by Alessandra Wollner
From afar, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens would look like a large-scale, photorealist portrait. But, come in a bit closer, and you begin see that the portrait isn’t at all what it appears. It’s actually a series of cells, multi-shaped and many-colored, that work together to create the effect of a single, unified image.
This, Burton thought, was the perfect metaphor for drag, an art form that blends and reinvents gender to surprise, delight, and challenge viewers who think they already know all about what they’re seeing.
Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens (KQIB) dives, er, straight into the lively drag scene of Columbus, focusing specifically on two drag troupes—the Virginia West “family,” mostly drag queens, and The Royal Renegades, mostly drag kings. KQIB also shines the spot on the real lives and questions performers live offstage—expectations and (mis)understandings of biological sex and sexual orientation, parenting, and gender as a non-binary choice. The film also devotes a good chunk of time to the mechanics of drag. Without giving too much away, it involves reams of duct tape and Ziploc bags of clippings from your last haircut.
Burton estimates she attended around 30 drag shows while making the film. She took a camera to all of them. In KQIB, you’ll see scenes from rehearsals, backstage prep, and live performances intercut with interviews of a handful of Columbus’ most well-known drag performers, including Virginia and Nina West, in and out of drag, as well as co-director of The Royal Renegades, Becky.
Burton very intentionally crafted a film with no narrator. She wanted the performers and community members themselves to tell the story, to give a sense not just of a the local drag community, but of drag’s greater significance.
“Imagine a stone dropped in a pond,” Burton said during our interview. “First, I wanted to answer the question What the heck is drag? Then, Well, what’s drag—and the LGBTQ world—like in Columbus? Then, I wanted to really blow audiences’ minds, to get them to understand the biggest picture, the outermost ring: sex, sexuality, and gender are three totally different things, which leads to the final question What does drag make possible?”
Mid-way through filming, Burton gave a TEDxColumbus talk titled “How Drag Made Me a Better Parent.” Burton’s main point was about the way making this film helped her see and understand the nuance and complexities of gender identity and performance in a whole new dimension. It was perfect, but also dizzying, for the mother of two young children just beginning to come to their own dawning consciousness about gender and sex.
KQIB is the hard-won fruit of five years’ labor. But, if you’re going to give yourself a five-year project, you might as well give yourself a subject that’s fascinating, entertaining, and really, really fun, all of which drag has in spades…and sequins and, on occasion, copious amounts of fake chest hair.
Burton’s production company Five Sisters Productions, which she co-owns with her four real-life sisters, is about to launch KQIB, and the good news is that it’s coming to a few theaters near you, and also some far.
The Cleveland International Film Festival will screen KQIB April 2 at 9:15 pm & April 3 at 11:15 am, followed by a special forum based on the film. Burton and her sisters will be in attendance, as well as most of the stars of KQIB and performers from all the groups filmed. More info here.
KQIB will also premiere in Columbus June 7th at 7pm at The Wexner Center, with a celebratory reception co-sponsored by Stonewall Columbus at 6 pm.
Other screenings include…
Buffalo, NY: at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival (BNFF) Sunday, April 17 at 2 pm with a Q&A with Burton, who is a Buffalo native.
The South: in the SouthArts Film Circuit April 20-28 to 6 cities for an audience engagement screening tour. Burton and her co-producer Ursula Burton will be at each screening for audience discussion after the film:
April 20, 2016: Williams Gymnasium, Oxford College of Emory University, Oxford, GA
April 21, 2016: Harrington-Peachtree Academic Ctr, Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC
April 24, 2016: Colleen O. Williams Theater, Winder Cultural Arts Center, Winder, GA
April 25, 2016: DP Culp University Center, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN
April 26, 2016: University Center Theater, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC
April 28, 2016: Jule Collins Smith Museum, Auburn University, Auburn, AL
Austin: at the Austin Drag Fest Friday April 29th
3:30-4:30 – Nina West (one of the main cast of KQIB) Dragcast Live, then:
5:00 – 7pm – Kings, Queens, & In-Betweens with Q&A following with Nina West & Burton
Oakland: at St. Mary’s College of CA May 4 at 3 pm with Q&A following with Burton
Alessandra Wollner is a third year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at OSU.
by Rashmi Nemade
Have you ever wondered what your thoughts look like? I mean, really look like—to your eyes. I don’t mean how neural connections look in the brain, but what it would look like if your thoughts were translated into something physical. What shapes, sizes, formats, colors and patterns would your thoughts take? And could anyone else make sense of it?
This type of inquiry can be called physical thinking. It’s what the intercultural and interdisciplinary team of Norah Zuniga Shaw, William Forsythe and Maria Palazzi has been working on for almost a decade. In 2009, this team published a screen-based work titled Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced. Using dance as a starting point for visualizing thought, the team data-mined the choreography of William Forsythe. The deep dive unearthed alignments, cues and themes that are repeated and fragmented and recombined.
Zuniga Shaw shared this work in her 2009 TEDxColumbus talk “Animating Choreography.” As she explains: “It’s like an ecosystem. There are patterns and agency: there are animals and plants that abide by a day-night cycle and those that do the opposite; there are elements of the ecosystem that are synchronized by seasons and temperatures, while other parts are unaffected; and there is simultaneous complexity in parts of this ecosystem as well. They all coexist together and, yet, separately. It’s a complex structure.”
In Forsythe’s dance, One Flat Thing, reproduced, there are multiple performers dancing around and interacting with multiple tables (the flat thing, reproduced several times) and each other. To capture data of the dance, the team used video of a performance and interviews with the dancers. The interviews capture data about cues given and received during the dance and the flow of interactions that result. The video shows visual patterns, for instance an arc created by arms and then by a head, then again by feet, emerges as one motion at different times in different directions by different bodies. The similarity is the arc, the complexity brought by changing times, body parts, directions, etc. This teasing out of a complex structure is how a simple aesthetically pleasing movement becomes a complex ecosystem that can be examined for deeper understanding of relationships and visual counterpoint.
The results—the ecosystem of this dance, so to speak—are shown in a fluid, discovery-based website which can be explored by both novice and expert. The data are showcased as alignment annotations, cue visualization, concept threads, movement densities, 3D alignment forms, motion volumes and performance architectures, among other visualizations. Artworks in their own right, they are absolutely beautiful and captivating interpretations of the dance. Essentially, the data flows from dance to data to visual objects also in motion.
In 2014, Zuniga Shaw published a companion book Synchronous Objects: Degrees of Unison. In it, she writes, “This just happens to be dance, it could be mathematics, it could be architecture, it could be the movement of pedestrians on the city streets or the patterns in the tree canopies above our heads. What else might this dance look like? A storm of themes, a cacophony of difference, a polyphony of relationships, systems of organization, degrees of unison, patterns emerging and receding, isometries, fleeting forms of agreement.”
Since its 2009 launch at the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Synchronous Objects project has toured as a hybrid exhibition/workshop/lecture event to numerous sites in Europe and Asia with producing support from the Goethe Institute.
Zuniga Shaw is currently collaborating with Maria Palazzi and choreographers Bebe Miller and Thomas Hauert on a project called Motion Bank: TWO. The two choreographers work separately, yet both use improvisation and engage directly with the nature of human consciousness and how the dancers work with their habits, tendencies, impulses and memories in action. In isolating their working strategies, Zuniga Shaw and her collaborators bring the viewer into a direct encounter with the dancing mind and the thinking body—hence, the term “physical thinking.”
So, it’s possible to do more than just wonder what your thoughts look like. Simply develop a physical manifestation of whatever you’re thinking of and then tease out the visual counterpoint. Simple…or complicated. Either way, it’s an extraordinary exercise that can take you into much deeper thinking and awareness.
Rashmi Nemade is principal at BioMedText, Inc.
Photo credits for Synchronous Objects and Motion Bank:Two: The Ohio State University and The Forsythe Company
Did you know that there are 10 active TEDx events in our community? Eight are represented in the above picture from our first-ever Central Ohio curatorial team gathering. We are thrilled to support these and other TED-like initiatives in town, helping to connect more people to each other and to ideas worth spreading. For the first-time, we’re publishing (and updating) a comprehensive list of all the TEDx events around Ohio, particularly those in Central Ohio.
Note that we are quickly approaching the TED conference viewing events. And, we’ve set the date for TEDxColumbus 2016 for Friday, November 4th, so mark your calendars! Nominations for speakers will open in April. We’ll keep everyone updated through our digital channels.
The 2016 guide to TEDx events in Ohio
TED is broadcasting live its opening conference session to cinemas across the country. In Columbus, you can take in this event at one of 6 theaters: Easton, Lennox, Polaris,Crosswoods, Stoneridge, Pickerington or Georgesville. Find details and purchase tickets ($12.50) here. http://www.fathomevents.com/event/ted-2016-dream-live
Official local viewing site for several speaker sessions of of the 2016 TED Conference at Westminister Thurber, 645 Neil Avenue (Learning Center). No registration required. Come as you are!
1pm – 5pm
11am – 6pm
$15 – $30
This 5th Annual event driven by a large team of OSU students attracts nearly 1,500 attendees to Mershon Auditorium / Wexner Center and features faculty, staff, students and alums of OSU as speakers and performers.
$25/ Adults; $15/Students
A third-year event organized by students at New Albany High School at the McCoy Center for the Arts.
(Elementary with Cols City Schools)
Columbus Museum of Art
Curriculum based event for 3rd-6th graders in CCS
Whitehall City Schools / City of Whitehall
Email email@example.com if you’d like to be notified of the event details.
by Alessandra Wollner
On Friday November 20th, 900 people (give or take) abandoned business as usual to sit in darkened theater and listen all day to stories of Disruption.
I’m referring, of course, to the seventh annual TEDxColumbus at the Riffe Center’s Capitol Theatre.
Sixteen speakers and performers took their place on the red dot to sing, paint or speak their way into something disruptive, in a good way. The program was divided into three parts: Disruption in Business, on the Streets, and in the Self.
The presenters were charming, authentic, poised and powerful by turn. The full playlist is here. To pique your interest, we’ll keep the recaps short and snappy. Six words short, in fact, to ride the momentum of Six in the City, a program that brings Six-Word Memoirs to cities across the U.S. as a tool for civic engagement that launched this year in Columbus at TEDxColumbusWomen.
So, sit back and enjoy some TEDxCbus bon bons. But don’t get too comfortable; the whole point of this year was disruption, remember?
Joe DeLoss Founder of Hot Chicken Takeover
HR can shorten the soup line.
Joshua Dalton Owner and Chef of Veritas Tavern
Fuck it—let’s smoke everything.
(He means food)
Cooking gives you five-sense knowledge.
Jeni Britton Bauer Founder of Jeni’s Ice Cream
Listeria leads to creativity and community.
Steve Locker Founder of Locker Soccer Academy and Author
Being patient will push kids forward.
Shawn Springs Former OSU & NFL player and founder of Windpact Inc.
Car seats yield football helmet innovation.
Eric Gnezda Songwriter and Host of Songs at the Center
Musical endeavors are best made together.
Yiem Sunbhanich Co-Founder and CEO of TNEDICCA
Basing navigation on safety, not speed.
Richard Guerrieri Forensic Scientist and Research Leader at Battelle
DNA sequencing: the gigantic genetic disruption.
Charles Noble, III Program Manager for Boys & Men of Color Initiatives at the Kirwan Institute
Transformational currency: what you leave behind.
Crystal Oertle Heroin Survivor and Storyteller
Disrupt shame by asking for help.
George Barrett Musician and CEO of Cardinal Health
Disturb your identity, find your path.
Stephanie Rond Street Artist and Founder of S.Dot Gallery
Make art that’s accessible to all.
Darrin Hoover Performance Artist and Spaceman & Alex Van Bibber Pianist, Sixth Grader, and Spaceman
Two giant steps for TEDx Columbus.
Daron Larson Mindfulness Educator
Avoid discomfort, miss opportunities for change.
Melissa Roshan Model and Speaker
Disrupt your downfall and forgive someone.
TEDxColumbus 2015 Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLsRNoUx8w3rO5QYZf8gwIzLCII2cM011O
Alessandra Wollner is a third year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at OSU.
by Alessandra Wollner
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling,” Susan B. Anthony told New York Times reporter Nellie Bly. “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
That was back in 1896, when feminists called bicycles “freedom machines.” At the time, for women at least, bikes were kind of a big deal. They offered mobility and ushered in an era of vastly less restrictive ladies’ attire. Bloomers, y’all.
But somehow, as the years revolved, bike culture became the provenance of dudes. Dudes wearing caps with tiny bills, walking bowlegged on ripped calves. The era of Susan B.’s freedom machine may be over, but a bike-powered women’s revolution is alive and well in the work of Jess Mathews, who gave a 2013 TEDxColumbus talk about the integral role women play in creating bike-friendly cities.
On the day that I met Jess Mathews, she rolled up on Suzette—that’s her Fuji hybrid—with a copy of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please in a wicker basket attached to the handlebars, also tricked out with a hot pink little bell. Suzette’s pedals are electric raspberry blue, her saddle striped down the middle with leopard print fleece. Laminated cards with pictures of bikes twine through the spokes of her back wheel, and stickers for various causes wrap her peach sherbet frame. It’s a bike lovingly customized by a woman as free and untrammeled as they come. No doubt, Jess Mathews is the kind of bicycling woman Susan B. would rejoice to see.
Jess has always been vocal about women and biking, lobbying the local government for infrastructure that makes women and children feel safe to ride. And though she is fiercely dedicated to this work, it’s just a spoke in her wheel. One speed out of ten. A single stop on a long and comprehensive tour to transform Columbus into a leading center not just in bike friendliness, but in the creative and civic-minded use of city streets.
Because Jess’ work ranges all over the city, I asked her to tour me through the sites of her greatest successes, and take us through Columbus’ best examples of bike-friendliness and worst instances of bike-indifference. On bikes. Duh.
A number of places we pedaled by were sites of the Columbus Parklet Project and Open Streets Columbus, both initiatives under Transit Columbus, which “champions an integrated public transportation system for the people of Central Ohio to improve the safety, health, environment and economic vitality of the entire Columbus region.” The organization launched both Open Streets and Columbus Parklets in 2015. “I’d been talking and dreaming about these projects for four years,” Jess explained as we cruised down Grant Street through a golden October afternoon. “Then finally, this year, it all just came together in a beautiful way.”
Jess, the project lead, and a very dedicated team of volunteers launched the Columbus Parklet Project outside Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace on 4th and Cherry last summer for a 30-day trial. Parklets—sidewalk extensions providing more space plus amenities—help people understand that streets are more than byways from Point A to Point B. Streets are gathering places, Jess says, and using them as such makes for healthier, more vibrant cityscapes.
“That first parklet was a huge success,” Jess tells me as we straddle our bikes curbside in front of Dirty Frank’s, where the parklet once stood. On its heels, The Columbus Parklet Project installed a second, permanent parklet in Franklinton during this summer’s Urban Scrawl festival. A third parklet, hopefully permanent, will go in front of Café Brioso on Gay Street in Spring 2016. Jess explains all this as rush hour traffic whips by to our left and my stomach churns. But Jess believes that streets should feel safe for riders and pedestrians alike. We stay put.
This is one of the most fascinating aspects of Jess’ activism: it’s doggedly honor-bound, her convictions stronger than Everclear. Jess Mathews rides in whatever clothing to prove women don’t need special “gear” to get on a bike. She takes whichever street to prove there’s no need to feel cowed by the presence of cars. Interestingly, Jess rarely wears a helmet, so strong is her belief that city streets should be safe enough to ride without them. “All ages, all wages, all stages,” Jess says, a mantra for who should feel comfortable on a bike, and who streetscapes should be designed to serve.
Which brings me to the other big project with Jess at the helm: Open Streets Columbus. Open Streets is a national movement that shuts down stretches of city street for a day. People—on bikes, blades, and two feet—have the run of the asphalt, at least for awhile. “It can transform cities,” Jess says, “it’s an incredible petri dish that can get people reengaged with their cities, using streets the way they should be used.”
The first Open Streets Columbus happened Sept 13th on Rich Street downtown. The second followed the next weekend on a section of 4th between Main and Broad. Among other carless wonders, the Open Street events featured PoYo (pop-up yoga), a human-sized Scrabble game, and some impressive bike dancing. Jess and her team have a third Open Streets in the works for the same 4th Street location in 2016, with a possibility of adding a second event if funding comes through.
I wasn’t in town to see either Open Streets, but I did make it to this October’s 2 Wheels & Heels ladies bike night. Jess plans and leads these rides the last Wednesday of every month to get women hooked on freedom machines.
Because some serious rain had eased up just hours before this month’s ride, this 2 Wheels & Heels was intimate, only six women. But that was OK. The ride fell on the cusp of Halloween, and we were a band of witchy, bike-straddling, suffragette superheroes Two women showed up in onesies (ok, one was me, in leopard print). In solidarity with the ride’s namesake, the other onesie woman, an astronaut in an orange jumpsuit with pink hair, rocked a pair of black heels.
For this ride, Jess planned a six-miler dedicated to testing some newly installed infrastructure—a series of two-stage left turns along Spring Street, and the new bike lane on the notoriously busy/scary/bike-unfriendly 4th St corridor, a route Jess irritably called “a f-ing joke.”
Jess is passionate, but she burns a quiet fire. “How did that feel?” she asked the group after we’d ridden each new piece of infrastructure. The women agreed: we were glad to have a chance to ride these new facilities with a guide. That way, we actually understood how to use what was meant for us, especially those somewhat abstruse but very helpful two-stage lefts. As we spoke, Jess listened quietly, intently.
Larry Smith, famous six-word memoirist and TEDxColumbus alum, loves Jess’ fervor. “Jess is great at what she does because she’s 100% convinced her ideas are gonna work. Her total faith is what makes her stuff happen.”
Although 2 Wheels, the parklets, and Open Streets are up and spinning, they still require buckets of sweat equity—a whole bunch of hustling, organizing, coordinating, volunteering, recruiting, speaking out, showing up, and riding, riding, riding.
As Jess told me outside Dirty Frank’s, “I know people will get behind this once they see all it implemented later on down the road.”
Or, more aptly, the street.
Alessandra Wollner is a third year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at OSU.
by Kendra Hovey
If one event is a happening, two events are a coincidence, and three hints of a trend, what is five? Because five is the number of organizations in Columbus that have recently hosted an internal TEDx or TEDx-like event.
- Glimcher held a TED-like session inside their annual meeting.
- Alliance Data tapped into the TED format for a summit of their top 350 leaders, and then again at an internal conference for their Human Resources division.
- The BRUTx event at OSU’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science was everything TEDx except the name (and even that came close).
- Both Battelle and Cardinal Health are official TED license holders. Battelle has hosted two internal TEDx events. Cardinal Health, one. Both expect to host more in the future.
Four companies. One medical center. Plus TED now issues a specific license for inside events at corporations and institutions. It seems TEDxCorporate has become “a thing.”
From curation and coaching to licensing and volunteer coordination, TEDx is no small undertaking, and because of restrictions specific to the corporate TEDx license, talks cannot be shared publicly or used for marketing purposes. The benefits are strictly internal. Yet, more and more companies are adopting the platform. The motivation is the same as at any TED event: to share ideas. But the people at Battelle and Cardinal Health also talk about skill-building, creative outlets, fostering connections, inspiring collaboration, and energizing the workplace.
Plus, there’s something to the TED brand.
It connotes fun, fascination, and innovation—“distinguishing it from other types of events,” says Eileen Lehmann, director of internal communications at Cardinal Health. Lehmann co-organized her company’s event with Shelley Bird, executive vice president in the office of the CEO. Bird was inspired to pilot a TEDx for employees after attending TEDxColumbus. “Storytelling is critical to communicating ideas,” she says, “and the TEDx experience helped us to hone that skill internally.”
With 14 talks and performances and an audience of about 100, TEDxCardinalHealth was organized around the theme Plunge Pivot Pounce. Topics included brain surgery, data mining, and leadership, among others. Some talks shared personal journeys and crises; others highlighted employee talents. LaChandra Baker wowed her colleagues with a rap performance. A few months later, Baker took the stage again at TEDxColumbusWomen. Not the only way the event has legs, a video of one of the talks—on decision making—has become a staple in leadership meetings and, says Lehmann, “our CEO is now getting into the act.” George Barrett will be one of the speakers at Disruption: TEDxColumbus 2105 on November 20th.
Overall, reactions ranged from impressed to “life changing,” says Lehmann who herself was moved by the emotional impact it had, and also impressed, as she says, “by how smart and talented our employees are.” Some practical advice from Lehmann: Good video production and a great editor are key; rehearsal day is just as important as the event; and because it takes time for those unfamiliar with TEDx to catch on, an energetic group of volunteers will make all the difference.
At Battelle, TEDx has definitely caught on. Between their first event, Be Inspired, and their second, Breaking Through, attendance tripled, says Alexa Konstantinos, curator of both events. A scientist by training and now marketing director for medical business, Konstantinos, over her 20-year tenure, has seen the variety of “magic-making” at Battelle. “That may sound ridiculous,” she explains, “but the science and technology of the future is pretty magical.”
Looking for an outlet to share that magic within the Battelle community, TEDx was a perfect fit. Their talks tend towards the technological, she says, but what they all share is passion, and it’s not always a professional passion. At the most recent TEDxBattelle, one employee talked about his off-the-clock involvement in a science program for children, where kids as young as five are examining fossils and, those that find something new, get named on a scientific paper about the finding.
Other talks have focused on design in everyday life and predictive analytics in health care, meaning, in critical care situations, using data to predict what will happen to a person from a health standpoint in the next 12 to 24 hours.
Konstantinos says, “Curating TEDxBattelle has been an immensely rewarding experience personally.” As far as the value to Battelle, she echoes what others have said about TED’s unique format for idea-sharing and communication, but what really sets it apart, she says, is its democratic and grassroots character. These are two words not commonly associated with corporate culture or TED, which is often seen as elitist. Explains Konstantinos, “it is a group project, nothing is done in isolation, it is an interactive, collaborative, connecting kind of event.” A mixture of invited talks and open-call, it’s “inclusive,” she says, and, with an innovative bent, the content is “fresh.”
“If you do it right it’s grassroots,” she says, “and when it’s grassroots, it will be what people need it to be at that time—that’s the magic of TEDx.”