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Attention, Attention

Amores, I have an exciting announcement. As of July 1st, I will officially be the Artistic Director of Free Street Theatre. Whoa whoa whoa, some of you may be thinking. Are you quitting your teaching job? NEVER. I love teaching AND, in particular, I love teaching at DePaul. But I am excited to take on this new challenge, which allows me to take my passion for social justice and my passion for theatre/performance and put them together strategically, in way that is more expansive than anything I could accomplish on my own. So here’s the deal:

Free Street Theatre has been around since 1969. It started as one of those classic late-sixties/early-seventies projects founded with the idea to make theatre by, with, and for “the people.” And guess what? I’m totally on that. My favourite quote, the one that guides so much of my performance practice, is from the great Augusto Boal: “I think anyone can do theatre. Even actors. And theatre can be done anywhere. Even in a theatre.” I believe that performance, as a both a process and a product, belongs to everyone. And so, much of my career thus far has been spent working to build and/or support platforms that increase access to performance and performance processes.

That’s exactly what we’ll be doing at Free Street. Although the company is best known for its work with youth artists, in the coming year you’ll see us roll out a variety of new programs that are designed to include multi-generational participants in a wide-variety of spaces. In addition to our youth ensembles, we’ll be developing an ensemble process for people ages 20 and up; facilitating workshops and residencies around the city; offering free master classes; and hosting the In/House series, which presents the work of artists who are using performance to address questions of community, critical inquiry, and social justice.

I am both excited and nervous about this. It is a big commitment, but I believe in the challenge because I believe in Free Street! Jajajaja… that’s cheezy as all hell, I know. But just look at this awesome video from the 1970′s (narrated by Studs Terkel!) and tell me it doesn’t make you want to figure out what the 2013…2014…2020 version of all of this might be?

Me Me Me Me Me Me Me

In real life, I don't smoke. For real.


Is that how you write the sound of a total freakout? I hope so, because I AM IN A TOTAL FREAKOUT!!!!!!!!!

What’s the problem? Has Tarte stopped making that awesome and mostly non-toxic lip gloss crayon I’ve come to love so much? No.

Have 5 of my favourite retailers refused to sign on to a plan to make clothing factories safer places for workers? Well, yes, but my reaction to that is a kind of resigned sigh, and a shrug. Adios, cute maxi dress I’ve had my eye on….

Did I agree to create and perform a late night solo jam right at the end of the quarter when school is at its most hectic and also during a period that immediately follows directing three back to back shows? DING DING DING!!!!!! Yes!!!!!!!!!

I do poetry readings all of the time. And regularly perform at places like the Paper Machete. And lord knows I am not afraid to speak on a panel. But for some reason, the following words have me in a panic: Late. Night. Solo.

First of all, I try never to be awake past sunset. Second of all, there is a big difference between being on a lineup with a bunch of other talented people and BEING ALL BY YOURSELF ON STAGE WITH EVERYONE STARING AT YOU AND YOU ARE THEIR ONLY CHANCE FOR THIS PERFORMANCE TO GO WELL.

Is it any surprise I specialize in ensemble-based work?

AND WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO TALK ABOUT FOR [50-75 minutes, which is how long MPAACT Solo Jams are supposed to be but which seems awfully long for 11pm at night so how about we call it 35 minutes with a long meaningful pause at the beginning?]

Oh well. It must be done, and it must be done THIS SATURDAY, JUNE 1st, at 11pm! People always ask me where I’m from, usually with this very suspicious tone in their voice like I am purposefully trying to confuse them, and I used to really struggle with this question but now I just say Nowhere. And Everywhere. And then people really think I am purposefully trying to confuse them, but oh well. It ain’t where you from, it’s where you’re at… Which is what I talk about in my show: Hip-Hop, being “Black,” not being Puerto-Rican, white girls, volcanoes, road rage, guaguas de pan, and how mad people get when they realize I understand all the sh*t-talking they’re doing in Spanish.

So, come! Saturday, June 1st. 11pm. At the Greenhouse Theater (part of the MPAACT Solo James series). There’s a bar where you can buy us both a drink! And if you reallyreallyreally are unable to catch this, I’ll be doing a totally different piece about prom and frenemies NEXT weekend, June 9-10, for 2nd Story. That one I’m totally calm about, on account of it is with 3 other people who are brilliant.

Celebrity Livin’

Okay, I’ve written before about how research for my show Unnatural Spaces convinced me to dramatically reduce the amount of toxins I put in, on, and around my body. This means I’m trying to eat unprocessed foods, use cosmetics with ingredients I understand, and do things like clean my house with baking soda. I am also going through a period where soy and gluten make my body freak out. Some days, I feel I have it all under control – I have more energy, my skin is all glowy, and I’m starting to regain feeling in my hand (told you my body was freaking out!)  Other days, I’m desperately sad, chomping on lentil salad and mineral water and watching my housemates chow down on pizza and delicious-delicious Bulleit. Or, putting on some organic vegan lip balm with moderate shine and colour and then cradling my old Revlon SuperLustres (I can’t bring myself to wear them, but I can’t bring myself to throw them away either!) So, I’ve been eagerly seeking out resources that provide reasonable advice about a plant-based, low-toxin lifestyle. Luckily for me, this spring brings two celebrity publications in this vein: Jessica Alba’s The Honest Life and Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good. I bought them both, and here’s the deal: (more…)

What Do Beverly and Dope Have in Common? ME!

Amores, the month of April is going to be extra hectic and extra awesome, with back-to-back openings for two different shows.

First, I’m extra-excited to be bringing TOUR GUIDES to the Beverly Arts Center, THIS FRIDAY (April 5), for THREE SHOWS ONLY! I hope those all-caps impart a sense of urgency, because this is my favourite version of the show, so far. Long time friends, fans, and enemies will be familiar with TOUR GUIDES, which is a theatrical love letter to Chicago, created and performed by the poets of the Poetry Performance Incubator at the Guild Complex. This is the FOURTH time we’ve remounted the show, and like the city we write about, the show changes every time we put it up. This time, we’ve swapped in 6 new stories and a brand new cast. (Don’t worry – we’ve kept many of the most popular pieces in the show, including a version of the pizza scene that I find impossible to direct because every time I watch it I laugh so hard I need to pee. TMI?)

Here’s the quick n’ dirty about the show: Tour Guides. April 5 and 6 at 7:30, April 7 at 3:30. Beverly Arts Center. For tickets and information, click here.

AND THEN… on April 25… drumroll please… DOPE opens at Free Street Theater!!!!! DOPE is a play, created by youth 14-19, that tells “420 Stories About Pot, Weed, Kush, Prisons, Parents, and People.” We’ve been working on it since October, and the ensemble is just so funny and smart. I mean, yes, the play has its share of stoner comedy, but it also offers a genuinely complicated look at the political economy around marijuana. Working at Free Street is such a gift… even on my most exhausted days, the youth make me feel really excited and hopeful about the future. That’s for real! For tickets and info, visit our website.

One Billion? Or Just One?

Sigh. Right now, as I write this, dozens of people I know–and thousands, if not millions, of people all over the world–are gathering to mark One Billion Rising, a V-Day project that calls for a kind of giant global dance party against sexual violence. All week, people have been asking me if i’m going to go. And all week, I’ve been shrugging my shoulders like the worst kind of grinch. Eh. I am just not that in to it. On the one hand, I’m happy about ANY event that keeps rape and sexual violence from being the kind of shameful, unspoken secret that people carry around inside of them like somehow they’re to blame for something someone else did. But on the other hand, I am JUST NOT THAT IN TO IT. My feelings about V-Day have always been ambivalent. I think their work is superficial, sometimes patronizing, and often fails to recognize the ways in which the specifics of women’s race, nationality, economic status, etc etc etc affect their ability to “rise” above rape. There is a really solid critique of the project here, and I’ll leave it there because I am too busy to go around reinventing wheels.

Despite my wariness about V-Day, though, I’m not a 100% hater. I don’t think that a global dance party will end rape, but I do think there is something to be said for responding to violence with joy and love, when you can. Not in the immediate, but in the aftermath. Too often, we talk about rape as the kind of thing that ruins lives, the kind of thing you never get over. And don’t get me wrong -rape changes a life, and not for the better, but it is also possible to heal from sexual violence, to get to a point where it is no longer the every-day-all-the-time-thought, where not every minute is marked with anxiety and terror. It is possible…eventually, with much support and love and help… to feel happy, whole, hopeful. Even after rape. It is not easy. It is not guaranteed. But it is possible.

I’m very open about being a survivor of sexual violence. I am less open about what that meant in my life, how deeply I hated myself, how ashamed and terrified I felt for years after the assaults. And part of the problem was not just that I was scared and hurt. It was that I could not imagine ever being happy again. I imagined myself as broken, as someone who had been robbed of something I could never get back. But eventually, I found a way to crawl out of that hole. I went to therapy. I became an activist. I listened to other survivors. I learned everything I could about systems of violence and how they worked together (sometimes people find this overwhelming, but I found it comforting. It made me understand how little I was at fault for what happened to me, and how much I could do to work for change.) But before all that, I found this poem: “To My Friend, Jerina” by Lucille Clifton. Oh my gosh. I cannot even begin to describe what shifted inside me when I read it, how less-alone I felt.  For years, I have carried Lucille’s lines in my heart, a mantra on the bad days: “but listen,/the girl is rising in me, not willing/to be left to the silent fingers/in the dark…” It was the first time I knew a poem could save a life. I really believe it helped save mine.

So, I’m not at Daley Plaza, busting a move in a flash mob. But I’m not rolling my eyes quite as often as I usually do when someone mentions the Vagina Monologues. Do I think One Billion Rising is really the start of a revolution? No. Do I think it risks being the kind of low-key one-off event that substitutes for deep and sustained grassroots activism? Duh – yeah. But do I think talking about rape matters? Yes. And even more, to talk about it with a kind of hope, a show of solidarity? It won’t change a system, but you never know… It might change a life.


Thanksgiving Poem, 2012

It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m 37, ready to be Thankful for smaller things, everyday miracles. (more…)