National Performance Network > What We Do > Funded Projects > Community Fund Profiles > You CAN Go Home Again:
Brian Freeman Returns to Boston

You CAN Go Home Again:
Brian Freeman Returns to Boston

by Abe Rybeck and Brian Freeman

The Shout It OUT theme set a great tone for Brian Freeman’s fall 2011 Community Fund residency with The Theater Offensive: OUT in Your Neighborhood (TTO) & the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition (HBGC).  Everyone’s collaborative energy overcame the challenges of compacted timelines, cross-country communication and busy schedules. The resulting series of powerful artistic encounters amplified the voices of an often-overlooked neighborhood across decades of struggle.

This story of this project starts a full generation ago.  Soon after co-founding the seminal black gay performance troupe Pomo Afro Homos (“Pomos”) in 1990, Brian toured their first show, Fierce Love, from San Francisco to Boston.  Since both Brian and co-founder Eric Gupton were born and raised in Boston, this was both a heightened homecoming and a high-stakes coming out.  Family members were proud to see Brian and Eric inspire packed houses and intensive artist workshops.

The Theater Offensive, a queer performance company that had grown out of a guerrilla street theater troupe just two years earlier, collaborated with local community groups of color to present the Pomos, galvanizing relationships that remain vibrant today and created TTO’s public identity.  In many ways, Fierce Love put TTO on the cultural map in Boston!

20 years later, TTO was honored to co-commission (with NPN, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts and Dance Place) a re-staging of that groundbreaking work.  It was clear that a whole new generation of artists and community members ached for the kind of deep connection that Brian and the Pomos had offered back in the day, particularly in the historically African American neighborhood of Roxbury, where Brian grew up and where TTO was presenting the show.  Enter NPN’s Community Fund!

The Community Fund supported an additional week of residency, giving Brian, TTO and members of the HBGC to develop local pieces that complimented the re-staging of Fierce Love.  We stated the following goals:

  1. Connect black & Latino grassroots artist/activists in Roxbury with national leaders in the field.
  2. Showcase the talent of black and Latino LGBT residents in Roxbury to a citywide audience.
  3. Connect Pomo Afro Homo’s classic show with current lives of folks in the neighborhood that inspired it.

As often happens, the Community Fund’s initial investment triggered other support and the project became a workshop series in three one-week chunks: spanning five months, engaging 24 local artists, producing three separate public performances, and playing a critical role in the publication of HBGC’s Shout It OUT! book.

Before Brian arrived, Nick Bazo and Abe Rybeck from TTO led 11 HBGC community artist/activists from Roxbury and neighboring Jamaica Plain in a collective creation effort that built on their nascent book project.  It was through these activities that they found the title for their book and enhanced their themes and stories.

Then Brian swung into action!  HBGC chose Fierce Love as its October book club reading and almost 50 members packed into a Shout It OUT troupe member’s home, just a few blocks from where Brian’s story took place.  The conversation crackled with powerful insights across generations.

Brian led another series of workshops that resulted in a “Performance Feast” at a popular restaurant on the Roxbury/Jamaica Plain border.  The Performance Feast wove the pieces that were developed in the workshops together with open discussions among the 50 participants about queer life in the neighborhoods.  There were also many smaller discussions around each table as we all chowed down on the courses of a delicious meal.  Brian treated the crowd to a sneak preview of Fierce Love, and excerpt that described his own childhood just a few blocks from where we were all breaking bread that evening.

Profound moments of connection and revelation flourished throughout the evening.  Patricia, a childhood friend of Brian’s, spoke about how his homecomings gave her some markers for her own out lesbian life in the neighborhood.  Giftson, a 17-year-old Haitian immigrant member of TTO’s True Colors OUT Youth Theater Troupe, marveled at Brian’s courage in creating the Pomos before Giftson was even born, and he committed to taking that bravery to the next level in his art and his neighborhood activism.  Earnest, an HBGC member started a discussion about how we still need to choose which identity to privilege in each encounter.  “When I meet someone, I have to make a snap decision, Am I turning on the black or the gay?

In November 2011, when the Pomos rocked Roxbury’s Hibernian Hall with their re-staged Fierce Love, members of the HBGC performed an opening act, directed by TTO’s Nick Bazo.  This integration of local artist/activists’ work into the shape of the show went over big with local audiences and was a living neighborhood bond between the Pomos and the next generation.

Fierce Love troupe members Thandiwe DeShazor and Rashad Pridgen engaged TTO’s True Colors: OUT Youth Theater troupe in a dance/theater workshop.  All 15 of these LGBT and allied youth artists, ages 14-22, reported that the workshop had an important impact on their artistry.  For the two-thirds of the troupe who are young artists of color, it was particularly powerful to hear how to be an Out LGBT Black artist who is making a living in theater and dance.  The movement and voice work also deepened the group’s understanding of the powerful statements their OUT bodies make when they appear fully comfortable with themselves on stage.

This overall experience met and exceeded our joint goals of connecting artist/activists, showcasing local work and crossing generational borders.  It also honored Eric Gupton, who passed away several years ago, and the third Pomos co-founder, Djola Branner, who was able to enjoy the show and its impact in person.

This Community Fund project allowed The Theater Offensive: OUT in Your Neighborhood to explore our deeply local approach to touring work.  It confronted many of the challenges we face and cleared a few paths that we can follow again in the future.  It brought together our history and our future in a way that continues to reverberate among Rybeck, TTO’s Founding Artistic Director, its much-younger staff, an artist who played a key role in the organization’s beginnings, and the neighborhood folks who hold our future in their hands.

The Community Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and MetLife Foundation.

May 2012

 




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