My social change work is intertwined with my performance practice, because after many years of both performing and organizing, I have come to understand the arts as a essential part of movement building. Performance can raise consciousness and awareness, and it can also "move" us, evoking the transformative experiences that engage us as "protagonists in the necessary transformations of society." (Augusto Boal, "Theater of the Oppressed.")
Thanks to my mother who was a dancer, my first language was movement. Throughout my teens and early 20s I danced with professional companies in Atlanta and New York, in the genres of ballet, modern, Dunham technique, and the fusion of modern and African diasporic forms from the US, West Africa and the Caribbean. Creative writing was my second language, and after years of writing I began performing spoken word poetry in my early 20s. I then auditioned for a community-engaged theater project called "We Got Issues" with a choreo-poem, and thus began my love affair with theater where poetry, movement and all forms of storytelling can come together.
Artists like Katherine Dunham and Danny Hoch have had an enormous impact on me, helping me to understand performance as a form of ritual. It is different from activism and organizing in that you are creating a transformative experience for your audience to respond to as they feel moved to, rather than attempting to enlist them in "your" agenda. Even when there are particular issues you are making work about, you are still creating a space where people can be moved by the experience to see those issues in a different way. You are inviting the audience to join you on a journey, rather than directing them towards a pre-determined destination.
As performers we can become possessed and transformed by a story or experience, because we believe it to be of service to the world. As a spoken word poet I am possessed by the words that move through me, as an actor I inhabit the lived and felt experience of the role I am performing, as a dancer I let go of words and give myself to movement as language.
Performance is a practice of inviting the audience all the way in, to invite them on a journey that can be as transformative for them as it is for me. As I am moved by the artistic work I am part of, I hope to move others to engage with the world in depthful, liberatory and transformative ways.
From 2005-2008 I toured with a project called "We Got Issues" that sought to engage women between the ages of 18 and 35 in political process. The project was co-produced by Eve Ensler and Jane Fonda, and began by interviewing women from that age group to see what issues were most important to them. Based on those interviews, the creative team developed a performance piece and arts-based empowerment workshops that would be facilitated with members of each community that saw the performance. We were in residence for a full month in each city, building capacity for the work to continue after we left if the community wanted that.
While working on "We Got Issues" I trained with Urban Bush Women's Summer Leadership Institute, collaborating on a piece called "Place Matters" that explored the impact of Hurricane Katrina and related themes of systemic racism and displacement. Around that time I worked with Tamilla Woodard to develop a documentary theater piece about the events surrounding the Jena 6 Case. It became called The 6 Project, and eventually toured to 12 cities across the US, engaging over 3000 people in dialogue on race through workshops, performances and community dialogues. During that time I also trained with Cornerstone Theater Company through their summer institute in 2009, and worked as an assistant choreographer on their adaptation of "Jason in Eureka." From 2011-2013 I completed my MFA at Naropa University, and my thesis project was a community-engaged movement theater project called "Make Me," which explored the constructs of identity as they impact the bodies of women of African-American, Native American, Ashkenazi Jewish, Puerto Rican, Italian-American, English and Cuban descent.
I recently toured as a performer and facilitator with Cornerstone Theater Company's "California: The Tempest," a community-engaged adaptation of Shakespeare's "Tempest" that addressed issues such as food equity, the prison industry and immigration reform. While on break from that tour, I directed a street theater initiative for Berkeley vs. Big Soda, the first successful soda tax measure in the US. Upon returning to New York City, I worked as a choreographer on 2 community-engaged theater projects addressing the dynamics of gentrification- Working Theater's "Bamboo in Brooklyn" and PopUP Theatrics' "Broken City: Harlem."
In October of 2015, I was a contributing writer and facilitator for Oregon Shakespeare and One Minute Play Festival's "Every 28 Hours," a community-engaged theater project addressing the impact of police violence on Ferguson, MO. I am currently serving as a member of the Cultural Competency Team for "Every 28 Hours," supporting host communities to ensure that the project is produced with integrity and accountability to those most impacted by these issues. I am also coordinating community engagement for Working Theater's "Five Boroughs/One City," which uses theater to address the impact of gentrification on communities throughout New York City.