At JACKs Radical Acts, Experimentation—and Failure—are Most Welcome
Nia Calloway. Courtesy the artist.
November 10–19, 2022
Jordana De La Cruz, co-director of the Brooklyn performance and civic space JACK, wants artists to fail.
Not actually, of course—but De La Cruz believes success depends on granting emerging artists the platform and resources to experiment, and to test out material riskier, but perhaps more rewarding, than what’s on, off, or off-off-Broadway. “The more established I become as a director and arts leader, the more that feels like a risk,” said De La Cruz. “And I think back to when I was in college, that wasn’t something I was afraid of.”
With Radical Acts, a festival of new performance now in its second year at JACK, De La Cruz wants to put that fear to bed. Over two weeks, fourteen artists, chosen from more than 100 proposals, present their interpretation of “radical” for one-night only performances staged in the round at JACK’s Clinton Hill venue.
“I’m trying to make sure myself and everyone in the room, no matter what their age is, feels like I did in college,” said De La Cruz. “We’re really looking to be a space for experimental emerging artists doing work that other venues aren’t going to take a risk on.”
As De La Cruz and JACK co-director Skye E. Kowaleski learned from last year’s inaugural festival, “radical” yields many interpretations. 2021’s works included a play performed entirely in American Sign Language, and a performance in which an artist constructed, climbed, then deconstructed a ceiling high sculpture. The Brooklyn Rail checked in with some of the artists performing in Radical Acts 2022 to learn about what’s in store this year.
Orisha Wedding (Wednesday, November 9)
Artist(s): Courtney Desiree Morris and Dragonfly
This art practice runs on: Desire
What they’ve created: A performance that explores the relationship between the erotic (in the sense which Audre Lorde defined it) with the divine. I am so thrilled to be collaborating with Dragonfly/Robin LaVerne Wilson on this piece, and with her in the room it is guaranteed to be fire. The piece came out of our participation in Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle's recent wedding to fire. Their vision of an eco-sexy world has really expanded my performance art practice in new directions that center the importance of pleasure, play, and humor. Working with them has taught me that it is okay to make art that elevates and titillates when you are doing it for the right reasons.
Meaningful performance memory: This April, I held a ritual tribute to bell hooks at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. I brought together fourteen live readers and fourteen digital performers to read hooks’ work as a polyphonic choir. More than 150 people attended the gathering and it was so moving to see them engaging with hooks in such an intimate personal way by having her words read to them by a room full of Black femmes. It really illustrated to me what a powerful role performance art can play in the culture when we are alive and attuned to those possibilities for surprise, wonder, and connection.
What radical means to them: Being willing to make art that forces you to be brave, to be honest, to tell the truth of the body, and to risk failing in that telling.
Zhen Yu Yao. Courtesy the artist.
The White Pretenders (Friday, November 11)
Artists: Kangdeng 康登 (Kally) Zhao and Zhen Yu Yao
What they’ve created: An experimental theater piece that chronicles the history of white people obsessed with pretending to be Asian. Created by the AAPI diaspora artists in collaboration with the community, this play is a wild, virtuosic experiment that aims to rip apart white gaze (and, by extension, whiteness).
Meaningful performance memory:
KZ: Hearing the audience taking a collective breath before their applause at MandarinWorks Theatre Festival this April.
ZYY: Hearing actors read through the script for the first time. Gets me every single time.
What Radical means to them:
ZYY: Acting radically is an act of pure imagination. Even though we may all have different ideas about how to move forward, the important thing is to embrace the act of imagining a future beyond the systems and institutions in this country as we know them today. As part of that process, we also have to challenge those who refuse to imagine.
Please note: Our performance will be bilingual, in Chinese and English.
I’m Going to Marry Your Dad (Saturday, November 12)
Six word memoir: I'm just an expansive concept, sir.
What they’ve created: A journey to the essence from within, which is inevitably cringe.
My art practice runs on: Adderall, ice coffee, and a nicotine patch.
What radical means to them: Performance to me is playtime, let your inner child deal with the conflict on stage in the most incorrect way possible.
Miss Lady Salad (Saturday, November 12)
Courtesy Shawn Escarciga.
Artist: Shawn Escarciga (Miss Lady Salad)
Six word memoir: Laughter and melancholy? In this economy?
What they’ve created: Miss Lady Salad was unfortunately too depressed and poor to stage the multi-media, fifteen hour non-binary performance phenomena they had planned, but luckily has the tools to bring Enya memes, queer coming of age fan fiction, and a live reading of The Artist is Present 2: Twink Apocalypse to the stage.
Recent inspirations: Applebee’s Times Square, birds, Great British Bake Off, Los Espookys, being denied a selfie with Marina Abramović at a roadside Taste of New York, whimsy
What radical means to them: I find the simplicity of being myself to be the most radical act.
Shit in the Blood: A Play of Recipes (Thursday, November 17)
Artists: Charlene Jean and Bryanna Bradley
What they’ve created: A current “digestion play” concerned with what is lost due to assimilations demands forced onto and seducing Black American and Black immigrant communities, and how the generational voids can be compared to digestive tract diseases diverticulitis and diverticulosis.
My art practice runs on:
BB: House music, jazz music, long city hikes.
CJ : Discipline, artistic rigor, spiritual portals, ancestral veneration, honesty, heightened-and-downhome dialects
Recent inspirations: Digestive tracts, Marvin Gaye covers, Tina Turner as Acid Queen in Tommy, dark meditations, methodologies of Black listening, ancestral/familial cosmologies.
What radical means to them:
BB: Living my authentic self, free from any constraints.
CJ: Knowing that the best comes to me when my intention is to be as radical as possible.
Camp 7 (Thursday, November 17)
Artist: Martin Gohary
Six word memoir: A filmmaker who plays the piano
What they’ve created: camp 7 is a musical performance about me finding my identity as an Iranian-American in a post-9/11 world. My journey begins with music that draws on Persian traditional music. Throughout the piece, we are interrupted with reminders of the acts of violence committed by the United States government at Camp 7 in Guantánamo Bay.
Recent inspirations: The deafening quietness of a forest.
My art practice runs on: Finding beauty and comfort with the unknown.
What Radical means to them: Being able to express yourself without fear.
Great Orgasmic Dance or The Earth is Not One of Your Lil Friends (Saturday, November 19)
Artist: Nia Calloway
Six word memoir: Dancer has cake, eats it too
What they’ve created: Great Orgasmic Dance or The Earth is Not One of Your Lil Friends is an amalgamation of poetry, music, and dance that serves to express my love for the planet and my genuine anger at the abuse we have put it through. It is an eco-feminist/eco-sexual cry for planetary love and reverence, laced with the need for profound beauty and meaning.
Recent Inspirations: Burning the things I cook. Pear orchards, particularly the first pear I pick at an orchard. It's always the sweetest. Spiders. Seasons.
My art practice runs on: Faith
What Radical means to them: To unfold and unfurl especially when it is deemed unappealing. To take up space with honesty, clarity, gustatory satisfaction.
Egg (Friday, November 18)
Artists: César Alvarez and Emily Orling
Six word memoir: Two artists have kids, transcendental pandemonium.
What they’ve created: A performance of songs and live ceramics. In the show, we squish together our work in a performative experiment that calls up unthinkable thoughts about kinship, small town futurism, trans middle age, mediocre parenting, and the ancient unreliable religion of art making.
Recent inspirations: A cassette tape of César's sixth grade concert band, Hilma Af Klint, petroglyphs, giant pumpkins.
What radical means to them: We are a married couple, co-parenting and collaborating across mediums. Usually our collaboration is unequal, invisible and hard to describe. César writes musicals, Emily works with clay and paint. We live inside each other's projects, meltdown on repeat, have weird psychic occurrences, and mostly try to be supportive. In this show Emily makes a sculpture alongside the songs that César wrote about her while she was making sculptures. All this asymmetry on stage feels radical.