Category: performances

Connecting the Seemingly Unconnected

My partner in love and art, Glen Retief, reminds me I need to help my audiences understand where I am going when I present one of my performance lectures. I make connections between things that are not apparent even after a short explanation. For instant, I see climate change as a queer issue. I told Glen I was sitting with the question: What is a Queer Response to Climate Change?

“Queer as in odd, out of the ordinary?” he asked. “Well, yes,” I replied,”but also lesbian, transgender gay, bisexual, and gender non-binary. I think climate change affects us differently, and we have unique perspectives and skills to offer in addressing it.” I took a year off to study climate change and the connections to LGBTQ people and history. Four years ago I wrote this piece which includes some my initial musings on the topic of climate change as a global LGBTQ human rights issue.

The word intersectionality is very big right now. Since my work has always been interdisciplinary as it has looked at LGBTQ oppression/liberation, faith, and society, it has been intersectional for a long time. I also benefited from reading Audre Lorde and Doris Lessing after I came out.

I couldn’t help looking at gay conversion therapies (pray-away-the-gay, etc) without seeing how it was tied to white Protestant male power and privilege in the USA. Many of us white guys in this program were not just trying to be straight for Jesus; we were desperately trying to regain lost power and privilege in Evangelical churches that saw us as feminized men and therefore blocked to serve very much like the women were treated, except we were not encouraged to watch the children.

If you want to hear how my brain processes this sort of stuff, check out this short radio interview conducted by Lori Walsh as South Dakota Public Radio. We cover a lot of ground! Conversion therapy, LGBTQ friendly Bible stories, extreme weather, and much more.

Click here to listen.

 

Pulling Back the Curtain on my Performance Art

Peterson Toscano at MicWhenever someone asks me to describe my performance work, I often fail at explaining it. It’s like having to explain a joke to someone. The whole thing can flatten out. What helps is when I instead detail my aims and influences. Then hopefully they will see the work for themselves, and it will make sense to them.

This week HowlRound, a free and open on-line platform for theatre makers, published my article, Queer Climate Performance Art in the Most Unlikely Places. In addition to recreating for the page my performance piece, Everything is Connected, I reveal sources of inspiration and some of my objectives in the piece.

The solo stage work of Whoopi Goldberg, John Leguizamo, and Lily Tomlin taught me marginalized people can use comic storytelling and character acting to communicate personal and political messages. These comic actors shape-shifted and embodied multiple personalities as they developed immediate and intimate relationships with their audiences. Unlike a traditional play with multiple actors interacting while the audience observes, the one-person comedy turns the audience into a character. We speak directly to them, casting them in roles.

–snip–

I seek to use my skills as a playwright and actor to take on LGBTQ issues, justice, privilege, and climate change while revealing the interconnectedness of these issues. I also throw in a Bible story. Within these different frames, I repeat core concepts knowing audience members will begin to see patterns emerge. In first performing my own very personal story, then an ancient Bible story, and finally the unfolding global story of climate change, I lead them to a synthesis of abstract ideas as outlined in Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.

Special thanks to Chantal Bilodeau for inviting me to write the piece and to JD Stokely at Emerson College office of the Arts for assistance with editing.

Read the entire article including the description of the Three Acts in Everything is Connected: Queer Climate Performance Art in the Most Unlikely Places

Who is queer and concerned about climate justice? Yeah, me

everything-is-connected-posterQuirky, queer Quaker

I just finished a residency at Penn State University in State College, PA. What a huge campus! I caught about 50 Pokemon and lost about five pounds that with all the good food my excellent host Peter Buckland provided. In classes, discussions with staff, faculty, and students, and through a public performance, together with my cast of characters, I explored the intersections of LGBTQ issues, faith, theology, justice, privilege, and climate action.

The Collegian sent a reporter to cover my performance of Everything is Connected–An Evening of Stories, most weird, many true. In the article, Quirky, queer Quaker relates LGBTQA and religion issues to climate change, Antonia Jaramillo, interviewed Peter Buckland, from Penn States Sustainability Institute.

Peterson is a person who is so many of the issues that are being discussed in today’s society — LGBT issues, religion issues and climate change — and he’s so relatable and so approachable that he’s able to make the divisions in our country seem irrelevant.

I love that last part–he’s able to make the divisions in our country seem irrelevant–because I feel so deeply that with climate change, we are all in the same boat together. Now as Marvin Bloom, one of my characters likes to point out, “Yeah, but we are not all on the same deck!” But with a problem this large and invasive into every part of our lives and loves, we need all hands on deck.

Making odd connections in three acts

In the article you get a sense of the three acts I present in the performance.

In Act I, titled, “Homo No Mo,” Toscano discussed his struggles with his sexuality when he was younger and all the different methods he tried to “de-gay” himself.

“I tried to be straight but I failed so I tried harder and decided to become an evangelical, conservative republican Christian, basically a mini Ronald Reagan,” Toscano said.

Performing gender normative behavior as Esau in upcoming film version of Transfigurations

Performing gender normative behavior as Esau in upcoming film version of Transfigurations

Act II is Transfigurations–exploring gender non-conforming Bible characters.

After several years, Joseph rises up to second in command in Egypt and when confronted with his siblings again, instead of punishing them, he takes them in as equal and forgives them, “saving us all,” Toscano said as the character, Esau.

Then it gets tied together in Act III Climate Queer

“There’s still hope, still solutions to combat climate change,” Toscano said as the character Marvin Bloom.

Through his monologue, Toscano related his two previous Acts — homosexuality, religion and transgender issues — to climate change.

(We) had to change public policy, convince the public and change their perception during the times of the “GRID [gay-related immune deficiency] plague,” Toscano said. Then in Joseph’s story, Joseph was able to help prepare the pharaoh and the Egyptians during the seven year drought but at an expense to the public.

Both these cases discuss the struggles that humans have been faced with and the solutions they have come up with to combat their obstacles, Toscano said.

“Climate change is basically sexist, racist and classist,” Toscano said. “Climate change is a justice issue and we have to come up with a solution in a just and equal way.”

Reporting Queerness

img_3982I find it is actually rare for a journalist to pay such close attention to one of the performances and get the larger message. They often get distracted by my protracted journey to try to de-gay myself. That is understandable–it is a weird and flamboyant story. Still it has been essential for me to take the lessons I learned in the Homo No Mo Halfway House–lessons of privilege and justice–and apply them to other concerns.

Check out the piece: Quirky, queer Quaker relates LGBTQA and religion issues to climate change.

Be aware that the word homosexual is tossed around a lot. I only use it in my show when I talk about my past in gay conversion therapy: Was I a Christian struggling with homosexuality or a homosexual struggling with Christianity? The latest style guides for the Associated Press and New York Times point out that using the word homosexual in reference to LGBTQ people through the media is now considered offensive. The preferred term is gay, although I opt for LGBTQ or queer or often rattle off Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. I recognize that there are no perfect terms.

 

Transitioning into new work

Transgressing Gender in the Bible

Transgressing Gender in the Bible, poster designed by Christine Bakke

This has been an exciting summer. Last month I was in Ontario at the Skylight Festival where I performed the final public performance of my piece, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. In it I explore the stories of gender non-conforming Bible characters. In a few days I head to Portland, OR to film the play so it is available as a DVD and download.

I premiered the piece in November 2007 and have taken it far and wide to universities, churches, Quaker meetings, drag bars, Sunday schools, and conferences including Gender Odyssey, Transcending Boundaries, the European Forum of Gay and Lesbian Christians, and Creating Change. I performed the piece in the United States, Canada, Malta, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Norway. I presented it at various LGBTQ conferences and faith conferences. I was honored to have been invited to present it at transgender conferences and retreats multiple times.

A Performance Retires

toscano transfigurations

Photo by Lori D

But the time has come to lay it down. So much has changed since I premiered it. There are so many trans people who have gone through seminary since and are doing great theology work. New ideas and approaches are out there. And I need to pursue my leading to use comedy and storytelling to explore climate change as a justice issues.

For over the past two years when people have contacted me to do Transfigurations often I have referred them to other LGBTQ speakers, particularly trans speakers. I got a request recently to present at a Transgender Day of Remembrance. Since my work is well received by trans people of faith, they have invited me in the past to present as part of a TDOR event.

Other Voices, Other Rooms

TransfigPicture

poster by Christine Bakke

This week it was a non-trans organization in Pennsylvania that invited me to speak. I responded:

Hi there. Lovely to hear from you. I have retired my transfigurations play and next week head to Portland OR to turn it into a high quality film. I suggest you chat with someone at TransFaith. They are based out of PA I believe.  They can connect you to Trans speakers who will be a great fit for your TDOR event.

I have a list of folks I suggest in different parts of the US and the world. I would love to make the list bigger. Do you have suggestions about who you recommend as a trans or genderqueer speaker? Leave a message in the comments or contact me through the contact above.

And if you would like to get on my mailing list so that you can hear about when the Transfigurations film is ready, just signup for my newsletter.

(featured art by Mila and Jayna Ponder)

Arizona, New Mexico, Texas! Fall Tour 2015

It has been a dream of mine for a few years now to tour the Southwest of the USA presenting my plays and lively lectures at universities, churches, synagogues, community centers, and theaters. I have performed in Texas before (Rice and Trinity Universities) and in Phoenix for TransForm Arizona and various churches. And I presented at a Sufi Worship Center in Albuquerque on my first cross-country train trip back in 2013. Now I am excited to announce that we are beginning to plan a tour of the Southwest this fall.

I find it challenging to describe what I do. Comedy. Theater. Scholarship. Storytelling. Performance activism? It is hard to explain what I do on stage through characters and in sharing parts of myself as I take on LGBTQ issues, faith, and climate change. Thanks to WITF public radio, I can share this short feature on my work. It may give you a sense of what I do.

So I could use your help. Jane Brazell, my tour manager is waiting to hear from you! I am looking for venues (and contact to venues) to present my original one-person shows.  These include my newest play, Does This Apocalypse Make Me Look Fat? A Comedy about Broken Bodies, Large and Small. It is one person play about body image, resilience, and hope in the darkest times. I also continue to offer presentations about LGBTQ issues and the Bible: Jesus Had Two Daddies–A Ridiculously Serious Look at Scripture, Transgressing Gender in the Bible, and Waking Up from a Biblically-Induced Coma.

Now although I am not an environmentalist in any traditional way, I am concerned about climate change. To me it is a moral issue, a faith issue, a queer issue that intersects many aspects of our lives and is very much about human rights. I have new presentations that take these issues on:

  • A Queer Response to Climate Change–What Would Walt Whitman Do?
  • Climate Change–What’s Faith Got to Do, Got to Do with It?
  • Save the Coffee Bean! An Hysterical Response to Climate Change

Need a sample?


Oh yeah, I’m Gay

I sometimes forget I am gay. Not that my orientation momentarily fades or I have some sort of weird ex-gay flashback. Rather I live my life, a guy who is married to another guy, and I don’t think about it. I am a Quaker, a comic, a gardener, a Bible scholar, a swimmer, and a citizen of a little town in rural Central Pennsylvania. Oh, and I am gay. It used to be a big deal. Not so much anymore.

These days with so much marriage equality going around in US States (I really can’t keep up with the current tally of places where I am legal to marry the man I love.) the battle for “gay rights” can seem beside the point. Instead we see an intensification of a battle for transgender rights in the US and Canada. Opponents to trans inclusion and rights–perhaps revealing exactly where their heads are at–have decided to bring that battle into the toilet (prompting a creative queer response.) We are by NO MEANS done with our work for LGBTQ Equality.

But these days I take for granted that I am gay. There is nothing exceptional about it in my mind, but when I walk into certain rooms, it suddenly becomes a big deal. As I hang out with more and more climate change people, so many of whom are white, cis-gender, middle-class, heterosexuals, and delightful people, my gayness stands out. Similarly, I recently did comedy locally as a guest of the Susquehanna Valley Progressives.

They wanted me to talk about climate change, which I did, but with 120 audience members, mostly straight, I suddenly felt very gay and decided to include lots of “gay” content. I did scenes from Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and Queer 101–Now I Know my gAy,B,Cs. Shoot by the time they were all warmed up I ended with my infmaous Marvin Bloom monologue about Samson and the Dildo (see below)

So I was not terribly surprised when the next day in our paper, The Sunbury Daily Item, there was a favorable reveiw of my performance by Robert Stoneback. My favorite line of the piece is, “Toscano’s humor is not for everyone–he is gay…” Yeah, there’s that.

But the reality is when we stand up to speak, we stand up as ourselves. Even if the topic is a new one for us, the message we share so often grows deeper and richer when we share it as ourselves. I feel grateful I was able to do that in my own community for a change.

Review from Sunbury Daily Item

Review from Sunbury Daily Item

Big Changes Ahead for Me

Greetings from Boulder, CO where it has been delicously warm and sunny, unlike back home in Pennsylvania, where my husband, Glen Retief, a South African, freezes his bits off during an Artic blast.

I just attended the massive Creating Change conference in Denver with 4,000 earnest LGBTQ activists. As an introvert, an event like Creating Change feels like an Xtreme Sport to me. Thanks to help from my friends (Abby, Keisha, Michael, Jakob, Sharon, Zack) I got through alright.

As the title above announces, there are big changes ahead for me and my performance work. Since fall 2007, right before I retired my Homo No Mo ex-gay comedy, I premiered, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. In it I look at the stories and lives of gender and sexual minorities in the Bible. The play morphed into a performance lecture that I will perform later this week at Iliff School of Theology.

TransfigPicture

But over the past five years much has changed. These days there are so many folks with transgender experiences going to seminary. I’m thrill to see so many young trans scholars, clergy, and activists available to speak to the public. Also, I feel led to add a new issue to the list of topics that move me to performance art.

So, this May I will begin work on a film version of Transfigurations. Out of the blue I got funding for this project, and together with Alex Skiltolsky, we are going to create an artful and beautiful film version of the performance lecture. Hopefully I can even include a study guide for groups that want to go deeper with the stories.

In the fall I will officially retire Transfigurations and no longer perform it. This is important for at least three reasons.

  1. I can move aside so those places that invite me to present Transfigurations can insteaad host trans Bible scholars and storytellers. Of course if there is a trans character actor who has the theater chops to perform Transfigurations, I will be happy to talk about others presenting the work
  2. As an artist, I need to move on so that I can challenge myself and my audience. If I hadn’t retired Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House way back in 2008, I imagine I would still be performing it, which would have inhibited the creation of new work.
  3. Climate Change has made an impact in my life. I see it as the queerest issue of them all, one that brings under its shadow all of the human rights and social justice work that we d0–homelessness, police brutality, women’s reproductive rights, etc.

In the latest episode of Climate Stew, my weekly cheeky podcast, I explain my own transition to climate work. It is not that I am leaving behind the issues that have moved me in the past (gay reparative therapy, justice for trans people) rather these will get incorporated and expanded on through the lens of climate change.

climate stew logo

As always I will seek to provide skillful, insightful, and downright silly performance work. My relationship with you, my audience member, is a vital one. I invite you to join me on this next leg of the journey.

Announcing A February Collaboration in Colorado with Joe Stevens.

I am thrilled to announce that in February I will perform along side of Joe Stevens, that amazing singer/songwriter who was the front man of Coyote Grace. Joe has launched out on his own doing solo shows.  From February 8-16 we will tour together in Colorado–Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, more. I will attend the Creating Change Conference, then Joe and I will team up. He will sing and I will do, well, whatever it is that I do with comedy/storytelling/weird performance art.

We will also get serious. Joe has had a rich gender journey that found him as a young person in an all girls school trying to come to grips with self until he came out male. I spent far too many years trying to fend off my gayness through gay reparative therapy. We will publicly muse over maleness, queerness, and the tensions that too often exist in the LGBTQ community between cis and trans folks.

We are still booking venues, so if you are interested in taking advantage of this rare pairing, contact tour manager, Jane Brazell. Tour details will be announced in January.

JoeStevens_0

Joe Stevens

Here’s a little from Joe’s bio:

California-based singer/songwriter, guitar and banjoman, Joe Stevens is a third-generation professional musician in a long line of restless westward moving souls. From his roots as an awkward kid with a debilitating stutter, through dark years of alcohol and drug addiction, Joe’s music touches on themes at once specific and ubiquitous, portraying the human condition distilled — where one person’s story is truly everyone’s story. A prolific writer, the muse began whispering at the age of fifteen and Joe has produced some untold thousands of songs and essays in his 32 years. Joe is the main songwriter in the Alt-Americana groupCoyote Grace, who released five albums between 2006 and 2012 and toured with the Indigo Girls, Melissa Ferrick, and Girlyman; sharing stages with Chris Pureka, Greensky Bluegrass, Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band, and legends such as Cris Williamson and Lowen and Navarro.

Joe’s music rides the edge of the first wave of transgender performers to break through into the public consciousness. The social media explosion combined with shifting public opinion created the conditions that enabled trans and queer artists, a highly marginalized and often isolated subculture, to connect and gain visibility throughout the world. Joe performs and gives workshops on songwriting and queer/trans issues at colleges and universities and is a social justice activist for underdogs of all stripes, committed to honoring their vital contributions to the greater collective evolution.

And listen to Joe SING! Such a rich voice with thoughtful, poetic lyrics put to soulful melodies.

Does This Apocalypse Make Me Look Fat? The music and research behind the play

Does This Apocalypse Make Me Look Fat? A Comedy about Broken Bodies–Large and Small is a one-person, multi-character play written and performed by Peterson Toscano. Serving as dramaturge, sound designer, and collaborating, Alex Skitolsky, helped Peterson shape the play and did much of the research for the historical content of the play. Below we have included both music and sound credits along with the sources we used in the research for the play.

Poster design for October 15, 2014 premiere at Susquehanna University

Poster design for October 15, 2014 premiere at Susquehanna University

Much of the music used in Does This Apocalypse Make Me Look Fat? A Comedy about Broken Bodies–Large and Small, was obtained through Creative Commons license from the Dusted Wax Kingdom netlabel , including the songs listed below by Frenic, Boogie Belgique, and Giyo.  All music used in this performance was found at the Internet Archive and is listed in the order played:

1. “Eternal Plains” Frenic, Mongolia EP

2. “Fac Ut Portem” from Gioacchino Rossini’s Stabat Mater, performed by St. Matthew’s Concert Choir.

3. “Eternal Plains” Frenic, Mongolia EP

4. “Dance with the Democrat” Boogie Belgique, Blueberry Hill LP

5. “Faux Monsoon” Giyo, Tons of Sky LP

6. “Ulan Bator” Frenic, Mongolia EP

7. “Hello Sinner” Boogie Belgique, Nightwalker Vol. 2 LP

8. “Earthbound” Giyo, Tons of Sky LP

9. “Eternal Plains” Frenic, Mongolia EP

10. “Over and Over” Mark Chadwick, 5 Song Demo

Additional sound effects used in this performance were created by Mike Koenig and M. Smith and/or otherwise obtained through license from SoundBible.com or pond5.com.

Details about the life of Walt Whitman and the Nazi siege on Leningrad, as contained in Scenes Two and Five respectively, are historically accurate and were based upon thorough research.

In addition to consulting Whitman’s own texts (Leaves of Grass, Memoranda During The War, The Great Army of the Sick, and Drum Taps), we also relied on Walt Whitman: A Gay Life by Gary Schmidgall, The Sacrificial Years: A Chronicle of Walt Whitman’s Experiences in the Civil War edited by John Harmon McElroy, as well as Angel Price’s Whitman’s Drum Taps and Washington’s Civil War Hospitals and the excellent Walt Whitman Archive.

Historical details and survivor narratives from the 900 day siege of Leningrad were drawn  primarily from Leningrad: State of Siege by Michael Jones, Leningrad Siege and Symphony by Bryan Moynahan, Writing the Siege of Leningrad: Women’s Diaries, Memoirs, and Documentary Prose by Cynthia Simons, The Besieged: Voices from the Siege of Leningrad by Caroline Watson, and The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad by Harrison E. Salisbury.

The Peterson Apocalypse Fall Tour Schedule

While my amazing tour manager duo, Jane and Karina, still have some final bookings to confirm, I have most of my fall 2014 schedule posted. In addition to performing Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, a performance lecture that explores the stories and lives of gender outlaws in the Bible, I have four new presentations I now have ready for public enjoyment and edification.

These include

The tour begins this weekend with a performance of Transfigurations in State College, PA on Saturday followed by a special presentation about my own funky, off-beat look at global warming on Sunday at the Friends Meeting. Later in the month I will hop on an Amtrak train and cross the country heading up into Vancouver, BC. The train is like a rolling reading retreat for me as I nestle in my sleeper car.

lunapic-1238031399594692

 

The Peterson Apocalypse Tour includes:

  • Oct 7 & Oct 15 Susquehanna University
  • Oct 18 & 19 Lancaster, PA
  • Oct 29-Nov 2 Minneapolis, MN
  • Nov 5-10 British Columbia
  • Nov 11-15 Washington and Oregon
  • Nov 19 & 20 Simpson College, Indianola, IA
  • Nov 22 & 23 Pittsburgh