December 1, 2012

I write for fandom

This post about Geek Theater made it to Flux Theatre Ensemble's Facebook Wall, so naturally I gave it a read because any excuse to read about magic and dragons and elves and shit like that is something I'll take up without a second thought.

Then it got me thinking about the kind of audience I want. Who are the people I would love to jam-pack a performance of Encanta or Tulpa, or Anne&Me?

In a word: fandom.

No, I don't mean people who do nothing but sing my praises to the high heavens and petition me with prayers for my next theatrical "baby." That would be nice, though.

The people I want to support my work are not passive consumers, nor are they patrons of THE MOST NOBLE ART OF THEATRE. They are people who actively and passionately engage with what they see, no matter how silly it may seem to some. They are more likely to show their love by writing fanfic about my stuff than a glowing review. They would rather dress up like one of my characters for a cosplay event than get dolled up for an awards ceremony. They would talk at length about the parallels between a character I create and another one in a fandom I may or may not be part of. The lit crit-minded among them would ask meaty questions of the work and start discussions with one another on Tumblr and/or Twitter. The socially conscious among them will open up discussions about things like race, gender, and sexuality.

The people who would be connected to my work won't do so because of theatre per se, but because it connects to other geeky interests like anime, comic books, sci-fi and fantasy literature, and so on. My most recent work, Encanta, is actually a sort of love letter to The Evil Queen/Regina Mills, Lana Parrilla, Evil Regals, and Swan Queen shippers who love ABC's Once Upon A Time but still have things they wish the show would do. I make no bones about the fact that Encanta is Swan Queen AU fanfic. The people I want most in my audience would love this about that piece.

It's not about how much they would love me. Though, again, that would be nice. It's more about how my work would give them a space to express things about themselves that they can't in ordinary life because it looks weird or silly. I want my work to give people a way to reveal experiences and perspectives that don't often have a place to get talked about. A lot of times those experiences and perspectives come from, marginalized people and communities.

For instance, quite a few people have come to understand the things I've been saying for years about race, gender, and sexuality through my meta posts about Once Upon A Time. It's not like I'm saying anything different. As a matter of fact, I pull my punches even less frequently in those posts than I do in other places. But so many more people came forward with their own stories and their own experiences as a result of that effort. Come to think of it, the same happened with Tulpa, or Anne&Me. So many people talked about how the ways they connected to a character and/or the story. I like to think that's done a lot of good.

The thing about fandom is that the people in various fandoms are already primed to participate. All they need is a hook, a connection to something they already know and love. They don't have to be convinced to creatively and critically engage with a particular work. They already do that. All I have to do is let them.

November 14, 2012

Statistics and power analysis for indie theatre

One of the most important tools when it comes to anti-racist organizing is a power analysis. In plain English, a power analysis help us figure out who's really calling the shots in an institution or system.

In Understanding and Dismantling Racism, Joseph Barndt explains that there are five levels of an institution.
  1. Personnel: people who work or volunteer for the institution; people who are authorized to speak, act, and implement programs in the institution's name; people who act as gatekeepers for the constituency and the general public
  2. Programs, products, and services: what an institution provides for its constituency (food, clothing, technical services, entertainment, worship services, etc.); designed to attract, nurture, and retain members or customers or clients
  3. Constituency and community: people served by an institution; people who belong to or patronize an institution; people for whom decisions and actions of the institution are taken
  4. Organizational structure: where the power of the institution is (board of directors, managers, etc.); where decisions are made, budgets are decided, people are hired and fired, programs are approved, boundaries are set, etc.; where structures of structures of accountability are designed and implemented
  5. Mission, purpose, and identity: what an institution is for and why it exists; defined by constitution, by-laws, mission statement, belief system, worldview, history, and tradition
*Note: If you can't go to an Undoing Racism workshop, you should really pick up this book and read every word.

Most of our efforts at inclusion and diversity focus on the top three layers while the bottom two rarely get any attention. The bottom two are also the hardest to change. This explains why, despite the reality of an increasingly diverse population of artists and audiences, we still see a theatrical landscape dominated by white people, men, and middle- to upper-class people. If we're serious about changing this reality, we have to take a look at what's going on at the deeper levels of an institution.

But the first step is getting a picture of what's going on.

Gwydion Suilebhan has a very interesting statistical breakdown of this year's DC playwrights demographics. I really like this sort of thing because it starkly reveals exactly what we're dealing with. Regardless of our intentions or our efforts, it doesn't change the fact that only 4% of playwrights getting produced in DC are women of color.

That post got me thinking about how to figure out where women and people of color fit into the organizational structure of the indie theatre scene. How many women and people of color are reflected in each level of an organization? My prediction is that there will be a very noticeable difference between representation in the top three layers and representation in the bottom two layers.

Whatever the results, I know that it has nothing to do with outright discrimination or deliberate attempts to exclude women and people of color. What I think those numbers would reflect our deeply ingrained (and thus harder to change) assumptions about how women and people of color fit into our notions about power and leadership.

Doing an industry-wide statistical analysis is sort of beyond my ability. However, it would be interesting to hear from people making theatre right now who is represented in each layer of their organizations. So, in concrete terms, I'd like to know:
  1. How many people are in your organization? How many of those people are women? People of color? Women of color?
  2. How many personnel does your organization have? How many of those people are women? People of color? Women of color?
  3. How many people provide your organization's products, programs, and services? How many are women? People of color? Women of color?
  4. How many people are in your organization's constituency (members, subscribers, etc.)? How many are women? People of color? Women of color?
  5. How many people make decisions at the organizational and structural level? How many are women? People of color? Women of color?
  6. How many people make decisions about your organization's mission, purpose, and identity? How many are women? People of color? Women of color?
I'd like to hear from you about that.

November 13, 2012

7 tips for future collaborators

If you're reading this, it's most likely because: a) you read this blog regularly, and/or b) we're teaming up to create something together--a video, a blog post, a play, whatever.

At this point, I probably already have a good feeling about you. Trust me, that's a big step. You've already proven that you're not an asshole, a flake, or full of shit. Treat yourself if you got this far.

Now that we've cleared the deal-breakers, let's talk more about the sort of working relationship I want to have with you. With that in mind, let me give you a few tips on how to work well with me.

1. Good fences make good neighbors.

I'm very particular about boundaries--my own and someone else's. I hate feeling forced or coerced into doing something I don't want to do, and I certainly don't want to make other people feel forced or coerced into something. That's one reason why I'm not too good at sales. I take, "No, thank you" at face value. It's not a challenge to my skills of persuasion. It's a clue to back off.

2. Getting what you want is as simple as asking, but once you make demands, forget it.

"Could you do me a favor?" is the best way to ask me to do something. If it's something that doesn't make me deeply uncomfortable or spreads me too thin, I'll more than likely do it. If it really helps you, I'll even go way out of my way. But as soon as you start barking orders at me, I'll suddenly have a lot that I need to do before I can get to whatever it is you're asking me to do.

3. Spare me your feelings.

This probably sounds cold and harsh, but I've found that it's necessary for my peace of mind. Whatever we're working on is hard enough without having to navigate moods and emotions along with it. That doesn't mean that I'm going to make like the Gregory House and ignore or stomp on your feelings every chance I get. It does mean that the words "I feel" are not going to be a primary factor in how I make decisions when it comes to the work I do.

4. Don't borrow trouble.

Chances are we have enough to do that worrying about things we have no control over is a waste of time and energy. Feel free to work yourself into a frenzy, bite your nails, and pull your hair out way out of sight and out of hearing from me.

5. Focus on essentials.

I tend to mentally prioritize every decision I make into 3 categories: need to do, want to do, and would be nice to get around to doing. Aside from the way my mind naturally works, being broke has solidified the difference between need, want, and nice to have. Differentiating between these and putting the bulk of our time and energy into essentials works better than just doing whatever comes up just because it's there to be done.

6. Be easy to reach.

If I call, pick up your phone, even if to tell me, "I'm sorry. I can't talk right now. Call me back at [time]." If I e-mail you, let me know you got it even if to say, "I'll get back to you on [date and time]." I don't expect anyone to be available 24/7, and I'd hate it if people expected that of me. That said, at least give me an idea of when I can consistently reach you if we need to communicate.

7. Don't do me no favors.

I don't believe in committing to projects or relationships out of obligation. If you're going to work with me, do it because there's something in it for you that makes it worth the time and energy you'll put into it. Chances are it won't be the money or the fame. Whatever it is, make sure it's for you. Don't do it for me. Because the moment you say, "I'm doing this for nothing/so little/not enough!" I'm through with you. People who are dishonest or unclear about their motives are people I can't deal with. I want no working relationship that is revealed to be based false pretenses--or worse, a lie.

Of course, this is not the end-all, be-all of working with me. But it's a lot like what someone said about voting for Obama versus voting for Romney. Obama's not perfect, but you can have a conversation with him. The same principle applies here. Doing these things won't guarantee a perfectly smooth working relationship, but it will be something I can work with.

And that's all I'm really asking for.

November 1, 2012

You don't need to know why

Why did you write this?

Why Anne Hathaway?

Why does this character say that thing on page whatever?

As a playwright, I get a lot of "why" questions from actors and directors. I usually answer them because I know people are curious and want to understand where my work is coming from. Sometimes, though, it puts me in the position of explaining or defending my artistic choices rather than exploring or illuminating what's going on in the play I actually wrote.

Yet, in the rush to psychoanalyze me through my play, I often wonder if what gets lost are the things that transcend the psychoanalysis. Rather than expanding and enriching my creation, it shrinks it and dries it up. It makes it easy to dismiss the story and the characters as mere symptoms of my own neuroses as opposed to being reflections of a greater truth.

Here is the irony: in this drive to answer all questions except the most essential ones, you can actually undermine the truth of my work.

This is why I'm such a big fan of Practical Aesthetics. It takes the focus off of what's going on in my head and puts it where it belongs: making choices about what's happening on the page. What's happening right here, right now? What this character trying to do in this scene? What does it mean if they do or don't?

Everything else is either something I can't say, something I refuse to say, or something that doesn't need to be said.

I would love to be part of a process that allows me a chance to sit with the director and actors and use Practical Aesthetics to do a scene analysis of every scene in the script. That would be amazing. That would go further in creating a rich, textured performance of my play than any number of questions aimed at excavating all my secrets or summoning all my demons.

October 13, 2012

I'm writing again!

If you've been following me on Twitter and/or Facebook, you know that I'm writing a new play.

The working title was initially La Isla de la Hechicera, but now I'm calling it Encanta.

After the places that Tulpa, or Anne&Me took me, Encanta is a light-hearted, romantic change of pace that I completely welcome. I'm describing it as Kirikou and the Sorceress meets Moonstruck on the island from The Tempest.

I'm a good three-quarters of the way through with the "first" draft (which, in all actuality, is more like a second draft considering that I purged some 75 pages of material and started over not too long ago).

I'm particularly excited about this piece because it's a play that's all about the magic of love, lust, and romance that is nothing but LGBTQ people of color (Black/Latin@, to be precise). I'm really happy about this story breaking the mold for "acceptable" narratives for LGBTQ people and people of color. It's all about people who are being funny and silly and crazy and in love and using magic who just happen to be LGBTQ people of color.

Too often, we only get to suffer because it's "inspiring," and we only be funny when who we are is the butt of the joke.

Fuck that shit.

This is my bit of escapist fantasy, and I'm loving every minute of it.

October 6, 2012

Things I'm not debating or arguing about anymore

I’m not going to discuss these things anymore:

  • Whether or not racism exists
  • Whether or not people of color can be racist against White people
  • Whether people of color being prejudiced against White people is on par with White people’s prejudice against people of color
  • Whether or not sexism exists
  • Whether women can be sexist against men
  • Whether misandry is on par with misogyny
  • Whether or not homophobia exists
  • Whether or not LGBTQ people calling straight folks “breeders” is as bad as what straight people say and do to LGBTQ people
  • Whether trans women are women, trans men are men, or the existence of other genders
  • Whether or not transphobia exists
  • Whether or not “die cis scum” is as bad as what cis people say and do to trans people
  • Whether or not ableism exists
  • Whether or not classism exist
  • Anybody’s intent not to be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, etc.
  • Any information regurgitated from a dictionary or thesaurus
  • Anything involving flies, honey, or vinegar when discussing the ways people express their experiences with systemic oppression
  • Any variation of an opinion that states or implies that people on the receiving end of *-isms are crazy (disconnected from reality), stupid (incapable of analyzing their own experiences), or evil (motivated primarily by hate, anger, greed, etc.)

At this point, everything about these things that needs to be said has been said, and all arguments to the contrary are neither insightful, meaningful, correct, nor interesting.

So I’m not doing it anymore.

As for things I would talk about, here are a few:

  • How fucked up dynamics play out in individual lives
  • The ways that words, attitudes, beliefs, and actions act against play into fucked up dynamics despite our best intentions
  • How fucked up dynamics play into what we determine to be beautiful, true, and good
  • Ways we can challenge and subvert fucked up dynamics in our everyday lives
  • Resources for detoxing our minds and spirits from the poison we ingest without knowing it

That sort of shit right there? I can talk about that all day long. That's what I want to talk about all day long. I can get somewhere with those conversations. I can feed my soul with real talk about this sort of stuff.

And you know what's funny? None of these discussions requires anybody to have done any specialized study on these things. Just an awareness that there are things about many lives that we don't see because we don't have to and a willingness to learn more about what we don't understand. In cases where I have a privilege that others don't, I've been amazed at how patient and gracious people are with me when I simply listen and accept their truth as their truth instead of dismissing or denying it just because it doesn't mesh with what I think should be true about their lives.

Really, it's that fucking simple.

September 29, 2012

Dear Straight Ally

(When you check your mail, you find a sparkly rainbow envelope with balloons attached. It's from Gay Agenda and addressed to Straight Ally. What could it be? Is it an invitation to be a guest speaker at an HRC Gala? An offer to be on a panel for Straight Allies? A million dollars? As you open the neatly folded letter, you find a letter that reads as follows . . . )

Dear Straight Ally*,

After careful review, the Gay Agenda has decided the following traits no longer qualify an individual for Straight Ally status:

  • Having an LGBTQ friend/co-worker/relative
  • Not beating up an LGBTQ person
  • Refusing to use slurs referring to LGBTQ people
  • Supporting gay marriage or ENDA
  • Taking a course in queer studies
  • Using the appropriate gender pronoun for a trans* person
  • Any honors or endorsements received from Gay, Inc.

After much consideration, the Gay Agenda has determined that the above characteristics (except the classwork and endorsement by Gay, Inc.) meet the bare minimum criteria for Decent Human Being. Although we appreciate all the Decent Human Beings in our lives, for organizing purposes, we realize that simply being decent is not enough considering all the things affecting our community, particularly those of us who are not affluent, photogenic, cisgender White guys.

Fortunately, this doesn't mean your Straight Ally status is in jeopardy! There are a few other determining factors, including, but not limited to:

  • Demonstrating your commitment to unlearning your own internalized heterosexism/homophobia and cissexism/transphobia
  • Using your voice and your resources to uplift LGBTQ voices rather than talking over us
  • How mindful you are about the ways you participate in and benefit from LGBTQ oppression
  • Going beyond personal attitudes to challenge the institutions and structures that exploit, abuse, oppress, and erase LGBTQ people
  • Responding to critique by LGBTQ people not with defensiveness but with an effort to better understand
  • Remembering LGBTQ organizing beyond HRC and GLAAD

We appreciate your understanding.

If you are still uncertain about your status as a Straight Ally, please contact us for more information. In the meantime, you can't hurt your chances by striving to do better.


The Gay Agenda

July 25, 2012

Lessons learned

Only a few hours ago, I just completed another Undoing Racism workshop by The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond that was geared toward religious communities (I am proud to say that my synagogue showed out to represent the Jews!). I love the Undoing Racism workshop because every time I go I learn something new, and I gain a deeper understanding of the things I already knew.

What I appreciated about this latest workshop was how it clarified a few things that have been stewing in my head for a while. There are two things that I took from this workshop that is going to shape how I work from now on.

1. Racism is the biggest obstacle to organizing movements for justice and social change.

Pay close attention to what this is saying -- and, more importantly, what it isn't. This does not mean that racism is the worst kind of oppression, nor is it saying that racism is the only oppression that matters. It means that racism shoots us in the foot every time we try to move toward change.

You can't say, "Feminism is about achieving justice and equity for all women" and work toward that in a way that primarily (and often exclusively) benefits middle-class White women. You can't advocate for justice and equity for LGBTQ people while ignoring how LGBTQ people of color bear the brunt of anti-LGBTQ policies and violence. You can't save the earth and ignore the impact of imperialism and colonialism on the process of industrialization.  When it comes to class, you can actually make an argument that racism was deliberately set up in order to prevent European indentured servants, African slaves, and Native Americans from joining together and organizing to resist economic exploitation and domination by the ruling class.

2. Anti-racism is about transforming institutions and systems.

Racism is the Matrix; to get out of that programming, to see it for what it is, we have to take the red pill. Otherwise, everything you do is still operating within that system. If the work we do reinforces that system, it won't matter how many people of color are on the stage, on the board of directors, or even in the audience.

Anti-racism strikes at the core of an institution or system: how it structures itself and functions in the community as a reflection of its values, beliefs, and mission. This is where the code that keeps us in the Matrix comes from. This is where our energy and effort needs to go.

There's a lot more that happened in that workshop, but this is my starting point.

July 15, 2012

Happy birthday, Lana Parrilla!

Dear Mama Regal:

Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha'olam, shech kakah lo ba'olamo.

(Literal translation: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has such as this in His universe.”)

I say this blessing every time I turn on my laptop and see the screencap of the Evil Queen I have saved there. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Hebrew is limited, so I cannot create a blessing that is more tailored to great artists or their work. I do this because, believe it or not, your work as the Evil Queen has been a blessing in many ways. I would now like to share a few of them with you.

Your performance as the Evil Queen in Once Upon A Time has connected me to a community of intelligent, engaged citizens of the world. It has been a real treat to have in-depth discussions about issues Regina brings up simply by being who she is. Through this character that you have so brilliantly brought to life, we are able to talk about race, gender, sexuality, class, mental illness, trauma, abuse, and other things that affect us here and now.

This would not have been possible were it not for you.

Another blessing that your portrayal of Regina has bestowed upon me is a growing awareness of my own capacity for compassion. It's amazing to me that I can look at this person who has done such horrible things and still see what is wonderful and beautiful about them. Through you, I feel in my gut the suffering at the root of all the evil that she does. If I had the power, I would not punish her; I would heal her. In a roundabout way, by simply doing what you do, you have made me a wiser and more compassionate human being.

For that, I thank you.

In appreciation for your life and your work (and the fact that you are a fellow English major), here is an annotated list of books about fairy tales that I believe you would really enjoy. If you get your hands on any of these, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
  1. Joan Gould, Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal about the Transformations in a Woman's Life. Examines fairy tales as stories about the changes that women undergo at different phases of life. One of my favorites.
  2. Emma Donoghue, Kissing the Witch. Haunting retellings of familiar stories that subtly reveals the interwoven and cyclical way that fairy tales are born and reborn over and over again.
  3. Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber. A classic. Visceral new versions of old fairy tales. Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves was based on one of the stories.
  4. Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adeiu and Other Stories. Short story collection that has all the wonder and whimsy and terror of traditional fairy tales.

Wishing you a very happy birthday and may more to follow.

RVCBard (@RVCBard on Twitter)

June 18, 2012

June 5, 2012

How do we create a more accountable indie theatre community?

I recently went to a Community Dish meeting that focused on the role of playwrights in indie theatre then read a very touching Facebook post by Daniel Talbott (of Rising Phoenix Rep). Both of these experiences hit on something that we often hint at but never address directly: accountability in the indie theatre community.

I've said it before, but I consider making theatre to be a form of community organizing. In community organizing, one of the main principles is accountability. How do we hold ourselves accountable to the people who give us so much? How do we make sure that we are truly a force for good in our communities? How does our work arise from the needs and aspirations of our communities instead of being imposed upon them? How does creating theatre reflect the mutual interdependence between artist and community? How can we frame accountability in the indie theatre community in a way that expands our capacity to think bigger and do better?

I believe we have to begin by thinking beyond individual productions, seasons, and companies. When I visit the websites for indie theatre companies and projects, I learn a lot about art and artists, but I rarely see anything mentioning the community. It's hard to be accountable to the community when you don't talk about the community. And for an art form like theatre, which is so dependent upon the communities we live and work and play in, this is a glaring omission. How can we hold ourselves accountable to a community when we do not define what that community is?

So, talk to me: Who is your community? What binds you together?

April 16, 2012

Creating art and self from the intersections

With the $1 Play Project underway (and if you have 60 seconds and $1.00, you really should give what you can), and way too much to do in not enough time, I want to take a moment (read: procrastinate) and talk about what it's like and what it means to create art from a perspective of intersectionality.

Before buzzwords like “intersectionality” came along, a lot of people assumed that womanhood was White, Blackness was male, and both were straight. When Black feminists and womanists proclaimed that All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some Of Us Are Brave, they created a new paradigm for examining race, gender, and sexuality that centered on the lives of Black women.

When I started writing Tulpa, or Anne&Me in late 2009, I had no idea I'd be doing the same thing for theatre. As much as I like to fantasize otherwise, I'm not really all that brave. I hate pain (receiving or inflicting it), and I am more easily hurt than I often let on. I'm much more prone to shyness, anxiety, depression, and exhaustion than my online persona indicates. My outspokenness about racism, sexism, and homophobia says more about their magnitude and the peril they pose to human beings than about any particular courage or wisdom on my part.

So when I set out to put down on paper some of the many thoughts and feelings I have when I try to relate to White women about race and gender (all from the perspective of a woman who loves women), it wasn't because I was intentionally trying to provoke people. It initially started out on my LiveJournal on something of a lark that channeled my infatuation with Anne Hathaway into something more meaningful. Since the discussions about race I was having with real White women were often so lacking, why not make up the conversations I wanted to have?

As Black women, we are constantly being asked to hide away or tear off chunks of who we are to make us safer for consumption. When we are with women, we're supposed to magically forget we are Black. When we are Black, we're supposed to ignore our womanhood. And we'd better keep that queer shit deep in the closet if we know what's good for us. Yet in Tulpa, all three of these identities are necessary to fully understanding the characters and the story.

Tulpa, or Anne&Me is not Intro to Intersectionality. The dialogue is pretty exclusively about race. But it's a queer woman's experience of race and how it impacts her most personal moments. The play focuses on an intimate relationship. But it's a relationship between women trying to maintain that intimacy in the face of racism and what that means for both of them.

“Your silence will not protect you,” Audre Lorde once said. Even prior to reading Sister Outsider, I may have sensed that this was true. As much as I hate being the center of attention or the object of scrutiny, the alternative – my silence – was even worse. My silence would mean allowing someone other than myself to define what my life means or what it should mean. My silence would mean becoming a shadow not only of myself but to myself. My silence would mean accepting my own dehumanization.

Despite the fact that I live as a queer Black woman in my queer Black woman body, as an artist I often wrestle with a sense that my life as I live it diminishes my art because it's somehow not as universal. But creating Tulpa, or Anne&Me cured me of that.

My art does not happen despite my queer Black woman self but directly because of it.

My queer Black woman self is not an obstacle to my humanity – it's the key to truly acknowledging and understanding it.

March 16, 2012

"Tulpa" needs a set designer!

Written by Shawn C. Harris, directed by Aaron D. Pratt

Last year, TULPA, OR ANNE&ME made its debut at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. This year,TULPA, OR ANNE&ME is headed to the Fresh Fruit Festival, with a bold vision and fresh ideas.

Part whimsical fantasy, part realist drama, part gothic horror, TULPA, OR ANNE&ME tells the story of a withdrawn artist whose life gets turned upside down when Anne Hathaway crawls out of her television. With the help of her powerful imagination and two outspoken Guardian Angels of Blackness, she and Anne struggle to find a way to connect with one another. What unfolds is an intimate portrait of a relationship that asks us how race impacts what two people can truly be to one another.

We need a visionary SET DESIGNER who can:

  • put their creative stamp on the production 
  • turn a bare stage into a vivid, evocative mindscape 
  • do amazing work on a shoestring budget 
  • make a mobile set that can be put up or broken down quickly (15 minutes tops) 
  • be reliable and easy to work with (no flakes! no divas!) 
  • commit to working on the project from now until July 

This production of TULPA, OR ANNE&ME will not be yet another living room drama. If you really want to get creative and show off what you can do, this is the project for you.

Although education and experience are helpful, what matters most is your passion, vision, and commitment. A passion for comics (mainstream and indie), anime, manga, and graphic novels would be an amazing bonus.

Because of the play's subject matter and my personal interest in giving opportunities to underrepresented artists, women, people of color, and LGBTQ people are strongly encouraged to apply.

I am hoping to make my final selection by April 1. Please send all inquiries and supporting materials (samples REALLY help) to: Shawn C. Harris at whoisyourtulpa[at]gmail[dot]com.

March 9, 2012

For whom does the Black artist make art?

This has been brewing for a while after watching this video and the responses to it. What's been disheartening about all this is what this reveals about the position of the Black artist. It seems that we can't win for losing. Everybody, it seems, wants a piece of what we create. Everyone, it seems, believes we should create for purposes other than our own. Everyone, it seems, has something to say about what we create. Ironically, these clamoring voices push us from the center of our own process, a process that requires us to be centered and in touch with our own voices.

Granted, many Black artists have decided that it's a sucker's game to pay too much attention to that. I'm one of them. But it still bothers me when I come across this attitude that because I am a Black artist, that I need to represent myself a certain way, represent my people a certain way, or represent my experience a certain way if I want my work to be seen as authentic, valuable, or meaningful. In effect, what is valued about an artist who is Black is not authentic self-expression or the capacity to imagine and create new things, but to put what is created to a specific purpose. It is the mindset that says that the reason why we should learn about Black history, Black culture, Black literature, Black art, Black music, and so on is not because Black people are human beings who have history and culture and create literature and art and music, but because the history, culture, art, and music of Black people are useful to others.

So, as much as I dislike what Tyler Perry does, I can understand him saying that Spike Lee needs to go to hell. As much as I don't like how The Help tells a story about Black women, I can understand why Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer pushed back against Tavis Smiley trying to hold them to a standard that no White artist is asked to uphold.

Don't get it twisted. If you thought I was only talking about Black folks doing this, I wasn't. White folks do it too. I have a post in me somewhere about the 5 types of stories Black folks are allowed to bring to mainstream audiences, but that's for another time.

Are you getting what I'm saying here?

February 10, 2012

Gestating the writing process

The piece I'm gestating now has taught me that I don't write plays so much as give birth to them. And it frustrates me to no end. I am creatively bloated and sluggish, laden down with the play that's growing inside me, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it besides feed it and wait. I have nearly no say in what comes out, no input as to when it will happen. I only feel the stirrings in the murky darkness of the metaphorical womb. It frightens me a bit.

It's eerie just how embodied my process is, how closely it parallels the cycles of my body. Most of the stuff I write, fertilized as it is, never takes root and gets ejected from my system like so much menstrual blood. The plays that take hold, the ones that eventually become my children made of words, often have difficult births. There is always pain because I am pushing out a truth I am not big enough to express, threatening to split me in two. With every piece, there is the fear that this is the one that will finally kill me. Yet once I'm in labor, I cannot desist. It must come out, even if I die afterwards.

And when it's over, I hold my baby of paper and pixels. Did I do this? Did this come from me? It can't be. It's wrinkly and slimy and more precious than anything in the world. I clean it off, make it look somewhat more human. I let it feed off my dreams and memories. I watch it grow.

Tulpa, or Anne&Me is a lively toddler now, having taken its first steps last year and progressed to running around. I am amazed by it even as I fear for its future, for the world I brought it into.

Pregnant again, I am waiting for the new piece to take shape, to tell me its name. I had my own ideas, but the play inside me rejected them. I remind myself to let go of trying to control it. Just feed it and wait. I am always hungry, and my cravings are strange.

I envy those with the gift of clarity. What is it like to create something as an act of will? What is it like to choose what comes out of you? To have a say in what and when and how? What is it like?

January 19, 2012

Know a director? "Tulpa" needs one!

I wrote a play called TULPA, OR ANNE&ME that debuted at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity in June 2011. I would like to do it again for 2012, and I'm putting together the team I want to work with.

Part whimsical fantasy, part social commentary, part gothic horror, TULPA, OR ANNE&ME tells the story of a withdrawn artist whose life gets turned upside down when Anne Hathaway crawls out of her television. With the help of her powerful imagination and two outspoken Guardian Angels of Blackness, she and Anne struggle to find a way to connect to one another. What unfolds is an intimate portrait of a relationship that asks us how race impacts what two people can truly be to each other.

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
  • 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, of course, how easy you are to work with.

When looking over candidates, what I am trying to figure out is: What makes this person particularly qualified to assume a leadership role in a theatre project where the experience of being a gay African American woman is a big part of its meaning?

Because of the play's subject matter and my personal interest in giving opportunities to underrepresented theatre artists, LGBTQ people of color are strongly encouraged to reach out.

I am seeking to make my final selection by February 1. Please send all inquiries and supporting materials (if any) to: Shawn C. Harris (writer and producer) at whoisyourtulpa[at]gmail[dot]com.

For more information about the journey of TULPA, OR ANNE&ME, see

January 12, 2012

"Tulpa, or Anne&Me" fundraising campaign ends TODAY

On January 12 at 11:59pm EST, the IndieGoGo campaign for my play, Tulpa, or Anne&Me is ending. Although people have supported the project by contributing a total of about $1,700, there is still $1,300 to go.

Let’s break this down mathematically. If only 130 readers each donate just $10 TODAY, Tulpa, or Anne&Me will reach its fundraising goal.

With so many conversations going on about who gets to tell stories about people of color, the importance of things like “Shit White Girls Say … To Black Girls,” the release of George Lucas’ Red Tails, and otherwise being an ally supporting voices of color in arts and entertainment, your contribution sends a message that it matters to you that these find their way on stage and screen, that it matters who tells these stories, that it matters who benefits from these stories, and that it matters who gets to witness these stories.

Tell the world that it matters to you. Take a couple of moments to say so now.

P.S. If you are sick and tired of first-person shooters starring square-jawed White dudes, you should check out and support the Arkh Project too.

January 6, 2012

2012: The year of Black people as subjects

Kicking off 2012 on the racism front, we have this video, "Shit White Girls Say . . . to Black Girls"

And then we have this post at A Poor Player, which prompted 99Seats to write "Shit White Theatremakers Say" (and then "More Shit White Theatremakers Say" in response to Scott's comment on the original post and in 99Seats' follow-up).

I'm not going to weigh in on that particular discussion because, frankly, I'm tired of it. I can't even work up the energy to get pissed off. But, I can say that it has been my experience that when I told Black people outside of theatre that I'm a playwright, several Black people piped up and told me that they used to enjoy participating in theatre but got out of it because it's so racist.

What I am going to mention, which the video and the blog posts at A Poor Player and by 99Seats exemplify, is a trend I noticed in 2011 that I'm hoping will be over for 2012. For lack of a better term, I'm going to call it Black People* As Objects. To be more precise, I'm talking about Black people as objects of ridicule, scorn, fear, study, charity, validation, and so on. From that ridiculous article in Psychology Today about Black women being "objectively" less attractive than women of other races to pretty much anything that comes from the mouth of a GOP candidate about Black folks, it seems that a lot of people who are not Black have a lot to say about what the lives and actions of Black people are supposed to mean. Essentially attempting to probe and prod us like lab animals. Which could almost not be racist if said individuals, I dunno, bothered to actually have a conversation with Black people (as in Black persons, not Black People (TM)) where they sought to truly understand and relate to us as persons and not as objects or symbols.

I don't put a lot of stock into new year's resolutions, but if I were to make one for myself, I'd say that 2012 is the Year of Black People as Subjects -- subjects who live their own lives, have their own reasons for doing things, experience their own trials and triumphs, construct their own meanings, have their own thoughts and feelings as beliefs, and so on. The challenge for 2012 will be focusing my energy on those who are capable of talking to and talking with Black people and not talking at, talking for, or talking about us. From now on, I'm only going to get involved with discussions that involve Black people only when I can see that the discussion is framed around Black people as subjects. If that is not the case, I'm generally going to ignore it or poke fun at it. Maybe even link to this post, if I'm feeling generous.

The rule of thumb is this: if the discussion is about Black people or people of color, and not by Black people or people of color, it should ask Black people or people of color for their input. Not to debate or otherwise argue about basic shit (like whether racism is real in theatre or anywhere else), but to more fully understand something from the perspective of those who have to live with it.

I know that some people would ask, "Well, what about discussions about White people?" To be honest, that's not really my concern. Yes, that's a double standard. But it's a double standard I've experienced as necessary in order to have a real dialogue and not revert to White people telling Black people and other people of color what to do, what to say, how to say it, and how to think and feel about it. Which, again, goes back to treating Black people like objects.

And all that stuff I said above? That goes for discussions about women too.

* Particularly Black women for some reason. I don't know why so many people in 2011 were so interested in who we're dating (or not dating), fucking (or not fucking), marrying (or not marrying), or giving birth (or not giving birth) to.