Saturday, August 28, 2010

It's a wrap for Debbie in South Africa!

     We finished off the run of Debbie Does My Dad yesterday with a matinee at the Spaceframe Theater at the Wits Education Campus.  It was quite the difficult task to do the last show at an entirely new venue with under an hour to set the stage, lights, and sound.  HUGE thanks to Chanel and Desi who worked absolute magic to get the show ready to go in time to open the doors.
     We had a good crowd and again got a great response.  This opportunity to travel across the globe to present the art that I love to do filled me such a sense of gratefulness. Getting to share my work, see others, and engage in amazing conversations with artists from all different walks was such a rich experience. I am so thankful for people that value art. I am becoming more and more of a convert every day. *(I'll be posting video excerpts from the show when I return to the U.S.)
     With this festival I began a new focusing ritual before performing.  I walk around the stage and look at every seat, and I thank the person that I imagine will be sitting in it.  The person who may give me the gift of their time, energy, and attention. It makes me present and also feel the strong responsibility, that if they are going to give me their valuable time, I had better make good use of it.
     Shortly after finishing the run, I was a judge at the National Poetry Slam. Hectic. Damn.  The poetry was incredible, none of us judges could agree. AT ALL.  I love slam and I hate slam. It birthed me as a writer.  But I watched a lot of young poets leave the slam feeling nowhere near as proud as I think they should of.  I want to say LOUDLY that all of the poets I saw perform in Jo'burg last night were incredible. Please keep writing, and please let me keep enjoying it. Much love and respect.
      As I get ready to go to a game park for my last day in South Africa, a lot of thank yous are in order.  Thank you to MAKE ART/STOPAIDS for sending me here and to Drama For Life for taking me in.  Thank you to my Director George Watsky for giving the piece so much attention and care. Thank you to Steve for being the most gracious host I could ever dream of.  To Cathy for being my singing partner at every meal, and in between. Ok, just always. To Hanni for everything, and also for making a really delicious dinner. To Levinia and Lonwabo, and Eliana for the amazing organizing. You guys held it all together and us performers owe you so much. To Ntombi for organizing all of the poetry events and giving me the opportunity to lead a workshop. To all of the other performers/directors at the festival for moving and inspiring me. And finally, to all of the people who blessed me with their presence, energy, and beautiful noise at my shows, thank you so much. The warm response you gave me touched me so deeply.
     South Africa I hope to see you soon!

Keynote Lecture about Through Positive Eyes

      Putting yourself in the shoes of someone living with HIV and seeing the world through their eyes.  Doing this can help an HIV-negative overcome their stigma of HIV and HIV testing, and it can help an person living with HIV know that they are not alone, and can have a long happy life ahead of them.  This is the purpose of the international photography project Through Positive Eyes.
     It was also the topic of Dr. David Gere's keynote lecture at the second day of the Drama For Life Conference.  Dr. Gere is the co-director of the project with South African born and London based photographer Gideon Mendel. Dr. Gere spoke about encouraging empathy for people living with HIV around the world (the project has been done in Mexico City, Rio De Janeiro, and most recently Johannesburg.)  This empathy is reached by offering first person interactions with the HIV-positive participant photographers who share how they see through the world through images and first-person narrative.

CIDA from Through Positive Eyes on Vimeo.
      Sitting in the audience, listening to Dr. Gere's lecture, right next to Hanni Ress, was quite the full circle moment. Dr. Gere is the director of MAKE ART/STOP AIDS where I now work, and where Hanni used to work. My first interactions with HIV activism happened when I was a student working on a project in Los Angeles with Dr. Gere and Mendel that would later give birth to the modern form of Through Positive Eyes. It was coordinated by Ress and called HIV Positive in LA: 12 Stories.  Sitting together three years later at Wits University in Johannesburg, and having a moment to reflect on where the project has come was really remarkable.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Debbie Does the Festival a Second Time!

Post show reading with my production team Desi (left) and Chanel (right).
Wow. Another great show tonight for Debbie Does Dallas at The Nunnery.  On such a high from the Drama For Life Festival.  A second full house and a second standing O for the show, including my hosts Steve and Cathy, has me so utterly grateful.

Nomsa and I after the show

Also in the audience was my great friend Nomsa from the Through Positive Eyes project that I helped work on here in Jo'burg in March to fight HIV stigma. Check out Through Positive Eyes
On another note entirely, I saw My Brother's Bones today while I was on campus before my show.  It is a play created and directed by the Director of the Drama For Life Festival Warren Nebe.  Oh my god, it was incredible.  The piece tells the story of two brothers trying to bury their older brother and it brings up so many issues of inequality, politics, and family responsibility.  The two brothers struggle and struggle to find a burial place for their brother since they do not have any money.  They end up walking the streets of the city with the coffin causing a widespread controversy. I was moved. Deeply. 

Debbie Debuts at the Festival!

     Debbie Does My Dad debuted to a capacity crowd last night at the Nunnery at Wits University. It was an absolute blessing to have so many people show up to see the work, with a crowd even having to be turned away at the door.
     It was a race to the finish to set everything in time, getting lights and sound cues set just minutes before the doors opened, but we made it just under the wire and the show went off so well.
     I am so thankful to the audience who was with the work the whole way, laughing, letting me hear when lines resonated, and for going on the ride with me. The show dives deep into my relationship with my dad and his former career as a porn star, my own adolescence, and manhood. It was deeply gratifying and inspiring to share it with an audience, and feel the connection. This is by far the longest work I've ever created and presented, and through a writing and rehearsal process that seemed impossible, I had to just put my head down,
work each day, and hope that I would have something in the end. To come out of this process with something worthwhile, and to be met with a standing ovation from the audience on the African continent, over a thousand miles away from my home, was beyond anything I could have imagined.
     Two more shows now. Tonight and tomorrow afternoon. I'll try to post some video as soon as I can upload the footage to my computer. And I must say a HUGE thank you to the crew for the show, Chanel, Desi, Marta, and Simon. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Clowns Without Borders are Amazing!

I went to a clowning show tonight. I'd never been to a clown show before. Clowns Without Borders performed tonight as part of the Drama For Life Festival, and it was so much fun. I was laughing almost the entire hour long show, got pulled onto stage to dance with the clowns, and on top of the great time the clowns showed us (and show to kids across South Africa in general) they also teach about HIV.
They really get it right. HIV education that tries to be fun is often heavy on the education and light on the fun, which completely defeats the purpose. Clowns Without Borders' Show was fun. REALLY fun. And the condom demonstration was not only correct, but hilarious. Definite highlight of the whole festival.
Please, go learn more about them. Clowns Without Borders

Ongoing Highlights from Drama For Life

Every day at this festival here in Jo'burg is filled with art about sex from every end of the spectrum. Funny, serious, energetic, brooding. On Sunday I saw a hilarious singer-song writer named Deep Fried Man perform "A Complete History of Sexual Activity" which was as funny as the actual history of sexual activity, which is to say, hilarious!

And there is an amazing new tapestry from the Keiskamma Art Project on display throughout the festival. I finally got to see it yesterday and I was incredibly moved. The piece is called the Keiskamma Guernica Tapestry and it is a "cry of protest at the ongoing deaths due to HIV and AIDS."

It references the famous Picasso painting of the bombing of Spain, and the tapestry is arresting, haunting, and stunningly beautiful.
Learn more about Keiskamma

Then that night I saw an amazing dance piece about sex/sexuality called sexscape. It was a tour deforce performance. Ive never seen dancers worked so hard. I had to go up to PJ after the show and tell him how incredible it was.

I have to give a shout out to the amazing people I've met/remet at the festival. Here are just a few. (From left Ntombi, John, myself, Bernard). I am blown away by the amazing people here involved truly powerful artwork of all different kinds.

And I've been staying with a great friend Steve. Steve's house is an oasis of warm and welcoming so far from home. A beautiful slice of Berkeley on the southern tip of the African continent. I'm truly blessed to be with such great friends.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The irony is so good. Porn at the nunnery.

This Wednesday night, I'm debuting Debbie Does My Dad, a spoken word theater piece about growing up as the son of a former porn star. And I am doing it at a theater at Wits University in South Africa called The Nunnery. It's almost too perfect.

(If you notice the red fliers on the wall, those are for the show!)


     I'm left inspired and humbled. Today I had the immense pleasure of getting to lead a workshop with 5 of the poets from the regional slam that I saw my first day in Jo'burg. It was really fun to just talk with the group of poets about what the scene is like in South Africa, and hear about what their processes are like.
     Then, we got into it. We focused mainly on performance. All of the elements that a spoken word poet communicates that aren't words; tone, body language, use of the space.
We read the writing on doritos bags as if they were love poems, a noodles bag as if it was a break up poem, and a toothpaste container as if it was about revolution. So funny, and really cool to watch the group really go for it.
     At the end though, to bring everything back to the sex/sexuality/HIV theme of the festival, the group created a powerful group piece about their own experiences with HIV and sexual education. I wanted to video, but made the disclaimer that if anyone was uncomfortable at all, I wouldn't. One person was, and I kept my promise. It was not a choice, especially after the group opened up and went on the ride for the workshop with me. I owe them such big thanks. I had a great time working with them, and I hope they did too.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Drama For Life Festival Opening

     How do you open a drama festival in Johannesburg? Not a 21 gun salute. Try 21 poets, competing in the Johannesburg Regional Poetry Slam, competing for a spot in next week's national competition.  Really good poetry slams make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Less than 24 hours in South Africa, and I already felt it.
     The poetry slam was part of a day packed full of activities at Wits University to kick off the Drama For Life Festival.  Amazing.  I could say it again and again.  The slam began with the MC making the judges stand up, and telling the audience (many friends of the poets) to send their bribes in that direction. After that the poets linked arms in solidarity, and then proceeded to bless the stage and set the mic on fire. I took notes on some of the lines that moved me.

"I'm drawn to the delirium of it all...We dream alone apparently. Two people dreaming together is called a conversation."

"I've been bred to give to those with less, but how can I give to him and not all the rest."

"Casual sex turns us into casualties in casualty wards." - (the Dreaded Floet who got robbed and left out of the second round.)

"All things bright and beautiful, creatures big and small...piss me off!"

"In moments like this your body becomes religion, and not having all of you is tantamount to sin."

"Look behind you, at those who fought for your inheritance that you now use in vain."

"I gather that I am incomplete, but he is not what completes me."

"I would go back in time if I had the power, next time I'd use a condom. I wouldn't take a shower."

The poetry slam was followed by an inspiring opening ceremony at the Wits Theater, with speeches by Director Warren Nebe, Justice Edwin Cameron, and Positive Convention director Pholokgolo Ramothwala.  And then the art started again.  A hilarious performance by Miss Diversity and her dancers, an incredible dance show by the SKY Gumboot Dancers (Soweto and Kliptown Youth)
and the evening concluded with Deep Night, a stirring modern dance piece in the main theater.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Drama For Life/Through Positive Eyes South Africa

Tomorrow I get on a plane to return to South Africa to take part in the Drama For Life: Sex Actually Festival, which uses theater to talk about sex, sexuality, and HIV. I am so excited to debut a new spoken-word theater piece of mine called "Debbie Does My Dad" which tells my story growing up as the son of a former porn star. I'll be performing in the festival, having the privilege of seeing all of the other works, and being a judge for a national South African Poetry Slam called "Lover and Another."
Visit the Drama For Life Festival Website
I'll be trying to blog while I'm there. There's no way to know what the festival will be exactly, but I am so open and excited to see what it is. Time for a plane ride to go find out.

The last time I was in South Africa was in March, working with a group of HIV-positive people who learned how to use photography to share their stories. The result was a stunning photography exhibition called Through Positive Eyes which will be on display at the festival. I wrote about the experience of the Drama For Life blog.
Read the blog post
Visit the Through Positive Eyes Website

Using Humor to fight HIV

I was in D.F. (Mexico City) this past month for work, collaborating with a local HIV/gay rights non-profit to create an anti-HIV stigma exhibition and campaign in the metro.  While there I had the privilege to lead a theater workshop with a group of LGBT youth group leaders, showing them how to use humor to open up conversations about safe sex and HIV.  I wrote an article on the workshop that the non profit I was working with posted on their website.

Read the article