In New York queer youth ask how art can combat violence.
To exist is to resist. We have heard this phrase uttered by activists representing marginalized communities, from Palestine to Indigenous communities in the United States. But what does existence and resistance mean for queer youth in the US, coming of age at a time in which public shootings are commonplace and the murders of LGBTQ folks often go unreported? What kind of resistance does a queer body taking up space on stage represent? The ten artists featured in this photo essay are using performance to address and answer these questions.
June 12, 2016, 49 people shot dead in an Orlando nightclub. The murders at the Pulse sent ripples throughout the queer community. In the days to follow, artists, activists and leaders across the country gathered to collectively mourn and create responses and memorials to those lost. In New York City, this included living memorials and street performances outside Stonewall Bar, vigils in the NYC Pride Parade and remembering the names of the dead through song, action and public art.
The New York queer community has a long history of using art to highlight injustice—from work to call for lifesaving drugs during the AIDS crisis, to creative responses to hate crime. Currently, queer youth are creating theatre and performance art to combat gun violence and other forms of oppression in their homes and communities. Through dance, poetry, text and multimedia; in theatres, basements, living rooms and coffeehouses, they demand visibility. While the immediate responses to the events in Orlando have passed, the artists featured in this photo essay know that events like this do not happen in a vacuum—our culture of heteronormativity and toxic masculinity continues to perpetuate violence and injustice.
We see our roles as theatrical storytellers and anthropologists to bring our research to public audiences while working in collaboration with communities to tell their own stories. For the cast of artists in this project, the personal is political—the art they make is a critical response to lives that are literally at stake as queer people, as brown and black people in the US today.
Brazilian theatre director and creator of Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal said, “Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should be and can be a means to transform society. Theatre can help us build our future rather than just waiting for it.” For the New York City based artists featured here, the future is now. Dinae Anderson, David Armanino, Maggie Borlando, Essence Brown, Cristin Gordon, Jesse James Keitel, Jesse Krebs, Vinny Eden Ortega, Ian Fields Stewart and Jackie Torres have taken their future into their own hands. Through their art they are finding community, hope and revolution.
Special thanks to Dinae Anderson, David Armanino, Maggie Borlando, Essence Brown, Jesse James Keitel, Jesse Krebs, Vinny Eden Ortega, Ian Fields Stewart and Jackie Torres.
Ashley Marinaccio is a storyteller, theater artist and photographer. Her photography has appeared in numerous publications and received awards including the AAA 2015 Photo of the Year Award and a 2012 IPPY Award. Currently, she is a PhD student in theater, CUNY Graduate Center.
Matthew Champagne is a theater director and public historian. Currently, he is the associate artistic director for the Eagle Project—a New York City-based theater company exploring the American identity through Native American heritage