John Gutierrez’s view from Miguel Gutierrez’s “This Bridge Called My Ass”

Miguel Gutierrez, Alvaro Gonzalez, Evelyn Sanchez and John Gutierrez. Photo by Paula Lobo

For many years I’d been told that I should meet Miguel. So often I sort of just refused. There aren’t that many other Latinos doing the strange stuff I do that I know of and I thought people were just saying we should meet because we have the same last name. I didn’t want to just be recommended to check out an artist because I was also Latino. And I knew we’d cross paths eventually. I applied to Landing, a program Miguel started and leads at Gibney, at a point where I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of dance. I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere. I almost didn’t even apply. I was a working New York actor/dancer/performer/maker/whatever/survivor but that was the problem. I was tired of feeling like life is something I had to survive. Within the first exercise at Landing, Miguel, Stephanie Acosta (dramaturg/AD) who was also participating in the program, and I were watching this group of artists/freaks meet for the first time. People were moving together. Chatting. Massaging each other. We had never gathered before these moments as a group, but somehow it felt safe. I then began to realize that for the first time ever in a creative space like this I was speaking in Spanish. It wasn’t a conscious choice. I guess I didn’t really even know that Stephanie and Miguel were Latino and could speak Spanish. But somehow this element of our identity was revealed and present.

Within this community of artists we are a part of we work hard to create a sense that there is room for all of our identities and differences. That through experimental exploration and coming together to talk about and work through complex issues we will all feel a sense of understanding and belonging. I believe in all that. I also wonder about when empathy is not enough. I wonder about the facets of identity that can not be understood unless experienced. That moment in Landing was one of these moments. And being part of This Bridge Called My Ass was a series of these moments time and time again. The power that comes from bringing together not only Latino artists, but also artists dealing with what it means to be a Latino artist/human/person within the context of being within the United States. The influence that American culture and society casts upon a select group of its citizens. Not only that, but particularly these 7 individuals. We can all trace our families to different countries, but we are all Latino/a/x. How is that? There would be days where we would all be speaking Spanish and have to translate for each other what a word meant in English because it’s a word that Dominicans or some other country didn’t use or because of the bastardization of language and culture that happens when you are not engaging with that language or culture primarily. Literally, the word I use meaning to take or get “coger” the g is a “h” sound, in another part of Latin America means to fuck. So some people every time I use it would giggle internally. I am not a perfect Latino/a/x. I always feel that I don’t know enough. Being in that room showed me that I can never know enough. And not just about being Latino. Being brown, being other, being queer, being labeled as different, that does something to people, to how they navigate the world. I was in a room of people who I didn’t have to explain that to. Who I could just talk about it with. I didn’t have to prove my latinoness or anything in this room. We could all just chill and be who and what we are. The artists we are. The people we are. And the collaboration and exploration that came out of that was genuine, honest, and inspiring. Everyone was coming from their own world of art and what’s important to them. We could gather together, share and learn and expand without having to explain some of the pain, the confusion. That stuff wasn’t at the forefront of the work. Diversity was just there. We brought it up sometimes, but mostly we didn’t have to talk about it. It just was.

And I feel fucking empowered. To know that others out there at different points in their lives feel like I do/have. That being brown in this country means you have to work extra fucking hard. That amongst our group 4 are educators as well as performers. 3 have masters. That we chase the degrees and the stage. That we bring our history to our work. That we ask the complicated questions even when it’s not easy. That we can support each other and push each other when shits hard because life just be that way sometimes. I guess what I’m saying is.. for the first time I felt that Latino/a/x didn’t have to mean what I’ve been told all my life it meant. It means something different to everyone and that’s ok, because that means it means something particular to me. That I don’t have to feel so fucking lost all the time. Caught up in a country that doesn’t want to say I am from here and then the country that I am labeled I am from also saying I can’t claim them. Being brown in America is like that. And I’m not mad about having the same last name as Miguel. I’m curious and interested in it. He’s Colombian and I’m Dominican, we are both from the east coast, but some time a long time ago within our colonization lineages some person with our last name ended up on this side of the world and stamped their last name on us. Here we are who knows how many generations later grappling with that. Experimenting and dissecting the fuck out of that. I am happy that others recognized it and that we got good coverage in the press, but I’m also happy that they spelled my name correctly in the paper this time.

The Intimate Process of DUET-ED

Photo by Lee Rayment


NIC ADAMS (CREATOR AND DIRECTOR): Duet-ed was a show created by What Holds Heat – a collaboration between myself, primarily a theatre-maker, and my friend Cori Marquis, primarily a dance-maker. Structurally, the show was comprised of five one-on-one experiences (“duets”) between audience members and performers. Emotionally, the show took as its central subjects intimacy, fidelity, betrayal, and monogamy. Each duet lasted around seven minutes, and were mostly generated by the performers in collaboration with Cori and myself.

Continue reading

Five Questions with Lucy Powis

So you’re a dramaturg. What inspired you to pursue dramaturgy?

I discovered it while I was in undergrad as a devised theatre major. At that point, I was a bit of a generalist, as we were encouraged to be—I’d done some acting, directing, writing, stage managing, you name it, and enjoyed them all but didn’t want to pursue them as careers. I also had an interest and a background in arts education, but didn’t know that I wanted to be a teacher, per se. I was introduced to dramaturgy in a couple of classes with Judith Rudakoff, and fell in love with it immediately. I think that dramaturgy is part of every job in the theatre—every choice that a designer or director or writer makes is a dramaturgical one—but being a dramaturg in particular excited me because it allowed me to synthesize skills that I had built in other roles and to wrestle with questions about how the way we program a season, tell a story, or run a talkback affects audiences. You get to work on the macro and micro level in a really satisfying way—one minute you could be asking those questions, and the next you could be debating a word choice.

Continue reading

Planes, Twains, and Safety-belt Spiels: An Interview with Eliza Bent

Photo by Shun Takino

Bonnie’s Last Flight is at Next Door at New York Theater Workshop, February 8 – March 2nd, 2019.

I recently had the chance to pick at Eliza Bent’s prodigious brain and hear a bit about her newest show, Bonnie’s Last Flight (Next Door at NYTW, through March 2nd).  This ain’t my first flight with Ms. Bent.  Having chemtrailed her and her work for the last few years, I can tell you what you may already know – Eliza is a sharp wit in a bed of sweetness; a peculiarly captivating performer; in my words, “a master of disguise”; in hers, “a complete freak box.”

Continue reading

Readying Above and Below: “revolutionary new moon in aquarius” at ISSUE Project Room

“So, we should talk about depression,” Stephanie says to me nearly an hour into our conversation.


“Sure,” spurts out of me, ad infinitum.

“You have no fire in your chart,” she continues. “So, depression is a consideration here…” Something about how it may be harder for me to pull myself out of the “rough patches”…That I may stay in sadness longer than others….But, I can locate ways to move through this by…


Stephanie George is an astrologer who Benedict Nguyen has invited to contribute to their curatorial proposition, revolutionary new moon in aquarius (rnma), positing astrology as a way to organize how we exist in performance space-and-time. It is the first constellation in a yearlong series of art-offerings, soft bodies in hard places, centered around planetary events and taking place at ISSUE Project Room.

At the time of this writing, Stephanie has given natal chart readings to two out of three participating artists and me. This is, in fact, my first reading. I didn’t know my rising sign, my sun, my moon, whatever else, until this point. In fact, I had an almost allergic reaction to this information before our meeting; an aversion that was rooted in some fraudulent narrative I self-mythologized. “Oh wow, you’re such a Pisces,” I’ve been told many times without much fanfare or, even, explanation. I accept it and move on without further prodding, every time.

I’ve made it nearly three decades without knowing the ins and outs of my own astrological standing, but, continually and subtly, have become well-acquainted with the details of others.

Astrology gives us a set of identifiers that pervade our About pages, online dating profiles, daily conversations, Instagram feeds. It’s everywhere, so why does it need me? It’s doing fine on its own.

But, prior subjectivities aside, it seemed like a good idea for this writing.

In order to participate, I asked my mom to text me a photo of my birth certificate. She asked me why and I explained that it is crucial to know my birth city, time, and date for the reading (Detroit, Michigan; 1pm EST; March _, 19__).

After a few hours, my mom sent me the photo with an accompanying text: “Ok good luck.”

Ambika Raina (foreground) and lily bo shapiro in revolutionary new moon in aquarius
Stills from video footage by Yuko Torihara, collage by Ambika Raina

What does it mean to be a soft body in a hard place?

We are a collective existence of membrane, bone, fluid, skin, and blood. We remain adaptable in the face of pressure and imminent danger; we can survive three weeks without food, three minutes without oxygen. We have emerged as homo sapiens inside of this blip in millions of years of existence, Darwinism begets capitalism again and again. Some (many) of us have remained soft by inheriting violence, supremacy, and colonialist membranes. Many more of us have remained soft by inheriting trauma, paralysis, and – perhaps – faith, in all its incarnations. Some stay soft by white-knuckling their freedom; others by relinquishing their hope. Softness lives in all of us but is not valued in most.

We are also a collective existence being coerced into the looming hegemony at every turn. Hard places have become soft where they weren’t before. We are engulfed by environments – natural and political –  that suffer debilitating, human-made damage by the hour. The rapid heating of the sea due to climate change make the Galápagos Islands – once a wonder amidst Darwin’s blueprint – irreversibly vulnerable to its many animal species. Down a different terrain and, as of this writing, 34 individuals or companies have been rendered guilty (by indictment or plea) in Mueller’s Russia investigation, an endless loop on a deceptive, crumbling (anti)democracy. The environment for holding these seeming contradictions holds cruelty at a close embrace, but it’s not a lost cause; hard bodies in soft places.

And, yet, we are here, re-fashioning community and remaining soft in a building of stone. The monuments are crumbling. We can take an ax to their base or let them dissolve to the dust of their origin story.

Ambika Raina (left) and Katrina Reid (right) in revolutionary new moon in aquarius
Stills from video footage by Yuko Torihara, collage by Ambika Raina

This performance has me thinking deeply about the ways systems are constantly in motion whether or not we perceive them to be. Whether or not we name them to be. Whether or not we want them to be.

rnma meets us at the intersection of artists Ambika Raina, lily bo shapiro, and Katrina Reid, who meet at the intersection of responsibility, revelation, gravity, firmness, and frequency. rnma also converges at the intersection of astrology and displacement. These are massive, interconnected systems that are faithfully running at all times. They present ways of organizing – geographically, psychologically, emotionally, temporally – where we are and why. If we understand it, we can move through it, astrology and displacement (and art and living) say. Moving through and toward, wittingly or not.

More about astrology and displacement: Benedict tells me that there are so many contradictions in both of these things, that maybe, just maybe, they present themselves as a way of understanding the “how.”

Don’t concern yourself with the “why,” Stephanie never says but seems to imply.

The “what” stems from Katrina (via lily bo via Ambika and so on, in circles), a questioning of the container of these musings as they collide in the stage space.

That stage space has its own set of contradictions. The current downtown Brooklyn building that calls itself ISSUE Project Room (Renaissance-revival! Beaux-Arts! Corinthian columns!) had prior lives as an Elks Club headquarters and, later, an NYC Board of Education headquarters (and, briefly, but less importantly, the HBO series Boardwalk Empire). These lives carry with it the rickety assemblages of patriarchal intensity. The Board of Ed, specifically, an emblem of its own “failed system,” which would be a beautiful, slippery notion if it were not supposed to be, you know, a place with at least a moderate degree of functionality.  As lily bo mentioned during one of our conversations: “None of the people working on this project would’ve been allowed in this building” in the last 60 years or so. It’s painful to know, in some respects, but also necessary. History has been weaponized against us time and again, and, in this process, the power of these artists has reminded me how not to distract from the stolen land we are called to stand on, to perform in. We move within the walls, making sense of how the new moon brings us together, how we summon space to contain our truths. We perform on Groundhog Day – in some ways, a weird Westernizing of the occult itself – amidst the New Moon shifts, moving toward the Lunar New Year. We show up to learn how to maneuver the sound board, adjust the lights, and reassemble the platforms for our performance. We don’t want to subscribe ourselves to the burnout industrial complex – we want to conduct the performance on our own terms. The “We” may not involve “You,” dear reader, but it involves a knowing many. We seek out the knowledge we know and can’t yet know. Knowledge is power but that power is (still) contained in the few – yet, in reality, it steeps in the many soft bodies in this faraway hardness.

Katrina Reid (left) and lily bo shapiro (right) in revolutionary new moon in aquarius
Stills from video footage by Yuko Torihara, collage by Ambika Raina

In our conversations, Ambika, Katrina, and lily bo all speak about the means to materializing this offering – built on a set of humbling compromises and seeding the roots of their practice deeper than before. The coming together in the live event is the result of months of emails, more emails, emails that became Google docs, and Google docs that made their way to Instagram, or to more emails, or to decisions on who else was to inhabit this space, to document it, to turn the lights on, to get a free ticket. We know enough to know that none of these things occur by coincidence but, if not cared for or attuned to, will be spun into the system and spat out in ways we’ve seen, we know: insidious, institutionalized, impartial.

I say this here not to harp on the administrative minutiae or imply that there is an all-too-easy “us” versus “them” mentality I am trying to sell you. Rather, all of the artists seem to come to this platform with a persistence in their work and a deep attentiveness to how it may or may not subscribe to the very systems constantly looming. So, collaboration looks more like a large bowl of flowers or a shiny scarf, less like a tax form. Collaboration, like astrology, like displacement, teaches us that positioning is key to our understanding. Where you are in relation to others, and in relation to what you care about, is also how you write said email, develop said performance. When we sit down for rnma, the moon is moving toward a new lunar cycle, and the pull for emotional freedom is strong. Systems still loom, continuous.

The new moon in Aquarius illustrates a particularly interesting moment, Katrina explains to me. Aquarius is ruled planetarily by Saturn and Uranus. It is a distinct positionality. Saturn represents a by-the-book attention to detail: the taskmaster. Uranus is hungry for the freedom that comes from change, an eye toward the excitement of new possibilities. In between that, we land here, in this space, at this time, the vast and multiplicitous middle ground between the discipline and the insurgency. In here, it doesn’t matter how you show up, just that you do.

In here, the revolution waits.