Sunday, July 30, 2017

QueerWise Ups Ante @ Antioch

Antioch University hosted an event on Thursday, July 27, that included a distilled version of QueerWise’s newest piece, Shereoes & Heroes, our first outing since the towering achievement that kicked off our year (Shades of Disclosure). Simply by gauging the title, one likely perceives the de rigueur political correctness of the work; QueerWise prides itself on inclusiveness, shouting out the joys of diversity and marching to the beat of queerness in its myriad manifestations.

It reads well, yes?

But it was during the intimate performance, engineered by one of our own, Ken Pienkos (who also happens to be a librarian at Antioch), that QueerWise took flight. The premise is simple: By invoking our personal sheroes/heroes, we are defining ourselves, and our collective, by embracing identity politics in a way that is informative, inspirational, and entertaining. 

When QueerWise was birthed, nearly seven years ago, we said all the right things and diligently tried to engender a small community of writers of many-hued stripes. That task was fraught; for all its good intentions (and we did achieve gender equality and maintained it), QueerWise was too often dominated by sensibility of gay white men of varying degrees of privilege.

It wasn’t until our 2016 World AIDS Day offering at Skylight Theatre, We Laid Our Bodies Down, that QueerWise began to strengthen its collective voice and layered consciousness. A year later, Skylight produced Shades of Disclosure, another World AIDS Day event that became a full production, opening Skylight’s 2017 season.

What was significant, beyond the thrill of QueerWise becoming part of L.A.’s theater scene, was our determined stance to enlighten at a time of encroaching darkness. The weeel before we opened, sixteen performers (some with very little stage experience) and a team of designers made drastic changes in the script, the video projections, the music, the choreography: all in order to depict the urgency of the international Women’s marches, focusing on L.A. and D. C.

What also shifted was the thrust of the play’s intent which began as a way to (yes, once again) define AIDS in the present tense; in other words, the AIDS stories may have carried inevitable nostalgia but there were an equal number of in-the-moment confessions and revelations. Those soaring monologues imbued Shades of Disclosure with both comedy and tragedy, never disappointing those who looked toward QueerWise for authenticity.

Within hours before we opened, the themes swirling in Shades were realigned to focus more specifically on issues involving women, the trans community, and our black/ brown brothers and sisters. AIDS still maintained its star status but the supporting players gave QueerWise an urgently needed new image.

But the Antioch evening took this newfound consciousness to an exalted level.
I sat in the back of the cozy space—filled with a guileless conglomeration of individuals—overwhelmed with pride for the accomplishments our troupe of Spoken Word artists. Without spelling it out (either on the page or on the stage) Sheroes & Heroes, looked at the individuals who inspired us and what emerged was a tapestry, always through a queer l
ens, emphasizing intersectionality--that which is female, including trans, and racially mixed. The white gay guys (less than half of the cast’s composition) were of service to something larger than themselves.

QueerWise performed heroically that night and we will continue to engage our artistry by trusting our instincts, loving each other, and listening to the world’s whispers and cries.

And just in case you’re worried that QueerWise is adopting an intellectual and highfalutin mandate, the name of our next show is Sex. We hope to see you there.