Fierce again

Posted on 09 Dec 2010 at 3:24pm

Cult gay performance artists PAH returns for one-night-only show

MARK LOWRY  | mark.lowry@att.net

POMO BETTER BOYS | Brian Freeman, center, teams with Thandiwe Thomas DeShazor and Dazie Rustin Grego for the new version of Pomo Afro Homos. (Photo courtesy Duane Cramer)

The Majestic Theatre,
1925 Elm St. Dec. 10–11
(Pomo Afro Homos Dec. 10 only). 7 p.m. $12.50.
ATTPAC.org.

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Any number of performance groups have followings while they’re still presenting work, but only a few leave legacies well beyond their demise. San Francisco’s Pomo Afro Homos — shorthand for Post-Modern African-American Homosexuals, in case you needed to know — lasted just five years in the first half of the 1990s, but they’ve been cited as influences on other performers and have at least one work that is studied on a collegiate level as an important text in black gay history.

Now all of that is coming back — albeit briefly — as one of the group’s founders tours a new show based on the original text, then called Fierce Love: Stories From Black Gay Life. (Notice the use of “fierce” long before Tyra or Christian Siriano claimed it). The new work, Fierce Love: A Remix, features a new trio of performers, plus a cameo from original PAH member Brian Freeman, who also directs the show.

“We were stepping into a void at the time,” says Freeman, a director, playwright and teacher in California. “There wasn’t much work that existed at that point [about the black gay experience]. There was a handful of novels, a few films.”

The remixed version is a highlight this weekend at the National Performance Network’s 25th anniversary showcase at the Majestic Theatre, featuring five recreations of seminal works from NPN’s history. (Others include a dance piece inspired by Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie, and a performance from California solo artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph.) The Pomo Afro Homos show is Friday.

Freeman, with cofounders Bernard Branner and Eric Gupton (who died in 2003), performed monologues and comedy based on their experience as black gay men. The club where they started, in San Fran,

Josie’s Cabaret and Juice Joint, showcased the early talents of Margaret Cho, Lea DeLaria, Tim Miller and many others.

The trio, which eventually added Marvin K. White as a fourth performer, used experiences from their lives and others they know for the material, inspired by such writers and artists as James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde and Bill T. Jones. They toured Fierce Love around the country with mixed result; the mayor in Anchorage, Alaska tried to block a sign for the group on city buses, while in major spaces, including New York’s Public Theatre and Lincoln Center, they were readily welcomed. They performed the show in London three times.

“It was about life as it intersects with that community: Part of the African-American community, part of the gay community, part of the HIV community, and how those things don’t always play well together,” Freeman says.

He’s quick to add that it reaches beyond the boundaries of gays and African-Americans. “The show is rooted in this community, but also in lots of communities: Gay and straight, white, black, Asian, Latino,” he says.

Fierce Love: A Remix and the other shows in the NPN event are geared to support an organization that continues to support touring artists of multiple disciplines, whose work falls outside of the mainstream.

“We had a network to help us tour the shows and connect with other performers in different cities,” Freeman says. “A lot of the work that travels around the network is adventurous, community-specific, it’s not mass-market kind of work. Some shows have made the leap from the NPN to commercial runs.”

And some, such as the work of Pomo Afro Homos, has made the leap into history.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

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