|Director Peter Griggs and members of the Burning Monk Collective walk through âSubrosaâ during a workshop-style rehearsal.
Director Peter Griggs Discusses First Production from Burning Monk Collective
There was a time not so long ago when queer theatre challenged audiences to reconsider belief systems and examine their truths, says Peter Griggs. While this has become less a priority for many modern productions, Griggs hopes to returns to those days of thought-provoking performances with Subrosa: Subliminal JoysâŠThe Ego Outed.
As the driving creative force behind the production, running through Aug. 17 at Mama Calizoâs Voice Factory, Griggs and his newly-formed Burning Monk Collective delve into questions of identity, gender and shame. Taking time between performances, the showâs actor/director/writer explains his queer theatre troupeâs origins, production and experience and emphasis on such profound subject matter.
(Bay Times) What made you launch the Burning Monk Collective, the theatre group behind Subrosa: Subliminal Joys...The Ego Outed?
Dwayne Calizo [Artistic Director of Mama Calizoâs Voice Factory] had been a pal and a fellow performance artist. He asked me to take residency at his theatre and produce a show. He said, âWe queer people of color need to bring it to the forefront again! Itâs time for your voice to be heard.â People have asked whether we are affiliated with Burning Man, which we are not. Last summer I was in a production of Hair in which there happens to be this acid trip scene. At the end this scene, a monk runs across the stage on fire. I became very interested in what this meant â I had no idea â so I researched it and found out it satirized a monk who actually performed an act of self-immolation to bring awareness to his cause, which was the belief that Vietnam was suffocating Buddhist traditionon. Very extreme.
You are probably asking what this has to do with our theatre collective. Well, gay theatre has become extremely uninteresting and compromised in our major cities. We have lost a sense of creativity and freedom and activism. So we decided to have a shot at taking on issues that people have left on the shelf marked âdiscontinuedâ and have seen a need to look a bit deeper at some of our communitiesâ issues. We are not presenting work that tells you that we know whatâs right or wrong; but we do address things that people donât always talk so candidly about anymore.
Subrosa looks at gay culture and shame. How was it decided to make these themes integral to the production?
Iâm so glad you asked this question. Originally we had talked a lot about how badly gay men treat each other. We started to ask ourselves why this was, and one of the things that came up was shame and ego. In fact, we were discussing, with all the education out there, why are people still contracting the virus. We also looked at the historical aspect of coming out. One of the discussions we had was on identity of self, and how we wear masks to deal with life and/or be accepted into different social situations within and outside the gay community. So much conversation just came back to the idea of shame.
Ego came about when people started to feel vulnerable. Some of the collective would feel extremely tied to their beliefs in terms of who they thought they had to be or who they believed they truly were. It was so interesting and helpful.
The evolution of this show from concept to stage sounds extremely collaborative, entirely different than most productions which are based on a pre-existing script. Tell me more about that process.
HmmmâŠ.very different, and very rewarding and risky. We had lots of hours where we just talked, and some of us cried. We shared things that we would normally not even tell our best friends. Things that made us wonder about ourselves. Once we started to build trust within the Collective; we had more writing than I knew what to do with; it just kept coming out of all of us. As the Artistic Director of this âworkshop process,â the hardest part was how to present all this work! I was wracking my brain constantly about how I could possibly put all this together. I knew I wanted music in the piece, and movement, so we enlisted Walter Earl and Adrian Gormley, who provided amazing music. Robin Kurland is an absolutely wonderful
dancer/choreographer. We work-shopped music and dance together three times a week since late May of 2008 as well as written piece by me and some of the cast. It was an open forum, and some days were very difficult. Some of the work we did emotionally was not easy, but I think the product really shows.
As the âhead revelerâ of this collective, I was asked to create something substantial for an audience to follow without losing my âartisticâ edgeâŠ(Laughing). So I created character and a storyline around the writings that came out of the Salon sessions. An Investigation sounded like it would be very interesting to do since thatâs what we were doing anyway, looking for something. I know this may sound mysterious and vague, but come see the show and you will understand fully. I promise!
What do you ultimately hope audiences take away from this experience?
I want the audience to have a unique visit with us, themselves and their ghosts. Come find yourself at the CafĂ© Dela Subrosa, or lose whatever it is that stops you from being happy and whole. Oh, alrightâŠCome and have a [expletive] blast with us!!!!!
For additional information, visit: http://www.voicefactorysf.org