This weekend Links Hall presents Charged Bodies–the first fruit of its visiting-artist mentorship program, in which emerging artists develop and present new solo works under the guidance an experienced professional. For this maiden effort, three mentees–Sentell Harper, Rebecca Kling, and Awilda Rodriguez Lora–were teamed with gay California-based performance artist and teacher Tim Miller, who visited Chicago to work with them and also viewed their works-in-progress over YouTube. Each mentee received ten hours worth of access to studio space at the Center on Halsted, a stipend, and other professional support.
The three young artists are “self-identified as queer” or “address queer themes in their work,” according to a press release. But “queer” covers a lot of ground, and Harper, Kling, and Lora are a diverse lot. Lora, 31, is a Latina lesbian trained in modern dance. Harper, 27, is a gay African-American actor. And Kling is a white 24-year-old transitioning from male to female. Their autobiographical pieces, which I saw in rehearsal at the Center on Halsted last month, are innovative, engaging, and sometimes provocative blends of art, therapy, and activism.
Lora arrived on the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico ten years ago to be with her mother in Florida. After graduating from Hunter College in New York with a BA in dance, she came to Chicago to attend Columbia College, where she is currently completing a master’s degree in arts management. Her piece, I Wanted to Be a Cheerleader But My Country Didn’t Have It, combines dance, storytelling, and visual art to chronicle her emotional and sexual self-discovery and her relationship with her father, whom she views as psychologically abusive. “My goal is to say, ‘This happened to me, and maybe you can relate to this and maybe you can’t, but you’re hearing the experience of a Puerto Rican queer woman from the mouth and the body of that woman,” she says.
Harper is a native of Arlington, Virginia, and holds a BA in theater from the University of Pittsburgh. Inspired by the 90s gay black performance trio Pomo Afro Homos, he earned an MFA in performance from Arizona State University, where he first studied with Miller. “Tim is very fearless, and I’ve learned that you have to go really deep into yourself,” says Harper. He does just that in You’re Worth Keeping, which relates how his mother–who abandoned him as a child–stole his identity, opening bank and credit card accounts, and even having a male friend buy her a car, in her son’s name. Harper mines humor from the contrast between his real domestic situation and his ideal fantasy family–the Huxtables.
A graduate of the performance studies program at Northwestern University, Kling grew up and still lives in Evanston. She works there, too, teaching at the Piven Theatre Workshop and serving as general manager of The Actors Gymnasium. “I got involved with this project because I’d been looking for a way to access queer identity,” she says. “Transitioning [from male to female] is a very gradual process. It’s partly about changing the way you present yourself to others, but what’s probably harder is changing the way I think about myself. Each step of the transition has been me putting my toe in the water and seeing if it feels right. I’m very conscious of trying to find my own voice on a personal level, and trying to process the gender transition through solo performance made a lot of sense to me.”
Is there a future for performance art in an environment saturated by the Internet, film, and video? “To have a live art form that allows itself to shift across boundaries and explore questions of what art is, that’s still very relevant,” says Kling. “I hope it never comes to pass that there’s a world where there are no questions about what art is.”
Charged Bodies plays Fri-Sat 11/21-11/22, 8 PM, at Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 773-281-0824 or visit www.linkshall.org.