Why I’m with Teach For America
Wu Tsang and boychild in conversation with Michelle Puetz
Michelle Puetz: I’ve been thinking a lot about collectivity and collaboration, and the ethos of collectively building and sharing ideas is something that has always struck me in your work, Wu. Can you say a little bit about the process of collaborating on this performance—how it started and how it has evolved?
Wu Tsang: The performance is an ongoing series and also part of a larger film project that I’ve been working on with boychild. It initially evolved out of “playing” around in rehearsals for the film—sometimes we play to get into the character and story—and then we decided to explore it further, to examine and disrupt the roles we inhabit as director and actor.
MP: I saw the installation of the film project, A day in the life of bliss, when I was in Berlin—it’s incredible. What kind of play are you referring to? Do you switch roles (explanatory/active)?
WT: In the beginning I was still working on developing the story and script in Stockholm and I asked boychild to help me to better understand her performance/movement. So we began exploring how her movement could tie into to her character (named Blis) and the story.
boychild: Yeah, play became a useful medium to communicate with each other.
MP: Aah, play has to be one of the most—if not the most—useful way to communicate! boychild, how does the movement in the film and in the performance relate to the story? How did you adapt bodily movements to ideas or plot developments?
bc: First, in these exercises I developed a “vocabulary” of movements that I already use to help Wu understand what each physical articulation means to me. As he developed the character and the script, we worked together to create a series of performances, many like my own boychild performances, and adapted them to the story.
MP: I was struck by the final dance/movement sequence in A day in the life of bliss. How did this evolve?
bc: In the final scene, Blis comes home from the nightclub and has a “victory dance.”Wu describes her as being “in her power.” It’s this state of being where there is full trust in your expression and emotion. It’s this final state of bliss that I seek in my performances.
WT: Yea, the last dance is definitely like the grand finale, after the character has overcome her obstacles of the day. Blis is kind of a classic sci-fi hero. I wanted to use genre to help ground what is otherwise a pretty experimental performance art film. boychild’s movement also inspired the narrative arc, because I had in mind the feeling of the ending, based on her performance, I worked backwards, asking myself, how can I build tension through plot so that this moment really pays off?
MP: Yes, this is so evident in the physicality of the movements and their expansiveness in the space … but there was something quite melancholy about it for me as well.
bc: I think there is something very melancholic about victory, coming to the end of something requires self-realization and change.
WT: Something that really inspired me about boychild’s movement, which is one of the reasons I wanted to work with her on this project, is the way that her emotions seem so connected to the movement—like there is this direct connection/expression of feeling that is not based in language. As a director, this is something I am always hoping to achieve with the actors/performers I work with.
MP: Are any of these boychild performances available online?
bc: Most of the performances that are live are only documented on phones! Which is why I’m so excited about this project—I think that Wu has an incredible talent to reproduce the energy and emotion that is an evasive aspect of the live performance.
MP: Yes, the performance in A day in the life of bliss was brutal because it felt so wild and as though it was evolving as it was being recorded. How “scripted” or rehearsed is the movement in that film or in the performance, and how much does it shift and change/base itself in improvisation?
WT: With both this performance and the film, I think it’s equally important to have a script and to allow space for improvisation. The script is meant to guide everyone (including the cinematographer for example) to get on the same page about what’s supposed to be happening at any given moment. This structure gives us more freedom to interpret, each in our different roles.
bc: The rehearsal for those scenes only existed as live performances in clubs and as conversations and the “play” exercises that are now a full performance of its own.
MP: I just started reading Seed to Harvest by Octavia Butler, and as a result have been thinking a lot about past and future worlds, telepathy, networking, and what it means to be human (or rather, what it will mean in the future), which connects to some of the ideas that I’ve been mulling over after seeing A day in the life of bliss. What have you been reading/watching/listening to for inspiration?
WT: Definitely reading a lot of Octavia Butler, China Mieville, William Gibson, Fred Moten, and I’m also inspired by my cowriter Alexandro Segade’s work.
bc: Yeah, we’ve been eating up Octavia Butler.
WT: I’ve been researching a lot on biometrics, face recognition technology, and HRI (human robot interaction).
bc: I’ve been watching a lot of Justin Bieber and pop performances in preparation for the final set of shooting.
WT: Oh yea!
MP: Recent Bieber?
MP: His messy rawness?
bc: His live performance, pop performance. In addition to Lady Gaga a few years back, Beyoncé at the Super Bowl, and Miley’s live tour.
MP: Excellent, thanks you two!
Angelica Ross: Using tech to empower the trans* community by Matt Simonette
Angelica Ross says that she’s all about helping her trans sisters and brothers “up their game.”
Speaking at a July 20 workshop at Center on Halsted, where she introduced community members to the concepts behind her new organization, TransTech, Ross said, “It’s expensive to live the life that we live. It’s not about judging, it’s about improving your game.”
Ross, who until June ran the employment program at Chicago House’s TransLife Center, hopes TransTech can help them do just that. The organization will try to train and educate trans people in tech-oriented skills such as coding and graphic design, and channel those skills into their own businesses.
Members of the trans community face especially difficult financial and vocational odds. Many, like Ross, have faced discrimination and hostility at their jobs, provided they are lucky enough to find employment in the first place. Precious Davis, who introduced Ross at the workshop, said that trans individuals are four times more likely than the general public to be subsiding on an annual income of less than $10,000, which is significantly lower than the federal poverty line.
But Ross thinks that technology has the potential to help trans folks avoid falling into the traps of poverty. She is currently hunting for funders for TransTech, which follows business models she said are frequently employed by beauty school students.
The main ingredient participants will have to bring to the table, Ross added, is determination. “These skills are all things that can be learned.”
The key concepts powering TechTalk are empowerment, education and employment, according to Ross, who told Windy City Times, “I see programs that teach skills but not empowerment, programs that don’t ask folks, ‘Do you know that there is a system? Do you know that there is privilege? Do you know that there is power?’”
The feeling of being without one’s own power or agency is one Ross has worked hard to overcome for many years. A native of Racine, Wisconsin, before her transition, she entered the Navy, where a group of her fellow officers held her out of a window to coax her into saying whether she was gay or not. She late received an “uncharacterized” discharge. “It wasn’t an honorable discharge or a dishonorable discharge—it’s just kind of like I wasn’t there,” she told her workshop audience.
She became estranged from her family shortly after she made the decision to transition. “I promised myself I would never live my life for someone else,” Ross said.
She had difficulty keeping jobs, losing both a waitressing position, after a fight with a co-worker, and a job at a make-up counter when fellow employees were uncomfortable about sharing a bathroom with her. She realized that her brightest prospects for affording medical care she would need for her transition would be through sex work. “I never thought I would find myself in the adult industry, but I found myself there.”
Ross became involved with an adult website based out of Hollywood, Florida. The stint as a model didn’t last long, however; the website’s owner frequently asked Ross to do technical work on the site and she soon found she had a flair for computer work.
She began teaching herself computer skills using tutorials she found online, and she and her then-partner were able to parlay her knowledge into their own adult site, but the relationship and the business dissolved. She eventually ended up working at an Apple Store, then went to work doing coding for Apple from her home in Wisconsin.
Being able to work from home, on a computer, was beneficial, Ross said. “In days I was feeling not so confident because there was a forest growing on my chin, I could still log on and work.”
That independence from a traditional workplace is an important aspect of the TransTech model. “The whole basis is people can access [the work] from wherever they are.”
Ross said she has no regrets about the adult work and looks on it as a stop along the path to her real calling. “Going through that process was a process in understanding my own value. I had to say to myself, ‘These are my circumstances now, but I am worth more than this.’ No decision a trans person makes is easy.”
Indeed, she sees TransTech as having the potential to help benefit trans persons who might find themselves in situations similar to hers: “One of my hopes is that TransTech can develop harm reduction strategies around sex work, so maybe they can run a website and just do webcam work, instead of having to go out on the street.”
Ross’ main goal now is talking to individuals and organizations willing to help bring TransTech to fruition. “I need to find people with the means to donate—when the White House calls and invites you [to the LGBT Innovators Summit on July 7], you go, but I had to front the money for that ticket,” she said. “I have to watch what I spend and cut corners, but I’ve been there before.”
She knows that she’s fortunate to have a diverse enough skill set that she won’t go hungry, and hopes TransTech can help other trans folks reach that same place: “Laverne Cox said at the Creating Change Conference that trans women need to be shown love in public spaces—we need someone to say, ‘I am here because I love you.’”
TAYLOR MAC’S HISTORY OF AMERICAN POP MUSIC IN 24 HOURS
When you think of drag, you probably imagine, big wigs, high heels, fake Lizas and Judys, and a kind of one-note campiness.
But a lot of performers are demonstrating that drag is much more than the narrow stereotype. One of the most inventive of those artists is Taylor Mac. From his five-hour-long masterpiece,The Lily’s Revenge, to his critically acclaimed turn in Bertolt Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan at the Public Theater in New York, Mac has proven himself one of today’s great theatrical artists, period.
For Mac, drag isn’t about hiding his identity — it’s about exposing what he looks like on the inside. “When I’m wearing my jeans and my t-shirt, that’s when I’m hiding because I’m trying to blend in with everybody else.”
A 24-Decade History of Popular Music is a decade-by-decade revue of American pop music — from the 1770s to the present — in which each of the country’s 24 decades gets its own hour. Over the next year or so, he’ll put all those decades together into one vast 24-hour musical extravaganza.
So how historically accurate will this 24-hour history be? “Oh, there’s liberties!” Mac laughs. “The 1770s is about how America was founded on booze, man-boy love, and dandy revenge.” Funny as that sounds, it’s not so far off. “ ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ was originally sung by the British to make fun of Americans, saying that they were dandies,” Mac explains. “The British lost a battle and the Americans forced them to dance to ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ over and over and over again. And that’s how it became an American song.”
Taylor Mac performs live in Studio 360 accompanied by Matt Ray on piano and backing vocals.
If Your Kisses Won’t Hold the Man You LoveArtist: Taylor Mac
Snakeskin CowboyArtist: Taylor Mac
Life is Just a Bowl of CherreisArtist: Jack HyltonAlbum: Music of the Lost GenerationLabel: Vintage MastersPurchase: Amazon