Where to find me now!

Welcome! Glad you found this page! I don’t use this blog much any more, so if you’re new to my work, and want to keep up with the latest, check out kiryatraber.com, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter!

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A White Woman Asked if I Was OK: A Post Charleston Request

Yesterday morning I woke to the news of the terrorist attack on a Black Church in Charleston SC, and at the time, the killer was still at large. A slow ache set in that welled over into tears on my morning commute and i found myself unable to hold back sobs in the Whole Foods cafe at Columbus Circle. I’m not here to tell you why I was so overcome with grief. I think that should be clear enough by now.

AP_shooting3_sc_ml_150618_16x9_992

I am here to speak about the woman who approached me to ask if I was alright.

A white woman, “well dressed,” in an expensive market in an affluent neighborhood, offering some support to me as I mourned the systemic murder of Black people in this country. Her expression was warm with smile and softened eyes. She leaned in so that I may see her face despite my downward gaze. Dare I speak up? Tell her what I was really feeling? She asked again “are you ok?”

It was only seconds, but something vast and heavy came into my mind. The urgent truth that we cannot do this alone. We Black, brown, poor, and queer people cannot survive if we are left to fight alone. So I spoke.

“Did you hear about the shooting?” A momentary confusion passed over her face, and then a settling. “…oh.” She said. I started to try and express, through my tears, something brief, but honest about the weight I was holding.

You don’t have to say anything,” she interrupted, patting my hand as she began to turn. And then, perhaps realizing her exit was abrupt, she added, “I’ll pray for them?” I obliged her with the nod she was asking for as she walked briskly away. 

But I do have to say something, I thought, and was unable to speak aloud. I have so much to say. So much I want you– who only moments ago offered your support– to hear. You, who think there is “nothing you can do at a time like this,” must know that there is so much that you MUST do if we are to make any significant change. 

But she was gone. She was already gone. And I was left alone with my pain. Again.

You may be thinking: “It was a Thursday morning. You were only strangers. What could she have done?” But remember that she approached me, a young Black woman, sobbing softly in the morning. She offered me support. 

Would she have had more time for me if I had lost my wallet? My job? A close loved one? What kind of grief was she prepared to lend an ear towards? And WHY NOT the grief of racist murder? Surely that is a pain worthy of a few moments of your time. And more to the point, it is a pain that is far too often shut down and silenced by those who have the privilege to do so.

I’m not naïve enough to think that racial unity would have been found in a few minutes of conversation on a Thursday morning in Whole Foods. But I do think we might have shared a moment of relief- her for being at least trusted, and me for being truly heard.

She might have at least learned something about what it is like to walk through this world living somewhere between discomfort and fear on a daily basis. What she would have done with that learning would have been up to her.

A missed opportunity I have no doubt.

So I’m here instead, saying what should be obvious, but clearly is not. To white and privileged people, don’t walk away from this. From us. Ask what is needed, and stay for the answer. Truly listen. Question with empathy. Seek to understand.

And then, after you have listened, it will be your turn to speak.

Some resources to start:

IF NOTHNG ELSE

read this- 11 Ways White America Avoids Taking Responsibility for its Racism

Then:

12 Things White People Can Do (Huffington Post) 

11 Things White People Can Do to be Real Anti-Racist Allies (salon.com)

5 Thing White People Can Do to Help Confront Racism… (XOjane.com)

ALSO:

This Wasn’t a Shooting 

How The Media Covers White Terrorism

These Are the Victims of the Charleston Church Massacre

We Were Never Meant to Survive

AND THIS (from the Zinn Education Project)

AME church stewardesses

trustees of AME

AME exterior

Our hearts go out to the families and community of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. This attack is part of a long history of “hate crimes and terrorist attacks that have targeted [African American] places of worship for generations,” as described in this article in the The Atlantic:http://theatln.tc/1SqUIYF
The Emanuel AME Chuch has a historic connection to the Denmark Vesey planned uprising of June 16, 1822. Read more here in the PBS series, “This Far By Faith”:http://to.pbs.org/LMwZVO Photo from the history of the Emanuel AME Church in SC, read here:http://www.ame7.org/history/pages/sc_history.htm

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It’s a Black Thang: What I Knew When I Was Six Years Old (and forgot, and learned again)

(Welcome! Glad you found this post! I don’t use this blog much any more, so if you’re new to my work, and want to keep up with the latest, check out kiryatraber.com, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter!)

Have you ever wanted to time travel? I’ve found this question usually comes up  in the context of superpowers or regrets. And to be honest, it’s never really interested me. At least not more than flying, or teleportation, or walking through walls. There’s probably some Jungian analysis for why mobility is more important to me than temporality, but that’s fodder for another blog. Today, I am talking about time travel. Because I did it recently.

I traveled back 25+ years into my own past, and it blew my mind.

By now you may have heard that I just put up a production of my play, Both My Grandfathers: a play with music, through my fellowship at Lincoln Center Education.

On stage during Both My Grandfathers. Cece (me on the left) and Mostly True (Kelly Sloan on the right).

Both My Grandfathers at the Clark Studio Theater at Lincoln Center Education. Cece (me on the left) and Mostly True (Kelly Sloan on the right). June 2015

There’s a fair amount of time travel in my play, as it’s largely inspired by my family history, and is intended to push the boundaries of time and place through storytelling. Last fall, while I was deep in a research period preparing for the project, my mother was generous in supplying me with archive material. “I think I have a cassette tape of your grandfather speaking,” she told me. While looking for it, she turned up something else–something I was not expecting–a cassette tape of me speaking. More specifically it was 90 minutes of recordings I had captured of myself between the ages of 4 and 6 (1988-1990). But the tape was more than that too. It was a time portal.

In my kindergarten classroom at Washington Elementary in Berkeley, circa 1989.

In my kindergarten classroom at Washington Elementary in Berkeley, CA, circa 1989.

I had forgotten all about this tape until I had it in my hands, and then the memories came flooding back. I remember, like it was yesterday, exactly WHERE I was: in the living room of my Berkeley apartment where I typically made my recordings, my mother in the open kitchen beside me, or just in the next room. I remember the boom box (my grandfather’s) I recorded on: a silver “ghetto blaster” like you might see in a vintage b-boy photograph. I remember the relationship I cultivated with the tape, and the sound of my own voice, and the sense of discovery I felt as I learned to work the devise. What I didn’t remember, at least not clearly, was exactly what I said on the tape.

I didn’t remember that, around the age of 6, I had recorded a freestyle pro-Black rap which I used to educate my mother about her role as a white woman in my life. Nope. Didn’t remember that at all.

I recently had the opportunity to speak about this as a guest on one of my favorite podcasts, WNYC’s The Longest Shortest Time, where I talk in depth about the song, It’s a Black Thang, and my thoughts on race as a child. They did a really amazing job editing together my interview with clips of the tape, and you should definitely listen to it (I’m the second guest on episode 59: “Mama don’t understand”).

My mother and I in Berkeley California circa 1989

My mother and I in Berkeley, Ca, circa 1989

What I want to share now is what was left out of the interview. With podcast host, Hillary Frank, I talked a lot about what it felt like to be “mixed” identified as a kid, how I felt that I wasn’t white, but “I wasn’t Black either.” And that was true for me as a child, isolated from my father and his side of the family, and largely isolated from Black community and people of color generally in Northern California. But as I grew older that changed.

I now identify as Black. Decidedly, resolutely, warmly, richly, wholly, and intersectionally, I am Black. Friends who have known me for years will remember that this journey towards my Blackness was not without conflict. I struggled to find my own experience in monolithic representations of Blackness in mainstream media, and equally with those in radically left activist spaces. In both, I often found Blackness was portrayed as a shallow (and typically heteronormative) experience filtered through commercial pop culture, and denigrating news media. Even the critique of these filters is often loaded with sexism and class bias. I felt confused and further isolated for a long time. It wasn’t until my 20’s that was I able to find my way towards Black voices like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, June Jordan, and others who were able to reframe concepts of Blackness through the feminine, the queer, the lens of the artist. Reading their works I found language to describe and define my experience as a queer woman, as the child of a working class single mom, as a survivor of trauma and ongoing institutional racism. Among them, I found myself. I’ll say this again.

I found myself in the radical, queer, femininity of Blackness. I found myself in the voice of the artist and cultural worker. What I didn’t realize, is that I had known this all along. 

I started this post talking about time travel. Listening to the tape again, some 25+ years later, it felt like I had been transported to my childhood home. I felt I was sitting beside my younger self as I proudly declared my identity, through song, to a captive audience. Why, I wondered, had it taken me till my late 20’s to declare this as my life’s work when, at six years old, I had known this so clearly? I suddenly saw that last two decades of my life reframed as a painful journey of dissociation from self, and then the hard road back. I felt a profound sadness for the unfortunate length of this journey, and then a vindication for all that I had fought through to find my way back.

It has been a long road, but probably a necessary one. While I’m impressed by the clarity of my six year old voice, I certainly hold a lot more nuance in my understanding of Blackness than I could have at that tender age. There are many pages of essays, poems, and plays within me in which I will want to say so much more about what Blackness is, or could be, or how it lives in me. In the midst of our nations (long overdue) 2nd civil rights movement, known to most as #BlackLivesMatter, I’m motivated more than ever to cultivate platforms for myself and my peers to uplift our Blackness in all it’s forms. Today, however, I just want to take the time to honor that younger voice.

I invite you to travel back in time with with me and meet me as I was then. A proud Black girl, an artist with something to say.

Listen to original recording, in full on SoundCloud.

Check out The Longest Shortest Time interview on their blog.

Me (left) and my childhood friend, Sasha (right) in Berkeley circa 1989

Me (left) and my childhood friend, Sasha (right) in Berkeley, CA, circa 1989

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One to remember

I can’t believe it was only a year….

Can it really get better than this? 2014 highlights in chronological order.

January

squirts at dixon

Featured at in the Helix Queer Performance Network & La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club’s Squirts where, in the rehearsal process, Dan Fishback said to me “It’s exciting to know the next thing you write will be a full length show.”

February

dna small group

Was a member of Denae Hannah’s DNA Comedy “Dance Comedy Show” (best described as the “love child of Beyonce and Dave Chapel”, and I would add, the smartest thing to happen in comedy this century), where I learned I could dance AND be funny, and fell in love with ensemble work.

March

cherrie

Chatted about the state of theatre with Cherrie Moraga after she had literally taken us to church from the pulpit-turned-stage in the converted chapel known as Baad Bronx‘s main stage. Her words reminded me that my desire is sacred, and that my existence as a radical queer woman of color in the arts is vital.

April

soul

Participated in The National Youth Organizer and Leadership training with SOUL where I proudly declared myself a Cultural Worker, finally at peace with the knowledge that there is no dividing line between art making and revolutionary action. One cannot survive without the other.

diversity works

Produced my final cabaret/showcase as chair of, New School Diversity Works, the student org quite allowed me to find my voice again through the choke hold of graduate school.

May

grad with ladies

Graduated from the 3 year MFA Acting program at the The New School for Drama, an accomplishment that taught me more about myself than any other challenge I have undertaken. It was worth every moment of ache and I am grateful.

June

on stage AAACC

Under the brilliant direction of, Sara Lyons, wrote and performed in my first solo show, OVERHEARD. Was featured in 4 venues and three festivals in NY and a shared an excerpt at Queer Rebels California.

July

on the run

Beyoncé . Nuf said.

September

lce name tag

Became the Lincoln Center Education Artist Fellow for the 2014-2015 year, allowing me produce new work as a part largest international performing arts organization, and to support myself as a professional theatre artist in New York City.

Started a new teaching project, Naked Angels Issues Lab, at the New School for Drama, where I co-facilitate a group of theatre students in the exploration of #feminism in social media.

November

alabama family

Celebrated my 30th birthday, and travelled with Che J. Rene Long to Alabama where I met my father’s side of the family for the first time, beginning the process of healing a 60 year old wound.

Black Lives New School

Chanted #BlackLivesMatter through streaming hot tears as I bore witness to the growth of a new national Civil Rights Movement.

December

rehearsal bax

Concluded my BAX | Brooklyn Arts Exchange Space Grant, where I Premiered an excerpt of, Both My Grandfathers, my new play with music with my incredible team Benjamin Lundberg, Ashley Phillips, Stevie Walker-Webb, Ryan Feyk, Megan Branch. (Get tickets for the next reading Jan 10 & 11)

   emerge at my show   me and che ALScreen Shot 2014-12-09 at 7.42.44 PM

Add among these witnessing incredible new Black theatre by the great writers of our time, Suzan Lori Parks, Robert O’Hara, Nikkole Salter, Debbie Tucker Green, and Katori Hall, and supporting burgeoning young artists writing their way through high school and the juvenile (in)justice system with Sadie Nash Leadership Project, and Voices UnBroken.

me and lee          che moving        five myles

I fell in head over heels in love again with NY, and the Bay, and the deep South, and learned home is a feeling. I laughed so hard I thought I would burst. I’ve felt hopeless, and then held, and revived.

me and steph grad         serious girls     black lives pumpkin

This has been unquestionably the greatest year of my life, and thank you for bearing witness with me.

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About Violence (In the wake of Darren Wilson’s Non-Indictment)

“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”-Martin Luther King Jr.

We need to examine the way we talk about violence in relation to Ferguson and police brutality nationwide. To conflate breaking glass with shooting unarmed people is to undermine the very cause of our nations discontent.

Even progressive news organizations use suggestive language to equate property damage to human death.

“[A man]….in front of the burnt out carcass of a Little Caesar’s Pizza”- (NPR Code Switch, At Vandalized Businesses, Anger and Tears)

There is a clear double standard in the way we, as a nation, tolerate, and even expect state sanctioned violence of the police in comparison to the actions of angry oppressed people, and continuing to do so only further reinforces the unregulated power of the state to take innocent lives in the name of “protecting the peace.”

I am sensitive to the fact that damage to a business can result in loss of jobs, and create unsafe conditions. But I ask you, those who are “deeply saddened” by these damages, are you not also deeply saddened by the consistently unchecked murders of innocent people at the hands of the police? Does that not also make you feel unsafe?

I am not here to stand in defense of setting fire to cars and businesses. I am not calling for destructive tactics. I am here to ask you, why you are taking up so much space and time denouncing these actions instead of the actions that led to this response?

Where was your public declamation on the night Mike Brown’s murder was publicized? Have you raised your voice yet in response to the fact that Eric Garner was choked to death? That Zimmerman walks free? That Oscar Grant was shot in the back while Johannes Meserle held him, face down, on the ground?

Moreover, have you spoken up in defense of the Black, brown, and queer people in your personal lives?

I am here to turn the mirror on all those who so easily shame protestors, but who have remained silent in response to racism acted out on a daily basis.

I am here to assert that we have a national problem with police brutality that is deeply rooted in racism, and connected to a larger social-political culture.

I am here to remind you that I have been harassed by the police because of the color of my skin. That my friends and family have been stopped, frisked, pulled over, strip searched, assaulted, molested, and wrongfully arrested by the police. I’m here to remind you that I fear for the lives of the young people I teach. For the lives of my own unborn children.

I am here to say that I believe it will likely get MUCH worse before it gets better.

I am here pleading with you to use your voice towards challenging racism BEFORE admonishing those who feel they have no other choice than to burn everything to the ground.

Don't Shoot

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All signs point to….

Today my ancestors were teasing me. I’ve never taken teasing very well.

“You’ve gotta work on your shit talking,” James Kass, my mentor and Youth Speaks Inc ED, used say to me. Affectionate hard knocks were a part of the culture at YS. But I’d been conditioned, by 13 yrs of grade school bullying, to think teasing was always malicious, always intended to disempower. I was quick to bristle, and took myself WAY to seriously. Learning to be put in my place, out of genuine love, was one of the most important lessons of my mentoring. So I took Kass’ advice. I studied the greats (Chinaka Hodge can throw down), and learned how to shit talk, and tease ’em with the best. I’m GREAT at dishing it out, and I know how to laugh along when it’s my turn to take the heat. But there are some days, many days, when no matter how hard I front, I’m still a little too soft for tough love.

And TODAY. My ancestors were having a good laugh. Sending so many mixed signs and symbols. Inspiring highs, and below the belt lows. I feel like breaking things, or crying, or getting really mean and pretending I don’t want to cry… I really am a poor sport… (also likely the result of low blood sugar and sleep deprivation… read on…)

I guess I can’t really go on without updating you on my life:

1) I wrote, rehearsed (with the help of my director/dramaturg, Sara Lyons), and premiered my first ever solo show, OVERHEARD.

Overheard_Kirya_Traber-03

coming to HOT FEST @ Dixon Place Sat July 26th, 10pm

Since June 2nd, I’ve performed at FiveMyles in BK, BAAD in the Bronx, and CA for the SF Nat’l Queer Arts Festival, and in a week it goes up at the Hot Fest at Dixon Place July 26th at 10pm.

Read more about it on BroadwayWorld.com. We’ve also just been honored by the Killjoys lisT, and you can get tickets HERE.

2) The day after I returned from CA I started a new position, teaching at Sadie Nash Summer Leadership Institute, and two new sites for Voices UnBroken. Every week this summer I travel to Newark NJ, the South Bronx, and East New York to teach writing and performance to a total of 40 young women of color.

3) Two weeks ago I was accepted as the 2014-15 Fellow for the Lincoln Center Education Artist Mentoring Lab. It’s a 10 month fellowship to develop and present up to three projects over the course of the next year. One of the projects focuses solely on involving and working with young people through their art. It’s literally a dream come true.

4) My fellowship began THIS WEEK with attendance at the Summer Forum, an immersive summer training experience for teachers and teaching artists at LCE.

5) I’m still teaching this week, while attending the forum, and I’m in rehearsals for my solo show next week. I haven’t had a full night of sleep since, well… who even knows?

6) My life is AMAZING. And I’m exhausted.

Now that we’re all caught up…

They were teasing me. My ancestors. Hard.

This morning, on my way to the forum, I caught site of the billboard of young Ms. Cecile McLorin Salvant, reigning in her young-gifted-and-Black glory over Columbus Circle.

cecile

I was brought back to the Lincoln Center Jazz concert I attended earlier this year, when I leaned over to my partner and precociously whispered “I’m going to collaborate with her some day.” And this morning it hit me. My god. I’m a Lincoln Center Fellow. She’s a Lincoln Center Jazz artist. That is no longer a crazy idea.

The signs are clear! I’m on the right path!

I got so filled by the lightness of this idea, that forgot about walking, and spilled coffee down the front of my dress and onto my white belt. I stopped on the side walk to mop myself up…

Ok. I get it ancestors. Don’t get too big headed, heed the way… yeah, yeah.

And that’s when I heard it. A low note. A jazz riff. A divine instrument. I was still two blocks from the LCE building, no early morning concerts in the square today. But there, at the corner of 63rd and Broadway, was a boy seated, singing. And it stopped my whole heart. Michael, a gifted jazz vocalist posted on the sidewalk below the Starbuck’s window, an open bag of books at his side, writing lyrics in black sharpie pen down the front of this shirt and on his arms. “You have a beautiful voice,” I said, now standing directly before him. “Requests?” He said. And before I could think “Bye Bye Blackbird” came tumbling out of my mouth and he picked it right up without skipping a beat, “You already know.” I could do nothing but grin, standing, mid pedestrian path, clutching onto my remaining coffee and oversized, overflowing tote bag, serenaded by a boy with writing down his arms.

The sign? Humility in my craft will lead the way. Message received! I shook his hand, gave him a tip, and made my way to the forum, lighter still.

The day marched on with purpose: a panel on the Arts Education Roundtable, contact improv with my fellow educators in the lab, a dance performance by Erik Kaiel’s ARch8 that literally left my mouth agape, and I rushed off to a lunch meeting. No breaks for the true #hustlers. But not to worry, I packed my lunch….

And left it at home… along with my debit card. A nine hour day. Nothing but a handful of cherries to hold me over. No groceries for the next day. Ancestors got jokes.

But I’m a professional artist. No problem. The show (or the workshop) must go on! I jumped eagerly into the rest of the embodied lab activities, and kept participating even when the strap of my favorite dress broke…

Really? What kind of a sign is this?? Beware vanity? Embrace vulnerability? Be prepared for Macgyver style dress tailoring?

I gave myself a break and skipped the evening panel. I mustered up the rest of my energy and walked to the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle, crossing my fingers my few wadded up dollars the loose change in the bottom of my purse would get me a small bite to eat and some almond milk for breakfast. It did.

And I ran into Cicely Tyson at the bulk foods bar… CICELY TYSON.

cicely tyson old jet

cicely tyson new jet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After several minutes of awed staring, I realized I had to say hello or she might call security on me. I told her I was an actor and a writer, and that her work inspired me, and her eyes literally sparkled when she spoke. She asked me if I was working, I told her about Lincoln Center. “Oh?” She said, in a way that I have decided was approving and impressed, and I walked away backwards with a foolish grin on my face, touched by a legend.

THE SIGN of the road ahead. Greatness to be achieved with perseverance, and enduring integrity.

I hopped a long train ride home, took a break neck nap, narrowly avoided missing my stop, slept-walked the 6 blocks from the station to my house, relieved, exhausted, but ready to get back to writing….

And then I realized I forgot my keys. Two dozen phone calls to my roommates, and several failed attempts to break into my house later, I surrendered to the front stoop. I sat, glaring at my innocent neighbors, seething with frustration and envy. “Go ahead! Open your front door! It’s just so EASY for you, isn’t it??”

It wasn’t long before I realized I was being watched. A pair of wide yellow eyes peering at me from behind a spoke in the fence. I hadn’t realized the neighborhood tom cats had another litter, but there she was, a lone kitten, her dark trembling body no bigger than two fists put together. She was staring right at me, brimming with curiosity and fear. Whether she decided I wasn’t a threat, or her short attention span got the best of her, I don’t know, but soon she was lost in play and all but forgot me. She swatted at plants and pieces of string, bounded over fallen branches, and chewed on a paw.

kitty

I was almost too angry to care… almost. The sign? Don’t take yourself too seriously, it’s all in good fun… Some lessons take years to learn.

Now that I have the buffer of a few hours, the spare keys, and a box of cookies, I can finally let the richness of my day settle in. But I humbly ask my ancestors, cut me some slack? It’s been a busy month.

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Graduation Day

At the gracious request of my fellow Hurricanes (TNSDMFA ’14!) in honor of our graduation today from the New School for Drama MFA program, I’m reposting a poem I wrote almost seven years ago. I wrote it then, to perform at Civicorps K-5 elementary in Oakland, but really I wrote it for me, and of course…

This is for you…

because you are sometimes
picked last, picked on, and picked up late
You are pushed around, pushy, and misunderstood
You are sad some days and
scared of the dark, and the night sky, and of being alone
You are often alone
and feel lost sometimes
and prefer to live in books
and dreams, and dress up, and
playing pretend
You pretend you are somebody else,
and some place else
away from
free lunch and hand me down clothes
and playgrounds with bullies, where
all the good swings are taken and
parents who are angry and
teachers who are unfair
Away from any place and
anyone
who tells you that you are ugly, or smelly, or can’t color inside the lines, or a cry-baby, or too slow, too messy, too poor, or too stupid
Because you are smart
and wise beyond your years
An “old soul”
and you already know almost everything…
But there is one thing
you still need to learn:

You are SO COOL
You are cooler than Popsicles on a hot day
Cooler than pizza for breakfast and
staying up past your bed time
You are so cool penguins and polar bears have made a fan club for you
You are so cool ice cubes are jealous
Glaciers, icebergs, and the polar caps want to be like YOU
when they grow up
You are so cool you could single handedly
reverse global warming
and bring about the next ice age
and still have enough cool to
stop all wars
end all poverty, racism, sexism, and homophobia, and
give free health care to everyone
You are beyond cool
You are hot, fly, clean, fresh, bad, raw, crazy, ill, incredible, amazing, fantastic,
THE BEST EVER!

And above all that,
you are so cool
that it doesn’t matter what anybody else says about you EVER
And it doesn’t even matter if you don’t feel very cool
Because you will

You will have better days
and sometimes get your way
and people will start to understand you
and you will start to understand yourself
and be recognized for your hard work
You will work hard
You will graduate
from kindergarten
from the fifth grade
from junior high, high school, and college
And you will create
Anything and everything you have ever wished for
you will make come true

You will grow
and learn
and love
and live

You will survive
and heal
and break through

You will feel good
and sometimes great
And eventually
you won’t even need cool anymore because
you will have become something even better:

Exactly who you want to be

Believe me
I know this is true
because before I was me
I was You

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