“a community that’s there but invisible, suddenly being visible”
by Charles Wilmoth
NPN Re-Creation: Brian Freeman and Pomo Afro Homos’ “Fierce Love”
In a recent interview with Abe Rybeck of Boston’s Theater Offensive, Brian Freeman recounted the events leading to the creation of the groundbreaking multidisciplinary performance piece, Fierce Love
, which will be remounted as part of the National Performance Network’s 25th Anniversary Season. Brian says:
In 1989, I worked as an Associate Producer to the late Marlon Riggs on his film “Tongues Untied.” It had a screening at San Francisco’s Castro Theater on a double‑bill with Isaac Julien’s film “Looking for Langston.” This screening happened for a week in 1990 and suddenly the neighborhood was filled with black people, especially black gay men. It was that thing of a community that’s there but invisible, suddenly being visible. And in numbers that were astonishing. That put in my head that maybe there’s an audience for a black queer theater piece.
Six months later a new space opened called Josie’s Cabaret and Juice Joint. Freeman had directed a show there, so was negotiating with Donald Montwill who was running the place. “As we were wrapping up I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if somebody did a black gay show?’ He got out his calendar and said, ‘I have an opening in January,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, why not.’”
I went home and called a couple of friends, Djola Branner and Eric Gupton [the group became known as Pomo Afro Homos], and pitched them the idea. We met and sketched out probably about 40 minutes and the different ways we would approach the piece. We took a couple of months to write it and probably another month to rehearse, and called up everyone we knew and said we’re doing this show at 10:00 on Friday night. And that was it.”
There’s excitement for both Brian and Abe about the remount. As Brian points out, “There’s a whole other generation, two other generations, really, that weren’t around during that time.” This summer during the 2010 annual National Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco, there was a staged reading of Fierce Love
that was greeted with audience comments like, “I want to see this again,” “There isn’t anything like this now,” begging the question, ‘What’s changed and what hasn’t?’ All who saw the reading said it felt like a fresh question, like something that needs a play about it now.
Abe points out: There’s no overstating that Pomo Afro Homos’ Fierce Love
was a revelation in the queer community, across the nation. It was the buzz. It was this voice that had gone unheard or un-listened to for so long. A big part of the impetus in Boston was that we knew that there were local artists who could do something like this and could really benefit from the inspiration, and it’s still true that inspiration is needed in the community. There were at least four shows by local artists that we produced after Fierce Love that grew out of workshops with Brian and the Pomo Afro Homos, damn good shows. What many artists who love working with the Theater Offensive grew to love then was that they felt we gave them access to terrific artists coming in from out of town.
Brian has long been involved with NPN, most recently having served on the Board, and the Pomos toured on the Network through the life of the company. Brian relates that, “the Pomos’ first NPN performance was at Dance Theater Workshop in New York. It was fantastic and from that a lot of others picked up the show. And in other works that I’ve had, I’ve traveled on the NPN.”
Abe affirms that from the very start, NPN members like New WORLD Theater, Highways and Jump-Start served as mentors to Theater Offensive. “When we were privileged to be invited to become part of the Network, it really made a difference. The commissioning, the Creation Fund, may have generated the most important impact because we’ve been able to help artists who deserve to get to create their work and know ahead of time that they get to tour.” Brian adds: “I’m thrilled that Theater Offensive has continued to thrive, it’s not easy.” To which Abe responds: “It’s not easy and it’s never going to be easy. But when I ask, ‘What has made us deserve to be around for 21 years as a company?’ I know part of the answer has been the opportunities that National Performance Network gives us.”
Fierce Love will travel to Dance Place in Washington, D.C. in March 2011, followed by performances at the Theater Offensive in Boston, the Flynn Center in Vermont and REDCAT in Los Angeles later in 2011.