While not updating this blog, I also managed to have an email conversation with Lenelle Moïse, whose show, Expatriate is coming to Boston this weekend:
AF: Though American expats can be found all over the world, the Parisian expatriate experience is as much part of American mythology as venturing into the frontier. Traveling to Europe plays a particularly significant role in African-American cultural history when one considers the number of Black artists and intellectuals (many of whom were also queer) who moved to Paris to escape the tyranny of pre-civil Rights America. What’s the symbolic role of Paris today?
Moïse: A lot of people associate French culture with pleasure and protest. From escargot to Picasso to the Marquis de Sade to Bastille Day, the French maintain a global reputation for being revolutionary, stylish, occasionally scandalous, and often cool. I think Black American artists—some of them women, some of them queer—share this reputation. Unfortunately, post-civil rights America still marginalizes creative professionals, women, LGBT folks, and people of color. Even President Obama has to deal with people not thinking he’s American enough because he’s of African descent. I wonder if Black expatriates can only feel American when they’re in exile? James Baldwin and Nina Simone had to relocate to France to feel respected as artists. Much of their work focused on American identity politics, but we remember it because it was skillful and beautiful. The French “get” beauty.
I also spoke to Abe Rybeck, founder the The Theater Offensive, a Boston based theatre company whose work focuses on LGBT themes:
AF: You started TTO in 1989, making it roughly contemporary with political movements like ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) and Queer Nation. This means that for over two decades, as well as producing its own work, TTO has also been a presenting organization for queer artists from all over the nation and world. What changes have you seen in the world of queer theater?
Rybeck: Yeah, we grew out of a queer, guerrilla street theater troupe called United Fruit Company that started doing AIDS and liberation-themed activism in 1985. So we actually predated ACT UP by a couple years [ACT UP was founded in 1987]. One of the enormous changes I’ve seen is that in big city theater scenes, queer work isn’t so scarce anymore, which is great. These days, no major theater company in a city like Boston would program its season without discussing what might be of interest to gay men. That puts many gay theater groups around the country in a real competitive tough spot.
On the other, sadder hand, many folks in our community—especially women and people of color—still don’t feel seen or understood or represented by those plays.
You can read the rest of these interviews on The Arts Fuse!