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
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.