The Fourth of July is a time to reflect on patriotism. We all claim it and look askance on those who claim it differently than we do, whether they’re anarchists, libertarians, tea partiers, white supremacists, or pro-birth progressives. As I honor red, white, blue, and Black Lives Matter, I do not mourn the loss of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, or the Eskimo Pie from grocery shelves. We must shift our patriotism from lip service to action, and this year feels different. Today, I look not to my usual sagely suspects: Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, or Alan Page. I look to my longtime friend Rip Rapson, who has inspired me daily during coronavirus:

“The manifestations of constructive outrage that accelerate our nation’s embrace of racial justice have become increasingly powerful, and unexpected.

Statue of Theodore Roosevelt on a horse. A Native American man and African American man stand on either side of him

Who would have thought that the legislature and governor of Mississippi would agree to remove the confederate icon from the State’s flag? Less than twenty years ago, a referendum to remove the icon had failed, by a 2:1 vote.  But different constituencies allied this time around – from some of the state’s largest employers . . . to sports associations (including the NCAA and the SEC) . . .  to the Southern Baptist Convention . . . to Black Lives Matter protesters . . . to all eight of Mississippi’s public universities . . . to prominent individuals from all walks of life, both inside and outside the state.

Who would have imagined that Princeton University would remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from its school of public policy and other buildings? Wilson’s role as president of the United States, president of Princeton, and a champion of multiple progressive causes was seen by Princeton’s Board of Trustees as being outweighed by the ‘tensions, hypocrisies, and harms in Wilson’s legacy.’

Who would have predicted that a statute of one of our most revered Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, would be voluntarily removed by the New York City Museum of Natural History because its depiction of a Native American man and an African American man walking alongside Roosevelt astride a horse ‘communicates a racial hierarchy that the museum and members of the public have long found disturbing?’

Who would have anticipated that protests against expressions of historical oppression would extend beyond symbols of the Confederacy and racism against African-Americans to valorizations of others who glorified violence (Mayor Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia) or stood as manifestations of false historical narrative (Christopher Columbus)?

After years of being thwarted by politics, bureaucracy, and legal process, the power of the moment rests with those who are tired of waiting. No executive order from the White House will change that.

Removal accordingly takes its place alongside acts of truth-telling and accurate historical depiction. Among the most powerful is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, initiated by Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative to depict victims of lynching in the United States:

Monument with names of lynching victims

Another is a memorial that will open next year in Charleston – the International African American Museum, which stands on the site of Gadsden’s wharf, the point of disembarkation of almost half of the imprisoned Africans brought to North America on slave ships:

Museum Exterior

In a slightly different category is the art installation organized by “Bear the Truth” in Los Angeles. The organization sought to give children an opportunity to raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement by donating some 1,200 stuffed teddy bears to open space in front of City Hall. As one of the organizers stated: ‘Teddy bears, they’re all different. Different sizes, different shapes, different colors, but they all have some value. They all get loved the same.’

As Harvard Law School’s director of the Institute for Race and Justice, David Harris, noted, there is a thread through these efforts: ‘Understanding the real, ongoing harm from policies and practices that have differentially distributed access and opportunity, state violence, and deprivation will open our eyes to avenues for repair and restoration.’”

Children walking among dozens of teddy bears

As a collector of aphorisms, here are a few that resonate in the week of Independence Day:

An Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist once said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Two-time presidential loser Adlai Stevenson wisely shared, “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.”

– Jack Reuler, Artistic Director

A futurist is not someone with a crystal ball, but rather someone who recognizes trends and acts in anticipation. Last May, we at Mixed Blood produced a wild extravaganza entitled AUTONOMY. It featured a threatened DACA Dreamer, a would-be global pandemic, and corporate greed as well as the benefits of autonomous vehicles. A year later we’re experiencing a massive pandemic, the Supreme Court has ruled protectively on DACA this week, corporate taxes were cut by 12%, and climate change is a year closer to planetary catastrophe.

In March of 2019, we produced ROE, about the complicated person who was the Roe of Roe v Wade. Within 65 days of our closing, 13 states had passed laws that limited reproductive rights as that landmark Supreme Court ruling got challenged repeatedly in 2019.

In March COVID-19 closed our hit musical, INTERSTATE, in which an activist trans spoken word artist and lesbian singer-songwriter trumpet their politics across America. Last week SCOTUS ruled that employers cannot discriminate against trans and LGBTQIA employees.

Our neighborhood – Cedar Riverside – was greatly impacted by President Trump’s travel bans on predominantly Muslim countries, including Somalia. SCOTUS shot that travel ban down twice.

We will marshal our artists to mobilize people to register to vote, to vote, and to impact the outcome of the 2020 national election, an outcome that will no doubt be challenged legally and arrive at the Supreme Court.

Lots of theaters refer to their work as “ripped from the headlines,” but at Mixed Blood our work isn’t successful if there isn’t a call to action for its participants, including its viewers. Is our work the bellwether of what will be heard by the High Court? Better keep coming to find out!

-Jack Reuler

Lia Rivamonte

Say Their Names

I don’t pretend to know what was going through his mind. I can only imagine what it was like to feel the throbbing of the caught man’s neck beneath his sharp-boned knee—at first acute, then weakening as he pressed, and kept pressing. Did the stiff fabric of his trousers prevent him from noticing the slowing movement of blood through the man’s veins? Did the whimpers of pain, pleas for release that emanated from the shadowy flesh he’d so handily pinned to the ground fail to reach his ears through the fray? As onlookers began to gather, growing more vociferous—what in jesus were they going on about—the crescendoing clamor began to fuel that all-too-familiar rage, a flaming orb swirling in his gut, its heat rising up, swelling his head. It hurt but it made him so feel alive.

You wouldn’t know it by his eyes—glassy—his mouth a line of resolute calm, the free hand in his pocket fingering his keys. Soon, he would leave this place. The oil-grimed asphalt, the dingy neighborhood. The stink of urine and vomit, the squalor. His back started to ache; he needed to shift positions but, naw. He would hold—this was a test. He drew a breath, steadied himself. Perhaps he was thinking of the lake; he would leave early Friday, get a head start. Too bad it was only Monday. He could be on the water by mid-afternoon, out on the shimmering, cool waters where there would be no dark bodies save the sleek bass. Too bad Florida was out of the question. Salt-spray instead of salty sweat, and that warm Florida sun pinking his shoulders and the back of his neck, the pure, cloudless sky above. How he craved feeling the weight of a shiny-skinned marlin on the end of his arching line, that massive body snapping his hook.

I don’t know how many hours were left in his shift; he seemed to have all the time in the world. No place to go. At least the body beneath him had quieted. It was only when the ambulance arrived that he became aware that the man under his knee had gone completely limp as they rolled him onto the gurney. No more fight—in fact, the man had never given him battle, it was as if he’d already given up, his body seizing like a bass desperate for water after the hard landing in the bottom the boat. The moments of triumph are so fleeting.

The man felt his chest tighten, his heart ready to explode. It was like one of those dreams where you know you have to be somewhere but you are trapped, you try to speak but when you move your lips there is no sound. Everything hurt. After a long, long while, he felt the faintest breath on the surface of his skin, cool and soothing. His mother was whispering to him, holding her arms out to him and he took them into his own.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Lia Rivamonte

 

This poem is dedicated to the memory of George Floyd and all of our Black brothers and sisters who have died at the hands of the police. May they rest in peace and in power and may their lives and brutal deaths be the catalyst for transforming the unsustainable, racist policies that have prevailed from the beginning and throughout the history of the United States of America. Black Lives Matter.

Text: Never Underestimate the Activist Artist over an image of the Firehouse

My family has lived in the City of Minneapolis since the 1880s. For decades those five generations were a great source of pride. On the block on which I work (at Mixed Blood) are 5000 people, most of whom have been Minneapolitans for less than twenty years. Of that I am even more proud. I live a dozen blocks from 38th and Chicago. While not in Minnesota, my cousin Michael Reuler is a proud police officer and I am proud of him.

So I take the death of George Floyd very personally. Not in my city! Not in my
neighborhood!

We at Mixed Blood are going to prove to the powers-that-be that they were mistaken not to deem the arts, theater, or Mixed Blood essential in this time of pandemic, We are going to commission artists as truth sayers to use their art to speak their truths. We are going to prod activists to be active and give them the forum to do so. We are going to be voices in the ears of policy makers and service providers to do better. Look for us to be referees of racism, calling foul wherever we see it. Watch us seek appointments on commissions and task forces (including PACC and OPCR) and vote for us when we run for office. And better get there early because we’re going to pack the court rooms and
hold justice accountable. Above all, never underestimate the activist artist – we are not just the conscience of this community, but also the spark plugs of remedy. I considered Jerry Haaf, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, and George Floyd to be my neighbors.

Don’t mar Minneapolis – the artivists of Mixed Blood will hold you accountable.

-Jack Reuler

Artistic Director

Mixed Blood Theatre Company

Football team lifting one man above their heads

We are sharing memories from some of our favorite shows every Friday. Here is Jack Reuler’s perspective on 2014’s COLOSSAL. 

COLOSSAL may have been my favorite Mixed Blood production of the 21st Century. Playwright Andrew Hinderaker had been challenged to write the unproducible play, and I, for one, don’t have the word “can’t” in my vocabulary. With 25 actors, many of whom needed to be dancers or athletes, an amazing tale was told in exactly 65 minutes: four 15-minute quarters and a five-minute half time.  The amazing Will Davis, right out of grad school, led these two dozen artists, anchored by Tobias Forrest, a performer with quadriplegia.

We had auditioned, cast, and contracted Toby long distance as he resides in LA and we in MN. I had arranged for a van service (Driving Miss Daisy) from MSP with a lift for Toby’s power chair. As we sat on the curb at Terminal 1 awaiting that van, Toby let me know he’d lived in Minnesota but left when he was nine years old. Not realizing he’d been to our fair state before, I asked what he had last done at nine. “I testified against the man who murdered my mother,” Toby confided. Seeing the look on my face, he explained:

Toby’s hippie parents moved to Hawaii when he was two. Five years later, with authorities in pursuit, Toby’s father fled and disappeared, never to be seen again. His mother moved back to her hometown of St. Cloud, MN. There she met a man, who became her boyfriend but he ended up murdering her, leaving Toby as the witness. (That person served 25 years in Stillwater.) Toby then moved in with his aunt and uncle in Memphis, where he eventually went to Valley Forge Military Academy before Northern Arizona University. His aunt/mom stayed home to help raise he and his sister along with their 2 cousins while his uncle/father owned a medical company that created devices for people with spinal cord injuries.

Shortly after graduation, Toby and some friends went to the Grand Canyon. Diving at Havasupai Falls, Toby suffered a C5 spinal cord injury, was rescued after drowning, and airlifted to Flagstaff, all the while his uncle/father calling in orders to the doctor on how to minimize the impact of the injury.

16 years later Toby returned to Minnesota as the lead in COLOSSAL playing a former dancer become quadriplegic who had been injured throwing a bad block in a football game while trying to protect his lover, the man running with the ball on his way to a championship touchdown.

For me, five minutes after meeting him, the fascinating complexity of the lead actor was more fascinating than the remarkable unproducible play itself. His relatives came in droves to fawn over their Toby and the cast of 25 vied to be his wingman. Toby Forrest allowed COLOSSAL to have the best artistic life possible, but also created community among a connected unit of actors, athletes, drummers, and dancers that ranged from 15 to 61 years old, from women to men to trans artists, gay and straight, spanning the racial continuum, and playing to adoring audiences, personifying Mixed Blood’s value of being predictably unpredictable.

Warren Bowles as Mammy

Warren Bowles as Mammy in NEIGHBORS

We are sharing memories from some of our favorite shows every Friday. Here is Jack Reuler’s perspective on opening night of 2011’s production of Neighbors.

Theater practitioners all have “war stories.” They get together and compare stories like Quint on the Orca in Jaws, one upping each other over and over. The bigger the gasp, the wider eyed the reaction, the better the yarn. On September 16, 2011 I earned bragging rights that one up the uppiest…and wish I hadn’t.
A 26-year old Brandon Jabobs-Jenkins had been in residence for four weeks with Nataki Garrett as director on Branden’s controversial NEIGHBORS and September 16 was the opening night of the show, of the season, and the first day of the launch of our much ballyhood Radical Hospitality.
In NEIGHBORS, an African American professor, his white wife, and biracial daughter (played by Bruce Young, Sarah Agnew, and Brittany Bradford) move from the west to east coast to take on an adjunct role at a prestigious institution. The professor sees the Black neighbors as iconic minstrel archetypes – Zip Coon, Mammy, Sambo, and Topsy – who disrupt his perfect post-racial upwardly mobile world. It’s wild, lewd, and, mildly, provocative. Several actors boycotted auditions.

September 16 was also the first day Jamil Jude was Mixed Blood’s house manager and the first performance for which Amanda White was Director of Radical Hospitality. The audience filled exactly as the architects of Radical Hospitality had planned and hoped: young, spanning the racial and economic spectrum, and eager. Mixed Blood’s entire board and staff were there as were the families of the cast and crew.
While we pride ourselves on the four best words in the American theater (90 minutes no intermission), NEIGHBORS was 2-1/2 hours long. Inspiring wrath and outrage, some people left at intermission. With 15 minutes to go, actor Warren Bowles – in blackface and dressed as Mammy with ballast breasts that shot fluid in a projectile manner – was delivering a monologue during which he performed the greatest stage fall in the history of drama. For a nanosecond the entire audience thought, given the unpredictable nature of their past 135 minutes, that it was intentional. But the staff knew otherwise. Warren had gone into cardiac arrest on stage in front of a full house!

Staff jumped into action. I sent Jamil to the stage to check on Warren. I ran to the box office to use a landline to call 911. Production Manager Cailtin Schaeffer raced to the stage and asked the audience to stay in their seats until paramedics arrived. Playwright Aditi Kapil raced to Warren’s wife, who was in the house. I knew of a doctor and EMT amongst the patrons and beckoned them to the stage. Warren was breathing lightly, eyes rolled back in his head. By the time the EMT’s and paramedics arrived (seven minutes that felt like a century), Warren had flatlined – was dead. The professionals pulled out the paddles and attached a LUCAS (mechanical chest compression cylinder) to reveal a violent on-stage event as the piston drove Warren’s sternum into the stage floor and the defibrillator lifted his body from the stage with each of its 20 jolts. After 20 minutes of flatline unresponsive behavior, Warren miraculously coughed up sputum and opened his eyes. Off to the County Hospital, the best Level 1 trauma center in the region and only a few minutes away.

Warren Bowles had, at that time, been my friend for 34 years and is Godfather to my daughter. Marketing Director Beth Richardson sought guidance on external communication, as this was a private event happening very publicly. I asked that all internal and external communication go through me and sped off after an ambulance. Warren’s body was cooled and he was put into an induced coma. At the theater was food and booze for over 220 people that the cast and crew (18) devoured in comfort-eating. Twitter was new and word swept through the Twitter world so quickly that I got a call from South Africa by the time I got to the hospital. The media wanted info.

In true the-show-must-go-on manner, a replacement was hired the next day and rehearsal started the day after. We missed two performances. When Warren was awakened three days later, everyone asked me if he had suffered brain damage. “It’s worse,” I explained, “He is fully Warren Bowles again!”
Mixed Blood quickly acquired its own AED. Nataki is now the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the nation’s largest non-profit theater. Branden has been named a MacArthur genius and been a finalist for the Pulitzer twice. Jamil is now the artistic director of True Colors in Atlanta. Amanda is artistic director of Daleko Arts. Brittany Bradford in on Broadway. I am still at Mixed Blood. And Warren Bowles is still directing, acting, and being a wise ass to everyone’s appreciation.

Time Loss text image with stylized font

Reflections on my pre- social distancing interview

On art, community building, and audience engagement

 

With Hayden Bui, Tori Hong, and Tim Komatsu

 

Check out the interview from 3/3/2020 with Tori, Hayden, Tim and myself here:

I cannot believe this interview was recorded only four weeks ago. Prior to the opening of Interstate at Mixed Blood Theatre, I had the opportunity to sit down with visual artists Tori Hong and Hayden Bui, along with MBT’s Audience Engagement Manager, Tim Komatsu, to talk about Tori and Hayden’s recent exhibition, Time Loss. The exhibit was installed inside the lobby of Mixed Blood Theatre just days before Interstate’s Preview Night. Time Loss was going to remain on display through the full run of Interstate until the end of March. 

image of Time Loss exhibit installed on white background

Time Loss, 2020. Image provided by artists, Tori Hong and Hayden Bui

Of course, in the interest of public safety, Interstate at Mixed Blood Theatre closed to the public two weeks earlier than planned. Not only at MBT, but the show production, community outreach, general administration, and means of income for many of those in the theater and live performance industry recently came to an all but total standstill in the midst of a public health crisis. As we are all too aware. While the Twin Cities is certainly home to a few relatively endowed theater companies, the majority of smaller organizations do not have the resources to weather over one season’s worth of lost revenue. These organizations, and the people depending on them for income, face challenging and unprecedented questions about the future.

Second to basic needs and organization solvency…

I am wondering about the impact of the interrupting space creation for communities like those gathering at Mixed Blood Theatre. As a public historian, I am fascinated with performance in the first place for its potential, as a shared space of embodied knowledge, to radically foster and facilitate storytelling and history. Theater spaces during live performances, in particular, seem undervalued as sites of public history despite their immense power in bringing communities together in witness and in dialogue over political ideas. The audience engagement work planned around Interstate, including the installation of Time Loss as well as a series of Talk Backs with local queer, trans, and Asian groups, was a core part of the theater’s community praxis.

So, where to direct the impetus for audience engagement initiatives in the midst of crisis and need for social distancing? The role of creating community spaces, not to mention art’s potential to facilitate and to inspire these spaces, has not disappeared and in fact is more important now than ever. The interview we recorded at the beginning of March does not anticipate the extent of COVID-19’s impact on Interstate’s run at Mixed Blood Theatre, let alone its implications on the entire theater industry. Nevertheless, I hope Hayden, Tori, and Tim’s insights and our conversation can contribute to the growing pool of digital resources available for both archival and community building initiatives. 

 

Andrea Manolov | Archival Intern for Interstate

Heritage Studies and Public History, MA Student

University of Minnesota

 

Time Loss Artist Statement and Bios kindly provided by Tori and Hayden

 

Time Loss text image with stylized fontArtist Statement

Weaving through space, time, and distance, TIME LOSS explores queer Asian diasporic love, intergenerational healing, and interdimensional growth. This exhibition features art from emerging artists and life partners Hayden Bui and Tori Hong. 

Through our work, we constantly question: How do we think and move throughout the world? How do we express all of our identities as a whole? How do we take moments and people of the past and bring them into the present and to future generations? 

Ultimately, we are chasing that sweetness that belongs in us all. 

Artist Bios

Hayden Bui is a full time student at the U of M, studying Art and Asian American Studies. He is an emerging queer and trans artist that is passionate about organizing and creating art for LGBTQ people of color, primarily trans and queer Asian individuals. Hayden’s work endeavors to build something unlike anything around us, expressed through paintings and sculptures that use color and movement.

Hayden Bui outside fall weather

IG: @OnlyKeep

bui00088@umn.edu

 

Tori Hong is an independent illustrator, workshop/small group facilitator, community-driven curator, and public artist. Tori explores the connections between art and ancestors, using bold lines, vibrant colors, and deep trust in her work. Through her art, Tori centers communities of color & LGBTQ communities, particularly queer & trans Asian Americans.

Tori Hong against pink wallpaper

IG: @Tori.Hong

www.ToriHong.com

tori.s.hong@gmail.com

Patricia O'Leary

Imagine living in a place for ten years. How many papers, photos, memories, do you have built up? Did you create a system for organizing these things? Are they stuck in boxes until you randomly find them again? Now, imagine 45 years. My first day at Mixed Blood, I sat here, looking at a desk full of a conglomeration of memorabilia. When you are cleaning your own home, you can recognize what you are looking at. I sat there, staring at a mountain, with zero knowledge of the terrain.

Before I became an archival intern at Mixed Blood, I worked on a similar project in southern California. I sat in a library and quietly played music while I sorted through stacks of newsletters and newspaper articles. That was a historical society, this is a historical theatre. I explored closets and cabinets to find remote control cars and a fake pile of fecal matter. I worked, while listening to people singing and rehearsing. I found strange photos and videos of a chicken in an elevator, and a commercial for frosted flakes. Even more interesting, I found photos of people like me, from the Latinx community. I saw photos of African Americans, American Indians, Southeast Asians, and so on. I found photos of powerful people in wheelchairs, of people using sign language, of people with different abilities and backgrounds creating a beautiful cacophony of performances.

Yes, I was overwhelmed on the first day, but I was also inspired. If I asked you to find a photo of you as a kid, from your fourth birthday party, how soon could you find it? If staff from Mixed Blood asked me to find a photo from a show performed 25 years ago, how soon could I deliver it? This project is quite an endeavor, but it is an endeavor I can proudly partake in.

-Patricia O’Leary

Colored prints of Interstate Concept Design

Feb. 17, 2020

Colored print of Interstate Concept Design Cover Page

Interstate Concept Design by Justin Humphres (12/2/2019)

I began recording on Tuesday at Interstate’s first rehearsal. Director Jesca Prudencio, writers Kit Yan and Melissa Li, and all of Interstate’s eight person cast settled around a table in the rehearsal space for the first script read through. I sat with Molly Brandt, Mixed Blood Theatre’s Program Assistant, on a couple of unassuming chairs by the doorway, coffee mugs and cameras in hand. After introductions, with MBT Stage Manager Raúl Ramos’s blessing, we slipped off our chairs and spent the next couple of hours circling the director/writer/cast table taking pictures and videos from any conceivable angle. Molly’s goal was to capture content for the theater’s social medias. My goal was to start building a photo collection for the documentary and archive. Halfway through the rehearsal, Molly asked me if I was getting good stuff. My honest answer – I have no idea.

Here’s a little more honesty. Last semester, I was fortunate to schedule a meeting with Charlie from the University of Minnesota Libraries’ SMART Learning Commons. Over the course of one hour, Charlie gave me an impressively comprehensive crash course on basic video and audio recording technique. The purpose of this was to prepare me to produce a five minute “digital narrative” for one of my graduate courses. In November, I borrowed a mic and camera from SMART, filmed this class project within the comfort of my apartment, and employed the help of precisely two additional people. From start to finish this project spanned about three weeks and pretty much sums up the entirety of my digital recording experience.

As soon as I began interning at Mixed Blood, I realized that this documentary would be… a little more intensive. Before my naivety surpasses redemption let me just say – of course I knew this project would be different. Of course I knew that within an established theater company populated by theater industry professionals, a multi media documentary project would call for getting to know a new environment, forming new relationships, and climbing an industry learning curve. Compared to these priorities, technical film and photography skills even take back seat while still requiring time and energy. However, despite all anticipated challenges at the time I entered MBT a few weeks ago I felt reasonably prepared. For the past few years I have worked in various capacities in a number of local arts spaces, ranging from creative literary centers to museums to volunteer run community organizations. I spent all of childhood attending a Chinese dance school in Saint Paul, a let’s just say formative experience which very much influences my fascination (academic and IRL) in the ways ethnic dance performances are inevitably sites of community, identity, and politics.

Theater, I am quickly learning, is a different animal! Growing up in Minneapolis, I was aware that the Twin Cities is home to a sizable theater community. But I had only ever attended shows and not been exposed to the production side of this world. Now I am learning, for example, that it is normal for a superhuman skeleton crew of theater house staff to manage set, sound, costumes, auditions, communications, community engagement, EVERYBODY’S schedules, and, most crucial for success, rehearsal snacks. It is not usual for a musical premiere in the upper midwest to fly their director in from California, the playwrights in from New York, joined by a cast assembled from around the country. Not to mention, none of these folks have all been in one room together until the first rehearsal just four weeks before opening night. Even more wild was the ability of the cast to rehearse the entire musical together on the first try. Granted this was the first script read through I have had the opportunity to sit in on, so I didn’t have much to compare with. But listening to them I could not believe this cast had never before practiced together. (If museum boards operated with this kind of speed and flexibility, oh my word I would not even recognize them as museum boards.) So while getting acquainted with the workings of at least this particular production, not to mention the norms of the theater industry as a whole, I am also distantly wondering, while fumbling with the exposure settings on something called a Vixia, if I am getting good stuff.

Thankfully – here is the beauty and the privilege of my internship – there is relatively little at stake and endless opportunities to learn. Furthermore, I am not starting on nothing. What really excites me about the chance to self-direct the work I do at Mixed Blood is that I am able to explore new ways of applying the class discussions and the literature I am immersed in as public history graduate student to a space that is not traditionally considered a site of public history. The making of physical, social, and political spaces (including performance spaces) always engages with histories of place and people. A large chunk of my personal motivation to intern at Mixed Blood Theatre is the organization’s self awareness as a site of history and community. Tim Komatsu, Mixed Blood’s Audience Engagement Manager, works close to 24/7 during shows to organize and facilitate audience Talk Backs, and to communicate with MBT’s three community advisory councils. A quick conversation with Kit and Melissa (Interstate’s writers) the other day gave me a better understanding of just how committed both writers are to Interstate’s relationship with local queer and trans Asian communities. They began forging friendships and tapping into Twin Cities activist circles over 10 years ago, when their 2008 cross country tour that later inspired Interstate made a stop in Minneapolis.

Picture of handwritten Community Agreements

Community Agreements, Interstate First Rehearsal, Mixed Blood Theater (2/11/2020)

All of this has been informing my reflections on the ways theater practices can challenge and contribute to the (slow but quickening!) transformation of the public history field, and to expand conceptions of where history can be created and witnessed in the first place. I feel especially inspired by the attention and intention that Interstate’s team places on language, consent, positioning and moving of bodies, and cultivating of community relations. It would feel revolutionary for museums and other traditional sites of historic interpretation to integrate such practices on the level of depth and sustained commitment that has been written into the production of Interstate. Ultimately, if I am able to “capture” and convey at least some of these inspirations in the documentary that would be nice! Though I am keeping things open ended for now, and feel it will be better for my sanity anyway to not fixate on whether I am getting everything I need.

The late winter season always has me feeling a little overrun, and this year is no exception. My wish for everyone including myself is to enjoy a bowl of pho this week. (If you are in Minneapolis, I highly recommend Phở Hòa on Eat Street.)

Warmly,

Andrea

Kit and Melissa

Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration for the show? 

ML: It’s a semi-autobiographical show. Kit and I met in Boston a really long time ago when we both performed at a monthly Queer Asian cabaret where we became friends. One day he asked me to go on tour with him and I said “I’m in my early 20s, I don’t have all that much going on, sure!” and so we went on two tours (in 2008 and 2009) where we performed as “Good Asian Drivers”. It was sort of the beginning of social media “stardom” and we had a pretty big following. And then some things happened (some of which made its way into the show) and we broke up as a band and were actually like mortal enemies for two years. But during that time Kit was actually processing that by writing a lot of poems, and when we became friends again, he brought them to me and I was like “What are these? These are terrible!” 

KY: Hey! [Laughter] Okay yes so I wrote this shitty collection of poems and I brought them to Melissa and said “I think this should be a musical, what do you think?” because I knew she’d written a musical before. 

ML: Yeah, I usually never want to write a new musical, so it’s kind of funny that we ended up here. 

KY: As a job. 

ML: Whenever I do it, it’s always like birthing a child and then I think “I never want to do this again”. But even when we weren’t friends, Kit, I wanted to write something about our experience too. I think it just came together that we both wanted to process this through art. 

KY: Like when we were more mature. [Laughs] 

ML: That was in 2013, so this show is 7 years in the making. 

How much of an effort did you make to differentiate yourselves from the main characters? 

ML: Originally, it was much closer to us, but we found that can actually be really constricting and when we remove ourselves from the characters they can become more interesting and have more flaws and we can dig deeper into things that ring true for us but are also theatrical. For example, I think Dash has a lot of flaws (many of which have to do with toxic masculinity) but it would be unfair to say Kit had all of those flaws. [Laughter] But I think because we have that distance we can say more about the world. 

KY: You know what’s so funny to hear about that? Melissa has described the first five years of this show’s journey as essentially one long journal entry about that time via a musical. And then we spent all this time removing ourselves a little bit and incorporating people that we met on the road. But as we spend more time developing INTERSTATE on the stage, I feel like we’ve been coming back closer and closer to real life. We definitely fictionalize a lot of the plot points, but as we made the first couple of drafts we were trying to put in a lot of emotional distance, and now that I’ve processed that experience I feel like I’m able to get closer to that story and what it was like to be on the road and have tension with a friend, what it was like to have pressure of how we’re gonna make a living. 

ML: Yeah, once we were able to move some of the plot elements to be further away from real life, we’ve been able to get closer to the heart of the emotion of the show, which is what makes this show powerful for other people as well. 

The relationships between Dash and Adrian about their parents seem really rooted in the challenges of the young Asian American experience. Can you speak to the importance of including the band’s parents in the show? 

ML: It was important for us to see a glimpse of how they were raised, the people that influenced them at home, and how that caused a ripple effect to how they behave on tour. Like for Adrian, [you might ask] why is she so ambitious, what does she have to prove? And then you see it is her mom who is the person always saying she’s going to fail and that’s the thing that drives her to really prove her wrong. With the dad character, it was important for us to show an accepting Asian parent. And obviously with the dad teaching what he’s learned from society to his son about being a man and just perpetuating that sort of idea of masculinity. 

KY: We come from really communal communities, our families are really important to us. And I think a lot of time for Queer Asian Americans coming out doesn’t always mean breaking out on your own and being individualistic and rejecting your family. A lot of times folks in Asian American communities may never come out because it’s more important to maintain their home life and their identity in that particular arena. There are issues around wanting your family to be a part of your journey, even if it’s going to be a slow process. I definitely felt that no matter how hard it was going to be I wanted to have my family be a part of my queer and trans journey. In my view, it’s part of my responsibility to be in conversation with my family regardless of what it’s about. Being queer and trans is one thing, but being an artist was a whole other thing…even leaving home for college. It’s important for me to always talk to my family and my parents. Melissa and I started out in Queer Asian organizing and time and time again a lot of folks in our community do not want to reject our families and our parents just because we’re sharing a new part of ourselves. I think that’s a very Western narrative. It’s not bad, it’s just different. 

ML: And to add to that, the role that the parents play is really important in the exploration. One of the themes of the show is transphobia and homophobia and what that looks like depending on context and “who has it harder”. And that’s part of what we want to explore, like, Adrian gets a record deal because the music industry is transphobic but then at home her queerness is rejected by her mother whereas Dash’s dad is totally accepting. And then in terms of them going out on the road, Dash gets all these solo opportunities to perform for trans groups. And that’s something that just adds an interesting dynamic; the parent’s reaction to their kids. 

KY: Yeah, and this is part of the story we’re interested in addressing. Oppression doesn’t really work like that; you can’t have a cis lesbian woman and a trans man go at each other about who has it harder. Oppression is such a web and it’s so individual and it has to do with familial, cultural, even world history. And that’s something that’s so important for us to explore with this show. The characters are all individuals, but they’re in this pressure cooker to be representatives of their communities. 

Has the changing political landscape changed the show? 

ML: Through the years I’ve noticed more trans representation. I think we would still be fighting for this piece no matter what, but we wanted it to be set in 2008 because so many things that happened were so specific to that time period. We really were one of the only queer Asians that were out there talking about transness and queerness and being Asian. Now there’s a lot more of it, but it’s important to set it in that time period so people can understand the context now. 

KY: People keep saying that this show is so timely, but 2008 was over a decade ago and we’ve been doing this work all that time. The world is always changing, but we’ll always be making this art regardless of how the tide turns. I have found that people are more open to hearing our story now, and particularly exploring a trans world, but I have found that there is still a really sensational and tokenized lens of what it means to be trans. We really struggled with the fact that we’re still in a moment where people need trans people to be heroes (or sheroes) and to be really exceptional. Our characters are so far from exceptional, especially Dash who has so many issues. When we were first making this musical we would think “shit, if we have a trans character who’s not a perfect person or even a terrible human sometimes what does that say about our community?” But now I think the best thing we can do is to write fully realized characters. Our characters just need to be full people in a full world, and I want to assume that the audience can meet us where we’re at. We’re writing for now, we’re writing for the future, we’re writing to rewrite history.