I was lucky to catch up with Travis Alabanza this week – an emerging queer artist that I’ve had the pleasure of watching in Scottee’s Putting Words In Your Mouth, Belonging (a Chats Palace event, again hosted by Scottee) and the Royal Exchange’s Jubilee.
Travis is a formidable force, a fantastic poet, a talented performer and as articulate and action-oriented as the LGBTQ community needs and deserves. I’m a big fan, basically. Burgerz is their latest project, exploring the harassment experienced by transgender and gender non-conforming people in our public spaces.
It’s touring from 19 October – 18 November (London and Manchester dates). For more info, scroll to the bottom or click here.
Burgerz is about a personal experience. What inspired you to use it as the basis for a theatre piece?
For me, it is always about turning a personal experience into one that can be part of a wider political lesson and thought. I let the personal experience settle, I process some of it and then I think about how it fits into a wider moment of time. Although my issue was personal, the attacks and harm that goes to the trans community is not – that is structural, widespread, and growing. My experience fits into this and therefore I knew I needed to speak about it. I’m inspired by urgency, and this conversation felt urgent. Why did no one on a busy bridge stand up and protect me? Why did another friend experience something similar the week after? What will it take for people to do something? The urgency in these questions meant the theatre piece felt needed.
What would your top tips be for creating autographical performance?
Figure out the threads. What is linking you to the people in the room, and what is distancing you. Be intentional about when you wish to connect and disconnect. I’ve learned a lot via my director (Sam Curtis Lindsay) about not just retelling, but being present in the moment.
And what, for you, are the particular challenges around doing so?
Although this work has lots of personal reflection, I wonder if it’s fully autobiographical. I’m very interested in creating a show that does not just retell my story, or my life, but actively looks for action from the audience. For me, that gets around the challenges I may have had with purely autobiographical work. Burgerz feels as much about you (the audience) as it does me (the performer). In fact, the lines feel pretty blurred.
This is your first solo theatre show – how are you finding the process, and how does it compare to the other shows you’ve worked on?
My last theatre show of a large scale was Jubilee (Royal Exchange, Lyric Hammersmith). Although I was the lead, I had the support of a large cast to fall back on. Being on my own on stage is not a new process for me, but definitely having a smaller rehearsal room (and all eyes on me) is a new challenge. If I switch off, so does the room. If I take a break, so does the room. If I want a cigarette….so does the…room? I’ve been lucky to have performed quite a lot over the last four years, but there is something about the focus and discipline a solo show requires that has been both challenging and exciting. I love it… but I definitely am excited for a holiday soon.
What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing Burgerz?
I hope audiences will spring into action. I hope this is a show that provokes not just conversation, but a change in behaviours. I love theatre and art that makes people spill out the room bursting to talk to the person next to them, or ring a friend, or text someone, or change something – and I hope that Burgerz can do that.
Who are your inspirations? Who’s making work right now – and who’s made work in the past – which has pathed the way for you to make shows like Burgerz?
Wow! There are so many so I will just try and name a few different people. Selina Thompson is a real mentor to me. Scottee’s show The Worst of Scottee was one of the first solo shows I saw, and showed me a lot of what making work could be like. Nando Messias (who is also the movement director on Burgerz) made a show called Shoot the Sissy which definitely has affected Burgerz. Black trans artists like Malik Nashad Sharpe and Daniel Brathwaite Shirley always push me to continue. ALOK Vaid-Menon is someone everyone should look up.
What are you working on next?
I mean, we haven’t finished this one yet! I’m excited to live in the present of Burgerz and experience this fully. But in the new year, I’m looking forward to some collaborative works I have coming out with some other performance artists. I’m looking forward to what those collaborations and forms will bring!
Burgerz is touring to:
Ovalhouse (FiRST BiTE) / 19-20 October / £5 in advance, £8 on the door
Hackney Showroom / 23 Oct-3 Nov / £12 (£10 previews)
Royal Exchange Manchester / 14-17 Nov / £13 (concessions from £7)