#SPOTLIGHT ON KATE ROYAL

#SPOTLIGHT ON KATE ROYAL

How did you come of age as an artist? How did you come to your current practice? 

It feels safe to say I’ve been writing since about as long as I’ve been able to. When I was young, I had aspirations to be a visual artist or musician, but I come from a family of great storytellers and teachers, so writing and later directing became a huge passion once I entered high school. In college, I wrote my first play. The moment I saw my characters come alive in front of me on a stage, I knew that this was the only thing I could do with my life. I studied theatre and literature in undergrad, wrote and produced a few plays in the years following, and am now at Northwestern earning an MFA in Writing for the Screen + Stage. Since entering grad school, I have gravitated more toward film and television, which is what has brought me here. In my work I am most interested in capturing intimacy, and for me, the camera has become my favorite magic wand by which to do that. 

What was the inspiration for your Open TV project? 

Various versions of these characters and the world they live in have been attempted as a play, a musical, and ultimately a half-hour series for which these webisodes serve as a kind of prologue. But the idea really began percolating during my undergrad career. I came out as gay my senior year of college (you’ll see a version of that night in the pilot episode). As I began consuming media about my newfound identity, I felt there was a major disconnect between these narratives and the reality I was experiencing as a 21-year-old surrounded by other 21-year-olds trying to figure out who we were. As I watched what were considered “positive” portrayals of the community, I noticed a kind of sentimentalization of the queer experience that just didn’t quite add up with the messy reality I was living. As I grew as a writer and a member of this community, I decided I wasn’t interested in strictly positive representations, just honest ones. I certainly don’t claim that this show speaks to any definitive truth or experience, but it is reflective of my desire to show the frank, awkward, even downright unkind moments I have had and/or witnessed alongside my LGBT+ friends. The language of representation terms some of these portrayals as problematic, but it does not mean they are untrue. My goal with this piece is twofold: first, to humorously, self-consciously, and lovingly point out that this community is not perfect. Second, and perhaps most importantly, to portray friendship that exists beyond kindness. Friendship old enough and strong enough that frankness and honesty, sometimes brutal, is the way you show love, and how that dynamic does and does not shift when someone just needs you to be happy for them.

What’s next for you or your series?   

The future of IRL is undetermined at this moment in time. I’ll be graduating in June, and some of our cast is scattering to the coasts. What I do know is that the team of myself, Mark Davis, and Sarah Antao are excited to pursue projects together as soon as possible. We’ve made one short film together in addition to this series, and hope to produce another next year. But our mission right now is to look around us and recognize whose stories need to be told right now and whose can take a back seat, and from there seeing where our voices can be most useful and effective.  

OPEN TV TONIGHT: QUEERING LATE NIGHT TV

OPEN TV TONIGHT: QUEERING LATE NIGHT TV

I created Open TV Tonight to queer the late night talk show. Late night ranks among the least diverse hours of TV, even though late night programming tends to be the "edgiest" in TV history. Instead of promoting the latest macho blockbuster to be sold internationally I wanted to use the format of the talk show to showcase Chicago's queer artists. Instead of Jimmy Fallon, you got me, a black queer academic who could never book our president as a guest. Instead of a live band, we had Hijo Pródijo, who has DJ'ed some of the dopest queer events in the city. Having a spot on a free night at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago helped us attract our biggest audience at the time, around 200 people -- though we would soon outdo that with the premieres of the shows we previewed, BrujosBrown Girls, and Afternoon Snatch. The event was a roaring success. So many people came up to me afterward to tell me how invigorating it was to be in a space that artistically represented the least powerful but most brilliant artists and communities 10 days after the inauguration. 
 

In this video you'll see interviews with the teams behind Open TV (beta)'s most ambitious series to date. These shows have already developed large passionate fan bases and I guarantee you will see more of these artists in the future! Check it out:

Artists // Kayla Ginsburg, Ruby Western, Hannah Welever, Minita Gandhi, Ricardo Gamboa, Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke
Videography // Bradley Murray
Executive Producer // Aymar Jean Christian
Producer & Set Designer // Elijah McKinnon
Assistant Producer // Chris Walker
Assistant Editor // Sean Magner
Production Assistant // Carolina Poveda
Furnishing // Humboldt House

Outfit for Aymar Jean Christian by Reformed School, Ssavior, CRAM Fashion
Filmed January 31, 2017 in the Edlis Neeson Theater, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

HOW TO DEVELOP WITH OPEN TV

HOW TO DEVELOP WITH OPEN TV

If you want to develop with Open TV, you can email me at developer [at] weareopen [dot] tv. If you don’t get a response within two weeks, send it again because something weird has happened!

However, if you’d like to schedule a meeting with me to talk something over, I have public Office Hours! I will be online available for a Google Hangout to talk over your project or interest face-to-face. Signing up is easy, just use this link, via Calendly, and select open slots (highlighted).

Right now, Open TV is a part-time operation. My full-time job is as a professor, where I have to write and teach. My heads of production (Stephanie Jeter), marketing (Elijah McKinnon), social media engagement (Chris Walker) and social media analysis (Mark Díaz) all have other jobs. As such, the development process will have inefficiencies, delays and issues that need to be regularly accounted for and fixed.

WHAT IS DEVELOPMENT?

DEVELOPMENT

A project is in development when I’ve met with the artist and we’ve agreed to work towards collaborating on a project. The artist has given me a pitch, outline, treatment or script of their series. Projects in development need funding and a production team before we can enter pre-production. For me, a project starts in development and moves the process never leaving development. In other words, once we start development with you, we’ll always be developing your work, even after it’s released.

 

PRE-PRODUCTION

Projects in pre-production have secured funding and production team to head into production. This is planning stage. Producers hire the crew, find the locations, organize the shoot and troubleshoot the whole process.

 

PRODUCTION

 

Projects are in production when they are capturing the footage they need to complete the story. Our shoots last anywhere from one day (Let Go and Let God was shot in one day, Nupita Obama in two) to two weeks (for You’re So Talented season two) to several months (Futurewomen, which shot through all of 2015). Productions need at least one person to capture the image, typically a photographer or cinematographer, and often but not always someone to capture sound on location. While I made an exception in our early months (Southern for Pussy), the vast majority of future Open TV projects will be shot in Chicago or developed in Chicago with Chicago-based artists. Series from elsewhere will have to come to me completed or near completion.

Open TV does provide funding for a limited amount of projects through our partner production company, Under the Spell Productions, a 501c3 non-profit organization tasked with advancing diversity in the arts. No in-house production budget has exceeded $5,000 and most are under $3,000. Thus, for us to fund projects they must be scaled for a low-budget: small crews, minimal locations and special effects, with collaborators for music, art direction, set and costume design, etc. 

 

POST-PRODUCTION

 

Post-production involves the editing of a project, adding any elements that cannot be or need not be captured in production. This sometimes includes the creation of a score or licensing of music, transcribing (for documentary) and assembling the story. Editing can be costly, but happily I’ve had support from Northwestern to train and hire students in editing, and they’ve been doing a fabulous job. Many people underestimate the cost of post-production. I’ve done this myself in the past, and not planning for post can delay a project for years. This is why it is very important to have a doable plan for a project in pre-production. 

 

EXHIBITION AND MARKETING

 

After we reach a final cut, it’s time to plan release. All Open TV projects screen locally before going online on our site, so we have to plan an event! Events range in size. The premiere for Southern For Pussy attracted around 20 people, whereas our event at Woman Made Gallery drew over 50. Events are also key research sites for Open TV, where my graduate students collect feedback from attendees, either through one-on-one interviews, or recording the conversation or Q&A. When it’s ready to release online Eli McKinnon designs a website for the project and a social media campaign. 

 

 

MAKING IT THROUGH DEVELOPMENT

In Hollywood, a project’s readiness is only one of many factors in its development. Often times projects need powerful producers or studios attached, fully employed departments for all element of production (casting, costumes, makeup, visual effects, etc.), a built-in audience (franchises), the “right” audience (a desirable demographic), and a story that’s acceptable to LA executives, advertisers and/or the press, all of which are brokered by agents, managers, lawyers and unions.

For Open TV our criteria are a little less complicated. In any given project I look for:

 

ARTISTRY – AN ORIGINAL VOICE

The first question I ask of a project is whether it is “art.” Open TV is interested in expanding the art of television production, narrative and distribution. My definition of good art is one with a clear and unique vision or purpose. Most of the time this means I want to develop series that would have a hard time getting through the commercial – and in particular, advertising-driven – broadcast, cable and web TV networks because of its subject matter or the identity of its creator (their social/cultural identity and their artistic discipline).

 

READINESS – A PLAN AND A TEAM

The second question I ask of a project is whether it’s ready. A project is ready when there is a script or plan in place, there’s a team to make it happen and the money to pay everyone who needs to be paid. The script, treatment or outline is most important. Having this is critical for us to understand what you want to do and what resources it will take to do it. I accept scripts in any format. There’s tons of resources for writing treatments, but again, I don’t need formulas. It just needs to communicate enough information to show that you thought about the story and its core elements.

That said, a full treatment for me includes:

* A log line (one sentence description of the series)

* A detailed plot summary (for TV, usually a detailed description of the first episode and an outline of the season, with notes on how things sound/look/feel)

* Character profiles (who are they, what do they do, what do they want, also age/race/gender/sexuality and other key identity characteristics)

 

It might also include:

* List of locations needed and secured

* Average length of episodes

* List of confirmed or desired collaborators (actors, producers, music, crew)

* Exhibition plans (where/how to do the premiere, release schedule)

* Ideal production schedule (when we should shoot based on where you want to shoot)

* Influences (e.g. this show is Transparent meets I Love Lucy meets Game of Thrones): photography/art that inspires, music that inspires, or a vision statement

 

After the script/treatment, we set about creating a team. Nearly all video projects are collaborative in some way. You cannot make a show on your own, nor can you make an indie show without allowing other people to influence it creatively. The most important part of the team, I’m finding, is the producer – I’ll get to that in a minute. Depending on the project, more could be needed. If you’re planning a music video or musical, you should secure musical collaborators. If you’re planning a scripted series, you should know the actors who will be in it. Open TV has connections to all kinds of artists and crew, but I find production works smoothly when the core team is familiar with each other, passionate about the project and clear on the vision. We can introduce you to people, but, especially if you’re new to video production, I find it is better to work with as many people you are comfortable with as possible and we can fill in the gaps (particularly if the gap is in more technical crew like editors).

NIC Kay, who developed a docu-series with Open TV, gave me great advice to give to every artist who wants to work with us: make sure your Open TV project is integrated into your existing artistic practice. This is something experienced interdisciplinary artists know; your time and your ability to learn new skills is limited. If you’re a singer, don’t pitch a silent film, but rather think expansively about what video can do for you. You can pitch a docu-series about the making of your next album, a series of music videos, or an animated film in collaboration with a painter you know where you’d supply the music to their images. Think about what you’re already working on and how video can help you develop it further. This will also help clarify the value of it. In other words, if you’re a performance artist with no intention to leave Chicago, maybe you should use your series to make connections with local artists or pitch a local grant-making institution, and not necessarily something you think will get lots of views online. In general, chasing views is a fool’s game. Don’t play it. Be true to your practice and vision.

Build your team from the start. It makes the whole process smoother for everyone. I strongly suggest you write a complete treatment and/or script in as much detail as possible and find a writer/producer/director you trust completely to help you execute the project. That person doesn't necessarily need film/TV experience. They can have produced performances, events, parties. I can mentor a new producer so long as they’re willing to put in the tremendous amount of work it takes to get a project through development. It's most important producers be organized, clear, dependable, passionate about your project and have the time to do it.  This is the only way scripted series/films get done: if there's a team in place who are passionate about and 110% on board with your vision. 

 

 

DEMOGRAPHICS – A CLAIM TO DIFFERENCE

Open TV is not open to everyone. In particular we are not open to artists who get ample support from media industries to make and market series, primarily straight white men, who, study after study shows, disproportionately hold positions of power in Hollywood and art markets.

Open TV develops television by queer, trans, cis-women and artists of color. In our first year, however, I’m finding myself more open to queer, trans, cis-women or artists of color. In this awkward phrasing, race is privileged but I am open to content by and about white people, particularly if they are LGBTQ, represent a range of gender expressions or inhabit some other intersectional identity. When I look at my development slate, I want majority-minority programming but I also want a range of identities, because differences bring out meanings. In other words, I want our audience to compare and contrast our programs and ask themselves why and how race, gender, sexuality, age, class, disability, etc. influence how they interpret programs.

INTRODUCING OPEN TV RE-PRESENTS

INTRODUCING OPEN TV RE-PRESENTS

In between the first and second cycles we’ll be re-releasing existing web series through Open TV Re-Presents. Open TV Re-Presents is basically our “re-runs.” I’ve asked a select group of artists and producers to combine all the episodes of their series into one “binge-able” file for Open TV beta.

Why re-release series already online? While we like to think of the internet as accessible, in truth people miss interesting and great projects all the time. Algorithms hide programs from us. We get distracted with the hours of video uploaded to the web every minute, not to mention new releases in film, video games, music, art, etc. People tell me all the time they miss programs they swore their social networks would have caught. We clearly need a secondary market for indie TV.

Open TV Re-Presents starts an archive of original series by queer, trans, cis-women, and artists of color. I’m curating shows I find artistic, focused on great writing even in the absence of technical sophistication or lengthy narratives. Some series sacrifice traditional cinematic quality to tell a fuller story, whereas others tease audiences with a short story in order draw them in to fully realized world.

Whatever their relationship to production value, each of these series is historically significant and marks an evolution in television stories by and about queer people. Curl up and enjoy with generosity and love!

 

Open TV Re-Presents: Kissing Walls

Kissing Walls is full of heart and love. With sharp dialogue and sumptuous cinematography, it is one of the most confident, full realized queer comedies I’ve seen. The team released its first season as three short episodes, which amount to the length of your standard TV comedy pilot. It’s my pleasure to re-release the series as a pilot here, so viewers can feel the show’s confident acting and direction and get comfortable in the world created by Zak Payne.

Zak says: “There are many people in this country who have zero regard for the LGBT community, people of color, and every intersection in between. They don’t want to watch a show like Kissing Walls, and they don’t want you to watch it either. But every obstacle Kissing Walls has faced has only affirmed its necessity as a series. Art remains one of our most powerful tools against oppression. We must continue to demand these stories and continue to demand adequate representation both in front of and behind the camera. I’m entering the new year with this knowledge: making television is hard. Making television about queer people of color is harder. But I think a series like Kissing Walls is worth fighting for!”

Kissing Walls is a 3-part comedy that explores work, sex, and friendship between queer 20-somethings living in Chicago.

 

Open TV Re-Presents: Melody Set Me Free

Years before Empire, another black queer producer, Kalup Linzy, wrote and produced a drama series about empire set in the world of music and featuring an original soundtrack. Linzy uploaded his epic narrative Melody Set Me Free to YouTube in 2010, following a 2007 short film of the same name. He released three seasons, totaling over two and a half hours of drama: the first independently, presented on YouTube in four separate episodes, and the next two shot at MoMA PS1, produced by James Franco’s Rabitt Bandini production company and released as one “feature edit” on YouTube. As a pilot, the short introduces a reality competition show where Patience, Grace and Faith vie for a record deal. Patience (played by Linzy) wins, and season one picks up with her recording her album for KK Records, owned by KK Queen, Linzy’s Lucious Lyon. Melody Set Me Free replaces American drama’s long-standing tradition of the white male hero or anti-hero driven to maintain or acquire power, with an ethically complex and bedeviled black woman driven to conquer the music industry with the “nasty ass hits” comprising the series’ soundtrack. KK Queen invested the estate of her late husband in the company to conquer the music industry. She is powerful, and the core of the drama is her struggle to keep the company together as her artists pursue their own desires.

Set in a record label ran by dame diva KK Queen (played by Linzy), Patience O'brien (also played by Linzy) continues her journey of being in love and singing. However, she soon realizes it is not the dream she dreamt.

 

Open TV Re-Presents: Outtakes

Outtakes is one of the most experimental, engrossing web series I’ve seen, and it is the rare show written and conceived of by a transmasculine person, Sylvan Oswald. Not only does the cast represent some of the strongest actors working today, but Sylvan also stars in the series and grounds it as an exploration into how we shape our identities in real life and through media.

Sylvan says: “Outtakes came out of a moment of frustration with the American Theater, where I'd come up as a playwright. In 2013 the conversation around trans artists and trans content was even less developed than it is now. I felt like I was having trouble being heard. There was also a moment of idleness - performer Becca Blackwell and I had some time booked to work together, but what I had in mind was feeling kind of dead to me. So we just started messing around and watching videos online. Naturally we landed on YouTube transition videos. Neither of us had ever made one. We were like, let's make one, but what should it be? ‘Should I play you? Should you play me? Should we play ourselves?’ We shot on my 2009 laptop webcam because that's the aesthetic of those transition videos (and because I don't own a camera and had no prior experience making video). I showed the raw footage, which included me directing Becca, to my best friend, filmmaker and editor Maria Cataldo, who later became the co-director, and said, "What do you think we should do? Which approach do you like better?" And she said, ‘No, Sylvan, this is the show.’ That's how we found the style.”

Season 1 followed creator Sylvan Oswald and actor Becca Blackwell as they set out to create a web series about a guy coming out to his partner, played by Zuzanna Szadowski, as trans.

Season 2 starts one year later. Becca, now Beckett, is trying T, Sylvan’s leaving Brooklyn for good and Zuzanna’s trying to sort out the future with both of them.

Outtakes is a lo-fi web series about two trans guys. It is based on the genre of the transition video, videos created by people in the process of transitioning their gender. These videos, created all over the world in bedrooms and living rooms on laptops and webcams, are a way for trans* people to share experiences and information, and to feel less isolated by reaching out and building community online.

 

Open TV Re-Presents: Filipino Fusions 

Kiam says:“Much of the Filipino food I grew up with was meat-based. I want to create new fusions with Filipino food that take it beyond its origins while questioning what it is exactly that defines Filipino, or for that matter, any culture’s cuisine as it crosses boundaries.  What is lost? What remains?  My vision is to connect Filipinos, Filipino Americans, and people around the world through a culinary experience by offering new insights, new spices and shifts to familiar (or unfamiliar) dishes and show the breadth of what Filipino cuisine is and could be.”

Filipino Fusions is a cooking show by Kiam Marcelo Juino, star of Open TV Presents: Nupita Obama Creates Vogua! In this show Kiam hosts as Jerry Blossom and shows us how to make Filipino food with a vegan twist.

 

#SPOTLIGHT ON THE ARTISTS OF #NUPITAOBAMA

#SPOTLIGHT ON THE ARTISTS OF #NUPITAOBAMA

Nupita Obama Creates Vogua is a series very near and dear to our hearts. It was written and directed by Aymar Jean Christian , Open TV's creator and head of development. It's the series that launched Open TV as we know it, and now we have more to share.

We have just released three new Nupita Obama videos, each an interview with one of the three stars: Mister Wallace, “Curtis”, Kiam Marcelo Junio, “Reyes”, and Saya Naomi, “Gia”. 

 

Christian on the artists and actors: "Nupita Obama would not have been possible without these incredible artists, who gave their skill and art to the project. I wrote the script, but they added to it. I didn't have to plan for costumes, set design, or so many other elements of the production because Erik, Saya, and Kiam brought so much to the set. Each artist has their own incredible practice. Kiam is a truly interdisciplinary artist, with experience in performance, photography, video, fashion design, all in addition to being a yoga instructor and one of the best videographers for performance I know. Saya is one of Chicago's fiercest and most compelling drag queens. She exudes charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. Erik, a.k.a. Mister Wallace, is queering hip hop in ways we've never seen, all while co-running a queer indie label, Futurehood, spotlighting a diverse group of artists. Sit back and spend 20 minutes to get to know these talented folks. They're only just beginning!"

 

 

#SPOTLIGHT ON ANDRE PEREZ

#SPOTLIGHT ON ANDRE PEREZ

How and why did you start collecting trans stories?

I founded the Trans Oral History Project 8 years ago, and have been addicted to recording trans stories every since. As a baby trans person, I was struggling to figure out what it meant to grow up. The only trans folks I met were homogenous (white, middle-class, academic people in their 20’s). It felt crucial to understand where my people had come from and to see people who I could grow up to become if I went down this path. I keep doing this work because despite the great strides towards visibility our community has made, many of those issues are still in play for emerging trans folks from marginalized communities. As a trans person of color, I strive to honor the trust and vulnerability involved when people in my community share their stories with me.

 

Where did the inspiration and title for Been T/Here come from?

I’m working on a national series called America in Transition, which is a documentary web series about social change featuring trans people from marginalized communities across the United States. I also work for Trans Lifeline, a suicide hotline for trans people. When Open TV approached me, I realized I literally think and talk about trans people dying every day. I wanted to make a more hopeful and celebratory series. I wanted younger trans folks, people who were just coming out, or people who are in the struggle every day to be able to take a few minutes to connect with the stories, and say, “I’ve Been There!”

 

What types of stories will viewers see in Been T/Here?

As media makers from marginalized communities, we are told that we have to make our narrative “relatable to a general audience” which is commonly envision as white-middle class cisgendered people. I believe that if we tell genuine, insightful stories, we are offering something special--the opportunity to step outside of your narrow perspective and to experience something that helps you understand another person's reality. I don’t want to pander to people who can’t appreciate that.

 

Through StoryCorps, you interviewed 500 people and through TOHP, you’ve interviewed over 75 trans folks across the US. What has most surprised you in your conversations with trans and GNC folks?

I am always surprised by how real and vulnerable people are willing to be during interviews, especially when they don’t know me very well. All of my media work centers around giving people the platform to talk about what matters most, and so I am often talking to folks who aren’t used to being listened to. The first time this really hit home was when I was talking to an older trans man who has been an incredible activist for decades. I was really nervous about doing his story justice, and honored that he took the time to share it with me. When we finished, he got emotional and thanked me for listening to him. I was just a kid with a camera, but I started to realize the power that can have in my own community.

 

What about Chicago makes it an important place for understanding queer and trans community today?

Lots of people say that if you want to do LGBTQ stuff or media work, you need to live in New York. New York is an outward facing city--people are cosmopolitan in their views, and it is always looking to position itself on the world stage. I love Chicago because it’s an inward facing city--if you want to really understand America, this is the place to be. We are a huge city with tons of immigrant from all over, but we are solidly working class, and people come here from small towns across the heartland. Chicago is a microcosm of the US overall. The issue confronting us--privatization of public resources, police violence, gentrification--are the issues that poor people and people of color face across this country. Trans folks in Chicago face these constraints but find ways to thrive just like trans folks everywhere have for generations.

#SPOTLIGHT ON KELLY SCHMADER

#SPOTLIGHT ON KELLY SCHMADER

How did you meet Shea Couleé? Why did you join Lipstick City as a producer? 

I have a story that I suspect is becoming more common in drag communities across the country due to the popularity of Drag Race--over the course of May 2013 I binge watched seasons 2-5 of drag race (season 5 wrapped airing that month). For a while I only attended drag race events, then realized I should start seeing shows in the Chicago community. One of the first ever drag matinees I ever attended, I saw Shea perform. I was introduced to her after the show and we talked about how her dress reminded me of the Beyoncé video "why don't you love me" and she told me that video was a huge source of her drag inspiration. I would say the rest is history, but it took about another year before we became familiar enough with each other to become close friends. 

Around the beginning of summer last year, I offered to help Shea with some of her scheduling to help keep her calendar organized. That offer quickly snowballed--Dan, Shea, and myself joined forces to work on creating Shea's website and fully fleshing out her brand. Then one morning, Shea woke up and said she had a film idea. Shea is the kind of creative mind whose vision is so clear you just have to see where it's going to go. I had never worked on a project like this but I was at a point in my life where I wanted to challenge myself and see what I was truly capable of, so I decided to see it through to its fruition with Shea and Dan. For a long time "Lipstick City" had no title at all, and then was just "Lipstick". It became Lipstick City when we decided we wanted the title to have connotations of an alternate reality as opposed to just a one word title. Shea came up with both Lipstick and Lipstick City of course, but I was a huge advocate for "Lipstick Menace" for a second there :)

What was the biggest lesson you took from this experience?

I'm torn between my biggest lesson being the things I learned about myself and my value as a creative contributor versus something incredibly practical. Let's just say...my biggest takeaway is that you have to communicate about everything to the point it feels like over communicating, and get it all in writing!!!!

What about drag inspires you?

This question immediately makes me think of that line in Party Monster--"I'm not addicted to drugs, I'm addicted to glamour." Except insert drag for drugs. I just love glamour and fashion so much.

 

I studied art and gender/women's studies in college, but then on top of that I've always been an avid pop culture fiend and obsessed with femininity as a whole. Drag is basically the encapsulation of everything I'm interested in. I think the biggest draw overall is that drag represents an opportunity to shape and reshape a person's identity while exploring a deeply personal desire to express yourself visually...as a queer person, I think the most harmful part of compulsory heterosexuality is the idea that you have to live one kind of life to be accepted or to live a "good" life, and drag is constantly pushing against the boundaries of what it means to live a good life. And I have so much respect for an art form that basically blows the game wide open and says "hi i'm here to be my most authentic self, even if you don't understand it." It's beautifully vulnerable.

#SPOTLIGHT ON SHEA COLUEÉ

#SPOTLIGHT ON SHEA COLUEÉ

What inspired you to write Lipstick City?

I wanted to take the opportunity to push myself out f my comfort zone, and I felt like a short fashion film would be an ideal way to showcase my brand and unique vision for Shea Couleé. I have always described myself as equal parts bourgie, and banji. So I wanted to showcase that by playing two characters and weaving them within a narrative that mimics Chicago Queer Nightlife.

Was playing two characters your biggest challenge in production?

Not at all. I have done theatre all my life, and feel very comfortable adapting different characters. Honestly my biggest challenge was balancing being both in front and behind the camera. Those roles are far more parallel than the ones I tackled on screen.

Lipstick City features a lot of Chicago drag queens, including Kim Chi, currently in the top tier of RuPaul's Drag Race. What distinguishes Chicago drag from other cities?

I would say honestly that we have SUCH an amazing and diverse pool of talent with many different intersections throughout. We are conscious of one another as well as being super supportive of one another's individual visions. Everyone you see in the film donated their time to the effort for nothing more than credit, and in some cases not even that. So it's humbling for me to experience being part of a community where everyone is so committed to one another's visions.

What's next for Lipstick City?

We are currently just taking in the response to the film and considering all constructive criticisms. We are interested in public reaction, so that our next steps can optimize the effect of the project. 

#SPOTLIGHT ON DAN POLYAK

#SPOTLIGHT ON DAN POLYAK

Why did you join Lipstick City as a producer

I signed on to Lipstick City for two reasons: because I believe in Shea Coulee's vision and because I wanted to work on some sort of creative project that would completely put me out of my comfort zone. 

What was the biggest lesson you took from this experience?

Feed the crew. 

As the art director for the piece, how would you describe its aesthetic?

Lipstick City is a gritty, neon metropolis; it's dark and moody with lush pops of colors juxtaposed with rough textures. I was heavily influenced by the movie Drive, Lady Gaga's videos "Paparazzi" and "Telephone" and Quentin Tarantino. 

You work at Smart Bar, where part of Lipstick City was shot. Why do you think this space -- and the other key spaces in the film -- are important to the drag community?

Chicago is Shea Coulee's Lipstick City the same way it's been Batman's Gotham. A lot of the settings allowed us to showcase modern glamour yet still have something raw. 

SmartBar itself is important to the drag community because it helped pioneer house music and fostered queer culture in the era of Keith Haring. Queen! on Sunday's specifically pays homage to the club and ball scenes in the 80's and 90's. Drag is now being consumed by popular culture now and places like SmartBar help keep its roots firmly planted. 

#SPOTLIGHT ON MEGAN HOUSEHOLTER

#SPOTLIGHT ON MEGAN HOUSEHOLTER

You're not only an actor but a host and entertainer. Can you share your creative passions and projects?

I am an artistic free spirt. I like to dip my feet in a lot of different art forms. I am passionate about projects that further me as an artist and a human being. I love a challenge and something that keeps me on my toes. I am passionate about new work, whether that be in form of music/theatre/film or modeling. This is also why I enjoy being an MC/Event Host so much! You get to be right in the heart of the action, getting the audience excited about something. Sometimes that is a Burlesque show, a film premiere, a theater event, or a talk back. I am passionate about being the audiences tour guide to the arts. That makes me happy.

Do you relate your character?

Minus being a pot dealer.... yes lol!!!  I think everyone has met that fabulous stoner in their life.  I was honored to play the character of Leslie! She cracks me up!

How would you describe your experience filming You're So Talented: Season 2 (Sam as director, the on-set experience, etc.)?

AMAZING! I had the best time. It was awesome to be on such a professional set with such a great vibe! The cast and crew are literally the best! Sam knows what she wants, yet gives you all the freedom in the world to play. THAT is an actors dream.

#SPOTLIGHT ON LANISA FREDERICK

#SPOTLIGHT ON LANISA FREDERICK

What made you accept the role of Bea's sister in You're So Talented?

When Sam Bailey asks you say yes.

How is Lisa different the other roles you typically play in theatre, TV and film? 

Lisa is different because she is well rounded, 3-D, whole. We see her lovely and ugly sides. We see the sides of her that we love and the sides of her that make us roll our eyes. And that is awesome. So often I (we blactresses) are asked to play one dimensional characters that play in to/ "appease" an audience of what a black woman in America is. Which is usually, sassy, full of attitude, funny. And oh Lawd. Don't be over a size two. Now I have no possibilities of being seen as a lover, a fighter, a fierce human, and woman who owns her sexuality. With Lisa, I was able to be and embrace all the things we as humans, black humans, black female identified humans are.

Do you relate your character?

I may or may not be a little bit bougie. I like the finer things and have lofty dreams of having a fierce career, shopping only at Barney's, going to elite parties and in a loving relationship. I wish my relationship with Tinder and JP Morgan Chase would reflect my fantasies. ...this is probably why I'm an actor.

How would you describe your experience filming You're So Talented: Season 2?

Hilarious, I officially know all the early works that Victory Gardens Theatre produced thanks to hanging out on set there. Shout out to Malcolm Jamal Warner for his role as Spoon. Sad I missed that show. Professional; after years of training, blood, sweat, and tears working to make the dream real what more can you ask for? Sam is gentle, yet focused and honest. She makes one want to work hard for the good of the product. And bitter-sweet because I knew the day would come when we'd say "and that's a wrap."

 

Watch the first of LaNisa's appearances in You're So Talented, season two here!



#SPOTLIGHT ON AARON TODD DOUGLAS

#SPOTLIGHT ON AARON TODD DOUGLAS

You're a founding member of Congo Square. Can you talk about the ensemble's importance to you as an actor and/or to Chicago's cultural life?

Chicago is the ultimate Ensemble town.  I’m no different from the hundreds of thousands of kids that have come to Chicago over the past 30 some-odd years trying to tap into the brilliant synergy that made the world sit up and take notice of Steppenwolf Theatre and Second City.  The spirit of ensemble has become an integral part of Chicago’s cultural identity.  We were fortunate that our work at Congo Square caught the attention of Steppenwolf and some of the other amazing ensembles like Lookingglass Theatre and Jackie Taylor’s Black Ensemble Theatre.  As an actor to be recognized in Chicago, the blue collar City of Big Shoulders, for strong ensemble acting is the highest praise. The ensemble work was striking on YST in Season 1 and I am proud to be part of Season 2.

As an accomplished actor and director, which do you prefer?  

Oh, that question?  I wonder why that question is so fascinating. It’s like deciding which of your children do you like most?  Coppola or Scorcese?  Fried chicken or bacon?  Whiskey or tequila?  I am a “Both, And” type of guy.  They say ‘you can’t have it all,’ but why not give it a shot, ya know?  Which do I prefer?  Honestly, I think it has more to do with the project and the people involved.  The safest but also the most accurate answer is: Whichever project I’m currently working on.

How would you describe your experience filming You're So Talented: Season 2 ?

I had a blast filming YST: Season 2.  It was mostly at a bar!  The crew was excellent, the tone was playful but very professional and productive. My scenes didn’t film until the end of the shoot.  They were a well-oiled machine by then and I was the new guy, but everyone was incredibly kind and helpful despite being exhausted.  My scenes were 1-on-1 with Sam.  I’ve known her for a while, but haven’t worked with her in a few years. I think she’s awesome. It was impressive to watch Sam switch hats seamlessly from actor to director and back.  She’s So Talented!  Literally!

Watch Aaron's appearance in You're So Talented, season two here!




#SPOTLIGHT ON SAM BAILEY

#SPOTLIGHT ON SAM BAILEY

What's in store for Bea in season two of You're So Talented

Bea gets a little recognition in this second season and we get to see how she deals with it. The idea of being afraid of success is a real thing, especially when you're not sure if you really want to be doing what you're doing. Bea has all the same insecurities she had last season, she's just trying to filter them in a less destructive way. Whether or not she's successful at that is kind of the conflict this season. We also get to see a lot more of Bea's family (both biological and chosen) which is a really good insight to why she is the way she is. And, of course, more dope Chicago artists doing dope shit. 

How was making season two different from season one? 

I think we really came together as a team this season. I was much more familiar with being on set, running a set and knowing what the voice was for both the show and Bea. Mateo Gonzales, Vincent Martell, Sam Lee and Alistair Slaughter all returned from the first season and it was really cool to have familiar faces come together with new ones for the entire production process. Having The Goodnight Ladies and Derek O'Rourke join the team has been great. Our aesthetic and vision is much stronger than before. I think that's the goal for any continuing project: you learn from previous mistakes or really good choices and try to build upon them. 

Tell us about your upcoming projects and how you're establishing your voice as a storyteller.

I had an instructor once tell me that there's no such thing as 'finding' your voice. It's always been there, you just have to reveal it. Just by writing as much as I've had in the last year I've been able to shed some of the stuff that was hiding or weighing down my voice. Sam Lee and I came together to start a new production company (Our Names Are Sam) and went to Ghana this past fall to shoot a short film. We're currently writing a feature that we will shoot in early fall of 2016. By creating a body of work (that's diverse in content but cohesive in terms of point of view), I know that my voice is getting stronger and more true to me.

 

What are your plans for the rest of You're So Talented?

Right now the goal is to get the current season out and then we'll see where we go from there. It is a new year and I know we have a lot of options. I'd be lying if I said didn't think the show had legs. I think it could easily transfer to a 30 minute format. But, for now, I'm just focusing on getting out a final product that makes me happy. 

 

#VIEWPOINTS BY NIC KAY

#VIEWPOINTS BY NIC KAY

I think a lot about the many ways BLACK people can learn to fly/transcend. This is a musical, movement, spiritual + intellectual exercise for me. Sometimes when I’m practicing I record myself and share the videos online. I have developed an artistic practice to return daily to this exercise. I love my radical, black, queer, gender non-conforming existence. The world doesn't. I organize. I protest. I teach. I love. I listen. I create.

lil BLK and the process of rehearsing and developing the piece has been an act of resistance. I have and continue to face opposition from folks who don't want to see BLACK people flying/transcending subjected positions.

I also continue to meet people around the world who are happy to watch me feel, who are so excited to share their attempts to get light ­to fly/transcend. In lil BLK I close the show with a chant I wrote. I know the rainbows been tough.

I know the glitters been rough. Hey lil BLK girl. Get Free. Get Free. Fly away. Swim Away. Get Free Black People.

The Bronx Cunt Tour is a series of moments before, during and after flight.


#SPOTLIGHT ON KING IS A FINK PRODUCTIONS

#SPOTLIGHT ON KING IS A FINK PRODUCTIONS

Describe how you got into making web series.

Julie and I started making web series about five years ago, when tellofilms approached us to make short-form content specifically for online distribution. Prior to that, we’d been making independent shorts and features, which we’d self-funded and crowdfunded. tello, because it was a subscription-based site, had a model that provided production funds and then also paid filmmakers residuals based on overall views. We liked the model so much that we made several shows for tello and eventually took tello on as a major client, producing, writing, and directing over fifteen series over the course of five years.

You've been making web series in Chicago perhaps longer than anyone else. What has kept you making work here? 

Here in Chicago, we have an excellent crew: they’re like a small extended family, and there is such a wealth of talent in terms of actors, comedians, and dancers. We also like that, at least in terms of independent projects, there are more open ways of doing things here than in other cities.

We once hosted a group of L.A. actors for a shoot, and they were completely flummoxed by the way we worked, from our small yet effective crews, to the fact that everyone on set was considered (and treated) equally. In more rigidly codified environments, it’s harder to alter the system. Though, I hear Jill Soloway is dismantling the way things are done quite a bit on the set of Transparent, and we hope to see more of that: sets that are inclusive and supportive, making the most of each person’s true skills rather than labeling them and keeping them in a certain role.

How was making Full Out different from your earlier series?

Similarly, I had to believe in Kaitlin’s skills as a choreographer completely. I had seen her work and enjoyed her style, so I was hopeful. But if Kaitlin had fallen short in directing the dance, I wouldn’t have been able to step in and compensate. My trust in her had to be complete, and I was not let down. In the middle of the shoot, when we shot the dance-off scene for Episode 2, Kaitlin and I worked closely, making sure that the dancing and interactions on the dance floor reflected very particular emotional trials of the characters, and that process was exhilarating. 

How was it working with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Nana Visitor? How was it working with web star Kaitlyn Alexander? 

Both Nana and Kaitlyn were delightful to work with.

Nana was incredibly graceful and kind, immediately putting the dancers, who were so nervous to work with an actor of her caliber, at ease. She was open to playing and was so receptive and intelligent. Julie and I told her that we’d write a million shows with her at the center, and we meant it. She’s fantastic. 

Kaitlyn is a dream. They came to film with us for one day, the very last day of the shoot, which is a tough day for anyone to come in, as so much camaraderie has already been established. But they were charming, sweet, and immediately able to tune in to their scene partner, Jess Duffy, in order to flesh out the character of Max.

 

#VIEWPOINTS BY NICOLE MORSE

#VIEWPOINTS BY NICOLE MORSE

 Daughter, Mother, Mirror: Zackary Drucker's Southern For Pussy

Throughout Zackary Drucker's work, there's a consistent theme: collaboration. From Translady Fanzine, her photographic collaboration with Amos Mac, to She Gone Rogue, the film that brought Drucker and Rhys Ernst to the 2014 Whitney Biennial, to Transparent, Amazon.com's Emmy Award-winning television series on which Drucker serves as associate producer, Drucker seems to work best in dialogue with others. Southern For Pussy (2015), Drucker's recently-released pilot for OpenTV, is no exception. In this mini-episode, Drucker returns again to a collaboration that has fueled some of her most striking work, as she writes and acts alongside Penny Sori, her mother. Yet with Southern For Pussy, Drucker not only revisits her collaboration with her mother. In addition, she continues to explore a visual vocabulary of collaboration that she has developed through the image of the mirror and the figure of the double.

As an artist who works across mediums, from film to video to photography to performance art, collaboration offers Drucker practical advantages, especially when she works in a new medium or a new genre. As Drucker explained at the Chicago premiere of Southern For Pussy, her collaboration with the independent filmmaker Rhys Ernst enabled her shift into narrative-based work. With She Gone Rogue (2012) and Transparent (2014), Drucker became interested in exploring the possibilities of narrative, an element that had been absent from her experimental video art. Southern For Pussy is the next step for Drucker as she ventures into narrative storytelling. Yet for Drucker, collaboration is more than just pragmatic, and Southern For Pussy builds on the visual vocabulary of collaboration that Drucker has developed in other projects.

In Drucker's work, collaboration emerges again and again through visuals that invoke the mirror and the double. Over and over, Drucker's work shows us the self-emerging through dialogue with an other. In some cases, this “other” doubles Drucker metaphorically, as in her collaborations with Flawless Sabrina, an iconic queen who ran drag pageants in the 1950s and 1960s. For example, in Drucker's 2011 film At Least You Know You Exist, Drucker and Flawless Sabrina mirror each other, staging transfeminine history as a reflection that crosses generations:

Elsewhere, mirrors and doubling appear both metaphorically and literally, as in Drucker and Ernst's Relationship series, a series of photographs which won accolades in the 2014 Whitney Biennial along with She Gone Rogue. Created over six years, Relationship begins with a selfie of Drucker and Ernst shot in a mirror. Although they explore doubling in a variety of ways—in early images, reflecting each other in their shared androgyny, and in later images, doubling each other in silhouette—mirror reflections are a persistent visual theme:

In She Gone Rogue, the mirror reflection becomes the embodied double as Drucker's character, Darling, is pursued by her doppelganger, also played by Drucker. Moreover, She Gone Rogue continues Drucker's exploration of intergenerational doubling, as Darling interacts with transfeminine pioneers Holly Woodlawn, Vaginal Davis, and Flawless Sabrina. And in She Gone Rogue, Drucker also turns the camera once again on the woman who was her first photographic subject: her mother.

 Despite Southern For Pussy's linear narrative and accessible wit, there are many continuities between the pilot and Drucker's other collaborations with her mother. For example, Southern For Pussy's dry, sexually explicit dialogue echoes Drucker's earlier collaboration with Sori, the two-minute experimental video piece FISH: A Matrilineage of Cunty White-Woman Realness (2008). In FISH, Drucker and Sori complete (and pervert) each other's sentences, while mirroring each other in matching makeup and wigs against a hot pink background:

In Southern For Pussy, Drucker and Sori mirror each other once again, albeit more naturally, through visuals that place them side-by-side, or through cluttered mirror reflections that also recall images from the Relationship series:

In Southern For Pussy, Drucker explores collaboration both behind-the-scenes and within the image, as she brings the visual vocabulary of collaboration that she has developed elsewhere into her independent television pilot. As in her other work, Drucker envisions the self in dialogue with others, and she represents this relationship through mirror images and intergenerational doubling. Moreover, within Southern For Pussy, there is even a striking composition that evokes one of the stranger images from the Relationship series. As Drucker's character Moxy applies her makeup, the camera captures Moxy's eye, reflected and distorted in a hand-held makeup mirror:

This layered composition centers Drucker's reflected eye, and recalls Relationship #35, which also centers Drucker's eye, reflected and distorted in a standing makeup mirror:

This resemblance shouldn't come as a surprise. For although Southern For Pussy may appear more conventional than some of Drucker's other work, it is concerned with some of the same thematic and aesthetic questions. As Drucker ventures into new territory, creating narrative independent television, she brings with her the visual vocabulary of collaboration that she has been developing across photography, video, and film.

Nicole Erin Morse is a PhD student at the University of Chicago in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies. Nicole's dissertation examines selfies and self-representation, placing Zackary Drucker's work in relation to selfie aesthetics.

 

 

#SPOTLIGHT ON RASHIDA KHANBEY

#SPOTLIGHT ON RASHIDA KHANBEY

Rashida KhanBey is the creator of Woman Untamed, a safe space dedicated to helping women drop their inhibitions in bed, love and life.

Can you talk about the evolution from Sex Is A God Thing to Let Go and Let God? 

SIAGT was truly the beginning of me pushing my own boundaries to talk about sexuality + spirituality in the same space, without apology or a need to hold back. I’ve been teaching around the subjects of eroticism and sensuality (primarily using erotic dance) for almost eight years now and I wanted to find a strong way to link the conversation back to our spiritual lives. Sex + Spirit go hand and hand and quite honestly one doesn’t have depth without the other. Not depth in the sense of ‘sex is so sacred it’s untouchable or only reserved for certain people or experiences. It’s more about taking the shackles off of the way we look at, talk about and have sex from a place of being spiritually grounded and nourished when we enter that personal and sacred sanctuary of our bedrooms with our chosen lover(s). It’s about having sex and living sensually in a way that heals our bodies, our hearts and relationships. 

Over the last few years in teaching what I noticed is that I had a lot of women coming to me for help in ‘letting go’ in the bedroom.  They wanted to feel more confident in their bodies, more willing to take big risks and just go there but something was holding them back. What I noticed is that the women would get to a certain point in the dancing where they hit a barrier and then suddenly the movement just fell back to the surface and non-orgasmic. When we paused to unpack the big obstacle present, almost always there was another sole issue lying underneath the surface that needed to be addressed before we go any further with the movement. 

I knew that this obstacle being present was just another way of the Universe grabbing my attention so that I would do the work that I was sent here to do. I know that work now to be teaching women how to lead lives in the intersection between their spiritual + erotic self - calling us home to a place where we viscerally live life in the body vs. giving way to numbness.

Let Go and Let God comes into the picture at this same point many women face in my programs. It’s that point where you have to face the issue head on before you can get to that next level of breakthrough. The obstacle or barrier that they would hit in their movement was a reflection on the hidden pain, trauma, resentment,anger etc that they were refusing to acknowledge and release. So before we can go on having the toe curling sex and breathtaking love experiences that we desire in our lives, we have to surrender in order to experience that new level of pleasure and ecstasy with our beloved(s). 

 

How has Woman Untamed influenced your artistic development and overall creative process? 

Gosh, It’s my launchpad. Seriously. I never imagined that this was the way that I would come into my confidence and strength with acting and producing. I suppose I couldn’t teach other women how to drop their inhibitions and surrender if I wasn’t willing to do it myself (wink, wink).  

After I graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Theatre program I didn’t really think I had a chance to be an actor. The very thing that I had trained for several years to doand all my confidence was shot. I thought I was too heavy, too dark, too this, too that. So since I had been teaching for a few years on a more low key level I figured I would move first into building a business after graduation.

It was in the process of developing the Woman Untamed method that I now teach at my retreats that I started stripping back my own layers of fear, stripping back the lies that other people had me believing about myself, stripping back the pain that I had experienced and truly erupting (sometimes gracefully and sometimes chaotically) back into my truth and my power. 

What has been the most empowering part of working on a film that you are so emotionally and mentally connected to?  

It was telling this story through this lens of walking through the valley of loss and grief. I have had a few points in my own life where I was so overwhelmed by grief that I could do nothing but lay on the floor for months. Depression had taken over me. I knew going into this story that I wasn’t interested in enabling this character staying stuck in her depression or staying stuck on the floor. I wanted to focus on that burst of time period right before you make the choice to get up off the floor, stop numbing, stop isolating and reconnect back to the truth of our lives. It all boils down to this one truth for me -- even in the moments of darkness when we feel most alone, there is an omnipresent force holding the light of our spirits at the other end of the valley. That force is waiting for us to summon the courage to keep taking steps forward. There’s nothing that we can do or not do to change that presence being with us. It is a changeless fact that we are kept and held by this Divine force that’s filled with a passionate and uninhibited love constantly rooting for us to win. 


#VIEWPOINTS BY KING IS A FINK

#VIEWPOINTS BY KING IS A FINK

With Full Out, Julie and I wanted to tell a story about a different kind of success. Getting ahead doesn’t always mean ‘winning:’ sometimes it means letting go of what was previously weighing you down, achieving a lightness that allows you to ascend to the next level.

As women, queer ones and increasingly older ones, we carry weight. Not just in our hips and our breasts but on our shoulders. The weight of expectations (don’t be too angry or bossy or ambitious), illusions (you can have it all: the perfect body, the perfect job, and the perfect family), the disappointments of our mothers, their mothers, their mothers’ mothers. It crushes us, pushes us into cracks where we can only grow into pre-conceived molds that define artistic, career-oriented, financial, maternal, feminine ‘success,’ which, ultimately, means ‘acquiescence.’ Through our work, we want to bust out of these cracks.

The world of dance tends to be homogenous and heteronormative, heavy with constraints designed to control body, mind, and identity. What audiences see as weightless expressions of grace and freedom come from rigorous, often body-breaking training designed to shape muscles and minds in particular ways. Full Out is a series that explores what happens to expressions of one’s authentic self amidst the rigorous constraints imposed on women by the dominant culture, magnified by dance culture.

The series follows the trials of Claire, who, in order to find success and fit into the dance world, has always kept her true self hidden. As a result, she has pushed herself too far in some respects and held herself back in others, tethered to insecurity, the approval of others, and the reality of injury. Conversely, her rival, Taylor, is all passion, all bravado, always bursting with her full expression of herself despite pushback from not only her fellow dancers but those in positions to really let her fly: as every woman knows, ambitious women are punished.

On our toes. On our backs. In our heads. At attention. Our necks and knees and backs bow until we are kneeling, praying for every little scrap that might be tossed to us. Women are told to be grateful. We are taught acceptance, patience, and techniques for quieting discontented men. And then…in the midst of struggling, we find our voices, and they become stronger, and we become more comfortable sharing them, shouting them. Our words and our films and our voices soar. To achieve this, to be heard, to be elevated, to be appreciated, to make a difference: this is to truly transcend the weight we carry, to avoid placing it around the necks of those who blossom after us.

    

#SPOTLIGHT ON NIC KAY

#SPOTLIGHT ON NIC KAY

Why did you make lil BLK?

I love Whoopi Goldberg, and I had just started to understand the world of performance art via William Pope. L. So I decided to do some performance with the cotton where I walked around my hood at the time in Harlem with my friend/collaborator/photographer yannique hall and do a durational interactive performance walk.

After these performances I began developing and writing a one person show about the conversations I had with folks while carrying the bouquet around NYC. At this time I also started to be invited to perform in public not on the street. So I began to explore themes from the show. I started performing a piece called Wonderful about private moments of breakdown in public spaces. This is when lil BLK was born. I quickly decided after moving to Chicago in 2011 to devote an artist book to the cotton experience and dedicate more time to developing a show about breakdown.

That’s how it started really. I was really interested in processing my experiences as a black, queer, female-bodied person who later in the process started to claim my gender variance, my feminine and my masculine, my otherness, my cuntyness. I had been a gayby in the New York scene and was raised in the kiki culture of LGBT youth organizations across the 5 boroughs in New York. These experiences with voguing beats + old house beats gave me the first glimpse of what it meant to transcend the body. I used this early awakening as the foundation of how I’d format and explore my black femininity in lil BLK.

I made lil BLK to talk to my younger self aka NICKY. I wanted her (she likes feminine pronouns) to know that I loved her and that she was finally gonna get the audience and applause she worked so hard for. The little black girl who felt too small to be as great as her wildest dreams. The little black girl who was taught to practice being invisible as to not get in trouble or make other people uncomfortable. I know I am not the only person who has been waiting there whole life for a particular movement of release. lil BLK is my coming out/my kiki/ my protest/ my testament.

We hear a lot about how "Brooklyn" is a global brand today. What does it mean for you to rep the Bronx?

But if it wasn't for the Bronx
This rap shit probably never would be going on
So tell me where you from
Uptown baby, uptown baby
We gets down baby, up for the crown baby

"Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)"
Lord Tariq ft. Peter Gunz

I was born in the Bronx. I’m not gonna front. I’ll keep it 100 because I’m proud of my borough. What folks from out of NYC don’t know is that the whole city is lit. haha I'm talking shit but for real growing up in NYC every borough had something,­ some history to be proud about. Brooklyn is great; my Dad is from Brooklyn. The whole African American side of my family was raised in Bed Stuy. I lived between BX + BK.

But with that said I think there is a certain hustle that I had to grow as a young weirdo in the Bronx. And I mean far Bronx not South Bronx like Intervale off the 2 train. I lived off of 226 on the 2 train,­ Gun Hill Road on the 5 train. If you from the Bronx you get me. This wasn’t 30 minutes to Times Square. I took my 1 and 30 minutes to get to school. This is Co­op City. This is a two fare zone to get home.

When I first moved to Chicago it was very familiar because of this hustle. Access the hustle I was always so far away from where “things were happening”.

What is "cunt" to you?

Cunt is my black queer gender non-conforming femininity oozing from my pores. It is me stacking claim to my independence. I also practice a type of vogue femme which is called soft + cunt. A slower sensual style that is powerfully seductive + playful.

IMG_3839.JPG

Which city most welcomed the piece and why?

Chicago of course! I got to Chicago with a serious plan for my career + some contacts and I made people believe in my concepts through consistency and confidence. There are a lot of supportive established artists in Chicago who were and are willing to share and teach. This was not happening in NYC for me. The artistic community in Chicago nurtured me and this project from day 1. That's not to say it was easy but folks had my back.

Were there differences in how your performances were promoted?

Every show is promoted via social media and email blasts. In some cities I have more contacts so that helps but, yeah, I at this point don't have too much institutional support in promoting but its not a hindrance. Folks want to see the work, so I just have to make sure they know it is happening.

 

How is the show changing?

I'm thinking bigger and more specifically as I continue to perform. How can I push my audience further? How can I make them more invested in the narrative? Sonically I have gotten more interested in producing original scores for the show so that's in development.

What have you learned about yourself as an artist while developing and touring l' BLK?

I am willing to sacrifice for my work. It is okay to say no when people don't want to pay you. And that I deserve to have a sustainable and supported career.

#BTS ISIS of #FUTUREWOMEN

#BTS ISIS of #FUTUREWOMEN

FUTUREWOMEN: AN ALTERNATE REALITY SERIES CHRONICLES THE DEVELOPMENT OF MA(S)KING HER, A DANCE THEATER WORK OF SPECULATIVE FICTION ABOUT EMPOWERED FUTURE BEINGS AND JOURNEYWOMEN. 

 

Making Isis

Brown little girls need to be told they are the sun and the moon

Need to recognize their own god/dess self

Need to shine with rings on their fingers

Need a little mirror to reflect back their lights shining brighter

Need a word and a hug and love

Need a story all their own

The entire process of this work began with a question – What texts have been formative in your life? What texts continue to resonate with you? What do these texts feed you? How do they nourish and illuminate? How do they help you flourish? I remembered my encounters with black feminist theory and then fiction from the Harlem Renaissance to contemporary writers during undergrad and grad school. When I read Patricia Hill Collins, Audre Lorde, Ntzoke Shange, the Combahee River Collective, I discovered language I knew in my bones but didn’t yet have the words for.

As Isis tries to sleep, she hears whispers. Sometimes they are a mashup of bubbling voices all intertwined together. Sometimes certain voices distinguish themselves becoming crystalline. The ancient tongues are the most comforting even though she can barely decipher them. Something about them reminds her of a home that is older than her own self, a home that seems to exist before time or between it. They are voices of her mother’s mothers, an echo of the Oracle’s wisdom, a lifesource built on the ancestors’ continual elevation. Voices familiar in sound but she has yet to know the order and meaning of this language.

Then I encountered the works of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Gloria Naylor. I took a course that was works by just those three women writers and it opened up a world for me. Again, gave me language, in theory but also as poetics, for things I knew in fragments and pieces, as feeling. After that I devoured the works of black women writers and then other women of color in poetry and fiction genres of magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction --- Edwidge Dandicat, Octavia Butler, Marita Golden, Andrea Levy, Isabel Allende, Elizabeth Nunez, Trinh Minh Ha. They were brilliant conjurers with words, wielding finely crafted language like a weapon, making worlds and making meaning out of so much chaos and violence and pain. I was in…I am in...awe. I began to see the fluidity between theory and the poetic in black womens’ writing and then I read Barbara Christian’s The Race for Theory, and it encapsulated the core of what I knew – that people of color have always theorized, though not always in conventional modes of writing, but through lived social vocabularies and vernaculars, through creativity and physicality, through spirit.  And that was powerful.  For Ma(s)king Her, I am really interested in revisiting those initial feelings and reactions to these works and thinking about why they were/are so powerful. What residue continues to linger and edify me, give me strength.

The Veil will not erase us. You do not get to turn us against ourselves. We will remember who we are. We will be what we were meant to be. I search for the answers in towns I have no kin in, in countries I have never heard of, in dream space realms that defy the laws of our reality. I conjure worlds, wield knowing nested deep in the belly, erupt with languages of fire and feeling. I believe we are our best magic. I believe. We are. I am. We will be.

So in the making of my character, Isis the Architect, it is all of this womanist energy that is lifting her up, making her stronger, helping her evolve into her next self. I love the idea of a character who is learning to understand who she is, what her power and purpose is. These are the stories that have always captured my attention, the stories that I find it easy to use as allegory for my own journey in this world. Stories like these have always been sources of healing and power for me.  The act of reading and then learning to write, the process of discovering my own voice as a writer, as a conjurer of words my own self, that is the gift that these women writers pass down. In this way, I imagine them into my own story as ancestors, as Oracles, as protectors that guide.

Althea: In the betwixt times

Peppa: At the crest of dusk til the helm of dawn

All: She transitions from human to god,

Wonder: From solid state to pure energy

All: They call her

Come, Spread it, We are in need of it

Love

She blinked her eyes

And tears made of glitter

Sprinkled our skin

Isis: And we were made to shine