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Morphologies: Queer Performance Festival opens this weekend

by Sheila Regan
City Pages

In a perfectly timed, post-defeated marriage amendment fashion, Morphologies: Queer Performance Festival opens this weekend, offering an opportunity to celebrate Minnesota’s victory against discrimination through theater. The festival includes six shows, workshops, and panel discussions at Intermedia Arts, Ritz Theater, and Pangea World Theater Studio.

The festival is co-produced by Pangea World Theater, 20% Theatre, and RARE Productions. According to Claire Avitabile, Artistic Director of 20%, both Pangea and 20 were thinking about doing some kind of queer-performance festival, but ultimately decided to join forces in collaboration, working with RARE as well.
Initial organizing came about a couple of years ago when Andy Looze, who was interning at Pangea through the HECUA program, reached out to many local queer artists and community members in a series of meetings where everyone brainstormed about what a queer festival might look like.
In the summer of 2011, Avitabile met Looze, who told her about Pangea’s plans for a queer festival. Since 20% Theatre was also thinking about doing a festival, Avitabile approached Pangea about possibly working together so that their events wouldn’t be competing. “We are both all about community and collaboration,” Avitabile says.

She was immediately welcomed to the table, and the three organizations began talking about what a partnership might look like. In the summer of 2011, they hunkered down and started to plan how they would pay for it, looking at what grants they could apply for. They brainstormed about what the name should be, and what they wanted as the vision for the festival.

Last November, organizers hosted a big community meeting where local artists provided feedback and insight, creating a wish list of possible artists. Then, when funding was secured, they began nailing down dates, choosing a wide variety of performances. The festival has received funding from the National Performance Network (where Pangea is a member), MRAC, Arts Midwest, and individual donations.

For the event, organizers wanted to be sure that the experiences of transgendered and queer individuals were represented. They also wanted to make sure there was age diversity and racial/ethnic diversity. The festival includes music, solo performance, and theater.
The third partner in the festival is RARE, a “small but wonderful company,” Avitabile says. An entertainment media production company, the organization focuses on queer people of color. They were very involved from the beginning, providing people and resources. RARE has been especially involved with planning the locally-focused event on Tuesday, November 13, a cabaret event featuring local queer performances and artists.
This weekend’s opening production on Friday and Saturday features Scott Turner Schofield, a transgender, solo performance artist who does storytelling about his experience becoming a man. “It’s kind of a choose your own adventure,” Avitabile says. “He’s got tons of stories, and involves the audience a lot.”
Later in the festival, you’ll get a chance to see a diverse array of performances, including In Search of Geishaghost by Ryka Aoki de la Cruz,  D’FunQT by D’Lo, and Shaking Our Shells: Stories from On the Wings of Wadaduga by Qwo-Li Driskill.
The festival also includes Outside the Circle, a play that Pangea commissioned a year ago by Andrea Assaf and Samuel Valdez. Avitabile says she and Looze went to see it last year, and immediately knew that they wanted to bring it back. The play is about a queer woman and a straight man with cerebral palsy who connect at a seedy bar in Tijuana. They share their love of women and their experiences living outside of “normal” society.
Another part of the festival will be various workshops and panel discussions that “give the community a chance to participate, not just as audience members,” Avitabile says. It also gives the festival the opportunity to utilize the visiting artists in ways other than performance.

Workshops include D’Lo examining with participants the process of creating a performance piece, where they will have a chance to write and perform themselves. There’s also Schofield’s workshop about queer self-esteem. Panel discussions will offer a chance to “dig deeper into the big picture and concepts,” Avitabile says. Folks will be able to explore queer art, and the politics and aesthetics around it. Each show will also have a post-show discussion.


Morphologies: Queer Performance Festival 
Friday through November 19
Check the full schedule at pangeaworldtheater.org or tctwentypercent.org

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Pangea World Theater illuminates the human condition, celebrates cultural differences,
and promotes human rights by creating and presenting international, multi-disciplinary theater.