Performer shares silenced voices from South

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By: Erin Callahan – Former Chief A&E Writer

Regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation – or even geographical location – everyone has a story to tell.

  1. Patrick Johnson, Ph.D., an artist, activist and the Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African-American Studies at Northwestern University, has collected some of those stories, from 19-year-olds to 93-year-olds, with one shared experience of being gay African-American men in the South. He has extracted narratives about coming of age in the South, religion, sex, transgenderism, love stories and coming out.

On Tuesday, Johnson will visit the University of Dayton to perform “Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South tell Their Tales.” This solo performance will be a dramatic reading of seven oral histories, taken from his book, “Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South–An Oral History.”

This collection of oral histories has been recognized as a Stonewall Book Award “Honor Book” by the LGBT Round Table of the American Library Association, and he is currently working on its companion text, “Honeypot: Black Southern Women Who Love Women—An Oral History.”

The staged reading has also been translated into a full-length play, “Sweet Tea – The Play.” It premiered in 2010 and Johnson received several awards including a Black Theater Alliance Award for Best Solo Performance, the Leslie Irene Coger Award for Outstanding Contributions to Performance by the National Communication Association, among many others. Johnson was also inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame in 2010.

Since 2006, Johnson has toured more than 100 college campuses to perform his staged reading. He embodies the voices of seven different individuals throughout and delivers their thoughts, emotions and experiences.

Michelle Hayford, associate professor and director of the theatre program at UD, met Johnson at Northwestern University in 2000 when she began graduate school and he began his tenure. He served as her mentor, and she was able to witness his abilities as an “incredibly dynamic and compelling performer,” she said.

While he’s touring, Hayford wanted to take the opportunity to expose her students to his style of performance and also use the event as a way to embrace the university’s mission.

“I was really attuned to making it clear that the theater program is taking a new direction and aligning more with the mission of UD, in terms of tuning into prominent social justice issues and learning in community,” she said.

Hayford encouraged students and community members to attend, even if it isn’t a familiar topic for them. In fact, she said that’s an even better reason to experience the reading.

“The kinds of stories people will hear are more than just one monolithic experience,” she said. “We all have something to learn from their narratives, their complex identities. I hope to create space for dialogue, and after a performance like this, dialogue occurs. It’s very provocative. You can’t help but walk away and be self reflective on these issues.”

“Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South tell Their Tales” will be at the Black Box Theater in Fitz Hall on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7 with university ID and $12 for general admission. For more information, please visit udayton.edu/artssciences/theatre. To purchase tickets, call the KU box office at 937-229-2545.