with my experience with roleplaying games, where the creators of the content are the same as its audience (generally speaking).

To what extent is it likely that we often set up a dichotomy between artist and audience that doesn't have to be there? What would our relationship to our work be like if that distinction was not there (or was at least heavily muted)?
Just in case you had doubts about how big a nerd I am, I came to theatre from roleplaying games. And no, a few sessions of D&D ain't what I'm talking about. I mean whole shelves taken up by White Wolf Games, Dungeons & Dragons, and indie RPGs that most people probably never heard of. And let's not talk about the games I designed myself.

During a brief Twitter conversation, I shared that what made roleplaying games unique is the fact that the audience and creators of a game are typically one and the same, so the division between artist and audience doesn't necessarily exist for me. I don't think about the audience as though I'm somehow separate and aloof from it. As a matter of fact, I write the things I want to see.

Does the fact that I create content by itself put me in a different category from the rest of the theatre-going community? I suppose one could argue that I bring specialized knowledge or expertise to the process, but I don't doubt that there are theatre-goers who have a broader and deeper knowledge of theatre than I do and who can probably articulate their ideas about it much better than I can.

Are artist and audience really separate in some fundamental way? If so, where does the division between artist and audience lie?

August 31, 2011

On writing artistic statements

Kari's post about application fatigue couldn't have come at a better time. Yeah, I'm a week late (10 points taken off, I know), but now that things seem to be settling down a bit in my personal life, I have time to catch up and reflect on what's been happening on the theatrosphere. To be quite honest, this seems to work a lot better for my natural way of processing things.

I had to complete an artist statement for a program I'm applying to, and it's one of the most frustrating things I've ever done. Granted, I only suffered for a few days (or, to be more precise, procrastinated for 5 days and suffered a sleepless night), but it's still a pain in the ass to more or less justify your existence as an artist in 500 words or so.

Yes, yes, it's a great exercise and all - but damn! As I said in the comments of Kari's blog:
If I knew exactly what I wanted to say with my work and why, I would just, y’know, say it instead of wrestling with a script. Not to mention, I don’t like forcing myself or my work into a box that may or may not fit where I am at any particular time. Don’t get me wrong; I think a certain amount of reflection can really help give you greater clarity about what you’re really trying to do with your current piece. But trying to squeeze your past, present, and future work into a one-page summary seems, to me, rather reductive by default.

In a weird sort of way, artistic statements force you to talk about your artistic growth in a way that almost stunts your growth. Talking about a play – or even a playwright – as though it’s a fixed, immutable concept rather than a dynamic interplay of overlapping processes seems contradictory to the very things that we enjoy about theatre.
Yet at the same time (here's that diunital logic thing I talked about earlier), writing an artistic statement in and of itself, free from the pressure of proving your worth, has been a great help on gaining more insight into what makes me and my work unique. It's forced me to think about how I relate to my work and the things this relationship to my work compels me to do.

It's also a great way to communicate with future collaborators who are (to my knowledge) not telepathic so may not know what aspects of my work are most essential to my purpose and process as an artist. It reminds me of this TED Talk by Simon Sinek (Start with Why):




While the original context of Sinek's TED Talk was business and leadership, the general idea translates beautiful to endeavors driven by ideas and people.

As I think about it, I suppose my ambivalence about artist statements is not the statement itself but the reason why we often wind up writing them. As a tool that simply communicates who we are as artists, they're a priceless resource. There are few artists I know who would not respond well to an invitation to share things about their work that are not always immediately apparent. And by invitation to share I don't mean putting us on the spot or demanding us to justify certain artistic choices. No, no, hell no. But the opportunity to share a bit of where some of the stuff we create comes from can be a refreshing change of pace from critiques and reviews.

Yet most of the time, this is not what we're asked to do with artist statements. Rather, it's not all we're asked to do. The thing we're really being asked to do (and we writers know this) is convince the people who will be selecting us for their programs or our works for their productions that we are Good Enough. Y'know, that old selling yourself thing. Hey, I know and appreciate artists who get their hustle on. But I wonder if, by making so much of this process about marketing and publicity, we're losing touch with something more vital.

What do you think?

July 22, 2011

Theatre as community organizing and entrepreneurship

Over at Parabasis, 99 Seats is discussing dynamic ticketing in theatre. While the discussion about this particular topic is interesting, I'm more intrigued by how it (once again) reveals the tension between for-profit and non-profit models for creating revenue in theatre. Or rather, the tension between the desire to create theatre that is accessible to everyone with the reality that creating theatre is really fucking expensive.


The value of theatre is most often described in its social impact - it's power to awaken, to inspire, to educate, to explore, to connect, to delight, etc. Yet, ironically, butts in seats determines a great deal about how most institutions function.


And now for a detour that's not really a detour.

I'm a member of the Anti-Racist Alliance women of color group, which I came to through the undoing racism workshop by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond. At our last meeting, I expressed my growing restlessness when it comes to social justice. While dialogue is crucial, and I enjoy talking to people who really want to learn, this is no longer sufficient for my growth as an artist-activist. When the other women of color heard this, one of them said, "You're becoming an organizer," to which several others nodded or said, "Yup."


This shift in focus and effort is beginning to influence every aspect of my life, from how I want to earn a living to the kind of work I want to do to the kinds of conversations I want to have. This is not a dismissal of the discussion, but a desire to transform ideas into action. While it can be stimulating to once again wrestle with these perennial issues, the debating, explaining, and analyzing seems to be a distraction from the real question: How do we get out of this mess?

For a certain cantankerous professor (said with love), the answer is geographic decentralization. For others, it might be thinking outside the black box for performance spaces. Personally, I'm attracted to exploring the link between theatre and social entrepreneurship and/or lifestyle entrepreneurship. How can we change the way we make theatre so that it does what we believe it's best for while giving us a sustainable lifestyle that allows us to follow our passion? How can we organize differently so that we have an abundance of theatre's essentials (people, time, and space)?

For example, WOW Cafe Theatre does not operate as a production company, but as a collective of different artists and individuals who gather and create work in a particular space for the purpose of empowering women through the performing arts. As a result of the way they organize and how they used their resources, WOW is able to make creating theatre a hell of a lot more accessible than any theatre organization I've ever come across. The weird thing is that I've seen no other group like it in NYC. Where are the other places that do things differently? What can we start doing today to change things?

June 27, 2011

Now that it's over: reflections on "Tulpa, or Anne&Me" at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity

Now that Tulpa, or Anne&Me is officially through with its run at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, I can reflect on some of the things we did that went well and those that could have gone a lot better.

I'm hugely indebted to Little Jimmy's Guide to Self-Producing. As a result of the things I learned there, I was able to do 2 things I consider very important for every production: 1) pay everyone a little something and 2) stay under budget. Of course, as a playwright, the audience response and the artistic collaboration were the most satisfying aspects of producing Tulpa, or Anne&Me for the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. But as a producer, staying under budget and paying people were my most crucial tasks.


Looking back on it, I'd say that my function as a producer is to create a framework under which the creative team can do its best work despite limitations in time, budget, and personnel. This suits me to a T because my mind works in a strongly systemic way, and producing is basically creating and managing a system. I'm a classic Meyers-Briggs INTJ, so I flourish in a role like this.

That being said, although I enjoyed producing Tulpa, or Anne&Me for the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, there are some things I'd do differently if I knew ahead of time that I'd be doing it. The main thing, though . . .

Get the people first.

Although the nature of our project changed from a staged reading to a production, in retrospect we should have started looking for our cast and crew as soon as we got the news that we were accepted into the festival. On the one hand, we didn't want to put too many resources into a staged reading, but we should have treated a production as a likelihood instead of as a distant possibility. This would have made things like booking rehearsal space a lot easier as well as given us more time to work with design elements.

Everything turned out great for the festival; we were very lucky in that regard. The next time around (especially knowing what we're going to be doing), we have to be more diligent about this part of the process.

Besides mounting the production itself, getting the cast and crew involved at the very beginning of a production makes it much easier to do things like fundraising and audience building. It's easier for 10 people to raise $2,500 than it is for 2 people to raise $2,000. It's easier to ask 10 people to each convince 5 people to see the show than it is to get 1 person to get 50 people to come see a show.


And while we're at it . . .

Take the time to learn about and accommodate how people work.

Unless you are working with people who are just like you, there are going to be differences in the way everyone works. Part of working well with others is learning how to speak their language so that they can get what you're saying with a minimum of static.

For instance, in an early rehearsal, one of the actors mentioned that she's a highly auditory learner. That was such a revelation. It opened up a whole new way of relating to her and understanding how she sees the world. Yet how long would it have gone ignored had she not brought it up? How often do we overlook the ways we can better communicate with people? How often do we think to say, "This is what I need to do my best work?"

June 2, 2011

Breaking legs and such

If all goes well, you won't be hearing from me for a few weeks because me and everyone working on Tulpa, or Anne&Me will be in the hospital for breaking legs.

If you haven't done so already, get your tickets and let me know when I'll see you there so I can say hi and be all social and stuff.

UPDATE: Due to changes happening with another show at the festivity, the June 16 performance will start at 8:30pm instead of 8pm. All other info stays the same.

May 26, 2011

To Do, To Watch, To Go

Looks like June's going to be a busy month. Lots to do, watch, and go to.

I'm going to do my best to see Flux Theatre Ensemble's Ajax in Iraq as well as BOTH of Nosedive's works:  Captain Moonbeam & Lynchpin/Savior and Freaks from the Morgue. I could do worse with my money (like see some summer blockbuster film that I know will be terrible *cough*Green Lantern*cough*).

In the meantime, Mom will be coming to NYC with my uncle and her friend. We're going to the Bronx Zoo. Shut up.

May 23, 2011

I have to say this because I can't not say it anymore

Someone said something to me about That Conversation that really clicked. It was one of those moments when I see something I experience and realize that what happens is not my fault. To paraphrase, that person said, "You know how no matter what you say White people always think you're yelling at them?"

As soon as I heard that, a huge fog about many things I've been stewing on suddenly lifted, and something very important became clear: I am not the problem.

I usually keep things like this to myself (although recently I've been trying to break out of that habit), but with the show coming up and many of the things I've been involved with this week, as well as things that have happened to me and are going on in the world today, staying silent is self-destructive.

There's this pattern of behavior I notice in White men that really has to stop. It goes like this:

  • I say something critiquing or poking fun at White privilege, male privilege, and/or straight privilege.
  • White man decides that I'm hostile and angry and personally attacking him - as though he knows me and my thoughts/feelings/beliefs better than I do. And certainly those feelings matter less than his own because Black women are (to coin a phrase) "rhino-hided she-beasts" until proven otherwise.
  • White man decides to verbally put me in my place by attacking my intelligence, my sanity, or my morality - as though I must be stupid/crazy/evil to say what I say. They have learned the lesson very well - Black women are intellectually and morally inferior.
  • I shut up and keep my pain to myself because it's no use talking to the person who does this. I've been trained very well and know that I am supposed to remain silent in the face of White/male anger and disapproval.
  • The person who does this walks away with no clue how fucked up this whole thing is. They too have been trained very well and know that there's no point listening to that Angry Militant Black Bitch about anything.
I'd just like to say, to make it clear:

STOP FUCKING DOING THIS!

It's racist and sexist. I tried not taking it personally. I tried giving it the benefit of the doubt. But you know what? It is personal, and there is no defending or excusing it. I don't care who are, who you vote for, who you're friends with, who you work for, who you studied, or who you're fucking - this behavior is racist and sexist. And if you see this happening and you sit by and watch and not say or do anything, you may as well be agreeing with it.

I am not Mammy. I am not Sapphire. I am not Jezebel. Just because I'm not mothering or fucking you does not mean I'm trying to castrate you. For real, I have better things to do with my time than to deliberately go out of my way for the express purpose of making you feel bad. Will I sugarcoat my exasperation at your ignorance and apathy? No. You need to know what your shit does to people like me.

I tell you because I want to believe you're a decent person and that you care about not doing racist, sexist things. If you can't see that my telling you when you're fucking up is not about hating you, but about still having hope that you're a decent human being - then that's your shit, not mine. So stop putting your shit on me and acting like I'm the one stinking up the place.

To recap:

DON'T FUCKING DO THIS TO ME EVER AGAIN!

And tell me you're sorry if you have. Yeah, I know you don't think you did anything wrong, but it lets me know you're not a calloused asshole.

May 22, 2011

I drink the Tumblr Kool-Aid

I know, I know - joining the herd. But you gotta do what you gotta do to get butts in seats (and find a way to make yourself useful).

Check out the Tumblr for Tulpa, or Anne&Me at http://tulpatheplay.tumblr.com. There's already all kinds of good stuff there, like:

Tulpa, or Anne&Me will be playing at the Robert Moss Theater (440 Studios) on June 2 at 6pm, June 3 at 4pm, June 16 at 8pm, and June 19 at 8:15pm.


You can buy your tickets now by going to https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/822145.

Each show will be followed by a brief post-show discussion. Please come, watch, and share.

If you can’t make it to the show, consider supporting Tulpa by donating the price of a ticket to Crossroads Theatre Project by visiting https://www.fracturedatlas.org/donate/3503 or clicking the Fractured Atlas button below:

Support "Tulpa, or Anne&Me" by clicking this button and contributing the cost of one ticket.

May 14, 2011

QBWL poiesis: queer space and black space

I've been away from this project for a while, namely because I haven't had much time (for reasons you know very well from reading this blog). The other reason is that I simply hadn't been doing enough theatre to remark on it. But now that I'm in practicing mode, I can talk about it more freely.

It's been a few months, so let me recap. The "poiesis" label has all the relevant posts, but for the scroll-phobic, here's an overview. Feel free to refer to them and to force me to focus on what I meant to do. It's really easy for me to get trapped in theory when I'm trying to create a guide for practice.

"Big projects for 2011" outlines the gist of what my queer Black womanist liberation poiesis is about and what I'm trying to do with it.

"Why should you give a shit what queer Black women have to say?" is basically me trying to justify my efforts.

"Why queer Black womanist liberation poiesis matters to straight White guys doing theatre" looks at the benefits for even it's "natural enemies." Scarequotes on purpose because, despite what some people seem to believe, it's not about the Scary Black Dykes coming to cut off White men's penises.

"Dog Act and the power of naming" gets into identifying voice as the primary element of QWBL theatre by using Flux Theatre Ensemble's Dog Act as its case study.

"Voice, critique, and QBWL poiesis" springs off the Dog Act post to start looking at ways to critically engage with a piece without relying on the concept of picking apart what is good and bad about a piece.


"QBWL poiesis and Buber's I and Thou" explores how QBWL poiesis can be a powerful way of practicing the I-You relationship, which is incapable of domination, objectification, or dehumanization.

With those posts in mind, let me get into the next thing I wanted to explore.

A lot about this QBWL poiesis is about how we position ourselves and others in our own narratives. As such, space becomes another vital concept. While in previous posts I tended to lump that into voice, I now think that is an error. Looking back on it, I'd characterize voice as the What and space as the Where/When. Naturally, this is not set in stone. This framework is not about establishing rigid categories, but for the sake of understanding, a bit more precision is desirable.

This, in my mind, ties into the queerness of a QBWL poiesis. As suggested in this post, the main trait of queerness is how it occupies - or rather, embodies - a fluid space. It resists pre-defined positions and embraces paradox. It reveals the illusions of boundaries within and between Self-Other. When I talk about queering space or coming from a queer space, I'm talking about approaching understanding physical and conceptual structures this way.

Queering space is about naming and exploring boundaries. Where do the boundaries of a piece lie? Where are they transgressed? What maintains the boundaries? How are they crossed? How does that manifest? Who or what creates the boundaries? Why are they there in the first place?

The boundaries a queer space explores exist not only within a piece, but outside it as well. Part of what makes a piece like Tulpa, or Anne&Me so powerful for the people who've seen it is that it reflects and confronts the boundaries we carry with us outside the play.

In more particular terms, queer space also challenges what we've come to assume is true about gender and sexuality. It's not just who we are and what we like, but how we are and/or like those things.

Yet, while a QBWL poiesis stands firmly in a queer space (inasmuch as anything queer can be fixed), it is also a Black space.

Here it might be useful to explain - at least insofar as I am able - the associations I make with Blackness. For me, Blackness is not just a color or culture. It is a sense of the center of things. It's about our origins, the source from which we emerge and express. It's the fertile soil that gives birth to us. When I talk about a Black space, I mean understanding from a sense of where we come from.

As part of the Where We Come From, this poiesis is rooted in the African diaspora experience. As such, it operates on diunital cognition (both-and) rather than dichotomous cognition (either-or). The direction is parallel, rather than perpendicular or hierarchical. Naturally, the reality is more nuanced and complex than this definition, but I will say that this difference in ways of thinking is, in my experience, very real and often a source of conflict when that difference is not named or acknowledged.

Of course, there is also a feminine space, but I haven't given it as much thought, so I can't talk about how it fits at the moment. My intuition is that feminine space is related to how we create the space itself, but that's neither here nor there right now.

Let's give this framework a shape. A circle is rather fitting. Queerness would be the ever-shifting circumference, and Blackness would be the point at the center.

A more accurate visualization would be a sphere with a core of dark matter emanating colors that shift amorphously in all directions. In two-dimensional terms, however, picture it as a circle with a dark point at the center, with various colors and shades occupying the space in between.

May 12, 2011

"I just . . . do things!"

Over at the Greener Room, I talk about paperless marketing for Tulpa, or Anne&Me. Although the word count limit didn't let me get into much detail, I think it's worth starting a discussion about asking questions about why we just . . . do some things.

This ties in neatly with the discussion happening at #2amt, we're talking about empowering people to bring innovative ideas and approaches to doing things. Of course, many of us may see the irony in that, since as theatre artists so much of what we do is about pushing artistic boundaries and challenging assumptions about what good theatre is. Nevertheless, when it comes to everything else we do in theatre, we often fall back on habitual ways of doing things - even if those ways simply don't work for us (here I'm imagining Adam Thurman sagely nodding his head and saying, "Exactly.").

Rather than agonizing over ways to convince other theatre artists that a different approach is worth doing, I think it's a lot more interesting and productive to encourage each other to ask questions. Not in a "We must get to the bottom of this!" sort of way but a "What's going on?" sort of way. TCG is doing that with their "What if . . . ?"

But we can also do that on our own and ask our own questions. For example: When we're putting on a show, what are some things we just . . . do? What would happen if we simply didn't . . . do? What would we be doing instead if we didn't or couldn't . . . do?

May 4, 2011

Come see "Tulpa, or Anne&Me" at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity


Image designed by Chris Tyler

Just in case you forgot (not like I think you would), here's some info for the upcoming production of Tulpa, or Anne&Me at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. Tickets are on sale now and are only $18.

We're at the Robert Moss Theater (440 Lafayette Street, Manhattan - right off the 6 train at Astor Place) on June 2 at 6pm, June 3 at 4pm, June 16 at 8pm, and June 19 at 8:15pm. The shows on June 2, 3, and 16 will have a post-show discussion.

CAST
[Name]: Starr Kirkland
Anne: Rachel Lambert
Guardian Angel of Blackness #1: Mia Y. Anderson
Guardian Angel of Blackness #2: Ayo Cummings

CREW
Assistant Director: Alexa Gruber

Set and Lights: Lauren Bremen
Marketing and Publicity: Chris Tyler
Video: Brianne Mueller and Phil Kegley

SPECIAL MENTION
The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond for the moral and practical support.

Ubiquitous Roots Productions for the space.


WHILE YOU'RE AT IT
I really want to check out Disenchanted and White House Wives: Operation Lysistrata. Anybody else gonna be there?

And follow the main character of Tulpa, or Anne&Me on Twitter! She's Afrodyke!

BTW, pass around the e-card to a friend (or ten).

May 3, 2011

reflections on narrative

(SCENE: Cyberspace. Electricity flashes like many strobelights, as do many electronic images.)

Enter SELF #1. Devo's "Smart Patrol" starts playing. SELF #1 lip-synchs while playing air guitar and dancing like a jerk.

Enter SELF #2 pushing a baby doll in a stroller. She tries to feed it baby food.

SELF #2: C'mon, sweetheart, eat your spinach.

SELF #1: (singing) Understands my potato . . .

Enter SELF #3 wearing a trench coat. She squats on the stage and relieves herself.

SELF #2 keeps trying to feed the doll and gets baby food all over the doll's face.

SELF #2: What's wrong, honey? Why won't you eat your spinach?

SELF #3: I hate you all!

SELF #1: (singing) Looking for the real tomato . . .

SELF #3 pulls out a really big gun and shoots the audience.

SELF #2 forcefully shoves spoonfuls of baby food onto the doll's face.

SELF #2: I said eat it, damnit! Stupid fucking thing! I should've left you where I found you!

She rips the baby doll from the stroller and hurls it into the audience.

SELF #1: (singing) We shot the balls in the hole . . .

Enter SELF #4.

SELF #4: What were you expecting? A story? A narrative? A plot line? Such primitive tools are crutches for the feeble. Cast yourself into the sea of non-sequitur. Liberate yourself from all desire to make any sense. (singing to Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime") You may ask yourself well how did I get here?

SELF #1 plays the hell out of that guitar solo with her air guitar.

SELF #4: (singing) You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house? You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to? You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong? You may ask yourself, my God what have I done?

SELF #1 hits SELF #4 in the head with the guitar.

SELF #4: (singing) Same as it ever was same as it ever was same as it ever was same as it ever was. Same as it ever was same as it ever was same as it ever was same as it ever was.

SELF #4 dies.

SELF #1: What is my motivation?

SELF #1 takes a bow. Exit SELF #1.

May 2, 2011

Watch this video - Gay in America: Color Lines Across Rainbow Skies

Xem Van Adams' Gay in America: Color Lines Across Rainbow Skies explores ethnic and racial divides in the LGBTQ community. It's a look at queerness that rarely get highlighted in mainstream media when it comes to LGBTQ people (who are always assumed to be affluent and White).

I love the emphasis on personal stories and reflections as opposed to a more academic or journalistic style. It humanizes the issues in ways that a more "objective" approach cannot.







May 1, 2011

on privilege in social justice circles

We have heard entirely too much from men about women and gender, from whites about people of color, from heterosexuals about lesbians and gays and sexual preference, and from economically over-privileged people about workers and the poor. Claiming to be able to adopt the critical persona of the Other in the name of her emancipation is unlikely to earn one the applause of the Other.
Sandra Harding, "Reinventing Ourselves as Other" (American Feminist Thought at Century's End: A Reader)

April 29, 2011

Do you Tweet? Follow [Name]

[Name], the main character of the play, Tulpa, or Anne&Me, is tweeting as Afrodyke. Talk about life imitating art. Follow her for conversation about movies, comics, books, and other nerdy interests.

April 27, 2011

LGBTQ erasure and the hunt for the elusive Good Black Man (TM)

I don't normally talk about the intersections of race and sexuality that much. It's not for lack of awareness, but all too often, the commentary I make can be abused by people who don't know and/or don't care about the broader context. There are people who have a vested interest in seeing Black people as uniquely sexist, misogynist, and homophobic and would take what I say as ammunition to fire that charge. Being that I am Black and woman and queer, I would be less than thrilled if such a thing were to come about.

Cyberstalking trolls take note.

That said, I'd like to address a really persistent meme that keeps going around about Black women and what we want out of life. It goes like this: every Black woman is desperately searching for Good Black Man (TM) to make her life complete. Everything she is and everything she does is made to snag such a rare and elusive creature. He must (among other things):
  • make good money
  • have good looks
  • be Christian
  • have no Baby Mama Drama
  • love his mother without clinging to her
  • be straight
I'm not knocking anyone for having standards about what they're looking for in a life partner. But there's a stark difference between an individual sharing their desires and the sort of stuff that gets shoved at people as being important to the lives of all Black women. There's nothing wrong with straight Black women who want to start families with straight Black men who share their values and don't come with a lot of extraneous baggage. But when that's the only story that gets circulated? Then we have a problem.

In the case of the hunt for the rare and elusive Good Black Man (TM), it's a problem because the assumptions involved in that conversation cut out pretty much every Black person who is not cisgender and heterosexual. Oh, it's never as blatant as "no homos allowed," but not formally excluding Black LGBTQs is not the same as including Black LGBTQs. Saying, "I don't have a problem with the gay lifestyle" is not the same as inviting us into your space. There's a huge difference between a lack of overt hostility and the presence of welcoming.

Heteronormative assumptions about Black relationships used to not bother me. I used to take the attitude that the conversation was by and for straight Black people, and I didn't begrudge them that. Now it's starting to get to me, and I'm just starting to figure out why.

For a long time I couldn't articulate what irked me so much about it. Reflecting on experiences and conversations I've had about this, it's not merely the erasure of queerness. It's the fact that in order to contribute in these conversations - at least around straight people - I need to mute or dilute my queerness. I have to pretend that my queerness is ultimately a different flavor of heterosexuality. Unfortunately, that's not how I experience it.

Queerness is not just about who we want to fuck. It's also about the visceral relationship we have to gender and the nuances of how attraction and affection work for us while single or in a relationship. I am always queer no matter who I'm with or who I like. Even if I were to settle down with a man, I am still queer because I would relate to him as a man differently from the way straight women relate to men.

How can we have that Gotta Find A Good Black Man (TM) conversation in a way that's queer-inclusive? I honestly don't know. Maybe it starts with broadening our ideas about the relationships we can have with Black men. How about we stop focusing exclusively on romance? Think beyond boyfriends and husbands. What about Black men as fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, mentors, muses, students, peers, and (gasp!) friends?

April 12, 2011

Why I call myself queer

I don't often talk about my sexuality in great detail on my blog. It's not because I'm a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm intensely private about that aspect of myself, at least online. Like many women, I'm reluctant to say too much for fear of attracting the wrong kind of attention. And, to be blunt, my sexuality is one of those areas where I have zero patience or tolerance for other people's ignorant bullshit.

Labels, for instance.

I say queer because that's easier than saying, "I don't want to deal with your pre-/mis- conceptions about who I can fall in love/like/lust with and how that happens for me."

When I saw the Big Reveal in The Crying Game, I didn't get what the big deal was. In fact, I felt bad for Dill because of how Fergus reacted. In fact, I realized I was queer when I realized that a Crying Game moment would not be a dealbreaker in my attraction to someone.

My sexuality does not fit into neat little categories and patterns. I am not gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Pansexual/omnisexual don't fit either, and if bisexuals get a bad rap - well, at least people assume bisexuals are limited to humans. And if I never have to deal with, "Would you sleep with [random person/animal/inanimate object]?" followed by (when I say, "No." or "I don't know."), "But I thought you liked everything." Cue me explaining - again - that I cannot determine who I can love/like/lust based on gender alone. I won't even get into the conversation about pansexal and polyamorous not being the same thing.

So, I call myself queer. Because I don't want to fucking explain. And get this: I don't have to explain. Know why? Because whatever gender and sexuality hangups you have - that's your bullshit. It's only a problem for me because you can't keep it to yourself, which makes life difficult for me.

Seriously, why do you need to know? You want to have sex with me? You know someone I could hook up with? Are you insecure about your relationship to your partner and want to make sure I don't use my African Voodoo Pussy to steal them from you? Is there a Nice Jewish Boy/Girl/Noneoftheabove I should meet because you know we'd rock each other's worlds? No? Then why the fuck is any of this anybody's goddamn business? Again, refer to, "I don't want to deal with deconstructing your bullshit ideas about who I can love/like/fuck."

So, that's why I just say queer.

April 11, 2011

I'M SPEAKING IN ALL CAPS IN MY BRAIN!!!

You know when I told you all about Tulpa, or Anne&Me getting a staged reading at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity?

Fate just turned me into a liar. And that's a good thing!

Over the weekend, my co-producer Sara and I found out that Planet Connections has full performance slots available to us. Read that again. Instead of a staged reading, we're moving up to an actual production. The reason why I'm telling you now is because Sara had to sleep on it, and I had to make sure I was awake. You ever have something so big happen to you so quickly that you don't know how to feel about it? That's where I am right now.

As you read on the Flux blog (You do read the Flux blog, right?) and saw on our IndieGoGo campaign, Tulpa is really doing something new both artistically and politically, so we're eager to bring it to life.

But a production also means that we need more money to pay for stuff like a stage manager, designers, tech people, rehearsal space, and set/props and such. We estimate a total cost of about $2,500 to make this production happen, as opposed to the $1,000 necessary for the staged reading.  With an opening performance set for the first week of June, we don't have a lot of time to put that together.

There are 5 days still left on our IndieGoGo campaign, and there is no limit to the amount we can raise.  We set a new goal to raise an additional $1,000 by this Friday to make the production of Tulpa a reality.  It sounds like a lot, but if only 40 people donate just $25, we'll reach our goal. I get that money is tight, but every little bit you do means a whole lot- even if it's just telling a friend (or ten), posting about Tulpa on your blog, or linking to our IndieGoGo campaign via Twitter, Facebook, or what have you. Yes, yes, I know there's a lot of bold in this paragraph, but I can't emphasize this enough.

Dates, times, and venue for the performance TBA.
 
I can't wait to show you what we can do.


Thanks for your support everyone! This is way beyond what I dared to hope!

April 3, 2011

Tulpa is ALMOST there thanks to YOU!

Everything you've done so far - big favors or small acts of kindness - is the reason why Tulpa, or Anne&Me has come this far. No matter what your role is in this project - artist, audience member, moral support or just a little help in the background - everything you do means a lot. I really appreciate everyone who's had a hand (or finger or toe) in making Tulpa possible.

Because of you, we have less than $150 to go! That's only 6 people donating just $25 each!

If Tulpa, or Anne&Me has touched your life in any way, please let people know by:
  • forwarding this e-mail to friends you think would be interested
  • connecting to RVCBard on Twitter
  • sending your ideas for the next phase of Tulpa, or Anne&Me
  • leaving comments on this blog or at Ars Marginal
  • telling a friend (or 10) about this crazy play you heard about/acted in/directed/contributed to
  • pitching a story or project related to Tulpa, or Anne&Me so we can get the word out
  • coming to the FUNraiser on April 9 so you can meet everyone and have a good time
Working on Tulpa, or Anne&Me has taught me something very important: to challenge my expectations. Most of the people contributing to Tulpa, or Anne&Me have not been artists or activists or academics, but regular people who've read the script or checked out Tulpa's IndieGoGo campaign and said, "Yes, this is what I need to see," or "Finally! Someone who's talking about this like a real person and not a pundit," or "Thank God! Someone understands!"

It cuts across age, income, and race. It gives me a lot of hope to see that the greatest hope for real change comes from everyday people like you.

I appreciate that, and I mean it.

ETA: WE DID IT!!!

March 27, 2011

Gus Schulenburg is awesome (and you can too!)

Gus Schulenburg of Flux Theatre Ensemble made a post about Tulpa, or Anne&Me that reminds me why I love having him in my audience. While good reviews and full houses are great, what really excited me as a writer are the responses of thoughtful, engaged audience members - even if it's an audience of one. C'mon, look at this!

Tulpa, or Anne & Me suggests that we often see tulpas – creations of [our] own unconscious fears and desires - instead of the real flesh and blood human beings in front of us. To exorcise those spirits, we must be willing to really listen, take full ownership of our actions, and not turn away when we dig up the mandrakes of our souls.

That goes way beyond the thumbs up/thumbs down type of thing that so often passes for theatre criticism (which often read like consumer reports). Read the whole thing here.

March 21, 2011

"Tulpa" needs YOU!

A while back, I announced that Tulpa, or Anne&Me is getting a staged reading at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity this June.

I'm really grateful for everyone who's stuck by me through Tulpa's journey to this amazing opportunity. Your support has played a big part in keeping me focused and giving me the courage to move forward with this quirky little play. But to make this worthwhile, we need help.

We're trying to raise $1,000 for the event in order to cover the costs of production - the biggest one being rehearsal space and paying the artists a small stipend. Check out our IndieGoGo campaign for a better idea of what we're doing and why this stage is so important.

I did the math on this, and it's very doable. If we can get just 50 people to contribute only $20, we can meet our goal. All I'm asking is that if you can spare it, I'd really appreciate it (and you'll get a thanks from me). And if there is just one other person - just one person - you know who'd be willing to support Tulpa, or Anne&Me, please spread the word and let them know about it. It might not look or sound like much, but it does add up.

Thank you so much for being with me through all this. I really owe you one, and I'm going to do my damndest to pay you back.

we toot our horns, but only indoors (on networking as a minority theatre artist)

I am the token black guy. I'm just supposed to smile and stay out of the conversation and say things like: "Damn," "Shit," and "That is whack."
Mariah MacCarthy has an awesome blog post about networking for playwrights. In the comments, I raised the issue of discomfort with self-promotion as a result of a sensibility I've been trained to acquire.

I need to explain that a bit more thoroughly and shed some light on ways to counteract that so that future attempts to include women, people of color, LGBTQ people, etc. don't fall flat when initiated by organizations that aren't specifically by and for us.

If you're a minority (of any kind), when you speak up, when you're passionate, when you're uncompromising about what matters to you, people don't see you as someone who cares deeply about something that matters. They don't see you as a change agent. They see you as uppity, strident, or a bitch. When you express yourself, you're not speaking truth to power; you're whining. You just have an ax to grind or a chip on your shoulder. If you're lucky, you only have to deal with social rejection from one person. If you're unlucky, you put your livelihood at stake. Who wants to take that chance every time they interact with someone?

The messed up thing is that it doesn't happen only when social justice issues get raised. Even being too forthright in mundane conversations elicits this response. If you talk too often or for too long, it can elicit this response. If you interrupt someone to make a point (even if it's warranted), it can elicit this response. So there are all these complex signals you have to make note of before you add your piece to things.

So what happens is that you learn to become hypervigilant about when, where, and how you speak - as well as to whom and what you say. You learn to listen for signs of safety and the invitation to share. I don't mean a simple gap of silence in a conversation so you can just add your two cents. I'm talking about a hint that they really want to hear what you have to say. It's a lot easier to navigate in person, but there are ways to do it online too. Nick Keenan, Adam Thurman, and Adam Szymkowicz have all done something I found really interesting when the discussion was women in the theatrosphere. They told us that they wanted to hear from us, and they let us speak. Keep that in mind because it's very important.

So, networking. I don't know about you, but one of the things I've learned about NYC is that if you want to find people, you have to go where they are. If you're looking to make more connections to women playwrights, playwrights of color, LGBTQ playwrights, and so on, you have to come to where we are. We're not hiding, but we are going to places where they make a space for us. As Nick, Adam, and Adam show, sometimes making that space is as simple as saying, "We want to hear from you."

Of course, I don't mean regurgitating insincere corporatespeak where they put the EEOC disclaimer on a job ad or say the word "diversity" on their website while not having that reflected in the corporate leadership or the corporate culture. In fact, I'm always deeply impressed when someone has the courage to admit, "We've noticed that we're not connected to many playwrights who are [whatever]. How can we improve? This is really important to us, so we really want to hear from you." A very important caveat: the "you" I mention here is not an organization, but individual playwrights.

Thus, our reluctance to toot our own horns is not for lack of something to say, but because every time we play our trumpet outside the neighbors about us disturbing the peace (or even call the cops). Invite us indoors, and we'll play your fucking ears off.