a documentary performance project
In the basement of my parents’ house in Western Wisconsin, there is a shelf filled with leather-bound photo albums. Towards the back of one of these among smiling uncles and stern great grandmothers, there is a picture of seven blonde siblings, my mom’s cousins Jim, John, Jane, Joe, Jerome, Jake, and Jeff. I concentrate on Jeff, his lanky arms, his smiling face. I am told he had an infectious laugh. We look at each other across the years. I try to conjure this person that I never met. I think about all that we have in common. We both left our small towns in the upper midwest to move to big cities. We both worked in the arts—Jeff famously was Diana Ross’s personal chauffeur. And we were both out gay men, alone in our broad family tree. There’s not much else I know about Jeff. What little I do know has come in trickles over the years from my mother. I know that Jeff lived in LA. I know that he got sick in the eighties. I know that he moved home to be with his mother before he died at age 31, one of a generation lost to AIDS. Jeff and I come from a place that worked hard to erase this history—to erase us. It’s my luck that I was born twenty-four years after him—my leaving wasn’t fatal. I wonder what we would talk about, if he were alive. I wonder if, like me, he would have grown comfortable moving from place to place, never settling down.
Somewhere Else is a documentary performance about leaving. I want to understand the drive that lead Jeff and I to move away from home by talking with other people who think about different kinds of leaving. First, I spoke with itinerant artists who have left loved ones to do their work. What can these people tell us about leaving home? Next, I interviewed a group of scientists who imagine life on other worlds, like Jupiter’s moon Europa. What can they tell us about leaving our world? Finally, I spoke with a group of hospice care workers in Austin, TX, who serve HIV positive patients. What can they tell us about leaving life? By weaving these experiences of leaving together, I am looking for patterns in our leaving. I am in search of traveling companions as Jeff and I wander further and further from our home.
Somewhere Else will culminate in an immersive. evening-length documentary performance inspired by Rimini Protokoll’s Cargo X and Call Cutta. How can we use the many tools that allow us to communicate across distance to tell this story? A conference call in a car, a video-chat, or relationships as strings of text in my pocket all add up to a state of perpetual leaving. I want these stories to come to an audience in that same way, playing with distance, physical movement, and liveness.
With collaborator Mason Rosenthal, I will embark on a weekend of intensive workshops over the course of April 12–14, 2019, UT Austin to further develop Somewhere Else.